how do you sleep in the woods?

Do your GM a favor. Tell her exactly how your party bivouacs when you settle down to sleep.

Night tends to be downtime on an adventure. The scenes get all the attention: the time spent moving carefully through the dungeon, the set-piece encounters, even the rolls on the random encounter table. That’s when the excitement happens. Usually the party is keyed up for a fight.

When was the last time your fighter fought without his armor donned, buckled, and settled? Your rogue with her keen senses and reflexes dulled by sleep—real crusty-eyed sleep, not Sleep? Your mage swinging that quarterstaff, out of spells, about 20 hours into the expected 15-minute adventuring day?

The PCs don’t get a pause button. It is an impoverished campaign world that sits and waits upon their actions. The verve a GM wants to create, the feeling of a living world, of not riding a railroad, is largely contingent upon the world carrying merrily along whenever the PCs are not directly interacting with it. NPCs continue along with their business—remember, each one of them is the hero of his own narrative—when the PCs aren’t looking. Monsters don’t stop hunting for food because the PCs bedded down for the evening. Indeed, whenever you’re not looking, your enemy is out there, leveling up.

So, how do you sleep in the woods?

If you tell your GM, you’re a lot more likely she’ll show you why it’s important. Do you sleep on the ground, maybe in that bedroll? Okay. Think about how you felt the last time you got a poor night’s sleep. How did you function at work the next day? Were you groggy, irritable, distracted? Now imagine instead of tossing and turning in your bed, you were doing so in a threadbare bedroll, on the root-lumped rock-bestrewn ground, in the rain. And then you remember that most carnivores hunt at night.

That campfire will keep you warm. It will cook your fresh food, if you were able to hunt or snare any, or heat up some water for that tea you remembered to tuck into your pack. It provides a cocoon of warmth and light, a small sphere of life in the brooding dark. The fire is seductive. And it’s even more seductive for those skulking out there in the darkness. An open campfire lets you see for a few yards around. But it can be seen for miles. Hungry eyes can see in, but after a few yards, you can’t see out.

Does your party carry a tent? It will keep the rain off, but now you can’t see out. As any child who has ever cowered under a blanket can tell you, that bit of cloth can feel like armor against evil, but any real evil knows that canvas is rent as easily as the flesh within it. And how are you toting that heavy canvas tent around, anyway? Did you take skill levels in muleskinning? And you thought your cloak got heavy when it’s wet out.

When all else fails, ask your ranger. Any ranger worth his salt will at least be able tell the natural lines of drift that unwelcome evening friends will tend to travel, set up a lean-to to keep off the rain, and dig a little firehole where the light won’t give you away. Your druid will probably just be curled up in the pine duff under an outcropping anyway.

Tell your GM how you bed down at night. She might be kind enough to send you some visitors. And hope your third watch didn’t close his heavy-lidded eyes, just for a moment.

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