Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Hot Meal and a Cup of Tea

  When I DM and when I play I am often surprised by the simple little things: player treat horses like bicycles; they never ask about the weather, and they treat fire as nothing but a light source.
  I already talked about the weather a bit and I plan to write about horses, so let's talk about fire.

  We'll start by talking about encumbrance.
  No matter where you fall on the matter of encumbrance (and I am a hard-ass stickler that will slow you down, give you penalties, and expects you to track every 1/10th of a pound) on a long journey it will be very hard to bring enough food and essentially impossible to bring enough water since the minimum a person needs is 10 lbs of water a day. So we must assume that adventurers are getting water from somewhere (streams, springs, and wells above ground. And you have water sources in your dungeons, right?) and that these sources aren't always (maybe never) pure water.
  Have I mentioned my disease and parasite rules?
  In Real Life over 3 million people die each year from water-borne diseases. Even crystal-clear water from an alpine creek can cause lethal diarrhea. Now, there are a few ways of avoiding this ranging from adding 1 part red wine to 3 parts water (which does an amazing job purifying drinking water, thus why the ancients did it) to drinking only beer to Purify Food and Drink to being a paladin.
  But one of the most direct and best is - boiling the water, which also kills parasites.
  There are other impacts, too. A series of studies in America and the UK show that office workers are more mentally alert and observant if they have a hot beverage (tea or coffee) in the morning. World military forces have been aware of the positive impacts on morale of plentiful hot beverages, as well, and I have very rarely seen a canteen, chow hall, etc. that didn't have hot tea or coffee available 24 hours a day.

  Another thing to think about is, well, the temperature. In the modern world where we go from heated home to heated car to heated office it is easy to forget that it gets cold. Imagine being dressed in chain mail on horseback in a biting wind and cold drizzle for 8 hours on a late Autumn day. Or sleeping in the open on the ground in early Spring. The Wilderness Survival Guide had some great ideas about dealing with cold weather (or hot weather, for that matter) but I often just do something simple - at a certain point travelling in the cold without adequate shelter and heat is force marching. Eventually just being out in the elements is force marching, too, even if you aren't moving.
  Dungeons are pretty chilly, I suspect. Remember, it tends to be cool underground and is often damp. According to my friends who are into caving and online caving guides one of the biggest dangers of caving, if not the biggest, is hypothermia. I assume that this is probably a problem in any deep underground place, even a worked dungeon. So PCs are going to need to warm up and/or dry off routinely.

  Last is food. I have certainly lost track of the parties that blithely announce that they will supplement their rations by 'hunting along the way' when in the wilderness. If they are very far from civilization they will also state they are having a 'cold camp' without a fire. I then ask them how they are preparing the food they hunted....
  I did mention my disease and parasite rules, right?

  Rick's disease and parasite rules are included in his supplement Far Realms, available in print and as a PDF. Far Realms also includes new hirelings, such as the healer, new PC classes, like the barbarian, and more than 30 pages of new spells. Suitable for any old-school campaign, please consider buying Far Realms today!

  Anyway, while cooking your food does greatly reduce your chances of dying horribly from disease or parasite hot meals are important to alertness and morale, too. British and American forces in combat reveal that eliminating a hot breakfast has twice the negative impact on soldier morale than doubling the amount of time they are in active combat zones. That's right, soldiers are twice as upset over no bacon and toast than they are about getting shot at more often! Just giving soldiers the ability to heat field rations has a notable positive effect on morale and performance.

  So all this long rambling is to support my actual point.

  Characters in fantasy RPGs should worry about being able to start and maintain a fire.

  So why aren't coal and charcoal seen more often on equipment lists and in character inventories?

  Yes, I am starting another 'stop thinking like a modern person and think like a medieval person' rant, why do you ask?

  People have been making charcoal for thousands of years, so far back we aren't sure when it started. But since charcoal is critical to metalwork, I have always assumed it is readily available in virtually any fantasy campaign.
  Now, actual charcoal looks very little like those briquettes for your grill. Lump charcoal looks like what it is - chunks of charred wood. from finger to fist size. Lump charcoal can range from low quality stuff that has a strong smell and a fair amount of smoke when it burns to expensive types that have virtually no odor and very little smoke when burning.
  In any case, lighting charcoal is relatively simple - flint & steel with a good tinderbox should do it as log as the charcoal is dry. Lump charcoal gets to temperature quickly and burns hotter than briquettes and the more expensive types leave less ash behind. A handful of lump charcoal will burn long enough to bring a gallon of water to a boil and maintain a boil for a full minute; a double handful is enough for 2 gallons and a meal for four-5 people.

  Coal can be more expensive or hard to find than charcoal and its quality varies from lignite to anthracite. Bituminous, which is the type usually used by smiths, is fairly easy to light (easier than charcoal), doesn't burn as hot as charcoal, and makes more smoke and ash than good charcoal. But it will light and burn when wet (although it smokes more) and the same volume of coal burns longer than charcoal. Anthracite burns with much less smoke and ash than bituminous and burns a long time but can be difficult to light. A lrge lump of bituminous coal can boil 2 gallons of water and a double handful can boil 4 plus cook a meal for 4-5 people.

  I should also mention peat - a sort of 'pre-coal' from bogs and mires, when properly dried peat can burn for a long time and produce a nice amount of heat. It has a distinctive smell and a fair amount of smoke, though.

  In each of these cases, charcoal, coal, and even peat, you get more heat for the same space/weight than wood. Also, since most wood needs to cure and dry for a while to make a good fire (and it might be wet, besides) these are great ideas outdoors as well as underground.

  Field cooking equipment is very old. Romans had all sorts of things to make army cooking in the field better and by Medieval times field cooking gear was fairly well developed with small portable iron fireboxes (about the size of a helmet), fire stands, griddles, field cauldrons (again, about like a helmet), and such. Wooden and earthenware mugs we also pretty common back then.
  The small iron fireboxes typically had a lid and such so that the airflow (and thus temperature) of the fire could be controlled. This lets them double as a heater for tents and small areas and for a small amount of fuel to last a long time. In my opinion, each party should have at least one iron fire box, a field cauldron, a small griddle, a fire stand, and some charcoal or coal.

  Which brings us to another point; air. No matter how little smoke is made, fires consume oxygen. Even in AD&D you should make sure there is enough fresh air to safely make a fire.

  No, this post is not a description of camping gear and a safety statement.
  Well, not just those things, at least.

  I concern myself with these details for a number of reasons.
  First, I want verisimilitude in my campaign - I track water usage, encumbrance, weather, etc. because it makes the world I built more internally consistent, which makes the rest of my job easier.
  Second, in my experience it allows the players a better chance to immerse themselves into their characters and the world and gives many opportunities for roleplaying - little bits like who is good at building a fire and who can't cook are fun and add a ton of depth, all on the cheap.
  Third, it is another way to weigh down characters while vacuuming money out of their belt pouches.

  Fourth, it has implications that can be plot hooks.
  For example, where does the coal come from? In Real Life the easily accessible coal was gathered very early. Are there coal mines? Where? You need coal and charcoal to make things like, oh, iron, so - do the dwarves mine it/make it? If they don't they have to get it from somewhere!
  Charcoal can have a huge impact on a region. Interesting fact - no forest in Finland is more than 300 years old. Why?
  They cut down all the trees for charcoal over the course of about 250 years!
  Mainly to get wood tar, but it was the charcoal process and it really, really changed Finland for a century+. In my Seaward campaign colliers slip into the forests between civilized lands and the orcish city-states to make charcoal to sell. Very, very risky, but very profitable. The gnomes of Gladdenstone make a lot of money mining anthracite and selling it to the dwarves. The barbarians of Eiru have to collect peat from the edges of the haunted Moorlands to heat their homes in the harsh winters of their island nation.

  So think about it. Maybe have a henchman demand more pay or have a hireling quit suddenly because there is never a pot of tea at dawn, or have the party suffer a -1 to hit from fatigue after 3 days of near-hypothermia in a dungeon's depths. Gnomes increasing prices for coal might push the dwarves to the brink of war and orcish raids in Autumn could lead to suffering as the poor run out of charcoal to heat their homes in deep Winter.

  Or just imagine going 3 days with no tea, coffee, or hot food yourself and build an adventure from that. Mine would have lots of murder and naps.