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Survival mechanics: hunger, thirst, sleep, temperature

LatinaBunny

Cyberprep Warrior
Validated User
One of my ideas was doing a prehistoric/neolithic science fantasy game or even a modern-times fantasy game with survival elements like hunger, sleep, surviving temperatures, etc.

I still want heroic-feeling characters (in terms of surviving long combat), but I would love to add some of these survival elements.

(If I did an all-supernaturals paranormal/urban fantasy version, I guess Vampires would have Blood Hunger, and Changelings/faeries would add the need for Glamour, and merpeople need to have Water for sure, etc.)

I have “Do Not Let Us Die in the Dark Night of This Cold Winter” and “Wolf-Pack and Winter Snow”, both of which I need to read more in-depth.

Ryuutama seems like a good choice, too, hmm...But it may be too peaceful for my D&D-combat-heavy ways, haha. Still, it’s got some nice survival-ish mechanics.

Fate-rpg-wise, I believe in my reading of the Fate Horror Toolkit, that a method to do some survival bits is by having limited invokes on the rations and then putting on some consequences onto the characters when they get hungry enough, etc.

So, basically: what survival mechanics have you read about or played that seem good? Or what games has some survival mechanics that I can borrow (or be inspired by)? Or even just tips on how to handle survival mechanics? :)

Edited to add:

I think I did a thread similar to this kind of topic a few years ago, but I wonder if there were updated rules or maybe new games since then, and maybe see more clarifications of some mechanics, etc.
 
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DarkMoc

Registered User
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Despite being a modern-setting, old-school-crunch game, Twilight: 2000 might be useful. It covers trying to gather food based on terrain and season, along with hunting or fishing. The Ranting Savant did a bit of analysis of those rules. There are also fatigue rules based on not getting enough food or sleep.
 

Cmdr_Bonehead

Registered User
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Zozer Games' Dirtside has some fairly simple advice for dealing with surviving the elements. It's meant for Traveller, so it covers everything from frozen airless planetoids to garden worlds to molten hellscapes. It focuses mainly on dealing with exposure, and what happens if you don't have sufficient food or water, but it leaves the details of finding food and water up to the GM.
 

AJ the Ronin

I am Loki
Validated User
Mouse Guard's (and Torchbearer) conditions (Tired, Hungry, Sick, Angry, Injured) are simple and to the point.

The conditions are just evocative due to their descriptive nature and at the same time make a mechanical difference during play.
 

J.M

Registered User
Validated User
Mouse Guard's (and Torchbearer) conditions (Tired, Hungry, Sick, Angry, Injured) are simple and to the point.

The conditions are just evocative due to their descriptive nature and at the same time make a mechanical difference during play.
Agreed, I think Torchbearer is the gold standard for survival mechanics that are an integral and fun part of the game, and a source of tension, rather than the bookkeeping exercise they tend to be in other games.

On a much more modest scale, my scenario Survival deals with the theme of, uh...survival, in a one-shot format. The players are a squad of US soldiers stranded in the jungle during the Vietnam War. Here's how I tried to approach it: Confront the players with the real-world horrors of surviving in 'Nam (I did a fair bit of research on the topic, so hopefully it rings true) so that when the "weird" elements show up, they feel like a natural extension of the environment. I also tried to focus on the relationships and conflicts between the characters, this can fuel tension when they're stuck together in the wilderness and must rely on each other to survive.
 

LatinaBunny

Cyberprep Warrior
Validated User
Thanks, I’ll do some more research on Twilight, Torchbearer, and Dirtside / Traveller.

So, along with what I have so far, I will also check out D&D and maybe my GURPS stuff as well to see how they handled the survival-aspects. (I’ve found out that I’m not fond of PbTA gameplay so far, so I’m not sure if Perilous Wilds suggested in my old thread would still be any use to me.)

I’m finding I’m not fond of emotional and some of the social mechanics stuff, so I’m avoiding those bits. Do I have to have Beliefs in Torchbearer, for example?
 

Corvo

Registered User
Validated User
I’m reading Forbidden Lands.
There are rules for being hungry, thirsty, cold and sleepless.
By the way, FL rules are pretty adapt for a primitive age game: they are a fantasy adaptation (and refinement) of the rules of Mutant: Year Zero, a post-apoc game.
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
Fate-rpg-wise, I believe in my reading of the Fate Horror Toolkit, that a method to do some survival bits is by having limited invokes on the rations and then putting on some consequences onto the characters when they get hungry enough, etc.
You could also conceivably come up with a set of conditions (as presented in the Fate System Toolkit and Dresden Files Accelerated) to cover hardship.

I think that the route I'd take is to have some low point value ones particular to individual sources of hardship. One for hunger, another for being tired, etc. Those would be checked off either when it makes sense narratively, as costs for converting failed rolls to successes, or potentially during conflicts if that made sense. They'd also be relatively easy to recover. Getting a full night of sleep recovers from exhaustion, type of thing.

Going beyond that would require the player to dip into more serious conditions. For instance, suffering additional environmental exposure might require that the player checks off a box of actual injury.

Were I going to really focus in on using such a system, I think I'd go one of two routes. The first is simply to lean hard on the idea that aspects justify obstacles. A second option could be to give more specific results for each condition. For example, checking off a Freezing condition could subject all rolls to make precise movements to a -1 penalty. This would require more work to set up the set of conditions, but it puts a lot more tactical and strategic weight on the things.
 

Rupert

Active member
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So, along with what I have so far, I will also check out D&D and maybe my GURPS stuff as well to see how they handled the survival-aspects. (I’ve found out that I’m not fond of PbTA gameplay so far, so I’m not sure if Perilous Wilds suggested in my old thread would still be any use to me.)
GURPS 4e's Campaigns book has stuff on cold, heat, dehydration, hungers, etc. Dungeon Fantasy 16 has all that stuff, plus foraging and so on nicely summarised and streamlined.
 

GregStolze

Go Play REIGN!
Validated User
It sounds like you want a game with a sort of desperation theme. Why not start with that and build outward? I'm thinking about RED MARKETS, which looks like a zombie game but is actually a poverty simulator with zombies included to lighten the mood. EVERYTHING in RM is based around "you can have this, but it'll cost you, and you do not have enough money to get all the things you feel you truly NEED to do the job to get the money." It's all economics.

For a combat heavy game with environmental hazards, I'd be tempted to build it around the concept of exhaustion. You only have so much CON and everything drains it. I don't know if you've ever been in a boxing or wrestling match, but the longer it goes on, the sloppier one's fighting tends to get--there's a reason boxers train so heavily for wind and endurance. You could have some CON cognate as a central resource and, after every few combat rounds, you spend it or take penalties. Ooh, if you look at the Escalation Die in 13TH AGE, you could make its dark twin. "Spend Endurance or take the current penalty, which is up to -3." But of course, you also need CON to grit your way through day two of searching for water.

In my experience, dying a long, slow, inextricable, realistic death from exposure can be really boring, so I think you'd want to make sure (1) your players realize they're signing up for "Jack London's TO BUILD A FIRE -- THE RPG!" and (2) you center it on the whittling down and the hard choices. Do you want to scavenge food today or purify water? Dehydration will kill you in three days instead of thirty, but if you let hunger go too long, you won't have the wherewithal to do ANYTHING.

-G.

Oh, and a fun book if you like stories of battling exposure is Laurence Gonzales' DEEP SURVIVAL: WHO LIVES, WHO DIES AND WHY. There is CRAZY stuff in there -- why a 17 year old girl got through a plane crash in the amazon and walked out barefoot eleven days later, while a Navy SEAL got killed doing white-water rafting on the Colorado river.
 
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