Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Hazards of Overland Travel

Some friends took a trip to Big Bend National Park last weekend to hike around what is known as the "outer loop", a 30 mile trail in the center of the park. Well on day two, my friend became a heat casualty and the trio were running seriously low on water. He had to be left behind while the other two continued the trek throughout the night to get aid. They were able to find the emergency stores of water and get back to him the next morning. You can read his account here:

San Antonio Lament

While this was a harrowing experience for my friend, little does this type of danger ever present itself in a fantasy game. Characters travel across continents, who would be lucky to see a town every two weeks. Sure, they are closer to the land than we may be today, but they are also not as privy to the information level we have. Would a farm boy raised in a cold northern climate know how to survive in a desert? Granting the character is not a ranger with a blanket skill to cover all terrains. Would the Ranger have enough charisma to convince some one they are walking too far, or drinking too much water?

I have tried to play scenarios where characters are not 'super' heroes that can march straight from one magic enriched dungeon to another without getting lost. I have seen the frustration on players face when the 'ranger' gets turned around and double over their path and food stores become low, hunting isn't as easy as 'We shoot a deer and the feast, Huzzah!!!!', and penalties for fatigue and exhaustion set in. The few times I have tried this, I have been rewarded with the frustrations of my players who none too subtly point out that I was picking on the players and not being fair.

I recall the first adventure for the game 'Star Frontiers' where the characters crash land in the middle of a desert on an alien world. Included were an advance set of water consumption rules for players to survive the harsh climate. Take your salt pills, walk at night, find shade and rest during the day. It was a lot for our eighth grade minds to remember. I recall impressing everyone with contraption for collecting water: Dig a hole, place a can in the center, cover it with your poncho (anything plastic will work), and put a small rock in the center so that it slightly dips over the can.

The idea is that through out the night when it cools, the little water that is in the air, trapped in the whole will condense on the plastic and trickle down towards the center where it will drip into the can. Will it work? I have no idea, I've never had the need to try it. I saw it on some wildlife show and it has always stuck with me. It was a good feeling to 'save' the party and perhaps that is why I like to use those situations. Unfortunately, I've never found someone who liked the scenario so I have allowed players to by X weeks of rations and successfully hunt for the rest.

Having known both hot and cold weather causalities and seen first hand the effects of heat exhaustion, I find that characters, especially green would-be heroes, would be prone to become a victim of their environment. I am curious if anyone else has been able to use realistic scenarios in the realms of fantasy and fiction. Did they rise to the task and save the party? Were you forced to kill a player? Did you players enjoy the scenario?

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