Camping, Resting, and Downtime in Dungeons & Dragons
You’ve been on the road for hours and trekking through the foothills of the Yarafel Mountains. As it grows dark, you decide to stop and set up camp. Now that you have pitched your tent and the night is drawing in, what do you do?
Camping, resting, and eating have historically been dull mechanical components for the player experience. This is especially true when you are playing an Elf who doesn’t need to sleep at all! What can you do to make this essential, but potentially boring time more fun?
The Mechanics Of Resting
As a character, you need to rest. Whether you are a Fighter who regenerates via Superiority Dice on a short rest or a Wizard that needs to take a long rest in order to gain their spell slots back, resting is important. More than simply helping your character regenerate their combat effectiveness, camping and resting can remove levels of Exhaustion and provide the chance to eat or drink to avoid fatigue from setting in.
While resting, keeping your companions and yourself safe is still a top priority! Keeping watch is often simple enough, and volunteering to go first will potentially win you some favors among your party members. Engaging in non-combat encounters with your Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters), like investigating a strange bird call coming from the woods or observing lights traveling on the road, can help you build up an effective image of the area your party is camping in. An informed party is a safe party!
At lower levels, when spells like Goodberry are not yet available to you, you can make use of camping to take note of the remaining rations and water that you have available. If you are playing a Ranger or Druid, you could take this opportunity to use your scavenging abilities or Wild Shapes to rustle up extra food for the party.
Mechanically speaking, you might have rolled up a character who is a Cleric of the Forge or a Rogue Mastermind. These characters can capitalize on their downtime by using their abilities or build on existing ones. Forge Clerics might upgrade a few items of gear whilst the Rogue practices forging a few important signatures from the upcoming township.
Roll Hard, Play Hard
Aside from bettering yourselves mechanically, you might want to improve your relationships with other player characters. Early on in an adventure, these moments of downtime are key to building lasting friendships or enmity between your characters. If you are a Wizard, getting the Barbarian on your side early on might save you from a gruesome death when the time comes.
Sadly, role-playing can be rather difficult for those who haven’t done it before. If your character has some tool proficiencies from when you initially created them or has an instrument or gaming set, now is the time to use them! Spending the evening around a campfire singing songs with companions, playing Dragon Chess, or using a woodwork kit to make a toy horse are great ways of sharing a role-playing experience between characters.
Writing a bit of a backstory for your character can be really helpful in creating moments between you and other players. Perhaps you are playing a big, tough Goliath Fighter who loves to climb trees because of her upbringing among Tabaxi in Chult. You might take this chance at camp to climb one and encourage a Kenku Rogue to join you up there!
If you choose to go deeper than this, you could begin some really in-depth conversations between yourself and other player characters. If you chose to play a Paladin, for example, you may have a very strong faith in a particular god. Talking to the grizzled and world-weary Ranger and discussing a time where you struggled with your faith might be a great way of getting them to open up to you about their own backstory!
Now we must turn to the Oliphant in the room: Alcohol.
In a fantasy world, there are obviously lots of different kinds of alcohol available. However, this can often be used as a crutch in games, much like in the real world. In some instances, players may use getting drunk as a role-playing crutch. Often, character-based alcoholism becomes a means of bypassing the role-playing element of the game. You must recognize that not every player wants to role-play, but still offer them the opportunity to get involved without their character just getting drunk all the time.
Ask your Quest Master to find a way of making a trip to the tavern more interesting for you, such as using a randomized drinks table as referenced below. These may have strange, even magical, effects that will encourage role-playing in players who may be a bit disinterested in it. However, for your party members who do want to get drunk, it’s always fun to lure tipsy characters into shenanigans!
D100 Drinks Table - this list was crowd-sourced by many fine folks online. It contains a few outdated rules which are easily updated to other systems.
How have you made downtime a memorable role-playing experience? Tell us about it in the comments below!