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The Supply Uncertainty Principle

This time I will share a little trick I used in many of my game sessions. While I used it mostly in  my Savage Worlds games, it is generic enough to use in any RPG game.

So what is it about? More or less, uncertainty of survival when depending on various resources.
Survival can be an interesting part of a game session. If done right can keep players on their toes, uncertain of their character's fate. Will they have enough fuel to reach the next city in this post apocalyptic wasteland? Will they find enough food and water before the rescue arrives? Will the damaged generator have enough power to keep the life support for the whole ship?

Sadly in all the RPGs that I encountered, tension was spoiled, by existence of items like iron rations (you have food for 3 days) and/or a dice roll to find water, food whatever other resource you might need for the day. Set numbers like that kill the feeling of uncertainty in the game - and this is fine in most of the games, but sometimes you might want to highlight the survival aspect during the session. 

While skilled GM can create tension even without the mechanics, it is always easier to do so, with a specific rule behind it. And this is less than a rule... it is a little trick GMs can use to create the looming fear of running out of "stuff".

This is how I do it:
When the need arises (let's say characters got trapped in a cave complex, or they are fighting off enemy fighter-ships in a heavy damaged derelict space base), certain resources get a numeric value next to it (e.g Food 20, Generators 45).  Sometimes I tell the players to roll some dice depending on what resources they had before the encounter, and tell them to add the results, at other times I will asign the number myself. This is their amount this resource for the remaining scene/act what-have-you.

Each time a character uses this resource (eating for food, driving for fuel, sustaining and using  the ships systems etc.) GM asks that player to roll some dice (dice number/size depends on the action, travelling for few hours by car can take off 2d10, eating enough food for a day, a d6). The result is subtracted from the value of the resource. 

The opposite goes for gathering supplies. The character makes a Survival roll, and for each success and rise, they can roll a die (or dice depending on the "lushness" of the terrain) and add the result to their supply.

This way, players and the GM can anticipate roughly how much "stuff" will they need or have, but will never be 100% sure how long it will last.

So what will happen when the characters will run out of certain resource? This depends on the narrative. Not eating food can make them weak (Rolling for Vigor in Savage Worlds to avoid being exhausted), having no fuel for the car will make them stuck in the middle of nowhere etc. 

You don't want to bog down the game that much tracking food, water and other supplies all the time. But when used at the right time, this little trick can really make your players worry.

I have used this trick many times, in many different scenarios. It was used for remaining energy in a mech (roll d6 each turn) during a battle, for fuel in post apocalyptic scenario (leaking fuel tank, roll d6 every hour of driving and d4 every day), even first-aid supplies in grim and gritty fantasy game for the whole game. It was a blast each time, sometimes leading to intersting improvised adventures.

If you will ever use this little trick, let me know, in the comments, what you used it for. Even if it is years from this post - necromancy (as in reviving old posts and entries) is encouraged here.


Kudos to EnWorld for including this post in their community news