Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Journey To Saddleback II: Wake-Up Rules

The last encounter of the session was an encounter with another human group, who I'd decided beforehand to be a rival group of the goat nomads.

via Arena Astral,
This encounter came at night, as the party camped in the badlands outside Saheedra's spire. They were taking one-person watches, and had camped in a hollow, concealing their fire from passers-by. The henchman on watch was alerted by two sling bullets whizzing by; he quickly raised the alarm as the intruders closed to fight. Nobody had time to put any armor on, but as the enemy swarmed the tents, the party wizard cast her Sleep spell and most of them (plus one henchman) went down. One ran into the dwarf's axe, and the militant struck to subdue the last one. Deciding on mercy, the party disarmed the attackers, tied them together, and ran them off.

All well and good, but there were still a few loose ends after that encounter.

1. Should there be less of a chance for encounters due to preparations such as hiding the fire? Or more of a chance for lack of such preparations? I think the latter, so on the d20 roll for static encounters while camping, figure -3 in flat ground, -2 in hills/mountains, or -1 in forest if the party is making visible smoke by day or fire by night, unless they take pains to hide it.

2. Should shouts be enough to wake the party in one round? Watches and waking are not really well treated in any of the old-school material I know of (I'm sure Wilderness Survival Guide from AD&D covers this but I am not familiar with it). In retroactive continuity, we can say that the holy influence from the lammasu spire made people miraculously alert to the shouting. But normally, I would say that physical kicking or shaking will also definitely wake people up, and any other alarm will wake people up if they make a Mind save (Spells if you're using that system). An unusual alarm device will give anywhere from +2 to +4 on that save.

3. All this argues for more people on watch, so that one or two can handle waking duty while the rest defend against attack. My party, maybe working off procedures from other games, posted only one watch person and disallowed the spellcasters from taking watch because they need to get sleep to recover spells.

But realistically, nights are 12 hours long (my world is flat so there's no procession of the sun; on a round planet with axial seasons, things get more complicated) and you only need to sleep 8 hours. With this in mind, it's not just a good idea to have watches consist of 1/3 of the party strength, it's actually more realistic, because what else are people going to do for those 4 hours?

In fact, before electric lighting, it was culturally accepted to have a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night. So even taking middle watch is an acceptable way to fit 8 hours of wakefulness into 12 hours of night. Even if spellcasters do need that sleep to be uninterrupted if they are to regain spells, they can still take first or (preferably) last watch.

4. All the same, this makes night monsters much more dangerous; they effectively get a couple of rounds even if you're not surprised and then you have to fight them in your PJ's.

I'm curious how the rest of you handle this kind of situation, given that it's not well described in any of the core rulebooks I know.


  1. When I do night encounters, I do something quite similar — every round that someone is making noise to wake people up they must roll under their Con in order to be functional (they might be "awake" but they are not able to take part in the combat because they are still woozy). I choose Con because it best represents the ability of the body to recover and the idea of muscle memory — the two things I find important when I have to wake up in a hurry in the middle of the night (and which would be a huge part of defending yourself in combat). The brain can catch up later...

  2. Speed of waking would also reflect a character's experience in the field. Our militant would presumably be up like a shot, our dwarf is slightly paranoid, and our mage is a bit of a party girl.
    Which suggests linking it to character class, or even backstory as well...
    Not to make things more complicated for our revered and hard-working GM ;-)

  3. I make a surprise check per sleeper. Surprised sleepers don't wake up.

  4. Your linkage again highlights why I loved playing old school ...

    so far as the rules for waking - definitely ought to be class-based. Just as I prefer to parcel out descriptive information by character class, so that the fighters notice hard places, the thieves notice hiding spots, the elves glimpse plant growth ... takes a lot of work, on the fly, and I am way out of practice, but it was the only aspect of my DMing in which I felt pride. anyway, house rules generally ought to wrap around the classes in that same way.

    In particular, fighters should be guaranteed to rise at the sounds of battle. Mages should be thrilled awake by passing magic. And thieves ... they're the ones who should open their eyes just a sliver enough to watch the stars wink out and back beyond the creeping assassin's crouched back.