So my spring break has just passed and I took some time to go out camping. While I was out I decided to take a small journal and use it to write down my thoughts and possibly take some notes for my world building. We went out to a camping spot off of a half mile trail so we had to carry our things with us as we went in and out. I started thinking about the demands of camping and the perspective that they gave me as a GMand as a player.
Whenever a player makes a check to talk to someone, lift something heavy, or jump a long distance the player is not making that check off of what it reality. He is instead making that check off of what the GM thinks is reality. The idea of overcoming obstacles is totally from the perspective of how a GM perceives the challenge, unless said challenge is directly outlined in a supplement or other book. A good GM has a good sense of scale for actions and this perspective will not be a problem, but some GMs have no idea about the actual effort in actions and honestly I believe physical experiences can temper that lack of good scaling.
Let’s go back to camping and what it does. When we went out we had to hike a half mile trail to our campsite. If I forgot something we would have to walk the half mile out and then the half mile back in. This would be incredibly inconvenient. Not only that but we could not use our arms to carry in all of the gear that we needed, we had to use backpacks to carry everything to live for 3 days (water could be moved by itself when needed). This challenge gave me a very realistic perspective on carrying capacity and why it is important to maintain for PCs and NPCs. There are people who actually saw a toothbrush in half when they go backpacking in order to reduce the overall weight in their backpack, and others who will go to even greater lengths to maximize space versus utility. This reality of how hard it is to live off of the things carried on your back is extremely important for characters who basically do this for a living. There are real questions that are easy to ask players that will make things more difficult for them, but should still be asked. “I understand you can carry one hundred kunai, but where will you put those tiny knives?” or just knowing what it is like to carry twenty to fifty pounds on your back for a ten mile hike can make all the difference in a game. This perspective may be hard earned outdoors and should be a hobby pursued in it’s own right, but it can add a great amount of empathy in a RPG.
My second level of perspective is camping at night. There is a real difference between camping and being out in the middle of nowhere at night, and being in a city or town at night. Anyone who lives in the middle of nowhere will agree with me on this, but for someone who is a city dweller that idea is a little more difficult to grasp. Almost everyone though has been to a secluded place that has little light pollution, looked up at the stars, and marveled at how beautiful it is. Well that is because it is dark as a venti-black poster out there and when you go back inside it will not bother you as much. When you go camping on the other hand that darkness goes beyond looking at the sky and then going back inside. I was giving the duty of sitting out and watching the fire embers die before I went to bed and I can guarantee you that when the fire went out I could not see further than five feet, and even that was hazy. When you are out there actually looking at those trees you realize what natural darkness is and how crippling it can actually be. The reason why I point this out is because a lot of people see natural darkness from there most natural perspective and in the case of adventuring, wilderness tracking, and being in a spaceship with no power, there is a vast difference to being in the darkness of a city. If you do not believe me then go out to the middle of nowhere and look in the direction of the nearest city and look at the light pollution. The point is that darkness plays a big role in how characters interact and knowing the difference between different ambient darknesses can play a role on play.
Those are just two pieces of perspective that I could detail but there’s other things to consider like walking multiple miles, gathering your own food, and even just the amount of time and effort setting up and knocking down camp. Having a perspective on these things will help with any fantasy style game and in certain cases sci-fi settings. I would encourage any GM to go out and explore the world around them and do what it takes to put their real experience behind the screen!
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