During their recent dungeon-delving, our heroes ran into some scary zombie children, and after a surprisingly challenging battle they had to retreat from the dungeon to recover from wounds, fatigue and stress. One character was carrying such a high load of fatigue and stress that he was essentially in a state of high panic, and any more trouble of any sort was going to lead to insanity. They decided to camp for the night, rest, and try and recover some wounds naturally.
Now, I’m not a big fan of allowing this sort of thing but I’m also not a big fan of random encounters, so I wanted to fashion a random encounter system that depended on the PC’s wilderness skills, and not on just a die roll. I don’t think random encounters should be something as simple as “occurs on a 1 in a 1d6” but should be avoidable by good sense. I also don’t think people should be able to recover wounds in a wilderness encampment setting unless they have made a solid, defensible camp and it is comfortable and well situated, i.e. unless they can sleep well, not be woken by every scary sound, and also be able to light a fire, eat good food, etc.
So, on the fly, I made up two new skill checks – actions, essentially – to be conducted in story mode to determine the success of finding and setting up a camp. I had to fashion all of this while my players were smoking, so I didn’t have much time and they’re a bit complex but I think they work. In a full nights rest a PC should recover fatigue, ordinary wounds and stress equal to their toughness (and willpower in the case of stress). They shouldn’t get this much in the wilderness! So here are the two skill checks.
Locate Camping Spot
Difficulty: Easy (1 challenge dice)
Skill: Nature Lore
Procedure: One character rolls for the group. Add one fortune die for every additional character in the group with either Observation or Nature Lore trained, and for each wood elf in the group. Add two misfortune dice if it is dark, and additional misfortune dice for difficult terrain, haste, etc.
Effect: Characters are able to find a camping site suitable to use the set camp action. Failure in this action adds one challenge die to the set camp action, while 2 successes adds one fortune die and 3 successes adds one expertise die. Additionally, if the PCs lack food, rolling two boons will provide them with access to a basic food source that they can prepare if their set camp check is successful. Two banes should lead to an increase in the party tension meter of 1.
Difficulty: Medium (2 challenge dice)
Process: One PC rolls for the group, with the same modifiers as above, and including any modifiers from the find camp skill check. Additional modifiers: 1 misfortune die per additional day the camp will be set; 1 misfortune die if the camp is being set after dusk (additional to the darkness modifiers described above). Setting a camp proof against monsters is difficult! The GM should choose a hard and an easy monster for random encounters (in my setting I chose giant spider for hard, and 4 zombie children for easy).
Effect: The PCs set a camp suitable for resting in, and are not disturbed by monsters. See the lines below for specifics:
- 3 Fails: PCs are attacked by the hard monster
- 1 Fail: PCs are attacked by the easy monster
- 1 success: No encounter, PCs recover 1 wound each
- 3 successes: No encounter, PCs recover 2 wounds each
- 2 boons: PCs get warning of the monster attack (if they failed their roll); if they succeeded the check, they recover an additional wound (up to toughness maximum)
- Sigmar’s comet: PCs get full rest and recover maximum possible wounds (only on a success)
- 2 banes: Opponents get +1 initiative when they attack
- Chaos: Opponents get full surprise, a round of free attacks against the PCs
While I don’t like random encounters, I also don’t like safe wilderness wandering, and I think how one wanders the wilderness should be dependent very much on how well one knows the wilderness. Nature Lore is a skill that is not often used or rewarded, and I think these two tasks actually make it very important, particularly when travelling long distances. For extended journeys I would not force a check like this every night, but would force a single check for a leg of the journey, and put any encounter at some point in the journey. Note that this can be modified to, for example, a general safe travel skill check, with exactly the same rules, but replacing the find camp check with a research travel check, which depends on folklore or education for its basic roll and modifies the chance of a random encounter during the journey.
I know some people will view skill checks for setting a camp as “roll playing” but there’s a simple reason I prefer them: I find camp-setting and describing all that survivalist stuff to be hideously boring and I’d rather not have the conversation. I even get the players to describe their camp setting after they’ve rolled it. I also think my judgments of a successful camp-setting process would be flawed in any case, so I wouldn’t necessarily modify a standard random encounter chance “correctly” after a dialogue with the players. What do we, the players, know, anyway, about the best way to set a camp so as not to attract the interest of a nearby giant spider? Of course, if players like this sort of thing they’re welcome to try and stunt their roll in some way (I always reward this!) but I can’t, generally, be bothered with this nuts and bolts stuff. For the same reason, when people are in town I don’t play out every single shopping trip – I generally refuse to haggle, but if my players insist on such tedium I try to do it through skill checks rather than reliving my (generally very disappointing) experiences in Chinese bazaars. Bargaining over a roll of cord was not my most enjoyable experience in China and it isn’t how I prefer to spend my role-playing nights!