Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rations in 5th Edition

I can't believe how this topic even got started, but it was odd enough that I compulsively researched it for here. This week our Sunday gaming group was preparing to make new D&D characters, a task that has been done time and time again over decades. The DM for this new edition is not me, but my friend stated early on he wanted to use encumbrance rules. Thus began the frenzy to make weight under "encumbered". A lot of home games ignore encumbrance rules for expedience which is fine unless you consider the spirit of D&D has always been about trying to simulate the experience of delving a cave in full gear. That frenzy led to of all things, another glossed over item, rations. Apparently 5th Edition rations weigh too much. Let's compare!

To start, 5E lists "Rations (1/day)" as dry food, jerky, dry fruit, hard tack and nuts. I'd say that can be considered preserved food. For 5 sp you get 2 lbs of rations that is supposed to last a day. That would be 14 lbs for a week of food which according to my friends is ridiculous even for a simulated fantasy game. Let's start going back editions and see.

In 4th Edition (thank you D&DI subscription) Rations per day are pretty much the same cost, 5 sp but they weight only one lb. If this seems more reasonable that's because it was the standard for a long time.

Long lived 3rd Edition (and it's offspring Pathfinder) have a day of Rations at 5 sp and a weight of 1 lb. There is a notation in these OGL products that rations weigh a quarter of the listed amount when made for Small characters. So Halfling rations weight .25 lb.? This laughable notation was already called out as bunk by my friends. Fine for containers and clothing, but not food. Let's move on.

1st Edition (and perhaps 2E as well) handled rations slightly differently (as well as encumbrance). There was Standard Rations (unpreserved food) and Iron Rations (preserved food). My guess is "iron" was dropped in later editions and was the default ration. Standard rations for one day cost 8.5 sp (4.3 sp in today's exchange rate) and 28.5 coin weight. Coin or g.p. weight was the encumbrance system in early D&D and was an abstract of actual weight and bulkiness. 10 coins = 1 lb. Thus, standard rations weighed almost 3 lbs. That's the unpreserved stuff mind you.
Iron rations which is our focus, come in at 14.3 sp (7.1 sp) per day and weigh 10.7 coins, or a tad over 1 lb. Par for the course right?

And now to be complete, old red box Basic D&D used a similar coin weight system to AD&D. They too had Standard and Iron Rations. Interestingly, the descriptions say standard rations are good for throwing to monsters for a distraction. Never considered that. Anyhow, basic food is expensive. One day of Standard costs 7.1 sp and one day of Iron is a whopping 21.4 sp. Basic rules liked to be expedient with gear weights as they focused on treasure carrying. According to the rules, all an adventurers' miscellaneous gear and provisions (rope, spikes, sacks, wineskin, rations, etc.) weigh 80 coins, a measly 8 lbs! This of course could be chalked up to the fact its not bulky if stored and carried properly. Going by advanced rules, if you only carried a week of iron rations that would come out to about to 7 lbs. I'm sure rope and bars of metal weigh more than biscuits and dried meat, but hey that's why its basic rules.

Back to the present, why in the world did the 5E designers think rations needed to be upped to 2 lbs per day? I know weights probably fluctuate for all gear through-out D&D's history, but as you can see Rations had been fairly consistent until now. If encumbrance and food is diligently tracked in a campaign, carrying a week of food for these hapless adventurers becomes a very big deal. Is that small bag of gold more important than their next meal? Time to buy a mule.


Unknown said...

Love this post, Ike!

P.S. I'm at 35lbs, encumbered at 40lbs, Kallista doesn't have rations, does Tal share!?

Mike Bridges said...

Haha thanks and, nice job. My fighter Tal will either share, buy a mule or slay something that is edible in the dungeon. Never fear!

Valkaun_Dain said...

Tiefling steaks anyone?

Tim N said...

I agree, 2lbs of rations per day is ridiculous. I assume the idea is that a certain amount of foraging goes on as you travel, and that some of the stuff you kill is cut up for meat as well. The 2lb would then be the stuff that's hard to forage for but is necessary.

Granger44 said...

What's most interesting is the internal inconsistency. The rules for food on p185 say that you need 1 pound of food per day. Given that, why is 1 day of rations 2 pounds? Even if we add some weight for packaging, that still seems a bit much.

Scott said...

Maybe this will be the evidence I finally need to get Mrs. Casper to stop playing "5th" edition!

Unknown said...



You will lose our mule, like pippin lost our dog! -_-

Unknown said...

It occurs to me, and I hadn't realized before, that Iron Rations (Preserved food) would need water. So having the wineskin becomes that much more important! Also, Standard Rations would probably go bad after a few days making the Purify Food and Water spell useful. aha!

tom said...

Another encumbrance related item that has been changed with nearly every edition is the weight, burn time & area of illumination of torches & lanterns / lamp oil.

Mike said...

Nice comparison.

From years of backpacking a dry days worth of food is between 0.5-1lb of non-freeze dried stuff. Like falafel, beans, rice. It will need water of course, sometimes lots of water.

If you have to carry your own water then it gets very heavy very quickly. You can get by on a liter (2.24 lbs) of water a day outside of desert etc. environments.

Just from a calories perspective a lb of bread is going to be about 2000 cal add in maybe a half pound of salami say and you have a lean days worth of calories for an active adventurer.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, the section about food on page 185 of the PHB says, that a character eats one pound of food per day. So why does one day of rations weigh two pounds? It doesn't make any sense. I usually rule that one day of rations obviously just weighs one pound because of that.

Unknown said...

I have long stuck with the 1-e rations because they are in fact correct in real-world terms. Standard rations are preserved rations: pickled eggs, sauerkraut (a serviceable source of Vitamin C), and other pickled vegetables; fruit jellies; preserved meats such as pepperoni, salami, summer sausage; dense breads such as black bread; and so forth. These foods are preserved in that they remain edible without refrigeration for several days - they'll last at least the week, and many will last for months until you open them and for several days once opened. They're preserved using the same techniques the common folk have used for millennia to store a healthy variety of food over the winter. However, the pickled and jellied items need containers, which adds weight, and they're not a particularly dense source of calories. 3 pounds a day is about right when your preserved food is sealed in ceramic jars or other containers, but the good news is you don't have to worry about vitamin deficiencies if you pick the right foods. Pity you can't recycle the jars, though.

"Iron" rations, named after a British WW-I infantry ration, are intended to be not just preserved but a light and dense source of calories as well. Dehydration is common since water accounts for a lot of that extra weight. If you ignore packaging, a pound a day means you're getting 130-150 calories an ounce (depending on what you consider adequate). Most dense food sources run in the 100 calorie per ounce range, with the exceptions being nuts (up to 200 calories an ounce) and pemmican. So your iron rations consist of jerky or dried fish, dried fruit, hardtack, hard cheese, and nuts - a lot of nuts, maybe as much as a quarter of the total food volume. Very, very little of the weight here is packaging, so there's no problem ignoring packaging. The good news is it's light and needs little or no preparation. The bad news is there's very little water in it, and we get a lot of our water needs met from food, so your liquid water requirement about doubles. The other bad news is Vitamin C does not survive many preservation techniques. Candied orange peel is good, as is dried orange, but this of course depends on there being accessible citrus in your world - candied cabbage is nasty stuff (grin). So, barring the presence of foods in your game world that solve the problem, vitamin deficiencies start to crop up after about a month or so.