• Resources are back! Use the menu in the main navbar. If you own a resource, please check it for formatting, icons, etc.

Eat This, It's Good for You!

Dungeons & Dragons set up many of the tropes that have since influenced computer and video role-playing games, but one of the more interesting offsets of this is how D&D handles food. Which is to say, it doesn't have particularly sophisticated mechanics to manage hunger in a stark departure from the electronic games that followed.

The Original Rules

The Original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set left much of the rules of survival, like eating, drinking, and sleeping, to another game entirely, Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival, as explained by Delta:

In standard terrain, only food for men needs to be tracked. Cost is 5 and weight is 1 stone per man/week. Otherwise assume that water is generally available in small ponds and streams (each man with a waterskin; half-gallon, 1/3 stone), and horses may graze daily...Lack of Food or Water: Living creatures suffer 1d6 damage at the end of each week without food or each day without water. This damage cannot be healed until proper food and/or water is procured, at which point they regain 1 hp/level for each like time period. If under half hit points for this reason, then assume the creature’s movement is halved. Standard Rations Only: Only standard rations are generally available. Iron rations may be available in exceptional circumstances (dwarven or magical construction, etc.; one-third weight).

The separation of "standard rations" and "iron rations" is significant. Iron rations technically didn't exist as a concept until World War I:

The first attempt to make an individual ration for issue to soldiers in the field was the "iron ration", first introduced in 1907. It consisted of three 3-ounce cakes (made from a concoction of beef bouillon powder and parched and cooked wheat), three 1-ounce bars of sweetened chocolate, and packets of salt and pepper that was issued in a sealed tin packet that weighed one pound. It was designed for emergency use when the troops were unable to be supplied with food. It was later discontinued by the adoption of the "Reserve Ration" but its findings went into the development of the emergency D-ration.

It seems co-creator of D&D, Gary Gygax, had something else in mind, according to Michael (Gronan) Mornard:

“Iron Rations” in Gary’s mind were things like dried jerky, hardtack, and hard cheese. Medieval writers describe cheeses that were so dry and hard that they had to be broken up with a hammer and soaked in water to be eaten, but they’d keep virtually forever.

Players who didn't use Outdoor Survival likely handwaved eating food, and iron rations were a convenient excuse to do so -- so long as you could afford and carry it, there was no reason to worry about eating. There was also precedent in literature. In The Three Books of Occult Philosophy, a Scythian herb is mentioned that allows a person to endure "twelve dayes hunger and thirst." Later popular examples include "cram" and "lembas" from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

The Heavy Burden of Food

With Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, these rules became much more fleshed out:

The first edition Player’s Handbook (1978) listed iron rations for a week as 5 gp. and standard rations for a week as 3 gp. The first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979) gives iron rations as encumbering as 75 gp. and standard rations as 200 gp., so back then the rationale was that iron rations were slightly more expensive, but weighed a lot less. This was obviously because iron rations were dried meat, pemmican, or trail mix, or some combination of these. So iron rations was dried or preserved food and would last longer (i.e. months) than standard rations, which might go back in a few days. This was further explained in 2nd edition, which said that iron rations consisted of dried meat, bread, vegetables, and some cheeses. Standard rations were “unpreserved foods, such as soft breads, fruits, vegetables, and fresh meat, in sufficient quantity to feed one person for one week.”

Food then, wasn't so much tracked as a record of food consumption as it was a necessary burden of cost and encumbrance. That all changed with the Wilderness Survival Guide, which provided comprehensive rules on hunger. By the time the 3.5 Edition of D&D came along, D&D rules were simplified considerably:

In normal climates, Medium characters need at least a gallon of fluids and about a pound of decent food per day to avoid starvation. (Small characters need half as much.) In very hot climates, characters need two or three times as much water to avoid dehydration. A character can go without water for 1 day plus a number of hours equal to his Constitution score. After this time, the character must make a Constitution check each hour (DC 10, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. A character can go without food for 3 days, in growing discomfort. After this time, the character must make a Constitution check each day (DC 10, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. Characters who have taken nonlethal damage from lack of food or water are fatigued. Nonlethal damage from thirst or starvation cannot be recovered until the character gets food or water, as needed—not even magic that restores hit points heals this damage.

Later rules combined hunger with exhaustion, as codified in 5th Edition:

A character needs one pound of food per day and can make food last longer by subsisting on half rations. Eating half a pound of food in a day counts as half a day without food. A character can go without food for a number of days equal to 3 + his or her Constitution modifier (minimum 1). At the end of each day beyond that limit, a character automatically suffers one level of exhaustion. A normal day of eating resets the count of days without food to zero.

In essence, food and hunger have always been penalties in D&D, a necessity that cause penalties if the PCs went without. That all changed once video games applied a similar concept.

Why Does Food Heal You?

Instead of subtracting from a character by its absence, food became a means of healing. The first electronic RPG to do this was a game set in the modern day, called Earthbound, part of the Mother RPG series:

Food is the sole variety of healing item in EarthBound. The more expensive foods heal better, and you can buy condiments that increase their effects—if the combination is bad, such as hamburgers and sugar, it doesn't heal much; if it's good, such as fries and ketchup, it is very effective. While healing foods already existed in RPGs, they were usually treated as more of a depleting resource, as inherited from Western RPGs, or only healed a small amount. Due to its strong focus on their use, the first Mother is theorized to be the Trope Codifier for food as standard healing items, at least for the genre. Other Eastern RPGs were streamlining out several resource management parts, and and so edibles found their niche.

Whereas fantasy settings looked at food as a scarce but necessary resource, modern games treated food as a means of supplanting the traditional healing potion's role. Cracked explains where all this breaks down:

In a strictly biological sense, healing is just a macroscopic perspective of cellular regrowth, a process which requires the body to have a source of energy. This energy is commonly supplied by food - at least in the non-plant protagonists common in video games. But as with first aid kits, it's the speed with which these entire chickens are digested and turned into re-grown tissue which defies belief.

This trope, known as "Hyperactive Metabolism," has become so ingrained that it is now reflected in fantasy CRPGs too. What started as a necessary evil in fantasy became something in modern CRPGs that parents everywhere have told their kids for ages: "eat this, it's good for you!"

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Koloth

Villager
The moment the characters realize that the critters they are killing become edible feasts with a little clerical love, food ceases to be an issue. Create Water + Purify Food and Water pretty much gets a party by. Higher level brings in Create Food and Water further solving the problem. For extra added edible backup, Rangers set the table. As long as the characters each have a couple days of food and water for those times when the Clerics + Rangers are too busy or spell depleted, food and water shouldn't be a problem. Of course, an inventive DM can always create a supply problem for a party. Low or zero mana area. Cleric on the outs with their deity. Etc.
 

stargazera5

Explorer
Well, somebody only did about half their research on this article...

"The first attempt to make an individual ration for issue to soldiers in the field was the "iron ration", first introduced in 1907." Iron rations the name came out of that tie period, but the concept is meant as an improvement on the much older hard tack (aka Sea biscuit) that has variants that date back to at least the ancient Egyptians. Soldiers have most definitely eaten variations of hard tack in the field for thousands of years.

I'm not entirely sure, but I suspect the trope of food instant healing comes from arcade games that used it. For example, the original Gauntlet fantasy arcade game (1985) used food to instant heal the characters. It even made sure the player was prompted with this via the infamous warning "Elf needs food badly!"
 

AriochQ

Explorer


I'm not entirely sure, but I suspect the trope of food instant healing comes from arcade games that used it. For example, the original Gauntlet fantasy arcade game (1985) used food to instant heal the characters. It even made sure the player was prompted with this via the infamous warning "Elf needs food badly!"
Which was usually followed by the collective groan after hearing "Elf shot the food!"
 
Last edited by a moderator:

LuisCarlos17f

Explorer
Gastronomy is also an art. And magic is more powerful with the power of art by the glamour. A magic weapon or armor is more powerful when they are created as a piece of art, because they are attuned to the glamour essence. That is the reason magic weapons and armor are too beautiful to be practical in the battlefield, but work better than ordinary ones.

When a plate is a masterwork of gastronomy, then it is attuned with a special type of primal glamour, and this essence helps to heal PCs.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
D&D, as an outgrowth of war-games, had a heavy simulation aspect to it, and for that things like tracking rations and encumbrance can be pretty important. Encumbrance was also a big part of how the giant hordes of loot were limited---people had to figure out how to carry all that back. However, by the early to mid '80s the more narrative approach was going towards the fore, where rations and encumbrance tracking were more of an annoyance in most circumstances. In a more narrative-oriented game, if food and/or encumbrance serves a narrative purpose or else failing to account for it undermines the secondary reality, then it's worth tracking. If not, I tend to think people just skip it.
 

Arilyn

Explorer
I vividly remember starving to death in one of the old Ultima games. Got lost in the wilderness, couldn't forage enough food, and didn't get to a town in time. Those games were hard!

Cooking yummy meals that give a variety of perks are pretty standard fare these days in video games. One of the feats in UA allow for this kind of amazing cooking in 5e too, but I can't remember the details.

Personally, I'm glad that tracking meals and encumbrance have been greatly downplayed, as it just adds tedium.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
In the old days, up until 2e, I tracked rations and drink on adventures. After that, I stopped caring about micromanaging that. My use of food these days is to establish and demonstrate cultures, bringing the world to life. A dwarven feast should be different from an elven brunch.

Oh, those digitized voices of Gauntlet will be forever emblazoned on my ears.

Another older game that required food and drink was Dungeon Master. Most of the games I played of that ended with the party starving to death, dying of thirst, stuck in the dark because our torches and mana were too low.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
In our current 5E home campaign, over-use of Goodberries causes pretty nasty constipation.
I have a game where there's a magical food called "pablum". It's a tasteless mash that is nutritionally perfect. You heal D6 hit points when you eat it, too. However, you can only eat it three times per day. If you eat more than that, it becomes utterly nauseating. Unsurprisingly, it was manufactured by a Lawful Neutral society. The place where it exists has a brisk trade in other kinds of food as people are bored with it.
 

MarkB

Hero
Since the current version of the Artificer can cast spells using any set of tools with which they're proficient, an artificer with the right background can employ his cook's utensils to literally make instant-healing magical food right there on the bettlefield.

Meanwhile, wizards with Prestidigitation have the advantage of being able to stick to trail rations and actually enjoy them. Not only piping hot, but if they want, each bite can be a different flavour.
 

practicalm

Explorer
Let's not forget Nethack where food management is key for keeping the game going. And some corpses are safe to eat and some are not. You can also get tinning equipment to make a tin of meat from a corpse.
Some magical creatures imbued you with effects when eaten. Eat a Leprechaun and teleport randomly for a while.
 

MGibster

Explorer
There is one issue regarding food I haven't seen addressed in any RPG I've played and that's the role food plays in maintaining morale. It's one thing to be happy you're not starving to death while munching on those terrible cheeses and hardtack you brought along but think of how much happier everyone is with fresh plants and meat? A decent cook on the trail is worth quite a bit.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
There is one issue regarding food I haven't seen addressed in any RPG I've played and that's the role food plays in maintaining morale. It's one thing to be happy you're not starving to death while munching on those terrible cheeses and hardtack you brought along but think of how much happier everyone is with fresh plants and meat? A decent cook on the trail is worth quite a bit.
I agree, but think that it's part of the general lack of morale rules. It would fit nicely in a skill challenge type journey rule in a low fantasy, though, such as was in 4E, or in Adventures in Middle Earth.
 

doctorhook

Adventurer
Gastronomy is also an art. And magic is more powerful with the power of art by the glamour. A magic weapon or armor is more powerful when they are created as a piece of art, because they are attuned to the glamour essence. That is the reason magic weapons and armor are too beautiful to be practical in the battlefield, but work better than ordinary ones.

When a plate is a masterwork of gastronomy, then it is attuned with a special type of primal glamour, and this essence helps to heal PCs.
Okay you lost me. Why the heck wouldn’t I want to use magical weapons or armour on the battlefield?
 

jmucchiello

Adventurer
While Gauntlet was well known for food healing you, the idea goes all the way back to Rogue. A keyboard text game from ancient computer times. Rogue predates Nethack.
 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Top