Review: Campfire (5e)

Supplement: Campfire
Author: Matthew Ross
Publisher: Abyssal Brews
System: Dungeons & Dragons (5e)
Summary: Campfire is an elegant travel system created for D&D Fifth Edition. It provides a middle-ground between simply montaging travel and rolling for encounters on a table. It focuses on interesting skill usage, roleplay, and meaningful windfalls and hardships that last after travel. The system can resolve any travel in 15 minutes if you choose, or it can be expanded with many roleplay opportunities along the way.
Snap Judgement for Busy Wyverns: If you struggle to make travel interesting, if the party suddenly goes off-script and off-track, or if you just didn’t really have time to prep out a travel session – this supplement can quickly plug the gaps and provide an engaging travel experience for you and the players.

What is it?
This is a 9-page supplement that essentially gives you a structured framework around quickly resolving some travel activities using a sort of “enhanced” skill challenge model. Tackling travel with skill challenges has been done before (many times, really), but Campfire does a great job of balancing complexity and simplicity to lead to interesting outcomes without overwhelming the DM or players with too many things to think about. The included worksheet is also really helpful to turn Campfire travel into a near-automatic process. The supplement itself is extremely well laid out, with professional styling and excellent, evocative art. You can tell a lot of thought and care went into this work.

What Makes it Good?
It is exactly as advertised – it’s an elegant travel system that finds good middle ground between a montage and full-on random/planned encounters. It does have meaningful effects and results, positive and negative. It can be used purely mechanically – though I think that would do it a disservice – or as an opportunity for combat-light sessions around role-playing and skill usage.

How do I use it?
When you have some travel coming up – even surprise travel during the session – do a quick 5-minute prep thinking about terrain and weather, then pull out the worksheet and start the adventure. The system breaks things down into Preparation, Expedition and Resolution. The Expedition phase is the “meat” of the sandwich, where the players will be using skills and rolls to overcome the challenges in front of them.

Downsides
I’m a huge fan of travel and exploration. I almost never handwave travel, I see travel as another kind of dungeon – an opportunity to test the players, put them in fantastic situations, learn more about the characters and the party, and expose background (or foreground) lore in the setting. I think the path traveled should often involve choices, upsides, downsides and risks. I highly encourage using a Pointcrawl model, at the minimum, for travel. So – full disclosure – I’m not really the target audience for this supplement!

That being said, I think there’s still room for this in my toolbox. Sometimes the party needs to travel just a day or two, in the middle of a session, and I haven’t prepped a location, lair or lore dump. I have lots of resources for random encounters or events on the road (or in the forest, hills, wilds, etc) but they can be very hard to tie together or impart meaning upon just on the fly. And that’s where Campfire comes in – those events now can be tackled via skill challenge, tracked and then the journey has a tangible outcome for the players.

And that’s a bit where Campfire falls short for me. I would use this for full-improv travel, when I’m pressed for creativity and time. And the meatiest part of the system – Expedition – has the least help and information in the supplement. It is up to the DM, of course, to come up with reasonable challenges for the players on the road – and I would have liked to have seen more than just a couple examples given. There’s 2 excellent random tables for Resolutions, I would have liked even one random table for Expedition complications, even of the most generic type, to help spur my creativity. If you don’t have a good event generator for “things to happen during travel” – I recommend getting Raging Swan’s Wilderness Dressing supplement, which has hundreds of them. I’ll be using them heavily during Expedition phases of Campfire runs.

Final Thoughts
While it isn’t exactly a perfect fit for my game style, it’s still a useful supplement – and that’s a strong point in favor of the product. I can see it being useful in spite of how I run games – which means many, many games would be much improved from using it. It’s good stuff, and well-designed.

Recommend or Not?
Yes – it’s a great supplement to have when you aren’t able to come up with a “travel adventure” all on its own. And if you struggle to make travel interesting – often handwaving it altogether – this will absolutely improve your game. Recommended for many DMs, and Highly Recommended for those looking to augment their game with travel events that are currently missing.

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