How To Keep Your Butt In One Piece While Adventuring In The Wilderness

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0047

A Brief Word From Johnn

Well, I GM’d my first D&D 3E session last week. It was a lot of fun. I achieved a long time goal of starting a campaign off on a special foot too. The first three words I said as GM, to the group, in this brand spanking new campaign were:

“Roll your initiative!”

LOL. I’ve always wanted to do that. It sends the right message to the players right from the beginning, don’t you think?

I always find the first session to be the toughest as everybody is still getting used to their new roles. So, I had a specific strategy:

  • Have the players arrive with their characters pre-made so we could start playing right away.
  • Provide lots of Indiana Jones style of adventure and action to keep things exciting and moving along.
  • Give the PCs a clear, short-term goal to focus on right away.
  • Don’t worry about character motivations at first–let them develop naturally over time.
  • Focus on having fun and don’t get too stressed about plotting, foreshadowing, or building “the perfect campaign”.

My players all reported afterwards that they had a lot of fun and were looking forward to the next session. So, if you are starting a new campaign soon, perhaps consider some or all of the tips above.

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This week’s tips are “reverse” tips: they’re intended for players rather than GMs.

I am writing an article for on giving players tips for helping their characters survive wilderness adventures and travel.

As I was writing the tips though, it dawned on me that you could benefit from them too. By seeing tips from a player’s perspective, you might extract a few GM tips from them, and perhaps some counter-strategies too.

I am open to feedback on this experiment. Feel free to let me know whether you enjoyed these player-oriented tips or not.

Have a great week and make the time to play.

Warm regards,

[email protected]

Pick Your Camp Site Very Carefully

Your campsite location could be the difference between gaining more experience points or rolling up a new character.

  • Unless you fortify, do not camp close to a river. That puts you in a tricky spot as smart attackers will sandwich you between them and the water. Fortification, optionally, turns a river into your friend by cutting off a potential route of attack and keeps drinking water close by. But fortifying takes a lot of time and effort (unless you have the “dig” spell, of course :).
  • For the same reasons, don’t camp near any spot that cuts off your potential retreat: near chasms, cliffs, ravines, dense forest…
  • Don’t camp on a slope as attackers could have higher- ground advantage.
  • Do camp near a windbreak. Protection from the wind will keep you warmer and drier.
  • Avoid camping near pools and ponds. Those places are usually gathering spots for thirsty wild animals and monsters.

Guard Duty Is Very Important

Your game master is most likely to strike while you’re sleeping. So it’s very important to post guards and to post them wisely:

  • Use two guards to keep each other awake and as back-up.
  • Keep the guards separated so that only one can be affected by an area affect spell at a time.
  • Guards should patrol the perimeter of the camp site, and choose random routes and intervals to avoid being predictable.

Early Warning Is Critical

If you’re attacked at night in camp, you’re first worry is waking up. You’re second concern is your combat equipment: arms, armour, spell books & components, magic items, etc. An early warning system will help give you and your party members enough time to wake up and get prepared:

  • Spoons, cans or noisy objects strung up across paths, between trees or just placed on the ground to trip over.
  • Guards with night vision.
  • Spell wards.
  • Dogs or other animals with keen senses and a loud voice.
  • Dig pits, plant sharpened stakes and put other surprises all around the camp perimeter to slow down the enemy.

Vision At Night Is Crucial

You need to see what you’re up against when being attacked at night. If members of your party cannot see well in darkness, then you should prepare for quick illumination:

  • Keep a low fire going at all times. Large fires could interfere with night vision and make you an easy target to spot.
  • Place torches near the fire for quick lighting.
  • Place lanterns around the campsite on level ground, hanging from tripods or branches, or resting on a stable surface. Keep matches, flint & tinder, etc. near each lantern for quick ignition.
  • Keep all magical and hi-tech light sources under cover but nearby for fast activation.

Guard your Horses, Animals & Mounts Well

Guard your animals well for several reasons:

  • They’re prime targets for GMs as they’re usually easy fodder
  • Injured animals and a shortage of mounts will slow you down. This has huge repercussions if your GM likes wandering monsters or if you’re on a tight deadline.
  • Your animals usually carry your stuff while travelling, which makes them prime targets for bandits.

Learn Your Game Master’s Tricks

It’s not really your character vs. mother nature. It’s your character vs. your game master. And while real life knowledge of wilderness survival may help you roleplay yourself out of trouble once in awhile, you’re best bet is to learn the typical dangers that your GM throws at you and figure out good solutions.

In other words, GMs are human, which means they’re creatures of habit–so your GM will quite likely fall into predictable patterns throughout the campaign.

That goes the same for you. If you do things the same way all the time, your GM is going to learn your patterns and use them against you:

  • Do you set-up camp the same way every night?
  • Do you use the same marching order/defensive formation all the time?
  • Do you react to ambush the same way each time?

Bring Building Tools With You

Think beyond spell components, rations, arms and armour for your travelling equipment needs. Bring a sharp saw, lots of twine/rope, axes & shovels and a block and tackle in case you have to build anything (i.e. a raft, battering ram, etc.).

It’s also nice to have a strong animal or two to drag logs, pull down obstructions, etc.

And a party member with civil engineering skills never hurts either. 🙂

Waterproof Yourself

Getting wet can be bad news while travelling. Not only could it lead to health problems, but important things like scrolls, maps, spell components, etc. can be ruined in the rain, while crossing a stream, or when swimming for your life, etc.

So, carry one or more waterproof sacks/bags and put the stuff you need to keep dry into them (including a spare set of clothes & boots, if you have the room).

Pay the Toll–Fighting Isn’t Worth It

Let’s say some bandits block your path and demand tribute or they’ll chop you down where you stand. What do you do?

I’d pay the toll if I were you. Unless your foes demand a ludicrous payment, it’s far wiser to pay the few gold pieces, dollars or credits than to start a large battle and weaken yourself for the upcoming adventure.

Would you rather pay a 100 gold pieces and pass by unharmed, or save the 100 gps and risk not being able to recover the huge treasure hoard that lies ahead?

On the return trip, if you’re in good health, you may have the opportunity to settle the score…

Prepare For Ambush

Every game master enjoys a good ambush. To thwart your GM’s glee, be prepared:

  • Bring along a guide or fellow PC who has sense ambush or alertness abilities.
  • Travel with companions who know many languages so you can parley if it’s possible.
  • Determine beforehand how you will react to attack:
    • Does everybody need to hit the ground for the fireball that’s going to roar overhead?
    • Should you stick together or split up?
    • Protect spell casters or every-man-for-himself?
    • Where would you re-unite if the party gets split up?

That’s it for this week’s issue.

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four
[email protected]

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

A Couple of Great Organization Tips

From Jay Rob

I can’t tell you how much easier tracking events is with a printed calendar. Not only that, but I can also create special days for characters and mix it up a bit. For example, Halloween, which has been renamed All Hallows Eve, has the first record of the existence of a lycanthrope, has triple encounter chance, and 95% for a lycanthrope encounter instead of whatever. Just rename the months and days with a little background. Pretty easy to do in Excel and can assist note-taking.

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Color Coding Your Campaign

From Kate Manchester

While highlighter pens have been mentioned as a useful aid in note taking and grouping one’s notes together for later use, the use of colored paper has not been touched on as an effective way to organize your campaign.

For example, I write my “To Do” lists on ivory paper, while the rest of my Chronicle notes are on plain white. These pages stand out from the notes, making it much easier to find them when I want to work on my Vampire Chronicle.

Another good method of organization would be to establish a color coding system. For example, keep your notes on white paper, your NPCs on green and copy your player’s character sheets onto blue. Or if your PC’s sheets cover several pages, set up a separate color for each character. Either system would have an added bonus: if you lend your copy to a player that forgot his or her sheet, you can more easily spot it and know that it is YOUR copy and needs to be returned to you.

While colored paper may be a little more expensive than white paper, it’s not that much more, and it is certainly possible to purchase small quantities from almost any local copy place or office supply store.