RPG Evolution - D&D Tactics: Camping

As we try to makeup for lost time, we've been camping more than ever before. And that got me thinking about what happens when D&D characters camp.

As we try to makeup for lost time, we've been camping more than ever before. And that got me thinking about what happens when D&D characters camp.


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

The Fun of Camping​

All the camping in the past few months has been tent camping: at Boy Scout camp, white water rafting and tubing, and visiting friends including a renaissance festival. We've slept in large family tents and individual tents. Go camping enough, and it becomes clear that being a human in the wilderness has its challenges. This is my experience, which is from modern camping, but others have tried to replicate what their characters go through on a camping trip with sometimes hilarious results.

You Can Hear Everything​

As I've discovered when several nearby campers arrived in the middle of the night, sound travels far. Cars arriving, doors slamming, and talking out loud sounds like they're happening right next to us. You can easily hear conversations even at a distance.

In this environment, a guard should be able to hear (even if they can't see), so the two balance themselves out. Leaves make it particularly difficult to sneak up on someone who is camping. Conversely...

Weather Matters​

Tents aren't very thick. Medieval-era tents were not nearly as sealed as modern tents. I've had to evacuate a campsite when hurricane-level storms passed through. Simply put, when you're in a tent, there's not much between you and the outside, and extreme weather can really ruin your night.

But on a more mundane level, tents aren't cabins and thus don't regulate temperature in the same way. If it rains, tents that aren't waterproof will make it difficult to sleep. Characters who need to rest to regain their spells may have a rough night when the temperature dips or even due to a passing rainstorm.

Secure Your Food​

We've learned the hard way that once the sun goes down, animals come out. And those animals want our food. We've had to fend off swarms of raccoons by tossing food into the forest just to get them away from us. We set up bear bags for our snacks (hanging food from high up so animals can't easily reach it), only to have humans sneak food out of the bag and forget to eat it all ... leaving an incriminating trail of half-eaten wrappers leading to the culprit's tent. And our last camping trip, something big walked up to a table and took a swipe at our garbage bag.

Adventurers likely produce more waste than modern campers and while their nemesis could be a big cat, wild dog, or bear, it's just as likely smaller vermin who are only too eager to dig into rations or drag off a hunk of meat. Characters who don't take appropriate will quickly find themselves without much to eat.

Campfires Are Not Lamps​

By far the most challenging adjustment for my modern lifestyle is realizing that daylight is a precious commodity that is not to be wasted. Fumbling around in the darkness of a tent after sunset makes finding the most basic things challenging. I learned to set out everything I would need at night before dinner so that I could find what I needed later, and woke up when the birds started singing.

Conversely, it's difficult to do precision tasks at night without a steady light. Campfires provide plenty of light, but it it's the same as the glow of an electronic lamp. And it's not all that safe to have an open fire inside a tent anyway. In this regard, being able to see in the dark (with darkvision or magic) is a bit like having an electrical light. You can perform a lot of tasks you could during the day without the inconvenience. But for those species who don't have darkvision like humans, most complex tasks aren't going to be done well in dim light.

Your Turn: How has your camping experienced influenced your character's camping routine?

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


The biggest way is that magic can make so many things easier. A light spell acts as a lantern you just cast every hour. I think you can even control its color and brightness, or at least an argument can be made to do it this way. Prestidigitation spell can do all sorts of things and more depending on how far the DM thinks can be mundane. Things like creating a flame or drying off a blanket or moving coals in the fire. Maybe waterproofing your tarp for an hour or sawing firewood is minor enough. My group does not get that involved in these details though.

I have created magic items based on camping before. Bedrolls that levitate off the ground so you can sleep comfortably or something like a stove that creates a flame to cook with.

I used to backpack and camp a great deal. It has influenced my gaming very little. Soggy sleeping bags, racoons making off with food, etc just isn't very fun to emulate in D&D or any other RPG I play. Sure, I use some of my experiences to describe things, but I never try to put anything mechanical into games from it.


I used some of this kind of stuff from time to time in past editions but 5e removes it from play entirely in ways others have already pointed out.


Eyes reflecting in the firelight’s ebb, some distance beyond true light. And movement.....

I don’t really worry too much about rules for camping ( light spells, good berry etc), but I do use the atmospherics of being sat around a campfire, in a pitch Black Forest, with a light rain falling and something is out there.
I recently played it to the hilt for my two grandkids ( and long-suffering wife playing the cleric), when they were attacked by Yeth Hounds at night.
Possibly because of lingering memories of being 15, camping out on Dartmoor with three army cadet friends, chatting about a certain Sherlock Holmes story when a dog began howling in the distant darkness. It was a long time till dawn!


Many years ago I was a US Army infantryman bivouacing in the swamps of GA. It's as close as I'll ever get to "D&D adventurer camping" and No Thank You.


Being both a long-time occasional camper and an old-school D&D player, I learned a long time ago to always keep your supplies organized and to keep your rations out of reach of animals.
Also another reason why you never want one character carrying all the rope or torches or the cleric carrying all the healing potions, lol...

And one thing to remember for in-game purposes is that up until very recently, "waterproofing" a tent actually involved making it extremely flammable due to the waterproofing materials they used to use... :rolleyes:
Even a stray spark from a fire could potentially light up a tent, nevermind a torch or cantrip.

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