Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Eating on the Move

A Guide to Trail Rations
Part 1 of 2

It is said that an army marches on its stomach, and no less can be said about adventurers. Without food, even the hardiest hero weakens and eventually dies. Unfortunately, within the forbidding wilderness or inside dungeons, food can be scarce. The solution is the trail ration: a small pack of high-energy potables that can be lived on while adventuring far from civilization, and available now for the low low price of 5 sp per day.

What are Trail Rations?
Trail rations consist of an unspecified collection of foodstuffs, which are light and compact, but provide enough energy for a person to live on. Common components include jerky, dried fruit, hardtack and nuts. The specific ingredients will vary from location to location, but the basic makeup is almost always the same.

Because it removes most of the moisture, and thus the weight, from the final product, drying is by far the most common method of preserving meat for trail rations. Meat of any variety can be used, although pork and beef are the most common. The flesh is sliced thinly and placed in the sun, often on a rack, to dry. The meat can also be salted, smoked or spiced in order to further preserve it and provide extra flavor.

In coastal areas dried fish might be a common component of trail rations. In colder climates, the meat might be shredded and combined with tallow or fat in order to provide more energy.

Fruit not only contains lots of sugar, but it also dries very well and can be kept for long periods of time. Because it's been dehydrated, it also tends to be much sweeter than fresh fruit. Larger, sweet varieties of fruit such as apples, pears, plums and apricots are preferred in trail rations, although smaller ones like grapes, figs and currants can be found as well.

Sour, pungent or otherwise powerful tasting fruits may be candied while they are dried in order to make them more palatable. Examples of this include ginger and many kinds of citrus fruits.

Hardtack is a very simple cracker consisting of flour, water and occasionally salt. It is extremely hard, uniformly shaped and if kept dry, can last for years without spoiling, making it an ideal food for trail rations. As the name implies, hardtack is extremely hard, and many cannot eat it dry. Most adventurers quickly learn to soak or cook their hardtack before eating in order to minimize the damage to their teeth.

Other kinds of simple crackers could potentially be found in place of hardtack. For shorter journeys, even ordinary bread could become a feasible component of a trail ration kit.

Nuts are small, they keep well and they are full of protein, making them perfect for trail ration kits. Just about any nut, such as almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios can be found in trail rations. Even some varieties of legumes, like peanuts, or seeds can be used, as long as they're properly prepared.

Larger varieties of nuts, like walnuts can even be used as impromptu sling bullets, provided they are still in their shells. Although extremely handy in an emergency, nuts are no longer suitable for eating once they have been weaponized.

Other Ration Components
Rations need not be confined to these four basic components. Other kinds of food can easily be incorporated into trail ration kits.

Fruit is generally much more palatable when dried than vegetables. However, several kinds of root vegetables, like carrots or radishes can be edible for long periods of time, as long as they're kept in a cool, dark place. Softer dried vegetables, such as mushrooms can be eaten out of hand, or even soaked in water or broth to create a nutritious meal. More hardy vegetables can be dried as well, but these are generally too tough to eat without some kind of preparation.

Soft cheeses tend to spoil quickly, but hard varieties can be kept in ration kits for shorter trips. In poorer areas, cheese may even replace meat entirely in trail ration kits. Wedges of cheese are often wrapped in cloth in order to help them remain fresh and edible.

Simple hard candy, like the ubiquitous peppermint, is an excellent addition to any ration kit. Not only do they provide a sweet boost of energy, but they can also be kept for long periods of time without spoiling. Because they provide little in the way of nutrition, candies are often just supplements to standard ration kits, and they aren't used as a replacement for another component.

Candy however can serve another purpose. When given to a child, it provides a +2 circumstance bonus on Diplomacy checks made to improve their attitudes. This small bribe is of little practical value, but it can help raise a community's attitude to an adventuring party over time.

When candy is added to a trail ration kit, it increases the price by 1 sp. It also helps to prevent ration fatigue (see below) by increasing the amount of time a person can live on rations by an additional week (provided that candy is included as a component in all trail ration kits consumed during that time).

Although liquid is not a standard component of most trail ration kits, small draughts of alcohol may be included in order to provide a boost in morale. Weak beer, spirits and sometimes even mead or wine might be included in small vials that provide just enough to raise spirits, or keep away the cold for a short time. The amount of alcohol provided in trail ration kits is far too little for an adventurer to become drunk on.

Alcohol is a standard component of dwarven ration kits, and is often included in the rations provided to soldiers during a campaign. Adventurers often carry their own sources of alcohol and rarely spend the extra coin to include it in their kits. When alcohol is added to a trail ration kit, it increases the price by 2 sp. It also helps to prevent ration fatigue (see below) by increasing the amount of time a person can live on rations by an additional week (provided that alcohol is included as a component in all trail ration kits consumed during that time).

The Problem with Rations
Although trail rations are exceptionally good at keeping adventuring parties from dying of starvation, they do have some serious practical limitations.

Although ration kits are just fine for keeping a person alive for a short period of time, they do not possess the amount of nutrition necessary to keep a full grown, active adventurer alive in the long run. Most ration kits are deficient in vitamins and calories, making them poor substitutions for real food.

There is also a problem with sameness. A person being forced to eat the same food day in and day out will quickly become bored, which has an effect on their morale.

Optional Rule: Ration Fatigue
Adventurers who live solely on trail rations for extended periods of time may find themselves experiencing ration fatigue due to a lack of variety and nutrition. After one week of living solely on trail rations, a person becomes fatigued. This condition remains until the afflicted supplements their diet with fresh food.

Fighting Ration Fatigue
Ration fatigue can seriously affect any group. Luckily, it is extremely easy to combat, by both mundane and magical methods.

Cheer Food: Although not nutritious, certain foods can be included in ration kits to help make them more appealing over long periods of time. Both candy and alcohol can be added as additional components of a trail ration kit for a small price (see above) and when used regularly, can extend the period of time it takes for ration fatigue to set in. Different kinds of cheer food cannot be combined together to increase this benefit.

Goodberry: This simple, yet effective druid spell is a boon to adventurers who need to spend lengthy periods of time away from civilization. In addition to its normal effects, anybody suffering from ration fatigue that eats a goodberry is immediately cured of that affliction.

Heroes' Feast: It takes time for the heroes' feast spell to take effect, but once it does, it can be a great benefit to weary travelers. Once the feast concludes, each person partaking in it is instantly cured of ration fatigue. As with the normal benefits of the spell, this too is lost if the meal is interrupted for any reason.

Hunting and Foraging: With a DC 10 Survival check, a character can forage enough food for a single person. Instead of supplying food for a single person, you can choose to supplement the diets of two people who are eating trail rations. You can supplement for two additional people for every 2 points by which your Survival check exceeds 10. A supplemented diet immediately removes ration fatigue.

Variety: Often overlooked by adventuring parties on the run, creating variety in their ration kits is one of the most effective means of combating ration fatigue. Speaking with a local provisioner or shopkeeper can allow a party to create a larger variety of meals. Often randomly packed, these kits cost a bit more, at an additional 1 sp per day. When used, they extend the amount of time it takes for ration fatigue to set in by an additional week (provided that the variety kits are used exclusively in that time).

If combined with cheer food (see above), this benefit increases by an additional week. For example, a variety ration kit supplemented with candy can allow an adventurer to travel for up to three weeks before ration fatigue sets in.

Trail Rations
Item Cost
(per day)
(per week)
Trail rations 5 sp 35 sp
Trail rations (w/ candy) 6 sp 42 sp
Trail rations (w/ alcohol) 7 sp 49 sp
Trail rations, variety 6 sp 42 sp
Trail rations, variety (w/ candy) 7 sp 49 sp
Trail rations, variety (w/ alcohol) 8 sp 56 sp

We hope that this has made you think a little more about the humble trail ration. In the next installment, we'll present some exotic trail rations, discuss how magically created food can be used in place of rations and introduce new magic items to help your characters thrive and survive in the wilderness.

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