by Mike Shea on 19 October 2009
Back in August, at Gencon, I had more than a couple of really excellent and informative conversations with Quinn from At Will. Like a lot of folks, Quinn has an amazing amount of passion for the game and a lot of really great ideas. I just recently incorporated one of these ideas, the Ration tracking system, into my own game with good results and I wanted to share my own interpretation and implementation of thissystem.
Healing Surges for Extended Rests
My intent with a ration system was to limit the amount of extended rests the party could take throughout an adventure. There are many ways to limit extended rests with such tools as random encounters, or regular patrols. I've often just fallen back to the "you get the feeling you cannot rest here" or "the evil aura of this place makes an extended rest psychologically impossible". The problem is that this is an on / off switch. It gives players no real control over when they WANT to take a rest and when they don't. The ration system fixes this problem.
With the ration tracking system, the players have control over when they take extended rests but understand that they only get so many of them before they have to really leave their location. They recognize that they might have a dozen battles ahead and only three ration packs. This gives them the option of resting early but knowing they will face more battles later or for them to press on and try to clear out a few more rooms before resting. The choice is theirs and, whenever we can, a good DM gives the players meaningful choices.
What's In a Ration Pack?
A ration pack is a representation of the supplies a party of adventurers will need on their journey. It includes food, water, spell components, sunrods, medicines, and anything a party might need for a journey that has a limited amount. Rather than try to micromanage all of these oddities, a single ration pack can contain them all. The key is that these ration packs begin to rot or wear out if you keep them too long. For this reason, a party can only carry a small number of them. Any more and they'll be wasted and rotten, the sunrods won't glow and the water becomes tainted. The number they can carry is up to you, based on the number of encounters you expect them to face. Generally, divide the total number of battles you expect them to face in a dungeon by 4 and give them that many rations.
Indy! The Torch is Running Out!
The world doesn't end if their ration packs run out. When their ration packs run out, they might get a general sense of hunger or sickness. Their spells might not work consistently. There is a multitude of things you might inflict upon your PCs should they run out of rations. You might begin adding critical fumbles on natural 1s. You might inflict a random disease on one or more members of the party. They might not be able to recover all of their healing surges. They might take a fatigue penalty to initiative. The penalties are up to you.
You might even give them a chance to build a new ration pack with a skill challenge should they run out too quickly.
Lunchables for Demigods
How do you make a system like this work for paragon or epic tiered characters? Simple. The locations they go to are almost always as terrible and physically corrupt as the PCs are powerful. If they go to the Shadowfell, they get Shadowrations - rations that survive the terrible nature of the shadow world. If they go to the Elemental Chaos they might need Primordial Rations that let mortals travel throughout the Elemental Chaos without fear of the hardships of such a place. The key is to make the need for ration packs as mighty as the power of your PCs.
The intent of these ration packs is to give players a limit on extended rests without completely removing their ability to choose when they wish to rest. Give it a try and see if it works out for you group. In a future article, we'll look at how to give this same level of choice for magic item rewards as well.