Savage Bookkeeping

Patrick over at RPG Diehard just had a post on Rations and record-keeping (basically asking whether it was a good idea or not to make the players track things like food), which set me to thinking.

One of the neat insights in Savage Worlds, which I’ve mentioned before, is that you can sometimes replace frequent small events with rarer more significant ones to accomplish the same goals.  That’s most evident in the way damage is handled, but appears in other places in the rules as well, such as the way ammo is handled for the PCs allies.  Savage Worlds is intended to allow the players to control bunches of NPCs as allies, but keeping track of ammo for them whether it’s bullets or arrows, would be a big bookkeeping hassle.  So they abstract it into the allies having four possible ammo levels: Very High, High (they start at this level unless you take special effort to equip them), Low, and Out.  Every combat where the allies are heavily involved in fighting, they drop a level; if during combat they are dealt a 2 as their init card, they drop a level after that round. There’s no game effect until they hit Out.  When they’re Out, they’re all out.  So it’s simple to keep track of, allows for the possibility that they run out during combat, and makes it so you have to pay at least some attention to keeping them supplied.

It seems to me that a similar mechanic could work very well for things like rations and torches, even for PCs.  Give them 4 levels of the significant groups of consumable (e.g. I’d do food and water together, but light sources as a seperate track).  Then have the level drop if some event occurs.

For instance, in an overland adventure, you’d almost always be rolling at least once a day for either weather or encounters.  It would be simple at the same time to roll to see if rations dropped.  You could either put it as an “event” on the encounter table, or (and I kind of favor this) you roll the best character’s Survival die, and on a 1, the party and all its allies drop a ration level.  Once the level drops, it can only go back up if the party touches base at some relatively settled area such as a village or farm (depending on the size of the group), or if the party spends a day foraging and gets a raise on the Survival skill.  If they ever reach Out, they start to suffer the effects of Hunger as per the core rules.

While it has the drawback that bad luck could result in running out of food quickly after leaving the settled areas, you could explain that as something specific happening (a bear getting into the supplies, the food turning moldy, etc)  I think that adds a nice bit of flavor that is otherwise pretty unlikely to crop up in a game that isn’t obsessively detailed, and the upside of requiring almost no bookkeeping besides a couple of tick-marks while making sure the players at least occassionally consider where their supplies are coming from is quite high.  And if you’re running a fantasy campaign, it finally makes spells like Create Food and Water or those pouches of neverending food something the adventurers will be quite pleased to have.

12 thoughts on “Savage Bookkeeping

  1. Joshua says:

    You could, but then you’d be back most of the way to actually tracking rations. What’s the difference between levels of 2-day chunks or just tracking days of food? You’d still have to consult the calendar each day to see if it’s an even or odd day, no?

    The die-roll lets you eliminate any kind of bookkeeping at all until they fail, after which you just make a tick-mark. Then you don’t do any more bookkeeping until either they fail again and get another tick-mark or go somewhere/do something that makes you erase the tick-marks.

  2. PatrickWR says:

    Plus, the die roll makes the players seem vested in their ongoing survival. And it’s fun!

    Thanks for spending some time on this, Josh! It’s a big help to first-time Savage GMs like me.

  3. MikeD says:

    d20 Modern uses a similar concept for money. You have a Wealth score that works kind of like an attribute (where the average is 10). The equipment lists have purchase targets. So, if you want to buy a laptop, you roll a d20, add your Wealth and if the result exceeds the target (23, I think) you bought it and your wealth goes down by 1. If you do not make the roll, you can’t find one that you can afford. Any item that costs less than your wealth level you simply buy without losing Wealth.

  4. d7 says:

    I love this and I’ll be using it when I start a SW game.

    Actually, I think I’ll start using this for my current 1e AD&D game.

  5. magellan says:

    Okey…

    Bookkeeping version:
    “You make a mark for each day traveled. you have food for y days”

    Your version:
    “You roll a die each day traveled. If you roll z you make a mark. you have enough widgets for y marks”

    And the 2nd version is less bookkeeping because…? Because you need to roll a die to find out if you have to be bookkeeping?
    Not to mention that it makes food supply random, with no connection to the actual gameworld. “Oh, we got enough food to travel for a few weeks. oops, rolled a 6, gotta return”

  6. Joshua says:

    @magellan – yes. Making a mark is bookkeeping, rolling a die is not bookkeeping. Adding numbers to your current food supply to derive your new supply is bookkeeping, wiping out the marks completely whenever you resupply is less bookkeeping. If you don’t mind constant fiddling with your records, then there’s no benefit, but so many people do mind that I’d say more often than not games don’t bother with supplies at all unless the GM forces it as a plot event.

    And if you actually read and understood the proposed rule, you’d know that you couldn’t go from enough food to travel for a few weeks to needing to return to home-base with a single die roll. If you’re going to attack a straw-man then don’t bother commenting.

  7. Tacoma says:

    I like this a lot. Things that don’t matter all the time shouldn’t be tracked all the time. Yet the system is just granular enough. Heck, this is basically what I wanted to do with equipment damage but I was approaching it from a binary “fine armor” and “useless damaged armor” point of view.

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