Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Travelogues: foraging and food

Last time, I talked about possibly extensions to the resting mechanics for D&D 5e. Now, time to consider another important aspect of any holiday quest: cuisine.

As usual, this is being spooled off the top of my head here, so expect some pretty rough edges. There are also aspects I'm building to align with mechanics I vaguely intend in later parts of this series, so... I'm sure it will be fine.

Eating and Foraging

The Outlander feature will just make a mess of this vital aspect, which I'm not up for. It's not just that, either. According to the rules:

A character needs one pound of food per day... A character needs one gallon of water per day, or two gallons per day if the weather is hot. (PHB, p.66 in Basic Rules) and on a successful [foraging] check, a character finds 1d6+Wis modifier pounds of food, then repeat the roll for water (in gallons).

This means that on average, given that the DC for foraging will tend to be 15 in most kinds of wilderness, you can probably assume that at least one person in a party of four will roll a 15 and gain on average 4 pounds of food and water. In other words, most of the time this just isn't going to be an issue.

I think interpretation is key here. The foraging rules allow foraging when you're travelling at a normal or slow pace. Thing is, the travel rules are very vague about how pace works. They don't tie you down to committing a day, but nor does foraging take any actual time. It seems very much like you can just (by RAW) travel at normal pace for no more than an hour (assuming the DM is at least determined enough to limit you to 1-hour blocks) while foraging enough to feed you all for a day, then move fast for the rest of the day.

My version will be different.

Firstly, foraging takes time. Like all other travel activities, foraging takes a 1-hour slot during which you are effectively not travelling. That doesn't mean you aren't narratively travelling, because you should have more than an hour to travel if you're bothering to forage. Basically you choose to devote, in an average 8-hour travel day, 1/8 of your time to foraging rather than moving.

Secondly, everything needs food. If you're going long-distance, you probably have animals; they need food. You can't just let mounts graze the nearby grass, most of them need a varied diet rather than just grass - horses will eat bark, moss, grains, leaves and still want supplementing with bran or oats to keep them healthy. So you either need to be carrying lots of feed, or foraging with your mounts too. That's slower, and exposes the mounts to danger unless you watch them (in which case, you're not foraging effectively yourself).

Thirdly, foraging is less effective. One person should not be able to feed their whole party a healthy diet by spending an hour foraging. That's not out of realism, it's again out of the desire to make this feel important. If you need to feed yourselves by foraging, you work at it. You dedicate a non-trivial amount of your resources to finding food, knowing that this reduces your ability to travel. This means that buying food or foraging is a more meaningful decision - do you want to spend gold on food and then lug it around with you over long distances? Do you plan a short wilderness route and hope to feed yourselves, or a longer route via small towns where you can buy food? Do you bring along loads of food to begin with, and trust none of it will spoil or be lost en route?

Fourthly, reward as well as punish. Sure, people need to start getting unhealthy from not eating properly. I'd tend to put iron rations in this category, actually. It's not exactly an optimal diet... but what you can do is allow foraging to make your diet more interesting. A likely scenario is that you're using iron rations for the core of your meal, but supplementing it with roots, wild grain, edible leaves, insects (let's be realistic here), and a small amount of fish and game. On days when you get yourself a nice varied diet, and taking time to prepare it as a nice meal, you have a bonus on whatever "stay hale and hearty" roll I end up using. On days when you're just munching iron rations as you hurry along, you have a penalty.

Obviously some characters will be better at foraging than others. The Outlander should still be a great asset, just not a way to ignore food altogether. Rangers and Druids have practical and supernatural abilities that help them find and gather good-quality food.

Oh, another point - it's going to be tempting to just say "everybody forages at the same time". That's not what seems to happen in stories, though, so I'd like to make sure there are other things to keep people occupied, so that the most skilled foragers are the ones sent out to find food. Don't worry - that's where another next set of rules should come in.

Food quantity and quality

The benefits of food depend on both the quantity and the quality of food consumed. I'm using a few labels here, but they're a bit clunky. The nature of the food is more important than the label.

Squalid food is not really adequate to keep someone healthy. It may be very poor in nutrition, mouldy, stale, rotting or otherwise tainted. Generally this is either food that's long past it's best, or things that you'd only eat in desperation. Squalid food imposes a penalty on health and morale checks for the effects of wilderness living and travel.

Mostly you're only going to get squalid food when nice food goes bad. You might also find it as loot, or it might be the only thing poor communities (or intelligent monsters) have to offer.

Basic food provides (in modern terms) the calories required to continue with ordinary activity and avoid hunger. However, it's lacking in nutrients, and over long periods it's not enough to remain healthy. Iron rations, hard tack and other preserved goods are basic foodstuffs. Peasants, sailors and soldiers live mostly on basic food. Many roots, grains and leaves that are easy to forage are basic food.

Healthy food provides important vitamins and nutrients that help stave off disease, maintain condition and generally feel healthy. Fresh fruits and legumes, insects, minnows, nuts, milk and fungi are healthy, though variety is a big part of the equation. These are generally harder to forage. Eating healthy food provides a bonus on checks made for the health effects of wilderness living and travel.

Rich foods are particularly tasty and nutritious. They help adventurers to remain strong, fit and art, and keep up morale because they're enjoyable to eat. Rich foods include meat, cheese, sizeable fish, seafood and some uncommon roots and vegetables. Eating rich food provides a bonus on health checks and on morale checks for wilderness living and travel. Rich food is not suitable for mounts.

Still Life with Turkey Pie 1627 Pieter Claesz.jpg


Foraging expends one hour of effort, and this (like all activity) counts towards the time limit for forced marching. Foraging is not something you can simply do by plucking berries from the roadside as you canter along. Apart from anything else, most foods need some kind of preparation before they're edible - many 'edible' plants are mildly poisonous and need to be cooked, ground or soaked before eating to make them palatable (or safe).

Spending an hour foraging permits a Survival roll. Foraging in poor terrain inflicts a -5 penalty, while foraging in good terrain provides a +5 bonus. Foraging establishes the amount and quality of food that is found. Other conditions (such as severe weather) may impose additional modifiers.

Party members can choose to forage in groups or individually. Group foraging is safer and more reliable, but means the party are essentially competing to gather the same resources. Individual foraging allows the potential for individuals to gather more, but it's less reliable and leaves them more vulnerable.

For group foraging, roll one die for each member and keep the best result. For individual foraging, roll separately.

A party can of course split into small groups; for example, two pairs of characters might forage together, each pair rolling twice and keeping the best result to determine what they find. The food gathered by the two pairs is cumulative.

Members of a group are assumed to be close enough together to easily help out in case of accident, attack or an interesting discovery. Different groups or individuals are assumed to be far enough apart that this is much more difficult and will take, at a minimum, a Perception check to hear cries for help, followed by a minute or more of running to find them. If the party wish to stay closer together, they're foraging as a single group; no cheesing.

Option 1 - hourly rolls

Making a DC 15 Survival roll means the character is able to gather 1 pound of basic food. Making a DC 25 means the character gathers 1d3+1 pounds of basic food. For every 5 pounds of food gathered, roll 1d6: on a 4-5 one pound is Healthy food, while on a 6 one pound is Rich food. Characters may choose to gather animal feed for their mounts instead of basic food for themselves, but should specify this before rolling.

Option 2 - single rolls

A single roll is made for the day's foraging. Each additional hour spent foraging provides a +1 bonus to the roll (rather than an additional roll). As before, characters can forage in groups or individually.

  • Less than 10: you find negligible food, certainly no more than compensates for the energy you expended foraging, or waste your time gathering inedible foodstuffs, or lose your gathered food through some accident
  • 10-14: you find 1 pound of basic food
  • 15-19: you find 1d3 pound of basic food
  • 20-24: you find 1d3 pounds of basic food and 1 pound of healthy food
  • 25-29: you find 1d3 pounds of basic food and 1d3 pounds of healthy food
  • 30-34: you find 1d3 pounds of basic food, 1d3 pounds of healthy food and 1 pound of rich food
  • and so on, if necessary

Option 3 - party rolls

A single roll is made for the day's foraging. Each additional hour spent foraging provides a +1 bonus to the roll (rather than an additional roll). Characters can forage together (+2 bonus per extra forager), or individually (roll once per character, keep the best roll). This version is a bit broader and focuses on days of food, rather than quantities, to keep things simple.

  • Less than 10: you find nothing useful
  • 10-14: the party can eat a basic meal today
  • 15-19: the party can eat a basic meal today and gain 1 spare day of basic meals
  • 20-24: the party can eat a healthy meal today
  • 25-29: the party can eat a healthy meal and gains 1 spare day of basic meals
  • 30-34: the party can eat a rich meal and gains 1 spare day of basic meals
  • 35+: the party can eat a rich meal and gains 1 spare day of healthy meals

My choice

Okay, I think this is the version I'm settling for.

A single Wisdom (Survival) roll is made for the day's foraging. Each additional hour spent foraging provides a +1 bonus to the roll (rather than an additional roll). As before, characters can forage in groups or individually. Bonuses and penalties may apply in particularly good or bad terrain.

A character who makes a DC 15 Intelligence (Nature) roll gains advantage on their Survival roll, as they can use their learning to predict where to find edible food.

  • Less than 10: you find negligible food, certainly no more than compensates for the energy you expended foraging, or waste your time gathering inedible foodstuffs, or lose your gathered food through some accident.
  • 10-14: you find 1 pound of basic food or you find 1d6 pounds of squalid food.*
  • 15-19: you find 1d3 pound of basic food.
  • 20-24: you find 2d3 pounds of basic food. If you make a Wisdom (Perception) DC 15 check, you also find 1 pound of healthy food.
  • 25-29: you find 3d3 pounds of basic food. If you make a Wisdom (Perception) DC 15 check, you also find 1d3 pounds of healthy food.
  • 30-34: you find 4d3 pounds of basic food. If you make a Wisdom (Perception) DC 15 check, you also find 2d3 pounds of healthy food.

For what it's worth, I suspect the optimal is two Survival-trained characters each with an assistant for the reroll.

* If the DM feels like it; if the party can easily turn squalid food into something tasty, this would be unwise.


Instead of foraging, a character can opt to go hunting. Of course, sometimes the party might kill something they can eat just in passing: wild animals are often edible, though carnivores usually taste pretty bad. Hunting in this mechanical sense is assumed to feature smaller and more common animals, as well as birding and fishing.

The character must make a Wisdom (Survival) roll to find an opportunity to hunt. As with foraging, each additional hour of hunting grants a +1 bonus, and additional characters working together offer a reroll. If they achieve a DC20, the character spots an opportunity to hunt something. For every additional 5 points, they find an additional opportunity that day (though the food will need preserving).

Next, the character makes a hunting roll based on the type of opportunity: Dexterity (Stealth) for waterside fishing or hunting larger game, Wisdom (Perception) for boat fishing or hunting smaller game, Strength (Athletics) for birds-nesting and digging out burrows. Of course, the DM determines what options are possible (you can't do much but sea-fishing if you're at sea, for example) and which present themselves.

If the hunting roll is successful, the character can provide the party with Rich meals for the day (or 2d3 pounds if you're really worried about details).


I'm not sure whether food preservation rules are necessary, but there's an argument that it encourages regular foraging, rather than occasional binges. Here they are if wanted.

Foraged food spoils within a few days unless it is treated: dried, roasted, salted and so on. It spoils even faster in hot and damp conditions. This is often impractical during wilderness travel. A character can preserve food equal to their Survival modifier (bonus + proficiency) in pounds, by expending one hour of travel time and taking suitable steps, such as smoking fish over a fire, or using salt (a pound of salt can preserve, oh, ten pounds of food).

Rich food spoils within 24 hours unless preserved (raw meat, dairy and fish don't keep well).


Water is resolved differently from food: either you find it, or you don't. Roll Wisdom (Survival) when foraging to see what water is found. The usual hourly modifier applies. The DM determines what modifiers apply based on the terrain; a desert might impose a -20, whereas in rainforests a +20 might apply. If characters are foraging in groups, only one character in each group rolls for water.

A character can make an Intelligence (Nature) roll to gain advantage on rolls to find water.

In some locations, water may be always clean, or there may be no clean water to find. This is up to the DM.

  • Less than 10: you find no water, or only damp soil and shallow puddles, or water tainted beyond even magical purification
  • 10-14: you find foul-tasting filthy water. Make a Constitution save to keep it down (DC 15). If you drink it, roll an additional Health check today, with advantage if you boiled it.
  • 15-19: you find some tolerable water. If you drink it, you suffer a -2 penalty on Health checks today, unless you boil it.
  • 20-24: you find a stream of fresh water.
  • 25+: you find a spring of clear, sweet water. If you drink it, you gain advantage on Health checks today.


Mounts can be left to graze while you forage. Their success depends on how well the terrain matches their requirements. Most animals are evolved to spend all their time either eating or resting, but can hurry a bit if necessary. The following rules assume a mount is a herbivorous ruminant, such as a horse or camel, which feed on large quantities of low-nutrient vegetation.

Mounts need food and water dependent on their size: 8 pounds and 8 gallons for Medium, 16 for Large, 32 for Huge. Some animals (such as desert creatures) are adapted to survive with different quantities of food and water.

This is pretty generous. An elephant (Huge size) actually eats around 400 pounds of food per day, and drinks about 50 gallons of water.

Assuming there is suitable food where the animal is grazing, and an ample supply of water, a mount can obtain half the food it needs by grazing while at rest. It must spend two hours of travel time actively feeding to supply the rest. Alternatively, the party can supply animal feed, which can be eaten while at rest.

In terrain that is less suitable, mounts must spend twice as long grazing for the same benefit. Where food is ample, the mount can graze for half the normal time.

Water purity rules apply to animals as well as PCs, so it's always better to find them fresh water.

Dietary requirements

The rules presented here assume that adventurers are tough special forces types, prepared to live on wiry roots, unfledged chicks and a lot of insects. In practice, this may not be the case. Unfortunately, grubs and things are one of the easier sources of protein.

If characters are picky eaters, impose a penalty on foraging rolls. If you won't eat worms, it can be tough to feed yourself in the wild. Hunting is essentially impossible for vegetarians - there's very few rich foodstuffs available that aren't animal-based.

Special abilities

So what about those outlanders, druids, rangers and so on?

In the normal rules, Outlanders can simply provide food for the whole party. This just isn't very much fun. On the other hand, we do want them to have some benefits in foraging.

Outlander: When you forage for food and water, treat the result as if you rolled one category higher.

Ranger: When you use the Primal Awareness ability, you automatically pass the Intelligence (Nature) check to gain advantage on foraging and hunting rolls, providing some of your activity takes place within the affected area.

Commune with Nature: When you cast this spell, you automatically pass the Intelligence (Nature) check to gain advantage on foraging and hunting rolls, providing some of your activity takes place within the affected area.


Again, the D&D rules are pretty much designed to prevent foraging from being essential to wilderness travel, and they do so by adding spells that let you completely ignore it. I'm not really sure what to do about this. After all, being able to magically feed people is a non-trivial class feature for clerics, and water/food purification is similar. Would it really be okay to just strike these out?

Well, yes. It's the DM's game, they can do what they like - providing the players will put up with it. But is there anything else we could do?

Making magic food unhealthy seems wrong somehow. Food magically created by the gods seems like it should nourish body and mind, or something along those lines. Similarly, making it taste bad feels wrong for a divine spell (arcane, no problem).

A metagame option would be non-terrible, I think. In this instance, the DM simply talks to the cleric player about the way this ability would trivialise a significant part of the travelogue experience they're aiming for. They agree that although the god does bestow that power upon the cleric, the god also expects that they'll make the effort to provide for themselves rather than always immediately demanding divine food from the gods. Thus the foraging rules would come into play; on the downside, the party will essentially never have to deal with bad food or inadequate food, since they can always go "hey, wr tried".

I don't think you can really even say "only in dire need", because unless the god is particularly harsh, forcing their clerics and their (possible convert!) allies to eat rotting food or go hungry isn't exactly doing anyone any good. Particularly if they're trying to save the world or whatever.

Can we tweak them usefully? Or even clarify them?

Purify Food and Drink: this is just a clarification, but the spell removes poison and disease from food, as well as impurities. It doesn't restore food to prime condition; spoiled food remains spoiled.

Create or Destroy Water: more clarification. This creates water in one container. A waterskin holds 4 pints, or 1/2 gallon. A creature needs a gallon of water per day, so you would need to cast this spell eight times to provide a party with fresh water, not including their mounts. Of course, the party could invest in a huge waterskin and a mule to carry it when it's full...

Create Food and Water: um, nope, this spell can't be redeemed.

Goodberry: What's that? A 1st-level spell that creates a magic berry that's the only thing anyone needs to eat for a whole day you are having a freaking laugh. We could, however, rule that this spell makes you feel full, so it aids your mood without having any physical effect.

The problem here is that the spells are partly balanced on the assumption that you need spell slots for other things, and in most travel this simply won't be the case. The party can almost certainly afford one 3rd-level spell slot every day, let alone a few 1st-level slots. Because clerics know all their spells, and don't need to prepare them, that won't be a factor either.

I honestly think these spells might just need to go if you want foraging to be a thing at all. Either that, or metagame restrictions on their use that mean most of the time, the character will not be using them, even when this means eating rotting food and drinking stagnant water.

Thoughts, comments, questions?

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