Sunday, February 10, 2013

Simple Survival Rules II

I wasn't quite sure how to handle what happens if you get stuck out in bad weather or don't have food and water.  Here is a round up of ways it might work.  I'm assuming hours as the unit of effect.  If the party was in some sort of hyper cold dungeon room you might zoom in and make it turns or rounds (or in freezing water, hmmm, but we're getting ahead of ourselves) but for most things I think an hour will be good.  A turn would be too fine, a day too coarse a unit.

So, possibilities, every hour you don't meet the survival conditions you:
  1. Can't heal any wounds you have (thanks Roger)
  2. Can't rest or regain spells
  3. Take 1 hit point of damage
  4. Take one hit die of damage (what, you roll your hit die and subtract?)
  5. Lose some fraction of your hit points (1/4, 1/2) [but that would mean the distress affects you less and less]
  6. Save or die
  7. Save or one of the other possibilities here happens
  8. Save against your Con score or die
  9. Save against your Con score or one of the other possibilities here happens (thanks Zavi)
  10. Any of the other possibilities here but with accumulating negative modifiers
  11. Get negative modifier to all dice rolls (combats, other saves)
  12. Take damage multiplied by your level (this is related to 4 but simpler to do, again, thanks Roger)
  13. Become unconscious (this is built into my game when characters reach 0 hp, so a little redundant)
Whew, that's a bunch.  Can you think of any others?  I just thought, maybe a good way to talk about this is to say when a player is "Distressed."

I think it would be easy enough to remember that 1 and 2 apply any time you are distressed but I could do without them for simplicity's sake.  I think 6 and 8 are too abrupt to allow for much drama to build in the wilderness.  For many of these, higher level characters will be much better off but not for 4, 5, 8, 9, or 12.

I'm drawn to the Constitution save because it makes sense that tougher characters could survive better.  I'm also drawn to saves in general because every hour could be a little drama where players see if they will fall unconscious or not.  And it could be interesting to have the toughest characters trying to save the rest of the party by dragging them into a shelter (or Tauntaun).

So I'm leaning toward:

Each hour you're in distress, roll under your Constitution or take 1 point of damage per level.

Once you have that simple base you can add some layers on top.  For example, for the freezing water I thought about above, keep the same rule but make it each round you are immersed.


  1. In Gygax's Isle of the Ape, lack of rations can lead to disease instead of direct HP damage. Disease then causes Attribute damage, which eventually leads to death (when attributes reduced to zero) if not treated. One thing I like about this is how Cure Disease, Create Food, and Purify Water spells can directly overcome the harsh conditions, but not Cure Light Wounds.

  2. Damage should definitely be CON-related rather than straight HP. A low-level dwarf fighter with great CON should have some advantage here over a powerful but frail elf mage. And I like your level multiplier, recognizing that experience in your class doesn't enable you to endure cold etc. better.

  3. Yep, the time should definitely vary with type of distress - hours for extreme weather, half-days for no water and less extreme weather, days for no food perhaps. I'm even thinking the CON save is unnecessary, since CON relates to hit points; rather just make a linear relationship between time under harsh conditions and per-level damage.

    1. The way it was explained to me was that Con also encompasses endurance, which would make sense since that is not a factor of Dex and not usually of Str

  4. You could also have the Con check repeat for difficult actions. E.g.: If you're just wandering, you only have to check every hour or two, but you may have to check again if you enter battle, or possibly when you incur damage. Also high exertion like fleeing. This adds to the feeling of weakness as well as tension if you have to try to avoid enemies until you can find food.

    This just came to me after playing Dungeon Crawl, where I ran out of rations and was beginning to starve and desperately looking for food, but I ran past some orcs and in fleeing I passed out from hunger.
    They beat me to death, but I beat my high score.

  5. Great comments, thanks.

    @fireinthejungke: Thanks for that example. I think that works great for some terrain types (swamp, jungle) but not so much for others (mountains, desert). I suppose we could have terrain specific consequences of distress (like frostbite and heatstroke) that might work similarly to disease but I want to start very simple and work my way up from there. As for cure light wounds, it's true a cleric could probably keep a party alive forever if the distress checks are daily, but even a high level holy person will have trouble keeping a party alive with hourly checks in a hostile environment.

    @Alec: Yeah, the only real use for Con is HP bonus, so it would seem to give the stat more of a purpose.

    @Roger: Arggh, I think you are right but that means more complexity. Maybe we can keep it to: weeks/days/hours for food/water/shelter. But with that food pretty much becomes a non-issue unless the party foolishly heads into a game-less wasteland.

    For Con, I think it depends on the base system a DM is using, with my OD&D/Swords & Wizardry base, the Con bonus is so weak (+1 if 13 or higher) it doesn't have much effect on hp except at low levels. I think I'll have to try it out in play, the constant rolling might become tedious. On the other hand, it may be the only thing happening on those encounter-less wilderness nights.

    @Zavi: Hmm, "only make the check when you try something" is an interesting mechanic, but I think it would push people to not try things. Making extra checks when people exert themselves makes narrative sense but would require more rolls and bookkeeping which might work better when a computer game is doing the work behind the scenes.

  6. I added my own "death by exposure" house rules to my blog. Essentially, we track these things on a low-bounded condition track, and the players don't know what the upper bound is so it can get a little tense because they don't have any way of knowing whether the next failed roll will be the one that kills them.

  7. I don't understand the rationale behind things like #s 5, 12, or 4. Each of these is saying that higher hit points/dice are either irrelevant, or make the character worse off. Aren't hit points supposed to represent a character's increased resilience in the face of adversity, and don't they, in part, reflect an increase in survival skills? But by basing the damage on your character's hit die type, or as a fraction of the character's hit points, you're saying that none of that matters.

    Am I reading that right?

    1. #4 and #5 still makes you last longer if you have more Hp.
      For #4: The higher your PC's level the more chance you have to survive losing your HD. It would make more sense though if you'd lose a fixed number of Hp, for example d6 or d8, so there would be a difference between a thief and a barbarian.
      For #5: If it's the amount is relative to your current Hp, you can lose a larger amount of Hp loss if you have more. If it's measured from your maximum Hp, it makes no difference.

  8. Thanks for the comments.

    @D.D: Thanks for the link, it's here for the other readers:

    That's interesting. I'll have to digest it a bit.

    @amp108: I was mostly trying to list out every possible approach. But the approaches that try to avoid dealing straight up with HP are to make high level characters more realistic. If you're first level, losing 1hp per hour is terrifying, but if you're 5th level you've probably got so many HP that the wilderness would cease to be a threat. And making wilderness a threat is my goal. It's true, those particular approaches would push abstracted HP to mean less health and more luck/fate/experience with the world. Still helps you in fights but not against heat stroke.