In the olden days, I would have dragged out this journey for several sessions. There would have been numerous random encounters along the way, maybe a mini-adventure in Turtleback Ferry, and probably some final bit of nastiness before the party reached their destination. It was part of the early mindset in D&D that the party had to ‘earn’ their gaming experience through suffering. Now of course it’s been 42 years since the publication of the first Dungeons and Dragons ruleset, and we get to focus a little more on the story side of things (still enjoy the wargaming though!)
For my part, I knew that the party was sufficiently powerful that 90% of the things they’d encounter would be little more than annoyances, and as I’ve previously stated, I hate nuisance encounters. I suppose that I could have done what a lot of video games do and scaled up all the creatures, so that the river’s now patrolled by marauding red dragons, but I hate that: it completely destroys verisimilitude. I want the campaign world to maintain the illusion of an independently functioning world, not one that constantly adjusts itself to provide the characters more challenges. For as I’ve also mentioned before, I don’t mind when sometimes things are easy.
The final leg of the journey, through the Cinderlands, was one place where I could have legitimately thrown in some high-level encounters, seeing as how it’s described as an extremely dangerous area. The question then becomes: What do we gain by doing so? A band of giants might put up a decent fight, but won’t kill or seriously harm any of these characters, so there’s no lasting story effect. Preparing for and carrying out the fight would take a significant amount of time, something we’re already pressed for because we don’t meet that often to begin with. In exchange, we get the feeling that the Cinderlands are a dangerous place. An important thing to convey to the players, certainly, but maybe not worth the time sacrifice of a huge fight. In the end I decided to convey that feeling just by having the PCs see bad stuff in the distance. Maybe I was wrong, but I don’t mind saving the time several wilderness encounters would have taken, and now we get to the good stuff: fighting giants in Guiltspur!