The first thing that a player will say when running low on food is “I won’t eat as much.” While that may keep them alive, it also will affect their energy levels and make other tasks harder. Don’t get me wrong, between having a hard time and dying it’s a no brainer. Modeling that hard time is important for the tension in a survival game.
Effects of Rationing
So what does not eating as much do? Most people know how they feel when they’re hungry so this is an easy one. You have less energy, it’s harder to think, your attention is on food so you notice less, you might get the shakes, you get grouchy. One might argue that some cultures fast in order to think more clearly so not eating should give an intelligence boost. While that is true, those cultures are normally sedentary while fasting. Meaning not actively trudging through forests using up energy. Fasting cultures will exempt a faster from even important activities during their fast.
As I mentioned in the last post ultralight backpackers will carry 700 grams of food for the day. But that is really the lower limit of what is likely to sustain a human, especially a big one. 800 grams a day is more manageable and the larger the person, the more they’ll need. Again, the mass of the food isn’t as important as the volume but this becomes important when thinking about rationing.
The other limit to consider is how long can a human live without food? How long can they function at least semi-normally without food? The answers to those questions are very different. People have lived longer than month without food. They will only be able to function normally for about three days with no food. Those are very different numbers so how can this be modeled effectively? I’ll give an example from The Artifact RPG to use as an example and you can modify the thought process to your own system.
The average person has a Constitution of 30 but they become far less effective in three days. So lets say that for each day with no food they get a -5 CDF per day. In three days their CON is effectively down to 15 making it unlikely they’ll make a CON roll (on a 1d100). In another three days their Con is effectively zero and they’re incapable of doing any strenuous activity. After their CON CDF is higher than their CON they take one point of damage every other day. The average person has 15 Hit Points and so thats another 30 days bringing the total to 36 days. There have been reports of hunger strikes going for 40 days and a tougher character could easily make that so I’ll go with it.
Take it down a notch
So if most people can survive comfortably on 800 grams of food and zero food gives a -5 CDF per day, then each unit of 160 grams (about 1/3 lb) is worth a CDF of +/- 1. Interestingly this could be used to fight fatigue from harsh survival conditions like the ones I’ve been outlining. If a character eats 960 g (about one Kg) of food for the day, they get a +1 CDF to CON. There is a limit to how much a person can eat though so I’d say this effect maxes out at +10 CDF to CON each day (eating 2400 g or 2.4 Kg in a day).
Other effects of rationing would include more CDFs to attributes like IQ Psyche and Charisma. For every -5 to Con, the characters would also get a -1 CDF to IQ, PSY and CHA.
Now we’re getting a more holistic view of how food can fuel strenuous activity and the effects of limiting a diet. It also makes tracking food consumption a possible win for the characters and therefore of interest to the players. The point though is to have a baseline that the players can ignore food issues if they have it available but to be able to increase tension if food is an issue.
So I’ve talked about foraging, carrying food and rationing, the next post will deal with putting it all together and getting the whole picture.