Receding to the (RPG) Campfire

I was recently running through some of my favorite rpg blogs which includes Telecanter’s Receding Rules (recedingrules.blogspot.com). Telecanter was discussing making the old classic campfire scene more meaningful. I immediately understood what he was trying to accomplish and I loved his article. In fiction, the campsite is a place for tall tales, meaty stews, and weapon polishing. In many game systems, the only thing that happens by the campsite is an encounter or two, spellcasters regain spells, and healing happens. That’s it. Whether you sleep in a beautiful elven made tree house or in the rain hunched against a crumbling tombstone, it doesn’t make much difference.

This article is a “piggyback” article to Telecanter’s terrific piece. I won’t be using any game specific references. Each item/situation I describe will provide a “small bonus (or penalty)” that will be up to individual GMs to determine. A d20- based game might give a +1 to a certain roll. A game based on percentiles might give a 5% boost. Perhaps making use of these items allows for a re-roll of the worst possible roll (a natural 1 in many game systems). What boons are given are described here qualitatively it’s up to the GM to quantify it.

Food
Everyone packs the classic “iron rations”, “elven travel bread”, or some kind of jerky. This stuff is designed to keep everyone functioning minimally. But shouldn’t there be an opportunity to make things better? If the ranger forages/hunts and comes back with a delicious boar, tart apples to stuff it with, and perfectly in season herbs to make a broth shouldn’t that matter? If the party manages to forage and find a particularly delectable food let them enjoy a “small bonus” to healing. If the party finds the perfect feast (such as described above- which in terms of rolls would be the result of a “critical success” or “perfect roll”) let them not only have the small healing bonus overnight, but perhaps the entire next morning they receive a small morale bonus to saves against fear or mind-affecting abilities (which represents their fortified mental state and overall happiness). I for one can’t wait to see the players cheering when the ranger’s player screams, “Nat 20! It’s boar tonight ladies and gents!”. The flipside of the foraging feast is days upon days of rations. I would be tempted to let the party eat rations for one week. After seven days of the same tasteless hardtack, flip the above bonus into a “small penalty” to healing. If the party suffers particularly horrid luck (the travel bread gets soggy or moldy) perhaps hit them with the above morale bonus turned into a penalty as well.

Item: Halfling Spice Set (or whatever race is the food connoisseurs in your world)
This non-magical set contains spices for improving rations, hardtack, and other “travel foods”. Each set allows a proficient chef to season 20 day’s worth of individual rations (thus a party of four could make use of this for five days) and not have to suffer the penalties associated with rations. Note: This set doesn’t allow for the bonuses successful hunting/foraging grants but it does keep the above-mentioned penalties at bay.

Drink
Water is essential for almost all races and lack of potable water is a real survival issue in all environments and of extreme importance in particularly hostile environments (poisonous and fetid swamps, deserts, etc.). What if the party happens upon the perfect water (I just had flashbacks to the 1998 movie “The Waterboy”)? Let’s say the foragers discover a fey-created, enchanted spring. There are numerous scenarios that could…ahem….spring forth. Let’s go with a table of results….

d8 roll       Result

          1. This water provides the same benefits in one-third the volume, allowing the party to fill their waterskins with water that will last three times as long.
          2. This water has healing powers (small instantaneous healing bonus).
          3. This water has slow regenerative powers (small healing bonus while sleeping overnight).
          4. This water is mentally refreshing (a spellcaster can memorize one additional spell of the lowest level he/she knows after resting).
          5. The water is a poison antidote.
          6. The water is nutritious and provides the same benefits as a good meal while also quenching thirst.
          7. The water reveals the drinker as a friend of the local fey granting him/her a small diplomatic bonus in social situations.
          8. The water reveals the drinker as a thieving enemy of the local fey giving him/her a small diplomatic penalty in social situations.

The Campfire Fuel
Telecanter discusses a hearth stone idea that is tremendous. In the same vein, I like the idea of a particular type of wood helping the party. If those with botanical knowledge harvest these special woods to burn in the fire they enjoy some varied bonuses.

Wood with its effect
Barkbane This thick-barked wood is purported to keep all dogs and wolves at bay and is found to be nauseating to lycanthropes (any lycanthrope suffers a small attack penalty while fighting near barkbane).

Bloodthorn This reddish wood has severe thorns all over it. Those who have open wounds will find they quickly close and coagulate (a small immediate healing bonus for those affected by naturally occurring battle wounds of the cut/slash sort).

Greencloak This leafy, vibrant tree has wood that burns with a very thick low-laying smoke. Anyone who burns greencloak is somewhat obscured as the green smoke helps hide them. The GM may institute a small penalty to any foe trying to spot the party’s campsite.

Wyrdwoode This white, gnarly wood burns with a pale yellow smoke. The smoke has a calming effect on all persons and animals nearby (horses won’t spook as easily, the party familiars will rest easily). The wood’s effect may reduce the duration of any sort of agitated condition or mental state (shaken, scared, etc.) or remove the effects of a spell that affects the target’s mental state.

Comfort
In most scenarios the party has a bedroll or blanket, sticks their heads on their backpacks and camps out under the stars. What about some modifiers to this basic level of comfort? Here are several things the party may seek to help them or may not be able to avoid which harms them.

A well-built lean-to/ cave or cavern/ or abandoned building- is an ideal situation.  Having such a roof over their head and protection from the elements
should be worth a small bonus to overnight healing.

Particuarly Thick Furs -The party’s hunter kills a furry creature for dinner. Sleeping on its pelt might be so luxurious as to allow one PC to enjoy no penalty for sleeping in armor ( a huge advantage to not have to don armor in the middle of a midnight ambush).

Foul locale – Some places ( a desecrated area, hanuted battlesite, or fetid swamp) will give the PCs the “heebie-jeebies” or will be so nasty as to disturb sleep. Perhaps haunting nightmares prevent the PCs from gaining the full benefits of sleep. A noxious/poisonous area may interfere with healing. And pack animals may refuse to sleep in a haunted area and will whinny and stomp all night.

Entertainment

This is your best chance to let the “hams”/story-tellers/bards shine. If someone prepares a story, song, or poem and presents it in character-as a GM- you almost have to reward this sort of role-playing.

* A worthy performance can result in the party being extra motivated the next day. Example: The player of the bard tells the tale of the downtrodden villagers who took up farm implements to take down a party of marauding orcs. With these reassuring and heroic thoughts in their mind, each PC gains a small bonus the next day on their first attack roll against orcs.

*A singer or musician might provide a song that is so enchanting that it distracts a creature that would have attacked the party during the night. Example: A giant snake slithers up to a party encamped in a jungle. The party musician plays his pungi and the snake pauses to enjoy the soothing and entrancing notes. It later retreats somewhat unsure of what made it not wish to attack the musician and his or her party. The GM can let the party find the tracks the next morning and let them know that the party’s musician prevented a snake sneak attack (perhaps even awarding a small experience point bonus equal to overcoming the snake).

In Closing

As one can see, the opportunities to make the campfire a vibrant part of a campaign are many. Take one or more of these ideas and run with it. These are now your ideas as a GM to use, modify, or discard. Post other ideas here or at Telecanter’s blog. Let us know how the campfire has started to shine brighter in your campaign world!

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