Monday, September 24, 2018

Have You Tried Adding Survival Aspects To Your Games?

Traditional fantasy games tend to be about epic quests and slaying monsters, rather than about the small details of day-to-day life on the road. However, if you're looking to try doing something fresh, then it might be a good idea to shift your focus a little bit. To make sure that everyone brings enough food to keep going when they head out on their adventure, to count how many arrows you have in your quiver, and to be sure that you can actually haul all that gear you brought along with you.

Captain, is this the kind of fruit we can eat? I'm on my last pack of trail rations.
While actually keeping track of survival elements isn't fun for a lot of people, it can make for a different, interesting sort of challenge. Not only that, but it can make character archetypes and skills that aren't typically considered useful feel much more potent.

Will You Survive?

Survival games take resource management to the next level, and they generally deal with rules and mechanics that are often hand-waved by DMs who'd rather not bother with them. For example, a lot of DMs don't bother tracking encumberance rules, or keeping track of how many bolts, arrows, or spell components the party brought with them into the wild. A lot of the time it's just assumed that you can find places to camp, and that you either brought enough to eat with you, or that you can forage for it.

In a survival-oriented game, those are not assumptions you make. Instead, the party needs to allocate those resources, and track them in order to avoid starving, getting heat stroke, running out of ammunition, or finding themselves digging through the bushes looking for just the right root to cast lightning bolt one more time.

Seriously, I just need a bit of fur. Or a tooth... a tooth would increase the spell's potency by +1.
If you're going to include these survival elements, then players suddenly need to take in a whole different group of challenges than they had to deal with before. For example, if the elements are a serious problem, and you aren't allowed to just say you found a nice campsite, then making sure you have rope trick on your spell list might seem more like a necessity than a luxury. If you have to cope with saves versus heat or cold, or deal with foraging for food, then spells like endure elements and a high Survival check might suddenly seem a lot more important than they would otherwise. And if walking around in full plate causes fatigue, and drastically limits the amount of stuff you and your mount can carry, then a lot of fighters might make do with a day-wear of chain and a shield, only putting on their heavy-duty armor when they reach a dungeon. You'll even find spellcasters taking Eschew Materials, and fighters making the rolls to salvage their fired arrows during combat. Heck, you might actually find characters taking Craft skills in order to make alchemical items, fletch arrows, etc. so they can make the things they need out of their environment without slogging through three days worth of rough country to reach a trading post.

And, most importantly, you'll stop parties from picking up every piece of dungeon trash they find, leaving the hordes of cheap goblin steel behind in favor of the gold, and the handful of gems that are worth an easily transportable fortune.

A Different Kind of Challenge

The purpose of a game with survival elements is not to punish players; it is to provide them with an additional set of challenges. It makes them consider the resources they have available, and carefully weigh their options in ways they otherwise might not. For example, if a party knows that travel through rough country is going to be hazardous during the storm season, and there will be roving packs of hungry wolves along with highwaymen to contend with, then it might be worth spending the silver to hire a ship, or to pay for a carriage fare to travel along one of their regular routes.

What was that about wandering threats in the wilderness?
Also, even though I typically am not in favor of random encounters when it comes to gaming, I will say that survival games are one of the exceptions that prove the rule. Because the whole point of these encounters is to make the environment feel like it's a challenge, and to force the players to consider their actions in terms of moving stealthily, keeping a careful look out for threats, and gathering information about the potential dangers along certain routes. So, in this case, random encounters can add that extra air of danger to show that it isn't just keeping yourself in one piece, fighting through storms and the hardships of travel... sometimes you also have to contend with angry bears, or mischievous faeries.

However, I would still recommend that you just pick the potential encounters in an area, as I suggested in For Tighter Games, Consider Nixing Random Encounters, and then just roll to see if they happen or not based on players' precautions. It saves you a lot of time and effort, as well as re-rolling when you get bunyips 12 times in a row.

Also, if you're looking for some random encounters to pick from, then you might want to take a look at 100 Encounters in a Fey Forest, as well as 100 Encounters For on The Road or in The Wilderness. They've got more than just combat encounters, and they can add some unique experiences to any game where you're going to be on the road for some time. The originals are written for Pathfinder, but there are also 5th Edition versions of both 100 Encounters in a Fey Forest and 100 Encounters For on The Road or in The Wilderness. They're both by yours truly, and both from Azukail Games, so they cost less than a cup of coffee, but will provide significantly more value behind your screen.

It's Not For Everyone

It's important to remember that not everyone wants to get bogged down in the minutiae and resource tracking that comes with a survival-oriented game. For a lot of players (and DMs), they'd rather skip all of the cold snaps, the panic of running low on firepower, or the extra rolls that come with salvaging arrows or figuring out how many fresh arrow shafts you can craft during the evenings by the camp fire.

And that's fine. Under normal circumstances, I'm both that kind of player and that kind of DM. But I can't deny that adding these elements to your game can give it a certain charm... just make sure everyone's on-board for this kind of game before you suddenly start hitting the PCs with a slew of environmental penalties because you didn't mention they had to be prepared for them this time around.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment! If you've run survival-oriented games before, what elements did you find working the best? Which ones just got in the way? Leave some comments to help out other readers.

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