Wilderness Catering For Delvers

by mshrm

In the current campaign, our heroes are engaged in a long journey through the wilderness, which is rather novel for our group. In discussing the challenges of the trip ahead, the players took a lot of comfort from the Create Food spell. They brought food, sure, and the scruffy bushwhacker types scavenged for fish and berries along the way, but they never really had a sense of urgency about it. If it came down to it, the cleric could miracle up some grub and they could carry on.

Well, last session, the pony with all the iron rations fell down a hole, so now the hypothetical has become practical. It’s time to work through some scenarios, do the math, and see where our heroes actually sit.

At this point, the party theoretically consists of six PCs, two henchmen, and three ponies. (You did remember that the ponies need to eat, right?) That’s 33 meals every single day. The foragers might be able to reduce that by a bit, but the barren mountains have not been yielding their bounty lately. For the sake of the math, we’ll assume the pickings are slim.

Ray has Create Food at 17, and Flavio has it at 14. Both will be taking the full casting time, but Ray gets a discount of 1 Fatigue on each casting. Flavio’s out of luck and paying full price. If it comes down to it, Blaadao can cast Create Water, but at this point, I figure starvation is a bigger threat than thirst.

We’ll assume that nobody is willing to dip into their power items or their HP. Ray has 12 Fatigue and an Energy Reserve of 7, and Recover Energy at a level sufficient to recover 1 FP to each, every 5 minutes of resting. (The Energy Reserve would recover even without rest, of course, but we’ll assume nobody’s aiming to eat and run.) Flavio has 11 FP and a smile. As soon as he can spend some experience points, he’s hoping to increase his Recover Energy to useful levels, but for now, he’s recovering Fatigue the old-fashioned way: by accepting a “back-rub of doom” from Blaadao, who has Lend Energy, Recover Energy at the 1 FP/5 min level, and plentiful Fatigue.

The way Create Food works is, you pay for the difference between food and whatever source material you start with. If you can scratch up a pile of leaves, twigs, and bird poop, you pay a base cost of 2 Fatigue to turn it into some kind of meal. If all you have is rocks and sand, the cost goes up to 3 Fatigue, and if you’re on some sort of sheet of solid stone and don’t have anything to work with at all, you can pull food from nowhere for 4 Fatigue a shot. I don’t expect this party to run into that third stage in these surroundings. Even if they’re so deep in the mountains that they can’t even find a pile of pine needles, and they’ve already eaten all their spare boots, they’ll likely be able to scare up some pebbles.

Let’s consider some extreme cases. What you will not be seeing is any dramatic “I feed the masses with a wave of my hand” moment. Feeding the whole group with a single casting, even for a single setting, would mean creating 11 meals all in one go. If Ray wanted to try such a feat, and had a pile of good source material, she could create 11 meals at a cost of (11 x 2 Fatigue/meal) – 1 for skill = 21 Fatigue… which would burn up her available 19 Fatigue and demand 2 from some other source. Like Hit Points. No good.

It seems like the cost-effective way to do it would be one meal at a time. That increases the casting time, but gets the full advantage of Ray’s cost reduction for skill. One meal at a time under the same conditions would cost 2 Fatigue/meal, minus 1 for skill, making the net cost 1 Fatigue/meal, for a total of 11 Fatigue for all 11 meals. If Flavio is incapacitated for some reason, Ray could feed the whole party by casting for 5.5 minutes, spending 6 Fatigue from her Reserve and 5 Fatigue, then resting for 30 minutes to recover both. If it came to it, Blaadao could probably speed that up a bit by lending Ray a couple of Fatigue and then resting, himself; if he gave her 3 Fatigue, he could recover it in 15 minutes, and she would only need to recover 4 Fatigue and 4 from the Reserve, for a recovery time of 20 minutes. Not bad, actually.

At the other extreme, what if Ray is incapacitated and Flavio has to turn forest debris into rations? He does not get a cost reduction for skill, so it’s ironically less important how many times he casts the spell. His bottleneck is available Fatigue. Creating all 11 meals will cost him a total of 22 Fatigue, which would drain him to total exhaustion, twice. So, we’re talking about some sequence of “create some meals, borrow some energy from Blaadao, both rest, repeat”. Splitting the Fatigue recovery burden that way means that every 10 minutes, they recover a total of 3 Fatigue, meaning they could recover from creating a round of meals in about 80 minutes. Every day, the party would need to rest for 4 hours to feed itself.

Clearly, there’s quite an advantage to skill. There’s also quite some advantage to having a living Fatigue battery available.

But, what about the case at hand, where the whole party is on its feet and available, there’s just no food? With some quick spreadsheet work, it seems like there are a couple of sweet spots.

If the party can gather enough organic materials, their best bet is for Ray to create 8 meals, one by one, while Flavio creates 3 meals (probably the ponies’ feed), followed by Blaadao lending Fatigue to Flavio, and everybody taking a leisurely 20 minute rest. Including the 4 minutes of casting time, that’s 24 minutes for each of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or around 75 minutes for the day.

On the other hand, if they’ve already eaten their boots and are down to gathering rocks for source material, increasing the cost of the spell, the sweet spot moves a little. If Ray creates 7 meals, and Flavio creates 4, the same procedure leads to a 40 minute rest. That’s two hours taken out of each day.

If you wanted to take it to the next level of detail (madness!) there are a couple of other factors that come to mind. As mentioned, foraging might reduce the number of meals required per day. DF doesn’t appear to have the “recover an extra Fatigue if you eat while you rest” rule, so that’s one complication that we can easily dodge in this campaign, at least. Rules lawyers might haggle over the time savings of creating MMREs (Mystical Meals, Ready-to-Eat) rather than preparing iron rations.

What I like to do, myself, is do the math between games (see above) and then use that as a basis for winging it in-game. What it amounts to is, they can figure on losing about an hour a day to everyday miracles. If different members of the mechanism drop out, the time goes up, to a worst-case of Flavio feeding them at the cost of 1/3 of their travel time each day.