Natural Conflict

Our camping trip was a great success. Now it is just a matter of shaking off the vacation laziness which never fails to hold me in its grip.

There were moments during our trip that were truly terrifying. A storm blew in with hurricane force winds of an F1 tornado. It was a wicked son-of-a-gun, and instead of going to the camper, I chose to sit it out in my tent and just relax while listening to the rain. It has been years since I have weathered through a really good storm in a tent. Back when I was a kid, and those cool little dome tents were first introduced to the market. Everybody said that they were to flimsy, but while camping in a large campground, after a forceful storm which beat and battered the tent, in the morning, my tent was the only one which still stood. All of the other tents were destroyed, their inflexible metal poles bent and collapsed.

This is just one of the many problems that can sneak up on you while you give yourself to the mercy of nature. The winds battered our tent around for an hour, the rain was so relentless that it flooded the tent, a stream flowing right through it soaking all of our gear. Thankfully no big trees fell, blocking the road out, else we’d probably still be there.

The point is that you can use more then just monsters to heckle your players. Natural storms can either work in your favor, or against it. When you’re using roads, bad storms turn these things into flooded and muddy creaks, trees fall blocking the passage and it can take weeks before whoever maintains the roads can get around to clearing up the damage.

Water can really ruin your day, it causes you to stop all movement because if you don’t dry your supplies, then they’ll mildew. Water can also ruin your food supplies, most adventurers rely on hard-tack, a nasty biscuit that can handle getting a little wet, but if your entire supply gets wet then it instantly starts to rot, and there wasn’t any plastic to protect these things. Dried meats were also used, and again, if they got wet then the rotting process would begin. This process can be stopped by finding a nice sunny area and drying everything out. It takes most of the day, all of your gear must be systematically unpacked and laid out. All cloth probably has to be hung up, and consider how much cloth was utilized by these people! Everything was made of some form of fabric, canvas repels water only so long before it becomes saturated, leather is the same way. We spray leather and canvas with a special chemical that helps it repel more and preserve leathers and skins from rotting, but what do our characters do?

Another thing to consider is blood. A beat up party will be bleeding, and blood attracts the critters. The predators of the area will be able to smell this blood and begin haunting your camp. Cougars, bears, lynx, these things plague campers to this day. A DM has to ask himself, what do these animals know of people? If it is a populated area, then they may avoid them, but most adventurers chose to go where people are scarce, and it is possible that the wild animals which rule this place have never seen a person and have no fear of them.

Animals are unpredictable. A bear, for instance, can ignore the people completely, choosing to just eat as much food as it can until the person retaliates, or it gets too uncomfortable. I’ve heard of an angry camper tired of being heckled by bears bust one right in the gut through his tent, and the bear ran away not knowing what the heck happened. Injuring a bear is a risk, if you make it angry then you could be in trouble. Attacking a bear can either bring its full wrath on you, or cause it to run away. Morale checks are definitely a blessing when dealing with wild animals. Any time an animal is hit, you should make a morale check. A successful check indicates that the animal chooses to defend itself. Big cats typically have more sense then bears do, if a predator is weaker then the humans attacking it, then continue checking for morale every round until it either dies or runs away, but for thick skinned and stubborn predators, such as bears or elephants, once they choose to attack they will never back down.

Now, I thought about putting a random table of events here, but I’m not sure if that is a good idea. A big storm effects more then just the adventurers themselves, it effects the entire region, this would make it more of an encounter situation then a random one. Random storms are typically your usual affairs, seasonal events that don’t really effect supplies or travel.

Truly spectacular storms should be written and prepped to serve a purpose, even if that purpose is a true encounter, where the enemy is the storm, and failure to properly defend yourself will cost you your life.

I love true stories about Man vs. Nature, and D&D is the perfect medium to explore these terrible scenarios in the safety of your own home. Sure it is easy to just use a random encounter table, but why not really test the players? It does require a bit more from the DM as there aren’t any hard-rules to govern these events, but common sense and a good understanding of cause and effect are always better tools then anything in the DMG or PHB.

With that said, I give you a table. You can insert this in your own random encounters table, or just make a check once per night on top of your normal weather generation. I think that I will only make this check during travel, and only once per night. I’ll roll a d% and if I get 00, I’ll check the table below. Of course this isn’t play-tested, if you try this out and find a different method works better, or if it feels too clunky or what have you, then speak up! This is an interactive forum.

1d12 roll/effect

1/ Cataclysm
2/ Travel impossible for 1d12 days
3/ disease/parasite
4/ d% of supplies destroyed
5/ 1d20 items are lost
6-12/ nothing happens


Much of this requires a human brain to figure out what it means. The purpose of this table and list of results is for it to be random. The exact results are up to the DM.


This is a natural occurrence of epic proportions which are dictated by the area which the party is camping in. It could be a forest fire which rages out of control, flash flooding, a sandstorm of such power and fury that it kills the locals who’ve never seen something like it before. An earthquake, killer winds, snows which bury entire forests, rivers. The key is to make it a natural disaster that effects the entire region. The cataclysm is an enemy which can’t be attacked or countered except by some spells which can effect such things. It is up to the players to survive by their wits, and skills alone. This can, and probably will, take an entire session to deal with, and effect whatever plans that you had. Thankfully, the odds of this ever happening are slim.

Travel impossible

A road can be washed out, trees fallen, if the party is using wagons, perhaps a wheel shatters or the horse dies. A bad storm can be the cause, as can a broken leg or some other emergency which is totally up to the DM. The party can become lost, sickened, forced to hide from some monster which can easily kill them, whatever. This can either be role-played to minimize damage, or just deduct the days and the supplies from the party.

Disease or Parasite

Sickness can happen at any time. A cleric can usually repair this, but what happens if it happens to the cleric himself? Handle this however you want. Everyone has to roll a CON check with a –10 penalty or get infected. The disease effects are also up to you, perhaps it just weakens them to the point were movement is impossible, and only healthy people can defend the party? The penalty of the disease is to halt progress for a week or two, deplete supplies, or even force the party to return to civilization, possibly infecting a large population if they aren’t careful. The DM can either take this as a total campaign failure, or as a setback, whatever he wishes.

d% of supplies destroyed

This is a serious blow when it happens. Water can be spilled or accidentally poisoned. Lamp oil leaking all over a bag and ruining stuff. Food spoiling, canvas tearing or burning, oats infested with bugs, go after the stuff which is normally consumed and brought along to make their lives easier. It is up to the party if they wish to continue or solve problems caused by the supply loss. Food will have to be hunted daily, depending on the environment, water loss can be fatal if a clean source can’t be found. Again, a cleric can fix much of this stuff, but not all of it.

1d20 Items Lost

Gather up all of the Character sheets and remove items as you see fit. Don’t tell them what items are gone, they’ll discover it for themselves at the end of the day or if they reach for it and it isn’t there.

Hiking is dangerous work, a hole in a bag is a fairly common occurrence and contents can spill out for hours before it is detected. Objects are misplaced, forgotten, or otherwise left behind. Stuff like lanterns, daggers, and other small objects are sometimes accidentally forgotten. Potions can lose their cork and spill out inside the bag for some fun results. How you decide to deduct the items is up to you, a favorite sword or spellbook probably will be kept meticulously, thus they’ll never loose it, but everything else is up for grabs. A warrior is good at keeping his sword properly maintained, but a thief or a wizard isn’t. Rust can make an item brittle, a roll of a 20 will break the item and leave the character with nothing to defend himself with. A normal book or map can become damaged and destroyed by natural causes. Anything is fair game. (NOTE: don’t erase the items off of the character sheets, the players shouldn’t know what happened, just write a note to yourself on the side for the effected items.)

ART BY: Robh Ruppel


ze bulette said...

Some great ideas here and I'll be looking at implementing something along the lines of your table in my campaign. I forgot about Gygax's disease/parasite tables in the 1e DMG where he gives a base 2%/month... I esp. like the items lost potential, and yeah, as campers, it is definitely going to occur at some point.

Joshua Macy said...

Actually, I think this is precisely the kind of thing that should be a random encounter rather than a plot device. Nature should be indifferent to whatever else is going on in the campaign at the time.

Anonymous said...

I recall squatting with each foot on either side of a rivulet holding my pack and bedding up out of the water that was running through the earth lodge my father, uncle and friends had built for camping, during a fierce rain storm for about an hour or so. The falling rain was kept out but not the flowing rain.
I've camped a whole bunch as a youth but somehow always seem to gloss over the many experiences of that youth and forget to bring them to the game table. Thanks for posting this reminder for me.

RipperX said...

RE: Actually, I think this is precisely the kind of thing that should be a random encounter rather than a plot device. Nature should be indifferent to whatever else is going on in the campaign at the time.

Perhaps you are right, jsemaj. I suppose that it depends on the situation. I would like to add some of these as common threats that can happen at any time, perhaps a bit subtler then those listed above, but stuff like that does happen pretty regularly.

Also thanks for the personal experience, I really liked reading that:)

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