Fatigue and the Grueling Death March

by mshrm

Last week’s posts were pretty sparse, simply because I’ve been too tired to be inspired. What with one thing and another, it’s been a rough month. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all bad… it’s just been vigorous. I reckon it’ll take a couple of days off to really bounce back.

… which brings me right back around to the GURPS rules for recovering Fatigue. I’ve been gnawing repeatedly at this same area for over a year, now.

I’ve mentioned in the past that the Dungeon Fantasy game was originally proposed as a sort of tutorial on parts of the GURPS system that we don’t have much experience with, like hiking and hunger and disease. The goal was to graduate to a grim, nasty post-apocalyptic campaign. I felt it was important to get a firm handle on certain rules sub-systems. If you’re aiming for a story that deals with questions like “What happens when the heavily-armed survivors get down to their last can of creamed corn?”, it helps to have a little detail around starvation, for example.

When I think about the post-apocalyptic genre, I don’t think about cannibals with punk hair and multiple piercing driving around in dune buggies. (Well, ok. I don’t think about them first.)  No, as far as I’m concerned, the main aspect of the genre, the one that’s true across the board, is sheer, grinding Fatigue — in GURPS terms, at least. It’s hunger, and thirst, and freezing in the nuclear winter, and baking in the desert sun, and walking until you’re beyond exhausted because to stop is to die.

I’ll admit, maybe I was overly affected by The Road.

The GURPS rules-as-written for Fatigue are great for Dungeon Fantasy purposes, but they don’t quite fill the need, when it comes to gritty post-apocalyptic stories. A character can work to exhaustion, collapse, rest for a couple of hours, and be back in fighting shape. This is just what the doctor ordered for larger-than-life fantasy, but it doesn’t really convey the effects of being beat down, day after day. In my experience, there are at least three different varieties of “tired”. The first kind, you take five and get a drink. The second, you kick back in a comfy chair and relax for a while. The third, you sleep in for a couple extra hours and still hobble around slow the next day.

This is an old issue*, and there are multiple solutions already. One of the best, most detailed solutions is presented in “The Last Gasp”, from Pyramid #3/44. I really like the rules there, not least because they match up quite well with the real world, but I think they might be a trifle too heavy on the bookkeeping for my group. I think some of them are still coming to terms with the idea of tracking encumbrance, much less varying rates of Fatigue recovery.

Another idea that I find appealing is presented here, where longer-term exhaustion is treated like a disease, along with such nifty conditions as “Cabin Fever” and “The Common Cold”. (Even if I don’t use exhaustion-as-a-disease, I like the idea of defining things as diseases, in GURPS terms, which wouldn’t necessarily be an illness in the real world. Maybe the gods don’t smile on those who don’t worship correctly, so any PC who skips a temple visit has to roll against Will or suffer mild bad luck…)

This approach has some extra bookkeeping, but it treats exhaustion more like the special Fatigue losses for hunger and thirst. That’s the kind of thing that I might track, rather than leaving to the players.

As far as the current game, I’m absolutely going to stick with the standard rules. Rocking the boat at this time would just be too disruptive, especially for spell casters. I’ve already picked on them enough. For now. But, when the time comes, I expect the post-apoc game will use one or more of those three alternate rules.


* I use the word “issue” very loosely. It’s the kind of thing you’ll only notice in certain genres, and even then, only if you obsess on the subject.