[D&D 5e] Starving

edited July 2018 in Make Stuff!

In 5e RAW your starvation clock resets if you have a normal day of eating.

I changed that to “you have to eat triple” otherwise people would just start eating every third day instead of every day. But… I also just saw that exhaustion levels don’t go away if you don’t eat. So there is still some risk to not eating.

These are my current house rules (the “Eating humanoid” stuff is from Veins of the Earth):

  • Eating normally keeps the clock where it is, and if you also drink and have a long rest, you'll remove 1 exhaustion level. (Some special exhaustion levels, such some diseases, don't go away normally, but the once you get from starving or walking too much do.)
  • Eating triple, or eating 1 humanoid resets the clock. (One humanoid satisfies the entire party, up to 24 people if they are one coherent group of allies.)
  • Skipping food advances the clock one step.
  • Eating half food advances the clock a half step.
  • For every step the clock advances past 3+con step, you get 1 exhaustion level (no save).
  • If the clock has advanced past 3+con steps, if you give up the chance to eat a humanoid, you get 1 exhaustion level. (Like if your best friend breaks their leg or something.)

This is 5e RAW:

  • Eating normally resets the clock.
  • Skipping food advances the clock one step, and you can't remove exhaustion levels.
  • Eating half food advances the clock a half step.
  • For every step the clock advances past 3+con step, you get 1 exhaustion level (no save).

Sure, days without food is bad because you don’t get rid of exhaustion but… you rarely have exhaustion anyway. It seems to me that it is way too mild to go completely without food.

Veins of the Earth have it that for the first three days, you reset by eating normally. On days 4 through 6, you reset by eating double. And on days 7 and beyond, you reset by eating triple. But… still, you can eat only every third day w/o problem?

I want to get this right because this is right now what looks to be the thing that is going to kill the party


  • The idea I have right now is to go to the PHB style of 1 ration resets the clock, but then forgoing food when there is none, the clock advances one step. Forgoing food when you could eat rations, steal food, buy food, forage for food, or eat someone, or kill-and-eat someone, the clock advances 1d3 step.

    Also I found my old wilderness guide that the players have already signed off on so I guess I've already got buy in on the "triple to reset" rule. IDK. I've got so many house rule docs that I get confused about what's written down or not.
  • Just as a data point:

    IRL, I practice intermittent fasting (IF), eating less every other day. I eat 500 calories on "down days" and eat normally on "up days." If I don't cheat, I lose about a pound a week, and my blood pressure drops a lot (it's normally high) and I feel healthier and more alert most of the time.

    The body copes with a day of not eating much just fine. The main issue is not exhaustion; it's distraction. In fact, when I'm fasting, I feel more energetic as my body kicks me and goes, "Hey, dummy, go hunt and kill and eat something." It's biology's way of making sure my hunger doesn't produce a death spiral.
  • I’d say that it depends on the trek (the type of conditions and what you are carrying). Eating triple (assuming I understand this right), doesn’t do much more than eating a normal meal—except giving you a greater chance at becoming ill from over-eating. Not eating for periods of time is rarely dangerous. Most of the danger creeps in with extended starvation. Three day rule is good and should be when exhaustion penalties start kicking in.
  • Yeah, so eating once is legit. I've done fasting too and not eating. But a couple of times I've done that I had to go to the hospital for passing out and sometimes they kept me for weeks

    I want there to be a game incentive for trying to eat every day. If "the new normal" becomes eating every third day, because eating normally resets the clock, then… uh...
    A. that then should be the baseline and like "living expenses" should be calculated around that, and
    B. why is there then even a "half a ration counts as half a day of eating" rule...

    Day one: eat half a ration. Day two. eat the other half. End result: your starvation clock is at 1.

    Day one. Eat nothing. Day two. eat one ration. End result: your starvation clock is at zero.

    Sure, on the "eat nothing" day you couldn't lose exhaustion levels. Which can be super relevant.

    So what I'm saying is:

    1. Either we stick with RAW. And then "the new normal" is to eat every third day (let's say you have +0 con, I get tired of writing 3+0), and also eat (or eat half) on days when you believe that you are going to want to lose exhaustion levels the next night. And RAW has a recursion at this point… it says to reset it by eating a day of normal eating. And a normal day of eating is now ⅓ ration, because the new normal is to eat every third day. And then the new new normal becomes to eat ⅑ ration, because the new normal is to eat ⅓ ration every third day. And then the new new new normal becomes to eat ¹⁄₂₇ rations, because the new normal is to eat ⅑ ration every third day. And so on.

    2a. Try some rule to discourage this slippery slope of increasingly newer normal. The "triple" rule I'm not sold on. Arguably the VotE (where I got it) just spends of spending three times as much money on food, could mean better food. But still not logical.
    The "if you give up on an opportunity to eat food, the starvation clock advances 1d3 instead of 1" seems good. Simple, makes constitution really matter, is hard to plan around and game…

    2b However, that aforementioned 1d3 rule is very far from the RAW. The triple rule is more justifiable in the raw because it just says "a normal day of eating resets the count" and you can easily argue for different definitions of "a normal day of eating".

    Adam, the PCs don't want to lose weight
  • I remember reading the rules and being troubled about the same thing, with the instant reset if you eat once per three days.

    It has never really come up in one of my games (no players noticed the loophole and tried to abuse it), but the houserule I would use would be that after fasting, each day of normal eating reduces the clock by 1 instead of curing exhaustion.

    So if you go without food for three days, you then will have to eat normally for three days before you can start using overnight rests to cure exhaustion.
  • Remember, if you've racked up exhaustion, eating normally only fixes one level of exhaustion every day. So you still have to eat for a couple of days in a row in that regard.

    The loophole bugged me in reading… and my players noticed it right away:
    We had our first day of starving yesterday and my players were like "ok, we miss food. is it con saves, exhaustion? what happens?" and I said "you can go without food for con+3 da…" "oh, then we only have to eat every third day!"
    mid sentence they saw it! the little eagles they are

    And then I said the triple thing and they were like "oh, ok, yeah, that makes sense. so 12 for Jen" Jen is a horse and as such eats 4 portions per day. So they gave their last morsels to Jen and went without themselves.

    It was only the day after that it dawned on me that maybe the triple thing isn't good
  • I would like to suggest a simpler and more intuitive system, as I don't quite understand what you and the 5th edition DMG are on about there. Here it is:

    A character starts "fasting" when they go six hours without food. A "fasting" character gets some exhaustion penalties and heals slower (an exhaustion level in 5th edition terms?), but is otherwise fully functional. You can remain fasting indefinitely (or as long as an adventurer is likely to need to, anyway) as long as you eat half-rations. A character recovers from their fast by eating normally for as many days as they fasted in the first place. For example, a character who is on half-rations for a month will need to eat normally for a month to regain their full vigor and get rid of that exhaustion penalty.

    In other words, you can halve your character's food intake at the price of an exhaustion penalty. Full-time if you want.

    A character goes from "fasting" to "starving" after a couple of days of hard exercise (marching and fighting, the sorts of things adventurers do) without food. Add the Con bonus, why not, or you might wish to do some sort of Constitution check to see if the starvation starts on a given day. This "starvation clock" only resets when the character's fasting ends, so no gaming anything: you can skip a few days of food during a fast without turning it into starvation, but it all counts until you recover from the fast by eating normally for a while.

    During starvation I suggest that characters should just gain exhaustion or take HP injury or whatever every day until they start eating normally. This represents the general break-down of body equilibrium that occurs when you get seriously malnourished; you can't just stop that by going back on half-rations once it begins. Eating normally for days equal to the time they spent starving returns them to "fasting", and eating normally for as long as they've spent "fasting" returns them to a normal sustenance situation.
  • So a lot of people are suggesting that you reset by eating 1 portion per day for as many days as you didn't. That still means that you could skip every other day without penalty. The system I want is one that gives them incentive to never skip, but that hews close to the RAW (since it's in the PHB, not DMG) when you are in a true emergency.

    Game design wise, the triple works better than the 'if you don't obey you'll get more clock' since it feels more like interesting choices. But as noted, it doesn't align with how people do eat in emergencies. It does give a sense of desperation though.

    What I'm saying is I want there to be a real deterrent to skip, but a low punishment/consequence for when you have to skip.

    Eero, you die after six exhaustion levels.
  • Eero, the RAW already makes it pretty pointless to eat half and I want to make eating half more appealing than eating none.

    In your system, you can still do the skip trick. Again making 'eating Tuesday' better than 'eating half Monday half Tuesday'.
  • Do you not consider being exhausted a penalty? To me it seems that the issue in your system is that a character who eats every other day does not suffer from any exhaustion penalties for their irregularity. In my suggested system a character eating every other day is mildly exhausted 100% of the time. It is true that they are not advancing towards starvation, but hey, that's how human physiology works in rough terms - you can eat less if you don't mind having less energy.

    Maybe what you need is a harsher exhaustion penalty, something to make a player sit up and pay attention to it. I don't remember off-hand if an exhaustion level means anything in 5th edition by itself, but you really should be allocating some sort of real penalty for this stuff - a minor circumstance penalty to hit, slower healing, that sort of thing.
  • It's a very heavy penalty since it opens up the door to a lot of the death spirals in the game.

    But you added that penalty to eating half, too, remember?
  • Eero, part of the problem here is that you haven't looked at the rule as it is in 5e, leading you to tread over a lot of the same ground.

    The penalty is that you can't remove exhaustion levels that you get from other things. For example, skip both food and water and you're gonna die in a few days.
  • One exhaustion level is disadvantage to checks, very mild. And normally goes away the next day. Having two is a big problem. Here is the full list.
  • Yeah, so I don't get how it's a problem if somebody wants to eat only every other day if it also causes an exhaustion level. If you want to run around with a permanent level of exhaustion, I don't really mind as a GM. Half-rations should be the rational thing to do when food is running low, but if one combines it with lack of sleep and exhausting daily exertions that worsen the condition, problems may well occur. Seems fair to me, and I don't see how eating every other day really lets anybody get away with anything here.
  • The problem with your system is that you wrote that eating half rations for two days also caused exhaustion.
  • Actually, what I wrote was that starting a fast causes a level of exhaustion (that persists until the fast ends - I hope that was obvious). A fast can be maintained by subsisting on half-rations, or it turns into starvation if eating stops completely.

    I don't see the problem with that. Could you walk me through the issue - what would you do if you were a player in a game with this rule, and how would that behavior be less than ideal?
  • What I would do would be to take one day of full starvation and then go back to normal eating.
  • edited July 2018
    According to what I suggested above, that would mean spending that starvation day (starting six hours in, so I guess around noon), plus the next day after that (during which you eat normally), in an exhausted condition.

    If you're fine with spending two whole days exhausted to halve the food expenses, I would be cool with that as the GM as well. It wouldn't be a big deal if you were just sitting around in a monastery (a place where fasting is common-place), but that minor save on the expenses could become a rather drastic problem if you had to fight or exercise during that time period, which would be impacted by the exhaustion. It would be even worse if something unexpected came up and forced you to forego water or sleep or other necessities, compounding the exhaustion.

    If you're comfortable with the trade-off of halving your eating expenses but being exhausted, then I would further suggest just doing a long-term half-rations fast. Easier on the book-keeping, and you can keep that up for weeks at a time no problem. The food-save is the same as eating only every other day, and the length of the exhaustion period is as well: double the time you spend on half-rations.

    (It goes without saying that I wouldn't mind a Feat that lessened the consequences of living on a fast regimen. Seems like the sort of thing that an ascetic character would do. They could even get some spell-casting bonuses or something like that for their trouble.)

    Now, that's my perspective on it as a GM. What is yours? If a player wanted to eat every other day, and was willing to take what amounts to a permanent exhaustion level in trade, would that trouble you, and why?
  • edited July 2018
    So a lot of people are suggesting that you reset by eating 1 portion per day for as many days as you didn't. That still means that you could skip every other day without penalty. The system I want is one that gives them incentive to never skip, but that hews close to the RAW (since it's in the PHB, not DMG) when you are in a true emergency.
    What I'm saying is I want there to be a real deterrent to skip, but a low punishment/consequence for when you have to skip.
    I didn't explain my house rule suggestion above very clearly, but I was trying to achieve exactly what you say.

    My idea is that the small penalty for not eating is being unable to recover exhaustion both on the day when you don't eat, and on one additional day when you recover (per day of not eating). Under this proposed rule, if you ate only every second day, you would never be able to recover exhaustion levels.

    By contrast, in RAW, if you eat every other day, you would recover exhaustion on each of the days when you eat.

    My suggestion is a fairly mild deterrent because it only punishes you in the event that you eat less than every day, and then subsequently gain exhaustion (from some other source). Still, that is enough of a risk (since exhaustion is so deadly) that I think it would act as a mild deterrent to intermittent fasting while adventuring.
  • Oh yeah, I promised to answer here.

    Hold on, there are a couple of subtopics here. First of all, the skipping vs half in your suggested variant, Eero:

    Skipping Monday and eating the rest of the week: Mon+Tue exhausted, one ration saved. Eating half Monday and Tuesday, then eating the rest of the week: MTW exhausted, one ration saved.

    Or, arguing that that latter scenario didn’t cause Wednesday to be exhausted since there were zero days of Starvation, it’s still the same benefit, the same cost, making eating half pointless.

    Second topic

    The 1d3 steps rule I was toying with the other day doesn’t really work. You could still eat every other day. Going with the idea that the most wiggle-room in the RAW is how the clock resets after the first day of eating normally. Well, if you’re back to skipping the very next day even when you have food, you haven’t really eaten normally. Uh…

    I want the game play pattern of when you are trapped in a dungeon or w/e, you are free to parcel your rations out, doing the “eating every third day” trick, whatever. But when you aren’t, you scratch one ration every day, pay the inn for food etc.

    Third topic

    The players agreed that it was pretty crappy to not eat.

    They suggested “a line”.

    1. Buy food
    2. Steal food
    3. Forage for food
    4. Dip into rations
    5. Eat your friends
    6. Kill and eat your friends

    they proposed that we drew a line between 3 and 4 on that list. As long as you could do 1, 2 or 3, you have to try. If you’ve honestly given your best effort to try to do that, then you’re allowed to skip days in order to not have to do 4, 5 or 6.

    I agreed.

    One player was grumbly because he said that as a posh city dweller, they’d eat their rations day one before even considering foraging. And I agreed to that too, but… enh, we had enough of a table consensus to keep playing. If someone playing a posh city dweller wants to move 4 up above the line, so much the better.

    So we’re currently using the 5e RAW, that not getting rid of exhaustion levels on starvation days is punishment enough, with the added gentlefolks agreement to try to stay above the line every single day.

    Works great in practice for us

  • Sounds workable!

    What about some other, less obvious alternative, like that on days where you don't eat normally you get disadvantage to saving throws against poison and similar effects, or can't gain Inspiration, or something like that?

    Going hungry intentionally cost one Drama token (the effort of will saps your emotional energy)?
  • We don't want to remove the rocket fuel from the game♥
    Removing resources from the PCs is cool, restrictions lead to creativity etc etc, but part of the fun of doing so is to have drama over those last few morsels♥
    Sitting on a stack of drama tokens in that sitch is… awesome
  • My point is that you could use whatever set of standard rules for skipping days of food if you use some kind of lesser incentive for eating every day. I don't know what that would be in your game; but it might be similar to whatever might exist for "bad roleplaying", or "acting against character" - a minor reminder that, yes, you can do this if you want, but you wouldn't want to just to save some money on rations.
  • But I've wracked my brain for a punishment that's neither too harsh, too light, or too convoluted/far-from-the-raw.

    Adding an exhaustion level can kill them, or it can be nothing at all. Fiddling with hp and such is far from anything in the raw, can kill them, and can be nothing.

    Oh yeah I forgot to say that the players also proposed that after Con days, the line is lowered. Meaning you can dip into rations every Con days, if you're stuck in a cell and can't reasonably forage, buy or steal food.
  • Why is adding an exhaustion level bad, again? Is it just because it can kill a character who is already exhausted? I really, really don't understand why this is a problem, as somebody who is already extremely exhausted totally can die from fasting. That's entirely reasonable as far as I'm concerned, as it gives precisely the effect one should want: you can fast with only minor consequence, but only if everything else is fine with you. Fasting quickly becomes a more serious concern when you add other issues on top of it.

    Anybody who's tried fasting in real life has probably encountered this simple dictum: don't fast if you're ill in any way. Fasting for fun is only for healthy people in controlled conditions.
  • One is harmless and therefore pointless. Two halves your movement. Three halves your fighting&saves. Four halves your life. Five you can't move, six you die.

    So either the punishment is nothing (in which case why have a punishment) or it's pushing them down a death spiral that's very hard to break out of.

    We've had PC death and TPK often. But when the rules cause them. Not because I just decide it happens. There's a rock-falls-feel to giving out extra exhaustion. Especially for something -- skipping a day of food -- that happens often enough on Earth. Now, skipping a day of water leads to exhaustion right away. That's water. Food is food though.

    The RAW already is that you can't lose exhaustion when fasting. So normally you'd lose one per night, fasting takes that away. In other words, it's like it's adding one per day (by cancelling out the one you would subtract normally).

    It's already the case that combining fasting with other exhaustion quickly becomes lethal. Fasting without water: 1 level the next morning, 3 the morning after that, on the third morning you can't move and by night time you die. Adding Eero house rule: you die one earlier day. Your movement is halved an earlier day, too. 3 5 dead instead of 1 3 5 dead. And, it's the first and most interesting day that's removed, jumping right into the spiral.

    Exhaustion is part of the 5e game play that currently works really well, we've had some scares and tense moments when someone's headed down that road.

    Except now we don't need a punishment because the players agreed to not do it.

  • RAW: if they fast, and get exhaustion from something else, they die
    EHR: if they fast, and get exhaustion from something else, they die one day quicker

    Both: if there's no external exhaustion, eating only every fifth day has next to zero consequence

    So the EHR doesn't change the problem with the raw, it just feels like a vindictive "I just want the PCs dead sooner" move.
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