Friday, February 8, 2013

Simple Survival Rules

Do you have simple rules for exposure or hunger and thirst?

I'd like something simple enough that players can remember (important when they are making choices and don't require constant look ups) and that take as little bookkeeping as possible.  Here are some draft ideas:

A character needs a ration of food and a wineskin of water each day.

I think the week as a unit for rations is not fine enough-- how often do you get through a week in a single session?  That means you are going to have to track partial rations.  For water, a wineskin is quite a bit, but if you consider someone traipsing about in sweat-inducing armor, taking part in combat, and hiking for miles, I think it's plausible enough to use for simplicity's sake.

I need to look back over Talysman's simple hunting rules because I'll probably use them.  One idea I had this morning was:

Each hit die a game animal has can supply one ration of food.

Again, might seem like a lot of meat is getting wasted but it's simple and the warriors are hungry.  As for exposure, what if we keep temperature to 3 levels above or below the norm.  And have a few things that ameliorate them.  Cold is easier.  You could have heavy clothes, shelter, or a fire.  As it gets colder you'll need combinations of the three.  So, it would look something like this:

normal = nothing needed
cold = one aid
freezing = two aids
bitter cold = three aids

So, for stage 2 coldness you could huddle in your heavy furs and shelter, or dress normally in your shelter with a warm fire, or brave the winds with a fire and heavy furs.

What's the penalty for not having the appropriate gear?  Maybe -1 hit point per hour?  Or to make even high level characters fear the wilderness, - 1 hit die per hour exposed.  For heat I guess shade, a body of water, and maybe shelter too (underground or something) could work.  It might be okay to make the heat less survivable, seems to be true in the real world.

I would want to figure out food and water requirements for beasts of burden.  And maybe set a threshold of cold/hot they can stand.  Outside of it they take the same damage as players.  That way it would make llamas and camels equally interesting in different parts of the game world.

What else?  Those would go a long way to adding tension to exploring harsh terrain. 

The only other thing I can think of is sleep.  But that is much more complicated.  It often happens off stage, it is by default boring (nobody is making any choices), and fiddly to determine if sleep was good or bad: was there too much noise, is the ground rocky, did you feel safe enough to rest soundly.  Maybe a better way to handle it is you need to camp every so often or you get some penalties.  But that's pretty much the default for D&D now, no?  No camping, no healing, no spell memorization.  So maybe we don't need to worry about sleep at all.  The need to camp is built into the game.  And a party harried in the wilderness, trying to find shelter from the cold will probably not camp if they can't find shelter etc.

If you have ideas or know of good simple rules that add to the verisimilitude of characters trying to survive in the wild share them below.


  1. Great ideas.

    The old "Fantasy Wargaming" game just had it that you lose 1/3 your Endurance Points (HP) each day without water. I loved that they were just using the old "3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food" rule of thumb. Is there was something similar for freezing cold and high temperatures?

    I like the losing HD from exposure idea, except it basically means your survival is basically going to 'level units of time' for however often you lose them. Or maybe that's -- novices die in a day in the desert but hardened adventurers can wander for a week or more!

  2. I think I ruled that a wineskin was good for 4 days, because LL has it listed as weighing 4 lbs.

    Googling now it looks like 2 lbs per day is more accurate. Damn hard on the old inventory if using btb encumbrance.

  3. My solution for all this exposure-type stuff is 1hp/character level as the base unit of damage (so even the mightiest heroes can fall...). You start not being able to heal it and then end up taking nonlethal and eventually lethal damage. Really should write it up rather than improv it, though///

  4. Googling around, I find that a typical bota (what the game calls a water- or wineskin) holds from 1 to 2 liters. Recommendations for water consumption per day are generally on the order of "2+ liters per day, depending on exact circumstances". So, one wineskin full of water per day seems about right. Add more if in a hot climate or if extreme exercise (say, 2x for each circumstance).

  5. One thing I see a lot of games get wrong is the weight of trail rations. They should be 3 pounds or more for a days worth, but most games have them at about 1 to 2 pounds.

  6. I love these ideas -- pdf-ized and horked!

  7. Thanks everyone.

    @mike: yeah, I'm going to do a follow up post that thinks more about ways being in the weather can affect players. The way D&D is designed, higher level characters will always be tougher unless we go off the con stat.

    @anon: I think it would make water sources in the environment more relevant. So you camp next to the forest creek and refill all your waterskins etc. But, yep, heading into the desert you better bring some extra pack camels.

    @roger: Having no penalties but being too cold/hot to heal wounds is good. I hadn't thought of that. I'm worried about having too many levels to track, though, especially if you get different characters at different levels of desperation.

    @faoladh: Great! Sometimes the simplification and the world match up.

    @@D.D: On my simple encumbrance sheets I think one line is ~7.5 pounds. We could say each line was 2 rations. One ration per line seems a little too hard core, most characters could barely carry the food they'd need for a week, but then pack animals would become more important.

    @Carter: Thanks. I'll post again to try and sort some more stuff out.

  8. For the cold/heat rules, I'd probably go with -1hp/hour/missing aid. So -3hp/hour for walking around in bitter cold without any aid. That'll kill with an hour or three a 1st level players who is stupid enough to walk around a blizzard, while a high-level character could traipse around the freezing north without protection, as long as he is willing to lose 12 hp every six hours.

    For heat, I think you could go with Shade, Proper Clothes and Extra Water (1 more ration per day). Proper clothes might entail Bedouin style wear (which actually, actively helps against heat) or might just entail not wearing armor.

  9. I do one ration per day and a waterskin is good for two days (based on some cursory internet research).
    Extreme heat or cold without precautions forces a CON check (which gets 1 point more difficult each day), failure means -1 to checks, repeat and stack each hour.
    I haven't had to deal with thirst or starvation yet, but I feel a hit point penalty is valid. Probably one hit die per day that cannot be regenerated until you are fed/watered. One die penalty for water and one for food, so it is pretty bad if you don't have either.

    1. EDIT: extreme heat/cold CON check gets one point more difficult per hour.

  10. Thanks, rubberduck, the I dig the proper clothes and extra water for the heat-- easy to remember and fitting.

    @Zavi: Con check is an interesting way to do it, I'm leery of the escalating modifier to the roll because, though it makes sense, it's another thing to keep track of.

    1. When I first started playing, that was how Constitution was explained to me: health, resilience to disease, and endurance.
      So I figure this falls under the endurance category.

  11. My exposure rules are linked with my healing rules.

    I give 1d6 hp back for the following (once each per day)
    * Religious inspiration (e.g. going to mass or local equivalent)
    * A good nights sleep (i.e. in a warm bed)
    * A stiff drink (e.g. a pint of bitter or shoot of liquor)
    * A hot meal (i.e. nutritious and fresh food, not iron rations)
    * Amiable companionship (i.e. physical touch from another person)

    The rule of thumb is that you get hp recovery for things that go above and beyond your survival needs and into the realm of comfort and connection. I give a lot of hp healing, because I have a separate system for actual wounds (in short: bleeding, maimed, and lethal, which can be addressed with sutures, prosthesis, and powerful magic, respectively).

    I use the Rules of 3 as a guideline for survival.
    Characters take 1d6 damage for:
    * 1 minute without air
    * 1 hour without shelter (in dangerous weather)
    * 1 day without water
    * 1 week without food
    * 1 month without diverse fresh food (malnutrition; e.g. scurvy)

    Sleep should probably be up there near water.
    Anyone that has taken exposure damage doesn't heal until they've caught up on their survival needs.
    Partial or borderline exposure gets lumped as "fatigue", which is a blanket -1 on every roll.
    High level characters can survive a long time. I consider this to be a feature, but it won't be for everyone.

  12. Thanks, Joshua. Looks like you've put a lot of thought into this already. I'll have to digest this some. One quick thought off the top of my head: I'm not averse to less scientific rules (say sickness you catch at sea whether you are eating well or not) because in the genre I'm working with the folks don't understand vitamins etc. But we have to take into consideration our modern players' expectations too. Tough balance.

    1. I could see that re: malnutrition; the intended effect is to start killing off ship crews if you don't put into port regularly, not to make you buy limes.

      I've got a disease system I've been fiddling with for a while, but it's biased towards handling acute infections that you have to recover from with time (like wounds) rather than malnutrition (which you just need food to recover from, like other hp damage).