37 Long-distance Gritty Realism II: Supplies

In the last post on long-distance D&D (2 weeks ago) I expounded on time. This time it’s supplies. I bet you expected space, but no. Space should be abstract. The tale of a fairytale kingdom across seven forests and six sees, five months of travel away sounds fantastic. The tale of an orc-goblin kingdom 2,276 miles away, with 1,600 light infantry and 400 heavy infantry is horrible and dull.* Also, yes, this post is also a suggestion to go and support the WTF rpg and art patreon.

Supplies: no rations or waterskins

Tracking supplies the classic way with pounds and packs, or even with slots, is too time-consuming and boring when the heroes are slogging across a giant savanna for months. I tried. It didn’t make for a fun game.

There is a solution: use supply usage dice to track supplies as an abstract resource that represents everything keeping heroes alive: beer, food, bandages, tents, and toilet paper. Supplies are like hit points for traveling groups.

Usage Dice?

Have you heard of risk dice or usage dice? They’re a really cool concept that I first saw developed by David Black (Black Hack, v1.2, p.8) as the usage die and then expanded upon by Eric Nieudan (Macchiato Monsters, MMZero, p.4) as the risk die.

I use the term in the narrower Black Hack sense: a die heroes roll after using a consumable game object (ammo, food, torches, charges, magic eagles,) to see if it is used up. They form a neat chain and I use an asterisk to mark them as usage dice:

*d20 -> *d12 -> *d10 -> *d8 -> *d6 -> *d4 -> screwed.

A roll of 1–3 means the supply is reduced and the die is downgraded to the next lower die in the chain. On a roll of 1–3 on a *d4 the supply is expended and the heroes are in trouble. I wanted to call them consumption (or tuberculosis) dice, but I’ll go with usage dice. I use the asterisk to mark them as usage dice, because just like Asterix’s magic potion, they sometimes run out.

As it is, you will on average get:

  • *d4 – 1.33 uses total {3*d4 = *d6}
  • *d6: – 2 uses (3.33 total) [splits into 2*d4] {2*d6 = *d8}
  • *d8: – 2.67 uses (6 total) [splits into *d6 and 2*d4] {2*d8 = *d10 (yes, the maths is screwing you)}
  • *d10 – 3.33 uses (9.33 total) [splits into *d8 and *d6, or 2*d6 and 2*d4, or 9*d4] {2*d10 = *d12 (so screwing you)}
  • *d12 – 4 uses (13.33 total) [splits into *d10 and *d6, or 2*d8, or 4*d6 or 10*d4] {2*d12 = *d20 (just curse your GM)}
  • *d20 – 6.67 uses (20 total) [splits into *d12 and *d8, or 2*d10, or 3*d8, or 6*d6, or 15*d4]

This really appeals to my sense of neatness, because it means that on average, if a character has a a bundle of 20 arrows, they get a *d20 ammo usage die.

The original Black Hack usage die downgrades on a roll of 1–2, this makes for a softer decay curve and means that a *d20 is equal to 30 total, *d12 = 20 total, *d10 = 14, *d8 = 9, *d6 = 5, *d24 = 2. For a smoother decay curve, you could add a *d16 between the *d20 and *d12.

WTF? You said supplies! Not supply dice!

Yeah, simmer down. Needed a bit of exposition before the intro.

Now, remember, I mentioned tracking travel in weeks? Have the players roll a supply usage die once per week for each party member that isn’t a quadrupedal ungulate (mule, donkey, horse, cow, sheep, camel, whatnot). Basically: any member of the group that needs to bring food and water with them, needs a supply roll.

It doesn’t matter whether each party member has a separate stash (with its own die) or if they pool everything. The inventory rules are going to be in the next post, but I’m sure there’s going to be smart ass trying to work out how to game the maths to benefit them by splitting supplies up between different loads and combining piles and whatever. That person is being an annoying bean counter. The maths are a bit shit because of all those floating thirds. Deal with it. Round of all the thirds before you start adding or subtracting and make sure the result has equal or fewer total uses than when you started. These are losses from packing and repacking – like when you go on holiday, and then by the third day, you’re trying to pack your suitcase and you can’t remember how you fit the shoes in and why is there an idol in here and oh god the walls are closing in. Like that. But in the desert, with camels and coypus and catamarans.

The maths are the main thing that makes the original Black Hack die that degrades on 1–2 cool in my eyes. Cleaner maths. But then, I’d add a *d2 for the lowest step. An auto-degrading die.

So, we roll these Supplies once a week. Erm. We ran out.

Running out of supplies kills quickly. Every character that didn’t get supplies rolls a Constitution save instead of a supply usage die.

Con save Success: hero’s physical stats are reduced by 6 and hero has disadvantage to all physical checks.

Con save Failure: hero is starving, physical stats are reduced by 9, mental stats by 6, hero is at disadvantage to all checks, movement speed is halved and hero needs to be carried over longer distances.

I used the 5E Fatigue / Exhaustion rules at first, but they’re bolted onto the chassis of the game a bit awkwardly, and they’re based on a day-by-day system. We’ve got weeks, and we’re old-school. We can inflict some ability damage, can’t we?

Repeat the Con save every week without supplies. A hero dies when any stat reaches zero.

Whoah. Isn’t that harsh?

No, it totally isn’t. Supplies is an abstraction of all the stuff you need to survive in a harsh environment. If you run out of drinkable water or get scurvy because you have no more oranges or some other shit, you die. Fast. Yes, this shit is abstract. But you don’t want to go back to Gygaxian accurate timekeeping, do you?

Ok, so … we ran out. What can we do?

Cannibalising the expedition is the fastest way to get extra supplies. A human adds *d4 supplies, a pack animal adds *d8 supplies. You’re three weeks away from the nearest settlement and out of food. Eat the mule. Or, you know, Prester there. He’s got a bum leg.

Foraging for supplies in the wilderness takes a week and each forager rolls Survival. Every success adds *d4 or *d6 supplies (50%). This is obviously hand-wavey. In a richer environment, you can add more supplies, or modify the ratio.

Resupply in an oasis of safety takes a week and adds *d6 supplies per forager. See? This is a more secure environment.

Supplies are also how you can carry out long chases

Basically I’ll add detailed rules for making haste, careful travel, hiding, exploring – other crap like that. Suffice to say, if you go faster (not using up as many supplies) you risk more ambushes and bad luck (mules with broken legs).

  1. Making haste gives a +1 to the supply check and the encounter check (more encounters) and disadvantage on the misfortune save.
  2. Careful travel has the opposite effect. -1 to supply checks and encounter checks (less encounters) and advantage on misfortune saves.

see those two lines up there? They were originally +1 to supply / -1 to encounter, since the idea was that a higher encounter number was better! That’s bad rulesmithing!  – I’d mix that up every fucking time. I’ll fix that in time, but sheesh –  rule cockades like this slip through all the time.

This bit of rules already gives you three speeds for long-distance overland travel: fast, normal and slow. Tautologically, slower groups can’t catch faster ones. But what is the speed difference? I’d add or subtract 1d4 days per week for faster and slower groups and ignore that until you reach 7 days. Sure, it’s not totally precise, but … it’ll do for now, right?

Patreon and UV Grasslands

I’ve just posted the second part of my Patreon D&D rpg funtime expedition to the Black City across the UV Grasslands, and I’m promoting what I’m doing: a weeks-long point-crawl into the weird of the far west, with cats, porcelain princes, long guns and violent biomechanical monstrosities.

And rules for caravans.

Go on, go check it out.

*mini digression rant:

We have this gift of D&D – a game where we have unlimited creative budgets because we have imaginations – and instead we waste our time tracking hexes, miles, minutes, torches and pounds. Disgusting.

This horse shit: “You can not have a meaningful campaign if strict time records are not kept,” wasted so much of my life and crippled so many of my games that I can’t believe it’s still repeated.

But, enough ranting. I already explained time, so now I’m killing the wineskins. Go back up top.