DiceSoup: Calories

Many a year ago (like, three) I edited and sometimes wrote for an RPG website called DiceSoup. DiceSoup no longer publishes, and as far as I can tell there is no trace left of the articles. Last week I was notified (via the social network I will not mention) that folks were still looking for the articles. I can't repost all of them, but the ones I've written will begin to show up here like little mushrooms under the DiceSoup tag. Oh, look, here's one now!
Food (and Why Dragonslayers Don’t Need It)
The greater majority of game systems lack a complex system for starvation, and there’s a reason for that; compared to the other things characters typically do, eating just isn’t interesting. Would you watch Star Wars if every twenty minutes Luke Skywalker had to stop to scarf down a PB&J?
However, hunger and starvation do have their places in entertainment. Survival and post-apocalyptic stories both feature eating as a major goal- and make it interesting. The big difference is that in a survival situation, fighting for food is interesting: you can’t just walk into the local tavern and order up a steak and ale. Think of how important fighting for food is in the Hunger Games, Castaway, or Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. In short: hunger is good for entertainment when it’s a main goal, not when the main goal is dragon-hunting or demon-fighting.
That being said, hunger does have its place in non-survival tabletop games too. A campaign focusing on group of heroes rebuilding a village after a natural disaster, frontiersmen settling a harsh wilderness, smugglers trapped on a starship adrift in space: all of these campaigns could use rules from the popular games we know and love, but could also benefit from a more complex rule than “eat every three days or be fatigued”. For those who are exciting about watching their characters wither away before their eyes, we present our take on starvation rules: Calories.

A character’s Max Calories are equal to four times their Constitution score. This represents both bulkier characters being able to store more food energy, and those with higher endurance who can keep pushing even when the fuel gage hits “E”. If you want starvation to present a larger problem to the players, you can have Max Calories start at three times their Constitution score, and conversely, you could use five times Constitution score for a game with less focus on the starvation aspects. Season to taste.
When a character is at Max Calories, they are fully energized. As a character goes about the day, some activities deplete the character’s Calories. Each activity is categorized into one of four types- High Energy, Medium Energy, Low Energy, or (Virtually) No Energy. High Energy activities are those that consume lots of calories (like running for extended periods of time, or chopping down a large tree). Low Energy represents less intense activities, like a few hours of foot travel or lifting a moderately heavy object only a few times. Medium Energy represents those activities in between. Some activities, like eating, require such a minor amount of calories that they are counted as No Energy. Each category of activity has a set number of d4’s that they reduce a player’s Calories by, which are given in the table below.
Calorie Reduction
High Energy
Extended runs, mountain climbing, combat for heavily equipped characters
Medium Energy
Jogging, swimming, combat for most characters
Low Energy
Extended walking, hunting
(Virtually) No Energy
Gear maintenance, short walks, driving, picking locks

Characters also spend energy maintaining their internal bodily functions. At the end of each day, a character loses 2d4 Calories. This number increases to 3d4 Calories in cold environments, as the body burns more energy to keep warm.

A person can go for a while before a lack of food begins to catch up with them, and the same applies for our characters. A character takes no ill effects from calorie loss until they hit 16 or fewer calories. Any character with between 16 and 1 calories is considered Hungry, and takes a -1 on all physical rolls (from a lack of energy) and social rolls (people’s tempers shorten when they’re on an empty stomach).
Once a character a character hits zero, things really begin to go from bad to worse. A character at zero or less calories is considered Starving. Starving doesn’t immediately kill a character; rather, their Calories continue to drop into the negatives. Instead of rolling using the table above to determine Calories lost, a Starving character will only ever lose one Calorie at a time. If they hit -20, then the character has starved to death.
In addition, The penalties from being Hungry double to -2 to all physical and social rolls. Also, for every day a character spends at zero, they take a penalty from the Starving table below, rolling 1d6 and adding the number of consecutive days spent at Starving to get your result.
Hunger begins to take its toll; take 2d6 nonlethal damage
Lose 1d4 Wisdom and Intelligence until the character gets above zero Calories
Permanently lose 1 Strength
Permanently lose 1 Dexterity
Permanently lose 1 Constitution
Character begins to hallucinate for 1d6 hours, and is unable to do anything but interact with the hallucinations
Permanently lose 1 Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution
Character hallucinates for 3d6 hours, and is unable to do anything but interact with the hallucinations
Character loses 1d4 from each physical stat
A character’s organs begin to fail; character takes 1d6 damage per hour, +1d6 for every previous hour
The character’s body begins to shut down. They enter into a coma for 1d6 days.
The character’s body has met its limit, and has nothing left to cannibalize. The character dies.

In order to spend Calories, characters will first have to gain Calories by eating food. Food rich in calories (like a jar of peanut butter or a full meal) add 2d4 calories to the character. Regular foods (dead pigeon, apple) add 1d4. Particularly light meals (like a head of lettuce or some celery) might only add 1 calorie.

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