I've spent a great deal of time out in them there woods. You couldn't tell it from my physique, but backpacking/ minimalist camping* is one of my favorite avocations. I haven't made time for it in far too long.
Anyway, for those of you who're less outdoorsy, here a few things to keep in mind when playing or running a wilderness survival scenario.
- Water is your Savior and your Killer
- As Savior - So much of survival in the wilderness is centered of finding clean drinking water. Go for a couple days without it (or drink some disease-ridden swamp water), and you probably aren't walking out the wilderness alive. Also, if you stumble across a watercourse, follow it. It's very likely that water will eventually lead you to people.
- As Killer - Getting wet outside can kill you. Even in 60-70°F weather, falling into a stream can result in hypothermia. There's a reason shelter is primary to human survival; we aren't really biologically suited to living in many of the environments we inhabit. (Even damp, wool will insulate you better most other fabrics. A wool wearing peasant will likely have a much easier time out in the elements than his noble counterpart, all bedraped in silk and linen. See Below.)
- You'll be looking Down and You won't be Running
- Those used to sidewalks, lawns, parking lots, and well groomed park pathways may have hard time understanding how uneven the footing is out in the sticks. You've got to quite literally watch your step. Running across uneven ground is dangerous skill to master and a great way to break your ankle. An unsteady jog is about the best you manage without a undue amount of risk.
- All that watching your feet makes it easier for people to sneak up on ya, too.
- You've gotta Dress for the Weather
- Wear layers and wear enough of them. Death from exposure is a very real threat in the wilds.
- See above notes about wool.
- Where you Sleep is an Important Choice
- That comfy looking, moss-covered depression is going to turn into a soaking wet hole when it rains. Enjoy your hypothermia.
- If you sleep next to your food or food scraps, there's a chance a bear may pay you a less than friendly visit in the night.
I could waffle on, but I think that's a pretty good place to start.
But why the hell should I care about this shit in my game of fantastic fantasy?
Well leaving aside things like "character immersion" and "breaking suspension of disbelief", adding these kind of things to your campaign makes adventuring more dangerous (and therefore more adventuresome [and therefore more fun]). The untamed, trackless wilds are deadly enough, even without dragons and giants and manticores.
Besides, imagine a squinting, weather-beaten Ranger pointing out any of the above.
"Out here, water's yer lifeblood and yer killer, lass."
"Looks comfy, eh? You ain't gonna like it when it rains."
"Watch yer feet. If ya break yer leg, I'm a'leaving ya here."
"You gonna wish that silk were something homespun afore the days done, milady."
That alone should be enough incentive.
*Take only what you need. It amounts to less than you'd think, way less.