Friday, April 22, 2011

R is for Rations, Water and Light

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In my last game, we never kept track of supplies that weren't magical or treasure. It was always assumed that we went into every dungeon with plenty of food and water. We even had ever-burning candles for those of us playing human characters. The party was either assumed to be fully stocked with supplies, or were close enough to civilization to go back to the inn after a day of treasure hunting.
There is an argument to be made against forcing the players to keep track of every morsel of food, every drop of water and every half-burnt torch. It is believed that forcing this kind of accounting onto the players detracts from the game as a whole. Some would say the game should be more about fighting monsters and discovering treasures, not how much food your character's have. While this is a common argument, it is not what I would call a good one. While not as glamorous as slaying a dragon or finding the legendary sword, realizing that you are down to your last gallon of water or pint of lamp oil can still add tension to the game. Especially if you find your party in a situation where they barely have enough supplies to get back to civilization, let alone stay in the dungeon any longer.

One of the things that really seems to get glossed over are light sources. Maybe it's because of the ease of access to light spells and all the PC races with infravision. But light should not be taken for granted by the party. Torches and candles can be blown out, lanterns are usually uni-directional, spells expire and infravision usually lacks the detail that normal vision has. PCs should know what light sources they have, how far the light reaches, and how long the light will last. Likewise, GMs should stress the importance of that knowledge. Having the torches go out when the infravision-capable monsters approach should give the players pause.

Food and water (and likely alcohol as medieval water sources weren't always drinkable) can become an issue in the dungeon if the party finds itself having to hold up inside for a while until the threats can be dealt with. We had one scenario where we had to hold up in a hobgoblin lair for a few minutes while we regained our bearings after our technologist was struck down and our dwarf was badly injured. Now that was a few minutes to regroup and cast healing spells. Imagine having to stay overnight in a cavern with wounded party members, limited healing available, hostile forces outside and limited supplies. That could create an interesting scenario for your party to work through.

Overall, tracking a few days worth of supplies isn't something that will bring the game to a halt. If your PCs are using missile weapons, then they are already tracking ammunition, and that gets used every combat round. Food, water and light sources are things that can be used to add to the gaming experience. Part of the fun comes from the risk the characters face. Just because a half-filled waterskin doesn't have the action of a bloodthirsty orc charging the heroes, doesn't mean it is any less of a concern for the PCs.

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