This Ain’t No Hayride
When the party started planning their big wilderness adventure, they immediately obtained a wagon. I’m sure the whole group envisioned something like a Conestoga wagon or something in the style of “Little House on the Prairie“. One of the players even asked if it came with a cover. (Happily, I had the historical presence of mind to say no.) I believe there was even a bit of jockeying for a good spot riding on the wagon, rather than walking.
Upon reflection, and with a bit of casual historical research: not so much.
The Conestoga wagon was a heavy wagon from several hundred years after, and several thousand miles away from, the Viking world that inspires our setting. It carried tons of cargo and could be rigged to float across rivers. There might be some tinker gnomes or some such out there building things like this, but if so, they’re not volunteering their services to our heroes at this time.
No, what the party has is something quite a lot different. In design if not decoration, we’re probably talking about something more like the Oseberg Cart: chunky, wooden wheels, no suspension.
Really, we should all be seeing the party heading out into the wilderness with something like this:
What got me thinking about all this was the latest GURPS release, GURPS Vehicles: Transports of Fantasy. It points out how any kind of suspension was a rare thing before modern times, and even as late as the pioneer days, folks would choose to walk alongside rather than ride in the wagon. It even suggests Fatigue costs for low-tech travel over poor roads and rough terrain that make riding in the wagon at least as tiring as hiking with a pack.
So, when we picture our heroes making their way north to the mountains on their quest, we should not think of them gliding smoothly across the flowered plains, Flavio reclined on a wide bench, loosely holding the reins, while the rest of the party relaxes in the bed of the wagon playing cards, and the two levitation artists bob along behind.
Rather, once the party gets out into the wilds where the roads aren’t great, I imagine Flavio standing up at the front of the wagon, braced for the impacts of rolling over ruts and rocks in the way and keeping a sharp eye for the best path. I see our heroes on foot, occasionally putting their backs into it when the wagon gets bogged down. In fact, I would say even the living balloons might find it uncomfortable to be yanked about on the end of a rope.