Sunday, April 12, 2020

If Your Torches Burn for only One Hour your NPCs will be More Important

  In the Seaward campaign the PCs formed an adventuring company, got a charter from the King, bought an old inn as a home base and, most recently, built their own level in my superdungeon.
  None of them are above 7th level and most of this activity began when they were 3rd/4th level.
  The Company is about 10 PCs but they have about 45 henchmen, as well as about 100 hirelings, mercenaries, etc.

  When discussing my campaigns in blogs, forums (very rare), on my Discord, etc. a frequent question I get is 'how do you get your players so invested in the world? NPCs seem important, they use a lot of henchmen that develop their own personalities, and they start doing things we associate with being name-level very, very early. What's the secret?'.

  The really, really short answer is that in my campaigns torches burn for an hour and weigh 2 1/2 lbs.
  The longer version begins with the very simple concept that remembering that AD&D is a resource management game is the key to having players and character motivations intersect with your campaign.

  "But Rick!," you say, "Iola is a power gamer running a fighter with amnesia, Joe is a story gamer whose cleric has 9 pages of backstory, Callie loves the table interaction and her mage is played as 'eccentric and forgetful', Frank loves riddles, traps, and scouting and his thief is pure business, and Chet is pure munchkin with a mage! Their motivations in and out of game are totally different!"
  if you get the name references without a internet search you get free access to this blog for a week.
  I never said any motivations would be the same, I said that the resource management aspect is how you make them all connect to your campaign.

  Tangent time!  You expected that, I hope.

  Way back when  in the late '70's when I started playing I dutifully wrote down my maximum encumbrance, recorded all of the locations and weight of my gear, listed containers, etc. As a DM I have all the PCs do the same for themselves, their mounts, their henchmen, and I track hirelings. It affects movement, naturally.
  I also keep careful track of time overland and in the dungeon which means I track food, water, and light source usage.
  I use reaction and morale checks. I use the disease and parasite rules. I use the overland movement rules, the rules for getting lost, and random encounter checks. When missile weapons are used the ammo is often lost or broken.

  Even in 1977 when I was first playing a few DMs weren't doing these things. They had everything from rolls to see if you still had arrows after you fired the first 12 to blithe indifference - everyone had infinite food, water, light, and ammo.
  I also noticed that in virtually all of those games the PCs had damn near zero interaction with NPCs and henchmen were vanishingly rare. And in a ton of them the DM's complained that no matter what else they tried the game was only about fighting.

  Vaguely back on track.

  Here's how the enforcement of the basic rules on resources demands my PCs engage with the campaign in one easy, if long and boring, lesson. The source of great power and great loot (as well as great mystery) is Skull Mountain, a remote area surrounded by the Briars. The only safe-ish way to get there is the Old Road - there is one stream halfway up the Old Road and no food available along it. For an unencumbered man on horse in good weather it is 3 days to the mountain and 3 days back to the nearest town, Esber. So if you want to spend a day in the mountain you must have no less than seven days of food and the capacity for 3 days of water so the bare minimum encumbrance per person is 31 lbs and per horse (horses aren't bicycles! They eat and drink, remember?) you'll need a minimum of 100 lbs per horse. So for a party of 5 on horses that's about 660 lbs just for provisions.
I'll write a big blog post on logistics someday soon, and it'll be about 12,000 'why yes I was a soldier, why do you ask?' words.
  If you switch to foot travel to avoid horses you go up to 9 days food and 4 days water, minimum, etc.

  Then you're in the dungeon. Low-level parties don't have Continual Light objects and Light spells use up rare slots and don't last long. Assuming the party is underground for 8 hours and has two light sources (a lantern and a torch) they'll need 5 lbs of food and water (bare minimum) each and 31 lbs of light sources total. And this leaves no room for error, at all. Need to be underground for days at a time? Without magic you'll need about 50 lbs of light sources per day if you all sleep in the dark.

   Getting everything all arranged for a party to get to the Mountain with guards for horses, food for everyone, light sources, etc. get so complex my players refer to it as,
  "Is the dungeon master pointing out that we technically need an infinite number of mules? AGAIN?!"

  "Um, Rick? We were talking about campaign interaction, remember? All you are talking about is torches."

  I'm setting the stage, sheesh!

  So if you enforce  encumbrance, food, time, distance, etc. rules the characters have to be prepared and the players have to plan. This is a perfect excuse to make them interact with the world you’re building and toss in tons of details they will get no other way.
  The players will need to find sources for food and equipment, like torches or oil. This makes everyone think - where does the oil or resin come from? Can I get more/a better price if I go to the source?  Are there limits? What food is available? In what season? How much? Where? etc.
  As the party prepared tot he Mapping expedition, a full year in the Briars with a base camp in the Mountain the party had to source 13 months worth of food, water, light sources, etc. and get it to the mountain. The result?

  Most of the light sources in the Mountain ended up being torches, then candles because they bought all the oil in the region and the few torch makers couldn't keep up with demand. Food prices in Esber skyrocketed because they bought all the smoked ham, salted fish, and cheese to be had for ever-increasing prices. They also stripped the area of oats and sheep tallow, making the local favorite breakfast (unleavened oatcakes fried in sheep tallow) rare and angering many. The price of mules and pony carts went through the roof because they bought every one they could find in the kingdom for the bi-weekly caravans to the mountain. Independent merchants from Adrian started making runs up the Old Road to try to sell to the base camp (even though 3 in 4 vanished, never to be seen again).

  In the end the increased demand opened up trade and diplomacy between Seaward and Banath for the first time in a generation, all because the party was feeding 25 people and 20 horses in a remote area for a year as well as stocking up a mountain hidey-hole for future expeditions.
I'd also like to note that the party did fun stuff like replacing or repairing a number of strategic doors and putting locks on them; hiding huge stashes of food, water, torches, lamp oil, candles, rope, spikes, etc. in several places; and conducting regular patrols in the upper levels. they effectively added treasure and random encounters to my dungeon.
  The party also hired factors (merchants that buy and sell for you) in 5 towns and cities, bought an inn within Esber as a base and storehouse; met with the local Baron and Bishop to smooth things over  with them, and; gave generously to the poor affected by the lack of food.
  They also then had to use the mule train to get the loot from the Briars and  the Mountain down to Esber, then sell everything off (taking a loss) before feeding the mules wiped out their treasure.

  If I simply said,
  "Don't worry about food, water, light, or time. Let's just play."
  None of that happens. They don't have ties to NPC factors in five towns and cities (that have already triggered 3 more adventures), no meeting with the baron and bishop, no interaction with farmers, or the beggars, no long argument with the muleskinners about if they should get paid as much as light infantry if they also fought the kobolds, no stash of 3,000 gp worth of gear on Level Three, none of it.

  The resource portion of AD&D is there for reasons, and the reason isn't to annoy you. It is to point out that the characters live in a world that is supposed to make (at least internal) sense and provide a non-combat challenge for players to overcome with wit and skill.

  Want the players involved in the campaign? Want them doing domain level stuff?
  Then make torches burn 1 hour and weigh 2 1/2 lbs.


  1. Excellent article! Makes me want to get that precise with encumbrance, etc. in my own AD&D campaign. I have in a sense, as I've gotten players interested in building their own bases at much less than name level.

  2. Love it. People often don't associate cause and effect when they simplify things (or perhaps, make them "elegant").

    1. I think there's a balance that each campaign finds between what folks want to spend their time on, and how the DM presents those factors and their logical conclusions.

  3. I got the name references right off the bat. Can it be that I'm the first to comment on this? These are the main characters of the Hardy Boys detective stories. Frank & Joe are the brothers, Callie and Iola are the girlfriends (respectively) and Chet is the best friend who is also their main henchman.

  4. It has been a couple of months since I checked this blog and I'm rewarded with multiple posts. I got to play a Pathfinder game a few years ago wherein the game master was fastidious about encumbrance, weather, logistics, etc. As our party tracked a brigand army beyond the frontier. I found keeping all the characters provisioned to be an enjoyable puzzle, but the group reactions were pretty mixed.

  5. THIS is how you play D&D.
    I eagerly await the logistics post!

  6. Very nice connection between resource management and inspiring the PC's to care about the world - I liked this post a ton! (Plus just discovered your blog, I dig it).