Backpacker Gaming

*I know I’m supposed to be talking about the 5th Edition of D&D, but that’s all anyone else is writing about. So you get this instead!”*

If anyone’s read my “About Me” section they will also note that beyond Tabletop RPGs, geek culture, and board games I’m also an outdoors and fitness enthusiast. I grew up on 30+ acres of country living goodness and have developed a taste for spending time in the woods, I hunt, fish, ride various 4 legged/wheeled things, and even have my own garden. Needless to say, I love it outside.

That's right folks, I even do amateur chainsaw carvings...well I did a few times :P

That’s right folks, I even do amateur chainsaw carvings…well I did a few times ūüėõ

Soon I will be embarking on a trip I’ve wanted to take for a while now, not a specific location but a specific style. I’ll be heading to Colorado with a few friends to go backpacking in an area just north of New Mexico. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at overnight hiking, I’ve done may day excursions through various woodlands but have never just thrown on a pack and lived in the woods for a few days. I’m pumped up, as you can tell, but it also got me thinking. What sort of gaming could one do on a trip like this?

Obviously, your choices would have to be something light. When it comes to overnighters where you’ll be walking for most of the day you aren’t going to want to pack say, the three core Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks, reams of paper, and a pound of dice. No, light packs are key. It gave me some interesting things to ponder. So here we go folks, I’ve compiled some lightweight games and systems you may want to consider when you catch the bug to encounter yourself some nature!


...Probably not packing Cones of Dunshire...

…Probably not packing Cones of Dunshire…

Well not so much true “Board” games, but rather their lighter cousins the Pocket Games. I’m talking those games that come fully packed into a small box. These smaller games have been getting more and more popular in the last few years, and they typically weigh at most a half a pound. They are typically card based, though some sport dice or other tokens. There are very popular titles out there like Fluxx or even Cards Against Humanity, but I’d like to focus on two of my personal favorites.

Chaos and Alchemy

An old standby

An old standby

I wrote a blog piece about this game back in October 2012 for the Monkey in the Cage website and to this day it remains one of my favorite pocket games. You can read my review here. The game is currently out of print but after a tremendously successful Kickstarter it will be in print again in early 2015. If you want to play it, track me down at Gencon or something I’ll be likely to have the game on hand!


2-4 Players, Ages 10+, Average Play Time = 30 Minutes

2-4 Players, Ages 10+, Average Play Time = 30 Minutes

Here’s one that’s perfect for a backpacking trip! The entire theme of the game surrounds surviving, mostly off the land, after an Apocalyptic event. Here is a great write up for the game, since I never got around to one. I got to meet the creator at Geekway to the West this year and enjoyed the game so much I was happy to buy a copy off him. Only trouble I foresee is that the box itself isn’t that great of material so it may not do so hot rumbling about in a pack, but otherwise it’s a great pick up. You may purchase it here.

Tabletop Role-playing Games:

Chances are very good we aren’t going to have an actual “Tabletop” to play on, so I used the term loosely. What we likely need to look for would be a game that can be run from one book and largely in a Theatre of the Mind style. Not saying we can’t use twigs and acorns but I think I’d rather not. It is an even bigger plus if the game can be run with largely no character sheets. I think I can drum up a few good choices here.

Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorers Edition –

To date my favorite "one shot" system.

To date my favorite “one shot” system.

I got my copy of this book from a Character Creation contest the good folks over at Gamerstable ran. It may be one of my favorite RPG source books ever. Namely because I love the system, and it’s flipping tiny! Savage Worlds can be played Theater of the Mind easily enough, and characters can be drawn up on something as small as a Note-card. You will need dice though, a variety of them, but one set could suffice for an entire group if you don’t mind sharing. The system is a generic one, so really the sky is the limit for setting choices. Certainly one of my main choices.

Fiasco –

Ever wanted to rewrite Fargo?

Ever wanted to rewrite Fargo?

Much more a Narrative RPG all the players help to set the scene and play their own characters. The main rules are found in a small paperback book and game play is almost exclusively Theater of the Mind, I think there may be some dice work pre-game. This game basically helps you to create a Coen Brothers movie, so sometimes you can even get some of your buddies who would normally scoff at “D&D” to test the waters with Fiasco. In any event, it is compact so it certainly travels easy and the chaos it creates in game can be oh so fun!

School Daze

Go back to High School!.. Only in your mind thank goodness

Go back to High School!.. Only in your mind thank goodness

I won this game too actually, in a Halloween themed contest run by its creator Tracy Barnett. The game is set in High School and your characters will typically all be students. It can be any iteration of a High School you could imagine, heck make it a High School set in a fantasy realm, honestly only the teen angst and problems need remain. The Core Mechanic of the game relies on a solitary six sided die and it is run fully Theater of the Mind. With its light rulebook and reliance on a single die it is highly travel friendly. Characters can likely fit on Note-cards too. So re-live some of those high school memories, or make some new ones!


If I spent more time on this I could find some more examples but this gets you a good idea of what to look for.¬† Basically, keep it light in weight and simple!¬† Sadly, I’m not certain any of my co-hikers would go for an RPG but I think I may take Chaos & Alchemy and Survivalistic. Those are awesome games and wouldn’t weigh me down too much. We’ll see though. I’ll probably bombard you all with some pics when I get back from the trip though, so I hope you are anxiously awaiting it!¬† Now, if only I could convince someone to carry a Jenga Tower so we could play Dread

If you think of any great examples hit me up below!

Lastly, I get my copy of the 5th Edition D&D Starter Set today! I plan to run a game of it on the 20th of July for some buddies. Hopefully I can give you all a good write up!

UPDATE: I recieved my copy of the 5e¬†Starter Set and could actually see it being light enough for a¬†hike too! Shame my buddies on this particular trip aren’t RPG gamers.¬†


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