Tactics and Tips12/13/2005

Keeping Watch

Every warrior has to stop and recoup sometime. Clerics must pray once per day to regain the power of their spells, wizards must study their spellbooks, and sorcerers must rest. But setting up camp in hostile territory is fraught with its own dangers. This week we take a look at different ways to set up your nightly watch, plus explore a few spells and other techniques to keep you and your group safe while you slumber.

Setting Watch

Most adventuring groups routinely set up a watch when they rest. In an ideal situation, you have enough people in your group to divide up the watch evenly, giving everyone a chance to get a full-night's sleep. If you can, have at least two or more people on watch at any given time, preferably one of them a spellcaster. There are no rules for "falling asleep" on watch, so unless your characters have some urgent business to discuss while everyone else is asleep, try to keep relatively far apart, so that if you're both attacked by some area-based weapon, spell, or the like, the likelihood that both of you are affected is minimized. Sleep spells are favorites for anyone making a stealthy attack against an encampment since your foe can knock out sentries with little fuss.

Remember that if you wear medium or heavy armor while sleeping, you take a -2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity and can't charge or run the next day -- don't wear your armor unless you absolutely have no choice.

"You, elf! Keep watch!": Elves have a distinct advantage over the other races in that they need to rest for only 4 hours at a stretch, rather than 8 hours. If you can convince the elf or elves in your group to take over the equivalent of two watches, that's more rest for the remainder of your group.

Magical Protection

Several spells can help keep your group safe and sound while you rest. If you know you're going to be spending a few days in the wilderness or dungeon, make sure your wizard or sorcerer prepares one or more of these spells. Obviously, most of these spells work best when cast by a higher-level caster, but even shorter durations can provide comfort and protection to keep everyone safe.

Alarm (Player's Handbook, page 197): One of the best of its kind, this 1st-level spell should always be in your wizard's spellbook. Since alarm has a duration of 2 hours/level, a low-level wizard or sorcerer can cast it during her own sleep or rest period to provide assistance to whoever is on watch. Alarm works best if the caster is 4th-level or higher, since the duration covers an entire 8-hour time period. Remember, however, that alarm has a relatively small area (20 feet), so make sure that everyone knows the boundary and that the password isn't anything that could be gleaned easily by potential attackers.

Hallucinatory Terrain (Player's Handbook, page 238): While hallucinatory terrain does not necessarily protect a group at rest (it does not hide creatures or buildings), it does make the surrounding area appear differently, thus confusing and slowing down potential attackers. Cast this spell if you're encamped on a small island surrounded by marsh, making it appear like solid land. Since a wizard or sorcerer must be at least 7th level to cast hallucinatory terrain, its duration of 14 hours provides plenty of time for this first line of defense while your party rests.

Leomund's Tiny Hut (Player's Handbook, page 247): If your group can't find a good place to hole up for the night, this handy spell creates a warm, dry space. The space it generates is relatively small (like alarm above), so keep everyone close inside. The opaque sphere that this spell creates grants total concealment while inside (and is transparent to the inhabitants), making it ideal for launching ranged attacks from its safety.

Leomund's Secure Shelter (Player's Handbook, page 247): Leomund's secure shelter creates a home away from home. It produces a solid lodge to keep out the elements, plus beds, a table, and other amenities. It also combines the benefits of both the alarm and arcane lock spells to keep you safe. For an added benefit, set up an additional alarm spell outside the radius of the effect. Doing so effectively extends your area of alertness by an additional 20 feet. Situate the location of your shelter so you have a wall, hillside, or other obstacle on at least one side to keep your position from getting flanked while you sleep.

Rope Trick (Player's Handbook, page 273): This mere 2nd-level spell is almost too good to be true if you want a safe place to rest and recoup. It allows you to enter an extradimensional plane that is invisible to anything on the Material Plane, and it is immune to divination spells (most of them, that is) to boot! With its 1 hour/level duration, this spell works best when cast by an 8th-level sorcerer or wizard, allowing a full night's sleep and plenty of time to meditate or prepare spells for the next day.

Just remember to stash that bag of holding or other magic item that contains an additional extradimensional space or bad things could happen. (For an elaboration on extradimensional spaces -- and the dangers of combining them -- refer to Rules of the Game by Skip Williams.) Don't say we didn't warn you!

Animal Companions and Familiars

Beyond their stalwart loyalty, special abilities, and combat prowess, animal companions and familiars also provide an extra set of eyes, ears, and noses to keep your group safe while you sleep. Keep your animal companion upwind from any fire you might set, so as not to interfere with their Scent ability (if applicable). Remember that animal companions have to sleep as well, so be sure to include some down time for them in addition to their regular shift. If your animal companion or familiar can climb or fly, order them to sit high on a hill or in a tree, both to get a better view and to help them remain hidden in case of an attack. An animal trained with the guard trick (Player's Handbook, page 75) can alert its owner with a call, rather than attacking directly. If this call is relatively quiet, it requires a DC 15 Listen check or DC 5 if it's loud. Remember that you take a -10 penalty on Listen checks when asleep.

Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Player's Handbook.

About the Author

Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Races of Destiny, and Monster Manual III. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Green Ronin Publishing, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.

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