Tuesday, May 25, 2021


I haven't forgotten about the "god fighting" posts; they shall be continuing shortly. However, my daughter came down with a sniffle over the weekend and so both kids were home yesterday (school policy) which has delayed the next post of the series.

In the meantime, here's something else for folks to chew on:

Sunday we had the day off, and I mean a real day off. No sports, no school, no church (still closed without an appointment), no outdoor activities (it was raining). D&D was thus the order of the day, and the home game began exploring my rework of Xak Tsaroth, AKA The Sunken City of Doom. So far the party is still exploring the swamp, and have faced but a single encounter with lizard men (my world doesn't have draconians). Well, they also encountered some wolves along the road, but they drove those off. 

Not a lot of action, right? I can understand if that seems strange to some folks: running a typical B/X dungeon, I'd expect to get through six to eight combat encounters in a four hour session (depending on the level of opposition, the number of combatants involved, and the relative skill of the players); even for my young players, even running the (slightly) more complex AD&D, we'd expect three to four solid battles in a session...we were doing that easy when running UK3: The Gauntlet

But this is campaign play...advanced play. And the beginning of an adventure is always a bit slower.

We wrapped up The Forest Oracle pretty quickly...in brief, the PCs decided to leave "the Downs" (Thorp) to its fate, abandoning the quest in favor of more straightforward (and hopefully lucrative) pursuits. None of this 'go-here-do-that-get-this-other-thing-save-town' stuff. Besides, the undermountain tunnel had proven decidedly un-profitable and extremely deadly (they lost...mmm...three PCs in its depths?). More money had been found simply dealing with road bandits, and the players decided to cash in their chips at the nearest decent spot of "civilization:" the small village of Wenatchee.

[I say "village" because it has just under 500 inhabitants. However, Solace in Dragonlance has the same number and is called a "town" in module DL1]

It was in Wenatchee that the party made the acquaintance of Duke Van-Uz, an adventurer and nobleman who had learned of an ancient city, lost forever in the swamps known sarcastically as "Banks Lake." Supposedly, the place had been a thriving metropolis before the people turned away from the worship of their patron goddess in favor of other, darker gods. Legend says the goddess struck down the city in her wrath, sinking the entire place into the swamp and muck, and transforming its inhabitants into inhuman creatures. While most folks consider the stories to be nothing more than cautionary fables, the Duke discovered an old map on one of his ventures, that seems to indicate a large city did indeed exist some 300 years ago....

The Duke thinks the city existed and believes there may be ancient/lost treasures still to be recovered. After some negotiation, he's agreed to outfit the party (to the tune of 1,500 gold pieces) to launch an expedition, with the understanding that he expects a 100% return on his investment within the month. Formal contracts were drawn, along with the usual assassination clauses, and the party set about with provisioning.

[regarding assassination clauses and the D&D economy, I humbly direct your attention to the latest Grogtalk video, Money and the 1st Edition Economy. After the usual rigamarole of banter they get into the whole DMG bit about taxes, tariffs, expenses and fees...but the rather hilarious (and thoughtful) bit about the role of assassins guilds in AD&D society comes in at the 3:35 mark, and I'd recommend starting the video there...for interested folks, it's about 20 minutes of pure gold]

And that's where the time for the session got sunk. In my campaign, Xak Tsaroth is located about where Coulee City is in the real world, some 67 miles east of Wenatchee down US-2. Except there is no "US-2" and the ground is rough enough any kind of wheeled cart or wagon is going to take about a week just to get to the edge of the swamp (i.e. to about the place that wheels become useless). And that's a loooong distance to travel when you're packing in your own food supplies...there is NOTHING between Wenatchee and the site's location.

The party's original plan was to hire about eight men-at-arms, in addition to the henchmen they've already acquired, for a total party size of 13. Two carts were deemed sufficient, pulled by eight mules (four each). The cleric had also purchased a war horse which, along with his riding mare, would be making the trip. Figuring two week's travel (round trip) plus a week of exploration meant 21 days of food and feed for every human and animal in the party: a bit more than 3,500 pounds of provisions. Each cart, fully loaded, can haul 800#...less than a quarter of their required capacity for food alone. 

[we used 7.5# per day for "iron rations" based on the encumbrance figures given in Appendix O of the DMG. As of today, I'm willing to revise that to a more appropriate 3.5# food per person per day, with the difference between "iron" and "standard"simply being an issue of spoilage...but even so, you're only saving half a ton of cartage]

THIS. This is the reason why dungeons exist unexplored and unspoiled by every two-bit adventurer aspiring to the name. Because 60 miles might as well be 600 if there are no roads and no villages in between. The issue turned into an interesting dilemma of logistics for the players, as they played around with different combinations of distance, time, encumbrance, and (monetary) budget. Perhaps if they headed north, they could take a boat down the Columbia to the northern part of the swamp...except that there's no Grand Coulee Dam, and no real way to move wagons through 30 miles of bog to the (alleged) location of the lost city. Anyway, rafting through monster-infested swamps doesn't sound like the safest course of action.  

It took a good long time to reach a decision agreeable to both the party and their patron (they actually negotiated upwards from the original outlay costs). In the end, they purchased a single, four-wheeled wagon (drawn by an 8 mule team), and hired only five light footmen (four plus one sergeant); they did purchase good armor (chain) for everyone. The magic-user is driving the wagon; the cleric riding his palfrey. The party assumes that food eaten on the journey will allow space to be used for packing out...absolutely essential since they'll need to pay their sponsor 3,000 gold in treasure upon return from the venture.

SO. One encounter. Oh, and some wolves in the hills. Most of the men-at-arms were retained simply to guard the wagon and livestock while the adventurers proper push into the swamp's interior. The one lady-in-arms they took with them was slain in the first round of combat with the lizard men...not sure what they plan to do with her body, but the party is pressing on while they still have daylight. 

After all, they only have a limited number of days to explore before the food runs out.
; )


  1. Does your fantasy version of Thorp have a fabulous combination fruit stand/ emporium of dubiously useful magic items?

    1. I’ve never actually been to Thorp. It’s placement was purely based on it fitting the scenario of the adventure module. “The Downs” aren’t really a town/village...more a community. From my (limited) research, Thorp feels much the same...plus it worked geographically.

    2. I was going to ask something similar.

  2. Why do you think that the 75gp/7.5 lb. listing for iron rations is per day? Both types of rations are purchased per week in the PH, and 200gp/20 lbs. (the listing for standard rations) seems more appropriate to a person-week's worth of food (roughly 3 lbs. per day, which is about three 1 lb. meals per day) than a day's worth.

    1. @ Faol:

      That’s pretty sound reasoning (given the PHB entry), and I won’t fault it. My own reasoning is based on:

      1) Convenience: as a DM, I measure food in days, not weeks. If a PC has three days of food remaining, how much does that weigh? Three-sevenths of 7.5 pounds? Do I need to convert this to ounces? I really don’t want to get THAT fiddly.

      2) Modeling. While 20 pounds of food per week MIGHT sustain a human doing “adventuring” work (a skinny human), I’d be hard pressed to consider 7.5 enough food. A pound per days? Do they sell “lembas bread” at the local trading post?

      While 200 coins encumbrance seems high for a day’s food, I consider that “coins” doesn’t just represent weight, but bulk...a loaf of bread, odd-shaped packages, perhaps can or jars (that add to weight) or the utensils and cookware needed to COOK the rations. Standard rations aren’t “preserved” food...it’s a side of pork/beef, not jerky. As such, you need a pot or pan, utensils, firewood, etc. That’s all extra weight that’s necessary for the consumption and digestion of normal human fare. Yeah? It’s abstract, but it’s there.

    2. The iron ration is a major anachronism, but it absolutely is that light. Reason being, it's an emergency ration not intended for long-term sustenance.

      "The first attempt to make an individual ration for issue to soldiers in the field was the "iron ration", first introduced in 1907. It consisted of three three-ounce cakes (made from a concoction of beef bouillon powder and parched and cooked wheat), three one-ounce bars of sweetened chocolate, and packets of salt and pepper that was issued in a sealed tin packet that weighed one pound. It was designed for emergency use when the troops were unable to be supplied with food."

      Seven one-pound tins of food plus a burlap wrapping is 75 coins of encumbrance.

      For further proof, look to the example of encumbrance on p. 225 of the DMG. Drudge the fighter's encumbrance only adds up correctly if his week's worth of iron rations collectively weigh 75 g.p.

      The equipment and encumbrance lists are really unsatisfactory for anything other than dungeons that are within a few leagues of a village or town. For longer expeditions, you need to either assign a cost and weight to the necessary supplies from on high, or supplement the rulebooks with additional items, with costs and weights either devised by you or pulled from some third-party source. If you go the latter route of itemizing, taking a peek at later editions would be a starting point; each has its own idiosyncratic and incomplete list, but they're all at least moderately more extensive than what 1E provides.

    3. Mmm. Thanks for the analysis...again, I can’t find fault in your explanation. Hadn’t thought to reverse engineer the Drudge example, but that’s brilliant.

      It also absolutely fails to work for me. Technology in my world is pretty far behind 20th century standards, especially in food production and preservation. No one’s packing protein bars in their knapsack.

      I wonder how long someone could survive on a steady diet of such “iron” rations (my players purchase them exclusively). I’ve done seven day juice fasts and still put in full days at the office PLUS exercise (lifting at the gym, martial arts at the dojo)...all with no problem. But that’s not the same thing as marching all day, doing manual labor, and fighting for your life in hand-to-hand combat. Nutrition is more than just calories.

      RE later editions:

      I do have copies of 2nd and 3rd edition hardcovers and have used them for this kind of thing in the past, but the internet is my main friend for this kid of research. One day, I’ll put together a big ol’ master list of stuff. One day...
      ; )

    4. Over the short to medium term, calories and macronutrients are by far the most important factor in having the energy for manual labor and exercise - and iron rations packed in over 3300 calories per tin, plus a good mix of protein from the beef bouillon powder, carbs from the parched wheat, and fat plus more carbs from the chocolate. Long term, probably a terrible micronutrient profile, though.

      Their highly-engineered descendants, on the other hand... MREs have been tested up to 21 days as a person's only food source, with only water or black coffee for drinks, and the only side effect reported was a slight constipating effect - an average of one fewer defecation per week. Even less relevant to D&D than the iron ration, of course, but I still thought it was interesting.

    5. @ Dan:

      It IS interesting.
      : )

  3. Have you ever posted about your setting at length? I get that it's based on Washington but I'd love to know more about how you've translated that to your campaign.

    1. @ Jason:

      I haven’t. The reality is, I’m still putting it together, a little at a time, as needed. I have major population centers listed (mainly based on historic, pre-railroad numbers for the state), and some ideas about regional power structures, but it’s still a work in progress.

      I’m sure I’ll write more about it as campaign progresses.

  4. Hi JB, there is a good acount of using a mule train in Norman Mclean's "USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky". Worth reading on any account.

  5. They should have bought a bunch of cows and slaughtered them on the way.

    1. Food "on the hoof" isn't a terrible idea, but can be problematic in a wilderness full of owl bears and whatnot. Plus the time spent skinning and carving, no real way to preserve the meet without spending extra time, etc. And would they need to hire a butcher?

      Maybe a sheep or two.

    2. I don't think a butcher would be needed. My uncles and my dad were hunters and they could butcher a deer well enough to distribute the meat amongst the family.

      And if animal is small and the party large enough preservation may not be an issue. But herding animals along would be a pain.

    3. @ Narmer:

      I think dressing out a deer and butchering a cow are two different skills...but I may be wrong.

      My male relatives (uncles, grandfather) in Montana were all hunters, and dressed their own deer, but I'm not sure how much of the animal was wasted...they weren't tanning hides or mounting heads and antlers, just hanging carcasses in a garage. And a cow is a really big animal...about twice the size of an elk.

      And, yeah, herding them would be a pain in the ass...and would probably attract wandering giant predators in a typical D&D world.

    4. Huh...I just told my son about the suggestion. He does not think highly of the idea (he had some...mmm..."negative" words about it, but doesn't want me to quote him on-line). He says: taking cows would just mean taking MORE food (for the cows) unless you wanted to go REALLY SLOW (grazing along the way...which probably wouldn't be enough feed, given the terrain).

      It's not Dungeons & Cowboys after all.
      ; )

    5. It was the same with my dad and uncles. They would hang and butcher the deer in the garage. I don't know how it would be with a cow either. An elk was the largest animal my dad ever took.

      Not only would cattle attract predators but any thought of stealth would be out of the question too.

  6. Food for thought. I don't play a lot with logistics, when I try to track all of these numbers, many slip from my mind (perhaps because I played Vampire and Mage for many years, before returning to old-school D&D (which I played with for only a brief time before I discovered the edgy games my teenage me felt more attracted to), via the OSR.

    I added a link and a mention, and I will try to use more logistics next time, but I will ask my players to keep track of their numbers (and don't cheat).