Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wilderness Survival Guide

This book is deeply weird. Not necessarily in its content, but in its conception. It was a not infrequent occurrence for me to stop reading and exclaim, to no one in particular, "why did they decide to publish this, who is it for?" The main variation in this ritual was my fluctuating levels of exacerbation and despair.

The Wilderness Survival Guide is an omnibus of rules about what happens when your characters are outdoors. But not, like, cool fantasy adventure type stuff. It's whatever the opposite of that is. If you ever wanted to calculate much wear-and-tear your tent suffers under various prevailing wind and precipitation levels or the relative encumbrance values of your travel rations based on their total protein composition, this is the book for you. Open this book to any random page and you're practically guaranteed to come across a rule you'd claw your DM's eyes out over, were it consistently enforced.

Ah, to wit - page 57, fishing:

 Each entry on the table represents a number generated by a dice roll, and in most cases a modifier that is applied to that roll. The resulting number represents how many fish are caught in one hour by one character with a baited hook and line. The use of a net will increase the take to 50% more than the modified dice roll. If a negative modifier brings the die roll result to zero or lower, no fish are caught, regardless of the gear being used.
The table being referred to is one of the book's smaller, less obtrusive affairs. Only three rows and three columns, listing the quality of the fishing spot and the time of day at which the attempt was made.

The fishing section continues for another 6 paragraphs.

Far be it for me to complain about this level of picayune detail. I, for one, love survival video games, and, indeed, am currently in the middle of playing a Starbound mod that adds dozens of new resources and planet types and almost as many new crafting stations and their associated subsystems. So I get the appeal.

But my god, the bookkeeping. Did people actually play in this style? With the DM asking "what time of day do you go down to the fishing hole, and did you remember to buy a net while you were in town - because if it's not on your sheet, it doesn't count." And then keeping track of each individual fish, and whether that was sufficient to nourish the whole party, counting down the time until the PCs suffer staged status effects from hunger, in the event that it wasn't.

There's a section-header called "Relative Humidity." It's got a chart. It's an "optional rule." Implying that everything preceding it in the chapter wasn't.

Like I said. Deeply weird.

But the weirdest part of this book is in what it's not. It is most assuredly not a guide to things you might find in a magical fantasy wilderness. No, this book is purely about survival under earth-like conditions. It acknowledges the potential for DMs to put fantastical elements into their rpg wilderness, but then almost immediately forswearing its responsibility by claiming that fantasy was beyond the scope of the book. There aren't even any guidelines for random encounters, something that took up quite a lot of real estate in the DMG.

I can't imagine that I'll ever actually use this book. There's a part of me that's tempted. Just find 6-8 players and pitch them on a nightmarish, pixel-bitching deathmarch of a hexcrawl. Mwah ha ha! Total party kill and they never even see a monster! But then I come back down to earth and remember that I'd ideally like to keep my friends.

I expect that even in AD&D's heyday, this was the sort of book that was only spot referenced to add some spice to the occasional encounter, but maybe even that is giving it too much. My copy is in totally pristine, like-new condition, and I bought it from a local used book store. Either its previous owner was incredibly responsible with their possessions, or people in 1986 had the same gut reaction I did.

UKSS Contribution: Oh, this is a tough one. Distressingly large portions of this book are devoted to explaining the concept of weather. And the ones that aren't tend to be even less evocative. Luckily, there is one table where the book let its freak flag fly - the one explaining the encumbrance levels and long-term endurance of flying mounts. How long can you ride a dragon or a pegasus before it needs to stop for rest and whatnot.

So I could just steal a monster from the list, say it exists in Ukss and be done with it. But one particular entry caught my eye - the giant mantis.

Giant mantis.

In a list of flying mounts.

Obviously, I must extrapolate from this an entire knightly order of mantis-riders, who take to the skies to keep the world safe from various airborne threats.

It's the only logical thing to do.


  1. Are you reading .pdfs also, or only your physical books?

    Also, are you pronouncing Ukss uhx, oox, or something else?


  2. I've been pronouncing it uhx.

    And it's just physical books on my list, because that's what I prefer, but in the unlikely event that I finish my whole list before all my outstanding kickstarters come in, I may read a couple of pdfs too.