D&D 5E Camping is dangerous (how can it be made safer?)

In The One Ring RPG, there is a "mini-game" (i.e. specific rules) focussing on travelling, with every PC being responsible for a specific aspect of the journey (scouting ahead, pathfinding, hunting, etc.)

With the 5e emphasis on short rests, I think it would be interesting to come up with a similar system for camping in D&D. You could have one PC select the campsite, another one gathering food and cooking, a third one setting up alarms, etc. I'm not entirely sure how that would work but I guess some of the brilliant minds of this forum could have an idea...
 

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MarkB

Legend
In The One Ring RPG, there is a "mini-game" (i.e. specific rules) focussing on travelling, with every PC being responsible for a specific aspect of the journey (scouting ahead, pathfinding, hunting, etc.)

With the 5e emphasis on short rests, I think it would be interesting to come up with a similar system for camping in D&D. You could have one PC select the campsite, another one gathering food and cooking, a third one setting up alarms, etc. I'm not entirely sure how that would work but I guess some of the brilliant minds of this forum could have an idea...

There was talk of something along these lines (at least for travelling) in the Legends & Lore articles during the run-up to 5e's release. Hopefully we may see it in the DMG.
 

Gargoyle

Adventurer
Some enjoy it, but I've always found the "preparing camp" thing to be as tedious as getting out the 10 ft poles and checking every square inch of dungeon corridor mentality. It's not always the player's fault these things happen of course, it's mostly adventure design and DM's. In a dungeon it's the arbitrary placement of deadly traps that does it, while in the wilderness it's the random encounter in the middle of the night and the surprise round without armor or spells ready. These camping encounters feel like an arbitrary deadly trap in a dungeon corridor, and that's why players get nervous and paranoid when they camp, they know they're vulnerable. And that's ok to a point, but not to the extreme that I've seen sometimes.

In heroic fiction, the heroes might set watch and avoid making a fire, while in D&D there are multiple spells cast, complicate watch procedures, construction of special armor, and other silliness. I actually don't really have a problem with camping being dangerous or with player characters taking precautions or even the occasional character death; my biggest problem with all of that is that it tends to take a lot of real time while they describe their precautions, and even after they get into a routine it feels less than heroic. And if their paranoid routine fails for some reason (usually because of dice) it just gets more paranoid. It feels silly.

My take on it is, the DM needs to give the camping PC's the benefit of the doubt. Let them sleep in armor without penalty for several nights in a row; the rules don't say it hurts them, so assume it doesn't. Seriously it's not that big a stretch to think that adventurers could pull that off, even if you think it's unrealistic, give them a level of exhaustion after a few nights of it so they seek out an inn if you like. If they set a watch, don't let the sleeping player characters suffer a surprise round if alerted. Assume the watch is competent and they are sleeping lightly. If they go to the extreme of using a spell like alarm, give them a chance to turn the tables and surprise intruders. Make them feel heroic instead of like mugging victims. Giving them the benefit of the doubt goes a long way to establishing some trust. Which of course you can violate later when you really want to. :)

But the big benefit to building some trust with the players that you're not going to murder them in their sleep is that you won't spend ten minutes of real time going over camping procedures or have a TPK on a random encounter that feels unfair.

That said, if they are facing a foe that really would try the tactic of murdering them in their sleep, like a group of assassins, you can do that, but you really need to foreshadow it so it doesn't feel cheesy. Give them a clue that it's going to happen so they feel smart if they make the right decisions to thwart it, or to make them feel like it's their fault if they don't. But if you don't make that type of encounter the exception, get ready to spend a lot of time listening to their camping precautions. Or if you like this sort of gameplay and love 10' poles, of course that's cool too. I'm just not a fan of it.
 

Psikerlord#

Explorer
I'm running LMoP, right now. The group is doing really well, over all -- they even killed the big thing that's not supposed to be beatable, at this level.

That said, they camped in the woods, last game. A random encounter of 6 wolves came up. That doesn't sound like it should be a big deal for a group of 5 3rd level PCs -- especially after seeing what they did to two of them, earlier.

It was nearly a TPK. The elven rogue was on watch and not surprised, though he did lose initiative. The first hit was a crit that send him to 0 hp. I let him get off a warning shout, otherwise it would have been worse. Even so, the cleric was dropped due to being squishy w/o armor. The elven fighter was only trancing, so I ruled she had her armor on and weapons at hand, but she was already slightly wounded and a pair of wolves took her down quickly. Thankfully, the tough, dragonblooded sorcerer had enough hit points to act as an improvised meat shield while the wizard drained his spell cache. It was really, really close, though. If I'd played the wolves to kill, rather than flee after losing a couple of their number, I'm pretty sure the PCs would have been toast. I definitely would have been able to kill two PCs by attacking downed characters, rather than the ones still yelling.

The whole group is okay with PC death being a reality, but a TPK to a pack of wolves seemed like a chump way to go. It raised several questions around setting up an effective camp in 5E:

1) Not really a question, but even having another character on watch doesn't seem like it would have helped too much. Being asleep (i.e. unconscious) is nasty bad.

2) What's a reasonable DC for waking up sleepers by yelling? My gut says its "hard", so DC 20. A couple players felt that was too high. Since everyone rolled under 15 or over 20, it wasn't an issue. Feedback welcome, though.

3) Can Alarm be used to effectively protect a camp? It says 20' cube, which isn't much more warning than the rogue had when he yelled. It would have made the "yelling" automatic, but a larger area still seems better. Can the 20' cube be reshaped, say, to a 5' think ring/square that's hollow in the middle. That seems against both RAW and intent, IMO.

4) Does wearing armor negate a long rest (i.e. sleep)? Could the tanks still wear light armor and sleep?

5) How deep is elven trance? I read it as still being effectively asleep. The advantages are that the elf only needs 4 hours and doesn't need to remove armor or lie down.

6) Do familiars need any down time? I ruled that they needed some recharge, so they disappeared for a few hours, but were around for their masters' watch.

7) Any other thoughts on avoiding a dirt nap when taking a long nap in 5E?

I would have ruled auto waken if a party member yells loud enough, and I also allow sleeping in armour, or at least keep breastplates strapped on, etc. I would definitely allow trance in armour. I would allow familiars to stay up all night every night, they are magical creatures, not mortals. And yes, alarm is supposed to be an auto alert for the camp I expect (or at least one side of it). The encounter would have been much more manageable with a bit of ruling tweaking.
 

Henrix

Explorer
Now you only have to worry about deer, badgers, monkeys, larger species of owl, and, of course, predators smaller than a spaniel.

Well, few deer or other friendly animals come within speaking distance of humans and a camp fire.
And how many smaller predators attack humans, and are dangerous? (Lice, of course.) Not many.
 

Henrix

Explorer
Some enjoy it, but I've always found the "preparing camp" thing to be as tedious as getting out the 10 ft poles and checking every square inch of dungeon corridor mentality.

It can be shortened to the DM assuming that the party tries to find a good spot, and perhaps a Survival check to determine how good it was when an encounter happens.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
Not in any D&D game I've ever been in. Wolves always attacked humans fearlessly, just like everything else on the random encounter table.
I assume that any encounter is somehow "meaningful". Just as there are no random encounters with squirrels, despite some editions having stats for them, if wolves come up, they're hungry enough to at least test the waters with the PCs. I do try to run various critters based on intelligence and personality/instinct (I'm not much of an outdoors-man, but I figure I just need to be "literary close"). In the case of the wolves, they took off the second the combat turned against them.

There's some play style decisions in that. I've tried having random wildlife encounters that weren't even potentially combat, to add "realism"; it was poorly received as a waste of game time.

Also, FWIW, the party specifically did not light a campfire.
 

Selkirk

First Post
yeah rests are super dicey...my party had just finished a long battle and we went to rest (with watch). got ambushed by seven goblins... watchperson fails dc and is taken out. everyone else still asleep in their tents. first guy out that wakes up is shot down. that leaves 2 sleeping pc's....on a meaningless encounter-waking up in the dark in the middle of a hail of arrows. some serious handwaving was required for us to survive...and then immediately after the encounter we took a long rest ^^;... felt like time wasting.
 

KarinsDad

Adventurer
yeah rests are super dicey...my party had just finished a long battle and we went to rest (with watch). got ambushed by seven goblins... watchperson fails dc and is taken out. everyone else still asleep in their tents. first guy out that wakes up is shot down. that leaves 2 sleeping pc's....on a meaningless encounter-waking up in the dark in the middle of a hail of arrows. some serious handwaving was required for us to survive...and then immediately after the encounter we took a long rest ^^;... felt like time wasting.

Yeah, I learned that this type of encounter can suck playing Rolemaster back in the day. No matter how capable PCs are, it can be all for naught if they are asleep and ambushed.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
Well, few deer or other friendly animals come within speaking distance of humans and a camp fire.
And how many smaller predators attack humans, and are dangerous? (Lice, of course.) Not many.
I have heard of mutant ninja turtles attacks and don't under estimate squirrels. Just saying. :)
 


KidSnide

Adventurer
It's important for 5e DMs to keep in mind that surprise is a huge deal. Even without PCs sleeping out of armor, being taken in an ambush (day or night) can turn an easy or moderate encounter into a real nail biter. The additional logistics of reacting to a nighttime raid makes the issue even worse. By the same token, the PCs can defeat significantly more difficult foes if they can get a free round of attacks-from-hiding at the beginning of the fight, but that doesn't help when they are the side being taken by surprise.

-KS
 


Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
think this is needed...an oldie but goodie...could go with hogzilla
 

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Zaruthustran

The tingling means it’s working!
It raised several questions around setting up an effective camp in 5E:

1) Not really a question, but even having another character on watch doesn't seem like it would have helped too much. Being asleep (i.e. unconscious) is nasty bad.

2) What's a reasonable DC for waking up sleepers by yelling? My gut says its "hard", so DC 20. A couple players felt that was too high. Since everyone rolled under 15 or over 20, it wasn't an issue. Feedback welcome, though.

3) Can Alarm be used to effectively protect a camp? It says 20' cube, which isn't much more warning than the rogue had when he yelled. It would have made the "yelling" automatic, but a larger area still seems better. Can the 20' cube be reshaped, say, to a 5' think ring/square that's hollow in the middle. That seems against both RAW and intent, IMO.

4) Does wearing armor negate a long rest (i.e. sleep)? Could the tanks still wear light armor and sleep?

5) How deep is elven trance? I read it as still being effectively asleep. The advantages are that the elf only needs 4 hours and doesn't need to remove armor or lie down.

6) Do familiars need any down time? I ruled that they needed some recharge, so they disappeared for a few hours, but were around for their masters' watch.

7) Any other thoughts on avoiding a dirt nap when taking a long nap in 5E?

Someone else mentioned the tedium of setting up camp. Personally I *love* working out logistics, but it's important to respect the time of everyone at the table. So I strongly encourage you to ask your players to spend time on a single set of Standard Operating Procedures for "setting up camp." That way, the time is spent *once*, and there's never any question of how the camp was set up.

For your specific questions:

2) I agree that nearby, consistent shouting ("Alarm! Alarm! We're under attack! Wake up! To arms!") should automatically wake up sleepers. Certainly, a whistle should be auto-success (and whoever is on watch should have a whistle). But perhaps a single shout should be a DC 20 Perception check.

3) As others have pointed out, Alarm is a Ritual spell. The party wizard should spend an hour casting this 6 times, and create two perimeters (far and immediate). Hey, it gets him out of cooking and latrine-digging duty.

4) I've slept in chain, and I've slept in plate. Chain is easy: it's like sleeping under a heavy blanket. Kind of comfortable, actually. Sleeping in plate sucks. If you're tired enough you can do it, but no one would *want* to. For game mechanics I suggest allowing sleep in light or medium armor with no adverse effects if you're proficient in it. But sleeping in heavy armor two nights in a row introduces one level of exhaustion (but you get the other benefits of a long rest, such as refreshing abilities and such). Keep in mind that anyone in heavy armor is a tough (to meet min Str requirements) professional soldier (proficiency) in a dangerous area who relies on that armor to protect his or her life. They'll put up with discomfort, temporarily.

5) Trance used to be "fully alert" in the playtest, but now I see it's a "deep meditation." I'd treat that as awake, but disadvantage on Perception checks. So they'd definitely notice if someone walked into camp, or the moon turns bright pink, or whatever. But anything non-obvious--anything that requires a roll, such as detecting a sneaking creature--has disadvantage.

6) Familiars are magical creatures. Specifically, fey or fiends. Do fey and fiends need to sleep in your campaign?

7) Develop a Standard Operating Procedure for camp. I suggest: two people on watch with whistles (or one person + elf and/or familiar), layered Alarm spells, a pre-planned escape route and two rally points near ("that standing stone 200 yards away") and far ("the old mill an hour down the road"), sleeping in armor, clever use of Prestidigitation (you can instantly light or douse your campfire, as needed). And some general notions on who cooks, who gathers wood, what state do you leave the camp in (do you try to conceal that you were there, or just pack and go), and so on. This will help the DM figure out how easy it is to track you, and who gets plucked by sprites while hunting kindling.

And don't neglect page 157 and 159 of the PHB. 25gp buys you a guard dog with +3 Perception, and Advantage on hearing and smell checks. 2gp/day will hire a dedicated watchman.
 
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Henrix

Explorer
Good points, Zarathustran.

Guard dogs. Love that.


I've always let shouting wake the others automatically. I have let them make Perception rolls to see how fast it got them up.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
As for lighter armour, it depends. "Leather" is not real historical armour, so it depends on how you envision it. If it's like a leather jacket or coat, then they probably can. Real leather armour, in so much as it existed at all, was boiled leather (or otherwise hardened) and would have been very inflexible - so similar to metal armour, really. I don't think D&D leather is intended to be like this, though.

No, D&D leather armour really is cuir bouilli style armour, although likely just a breast piece and pauldrons (with optional skirt of soft leather). The PHB even calls it out as hardened leather via boiling oil. The stuff was real, and in fact I might even include Macedonian hoplite linothorax as a material as well.

for leather armour, I'd probably rule that they can sleep in it, and metal definitely not, but of course it's up to you how it works in your game world's reality. Perhaps even metal armour is comfortable enough to sleep in (maybe Elven or Dwarven craftsmanship makes for super flexible but tough armour, for example).

Neither chain nor plate are probably very comfy to sleep in, but I'd at least let a character wear the attendant padding and treat it as wearing padded armour if they insist on sleeping in something other than their skivvies.

On a side note, this is why warforged make the best guards. They have to rest for eight hours, but they're fully awake the entire time.
 
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Dausuul

Legend
I generally assume that adventuring PCs are competent soldier-types. They're not going to lie there snoring while the lookout shouts warnings--if necessary, they will sleep close enough that the lookout can kick them awake. When in dangerous territory, they sleep in armor (which real soldiers are quite capable of doing). I'd also say familiars can rest during the day and watch during the night.
 


Henrix

Explorer
I'll add some more to that list:

  • Animal Friendship (with the right animal - geese are ideal if you ask the Romans)
  • Find Familiar
  • Find Steed
  • Glyph of Warding (though expensive)

Continual Flame, as Hand of Flame says, is very good. Perimeter lights are awesome (even if you have 60' darkvision).


Horses are very skittish animals. They have good hearing and sense of smell.
They survive by running away much more often than necessary.
Few large predators will get close. (And they are often a tastier target.)

Horses are often used to humans and don't fear them so much. So they'll probably not be quite as good against bandits.
 

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