AAR: Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter

14 May, 2021, updated 16 May, 2021 rpg do not let us die cecil howe

I decided to shake up my Evils of Illmire campaign with something different, and I’d been meaning to run “Do Not Let Us Die”1 for a while. It’s by Cecil Howe who made Hex Kit which I’ve mentioned and used a few times.

The premise

text: DO NOT LET US DIE IN THE DARK NIGHT OF THIS COLD WINTER

The premise is basically almost a board-game. The players are nebulous here, they don’t have physical characters, they’re just each in charge of a fraction of a town that is under-resourced for a fearsomely cold winter that restricts the ability to gather resource. They get abstracted to being a Wizard, Fighter, or Thief, with attendant bonus at gathering one of the following resources.

Villagers need wood (collected best by Fighters), to prevent freezing to death immediately. They need food (which Thieves spot best) every other turn, or they will starve. They can need medication (gathered by Wizards) within a few turns or will die of some malady.

It is, in short, grimdark.

Winter lasts a dozen-or-so turns, and there’s a random temperature affecting the amount of wood needed per building, and occurence tables that spice up each turn with some kind of normally-bad thing happening. It takes a couple of hours to run.

Scary-looking trees
The artwork is lovely

The setup

Technical bits first: I ran this in Foundry. For something quick and easy, instead of trying to define the “character sheets” (which represent the building the player is in charge of) I dropped them in as scenes the players could scribble over. I used the following modules:

Module Purpose
Party Resources Tracked wood/food/villager/death counts for easy viewing
PDFoundry Rules for the players
The Furnace Improved scribbling on the scenes
Clocks Tracking turns in Winter
FXMaster I used the snow weather effects to set the mood
PopOut! Default for me
DiceTray Default for me

I also entered the occurences table as a rollable table in Foundry. That was very satisfying, especially once I discovered the bits that said “the fire does d3 damage to your wood supply” could be written as the fire does [[d3]] damage to your wood supply and the rolls are calculated inline. It does take a while to copy in though. Yet another neat feature I could have done with knowing a while back!

In general I think I’d do it slightly differently. It would have been better to just have a single map of the village as everyone’s communal sheet. Then you wouldn’t have to flip around to see how everyone’s doing. Also then the wood/medicine/food tokens could have been on the VTT and it would allow people to drag them from a store room to each villager, which I think would make the game a bit more clear as well as more visceral.

But for a game in Interesting Times2, this wasn’t a bad translation.

The game

This game was not a huge success. There’s some nice ideas in there, but I feel we as a group had to look for them.

To start with, the turn order I found slightly confusing:

  1. Mark off those without sufficent heat/food/medicine as dead. Roll for weather.
  2. Allocate last turn’s resources
  3. Gather new resources
  4. Roll on occurence table and resolve
  5. Mark sickness

It looked okay on paper until I realised that you run out of resources, then gather more, but now you’re committed and next turn the villagers starve/freeze/sicken. Despite having collected the food, or whatever.

The party from Illmire consists in 5e of:

We translated this to:

Obviously there’s some overlap but sure, why not? 🤷 Well, villagers can survive without medicine, but not wood. The party were fucking tripping in medicine from two wizards - but over 50% died from freezing to death. I think it would be better in the rules, that wizards are just less useful.

Wood > Food > Medicine

Plan appropriately

Finally, the game starts with no resource reserves and the highest demands. As people die, these demands drop, which means the game gets easier, as you’re still raking in the same amount of stuff. When we only had 9 people in two houses, we started producing a surplus, and at that point, the game gets a bit dull.

The rules specify that consolidation into fewer houses requires a food excess. I just skipped this rule, it seemed too cruel when you have none of either.

Conclusion

Do Not Let Us Die is a nice little RPG-themed-boardgame, but it falls between stools. The players didn’t feel like they were role-playing “because they couldn’t use Healing Word”. Perhaps rather than phrasing it as Wizards “gathering additional units” they just outright heal a person each turn so they don’t need herbs. As a board game, it’s nice, but I think I’d rather play Agricola for feeding families, or Castle Panic for a team working together to defend a community.

This would be made easier if resources were gathered, then spent. Then healing could be resource-like. It would also remove the odd part where people are freezing to death but there’s wood in the store-house.

I haven’t worked it round in my head, but I think it would be more realistic to start with some but not enough supplies so that the exciting part is halfway though winter. The players would also be a little more invested at that point.

I haven’t called this a review, because there’s other things in the book/PDF that I’ve not mentioned. There’s rules for designing your own settlement, and changing the setup to make it easier or harder. I’ve not tried any of that, this is just my experience of the base game.


  1. I’m not writing out the whole name every time! ↩︎

  2. Vaccination in a week though! ↩︎

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