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Aurikesh: Expeditionary Logistics

This week in my Aurikesh campaign, I'll be trying something new. Thus far in the campaign, the players have been based in the city of Chardecum. Some of their adventures have taken them up to a week's journey out of the city, but I expect their next adventure to involve establishing a new base for a month or more in the wilderness while they explore some ruins. This will also be the campaign's first experience with an extended dungeon crawl: the Monastery of the Blessed Scroll.

Actually, let me back up. "Normal" in this campaign is unlike any other tabletop campaign I've run before, and I'm not sure I've explained it in detail. The campaign has nine active players and three emeritus players, and we may be adding two more active players at some point. D&D Next runs quickly and all, but nine players is still more than I generally want to have at the table at once - my ideal party size is still three to six, and that's how many players join in any given session. Since the whole group works for the same mercenary company, though, there's no problem with the party makeup changing - it feels more like "who showed up today?" and less like "okay, every session is the party's first session." D&D Next does a pretty solid job (so far) of supporting party compositions that other editions would generally discourage, which works great for us. This approach to the roster means that we very rarely miss sessions due to player absence.

I've also implemented Upkeep rules. For each week of in-game time that passes, the PCs pay an amount of silver based on the standard of living they prefer to maintain, according to the chart below. As you see, it's heavily reliant on the Hit Dice mechanics we've seen in D&D Next to date.

Weekly Upkeep Effect
0 sp -2 hit dice per day of healing available
10 sp -1 hit dice per day of healing available
50 sp No modifier
100 sp Minimum roll on all hit dice for healing is set to 2
250 sp +1 hit die per day of healing available
500 sp Minimum roll on all hit dice for healing is set to 3
1000 sp +2 hit dice per day of healing available
5000 sp Gain the skill High Society at +1d6, or increase existing bonus by two die sizes
10000 sp Gain advantage on all saving throws against disease effects
50000 sp Gain the Backgrounds Noble or Knight if you maintain this status for six months

The majority of the time, the PCs pay 100 sp in weekly upkeep, though we've also see some 50 sp and 250 sp weeks. In the future, I might tweak the numbers and effects on this chart, just to see if it inspires more variation and interest. Of course, the PCs are still not all that flush with cash - I think the richest PC has somewhere around 2500 silver, late in 2nd level or early in 3rd. Thus far they have had exactly one opportunity to buy magic items, taken from a very short list, so I hope they're not all saving their money to buy magic items. (I'm pretty sure they're not.) I realize that this approach to upkeep is not, in itself, the most revolutionary of thoughts, but I feel pretty good about the tenor (if not the precise balance) of the benefits derived from paying the steeper prices.

The mostly-obvious thing about this upkeep list is that I have no interest whatsoever in itemizing how the PCs spend that money. I assume it's some combination of better-than-minimum lodgings and furniture, clothing appropriate to their tasks and station, better-than-just-surviving food, a decent bottle of wine with most meals... in short, what Alexandre Dumas mentions in the text of The Three Muskeeters, or Arturo Perez-Reverte mentions in the Captain Alatriste novels (at least when they aren't seriously splurging). If it became relevant to a scene, I'd add in more details, but in general it's sufficient to know that the PCs live in the High Quarter of Chardecum, but they're (very) far from the wealthiest people of that district.

Some players would enjoy plumbing the icy depths of the equipment charts for every last thing they could possibly use in an expedition of some four to six weeks; I've gamed with such players before. It doesn't interest me as a DM, though, and I don't think any of the Aurikesh players especially care. Keeping the granularity very low serves our needs just fine. The players are still welcome to tour the alchemical shops and such for additional gear if they want, but they don't need to think of every possible eventuality - the Gallant Shields have competent quartermasters who have done this before and have a pretty good idea of what you'll need. (To put that another way, there aren't going to be Gotcha! encounters where I punish the players for overlooking an obscure-yet-vital piece of gear.)

Drawing on the better parts of Oregon Trail, however, the PCs do have to worry about transporting and protecting their supplies, two obligations that should provide me with plenty of grist for Hero versus Nature skill challenges, and maybe some saving throws against disease. (They have a physicker and an alchemist in the party. They might as well get some mileage out of those backgrounds and specialties!) I haven't worked out the details of these challenges, but I hope I'll find time tomorrow to hash out some of those details. Once I've run it and improved all of the parts that aren't cool enough, I'll post it for public consumption. The team that plays on Wednesday is the first half of the party - since I can't have the entire team playing at the same time, the rest of the team will come up a day or two behind, off-camera.

The company's quartermasters are assuming that roughly the same standard of living they enjoy in Chardecum will suffice in the wilderness (though the specifics are quite different), so they're packing enough supplies to support about fifteen people (since about half the players have alts that will also be along for the ride, and there may be an NPC or two with them). Maps indicate something in the vicinity of a week of travel each way. The company should spend about two weeks exploring the ruins (in multiple separate delves, and always keeping a substantial portion of the team behind to defend the base camp). In an effort to anticipate the unexpected, they pack in another two weeks' worth of supplies. At the absolute worst, if every single supply washed away in a flood or something (this is not common), the group could limp back to civilization before starvation really came knocking.

As I mentioned above, I also haven't run any extended dungeon crawls in Aurikesh. With only a few exceptions, extended dungeon crawls aren't really my thing. Thanks to one PC's efforts in the second or third session, the group is going in with a detailed map of what the Monastery of the Blessed Scroll looked like before it fell into ruin. The players haven't yet seen the map, because I hadn't created the text prop at the time, but it includes a number of sites with rather promising names that I assume they'll want to explore... anything else I say about this will spoil things.

I have my work cut out for me tomorrow: a skill challenge, new magic items for the players to discover, more detailed maps, maybe a new monster or two... really, I need to do most of the prep work of the whole expedition up-front. I can, at least, get away with some considerable stalling and improvising on the room-by-room floor plans. I should cruise through Subterranean Design as well - only Kate Monk's Onomastikon beats it for usefulness when my brain won't feed me interesting ideas.

Comments welcome!

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