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I am looking for a (fantasy) role-playing system that includes a believable, usable method for tracking the effects of fatigue and determining how they influence capabilities.

To provide context for the question: I come from a D&D 3.5 background, where abilities can usually be used at-will (like swinging a sword), an arbitrary number of times per day (like most spellcasting), or by expending points from a pool (like psionic manifesting). I find this a poor simulation of how human endurance works, so I am looking for a system (or systems) that do it in more detail.

Some features I would like to see are:

  • A combined system for dealing with different forms of physical exertion (how does having marched all day affect my ability to fight the dragon I was tracking down?)
  • Handling of short rests vs. long rests (I was falling asleep on my feet, but then I took a power nap. How are my capabilities affected?)
  • Handling of the effects of long-term fatigue (how does having exhausted myself from Monday to Friday affect my ability to do so once more on Saturday?)

Are there any systems that handle this well?

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I've never actually tried it, but Harnmaster is supposed to be very good at simulationism, especially the first edition. –  Dakeyras Feb 19 '13 at 19:51
As this is a system-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and on our Meta. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 20 '13 at 5:16
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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Ars Magica's fatigue and wounds model is unified and very very very vicious. You weren't planning on doing anything the next few weeks when you recovered from casting that huge ritual, were you? Well here, have a -3 for your troubles then.

Ars Magica, 5th edition, models fatigue (both short and long term) with significant detail. As you exert yourself, you are hit with larger and larger penalties to Everything before you fall unconscious. The more exertion, the longer it takes you to recover.

Long term fatigue is only recoverable through a good night's sleep and being well fed. If you don't have those conditions, be prepared to carry a penalty until you do.

The penalties are significant and absolutely shape the decisions of players.

It also makes combat very very short and very very lethal, with the winner generally being the person who lands the first good hit.

To address the specific sub-questions:

Having marched all day is covered under page 178.

Long-Term Fatigue levels are lost from extended tiring activities, such as hiking all day under a hot sun, or running to carry a message between cities. The levels are lost automatical- ly, and the number of levels lost is at the sto- ryguide’s discretion. These levels are only regained after a good night’s rest. One night’s rest removes one Long-Term Fatigue level.

As the storyguide, I'd rule that experienced travellers marching all day would sustain one long-term fatigue level. At the end of the day you're tired and cranky, but nothing that a decent rest wouldn't cure. Therefore, you would have one point of long term fatigue that advances the characters from "Fresh" to "Winded." Winded has no penalty (effectively a -0, but means that fatiguing combat options start from "winded" instead of "fresh" As the next stage is -1, -3, -5, the unconscious... This is a significant option. It effectively means that a character can't benefit from in-combat exertion without paying an immediate price, and spontaneous spells hurt just that little bit more.

Short versus long rests:

Assuming you have all short-term fatigue, it takes a variable amount of time to go to the previous level. Someone who is Tired needs to have a quiet 30 minutes sitting alone to become weary, then 10 more minutes to become Winded, and 2 minutes to become Fresh.

Effectively this makes characters very wary about becoming more than winded because it costs significant time the more exertion they put out in a short period. On the other hand, short bursts of exertion can be maintained all day (to a point.)

Having exhausted yourself monday to friday means that, assuming that you've had really good rests between, will likely mean that saturday you can probably do the same. Of course, the moment your sleep is interrupted, your produtvitiy goes down the tubes.

What's worse is that maintaining this for a while forces an aging roll or gives you a penalty to your aging roll. This can be as simple as gradually decreasing your stats to "you. Have a heart attack. Goodbye." depending on your luck and the severity of the penalty. There are rules for this sort of long term exhaustion in the covenants book.

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GURPS 4th Edition continues the GURPS tradition of excellence in simulationist gaming.

GURPS 4 has comprehensive and unified rules for gaining and recovering fatigue from fighting, hiking, excess carrying / lifting, running and swimming, deprivation of food, water, sleep, and the use of special abilities like spellcasting.

Cumulative fatigue effects are summarized below (GURPS Basic Set 2 - Campaigns p.426):

  • When you dip below 1/3 of your maximum Fatigue Points (FP), you cut your movement, dodge, and Strength in half - this doesn't change ST-derived quantities.
  • When you go below 0 FP, you begin to take injury in addition to your exhaustion - thus, the fatigue from deprivation will eventually kill you and you can also work yourself to death
  • When you reach -1xFP, you fall unconscious

The recovery rules cover your requirements for how you recover from various sources of fatigue - you can't just nap away the effects of dehydration or significant sleep deprivation, for example.

Long-term fatigue is more correctly modeled as injury - which GURPS does.

I think you'll find that GURPS handles all your needs for fatigue management.

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Every question tagged with system-recommendation always seem to have GURPS as an answer... –  Sardathrion Feb 25 '13 at 15:11
@Sardathrion - Look, I've got a lot of love for newer games. I started with Donjon and TRoS around 2000 and never looked back. I love FATE, Cortex Plus, Apocalypse Engine, and all the story-oriented goodness that we get today. But if you want a game system that answers questions like "How much can that guy lift? What if he's willing to hurt himself? What if he's wearing powered armor? And how long will the battery pack on that armor last? And what if it's powered by magic? Or steam? Or magical steam?" Then GURPS is your friend. It covers so many genres, so many contingencies - well and simply. –  gomad Feb 25 '13 at 15:29
You know what... I utterly forgot to add ^_~ to my comment. It really was not meant to wind you up. Sorry. !^_^ –  Sardathrion Feb 25 '13 at 15:32
@Sardathrion - not wound up - just explaining why it shows up so often! I ran out of characters in my reply or I would have put :) at the end. So that you will know I'm not upset - merely enthusiastic - I will place one at the end of this comment. :) –  gomad Feb 25 '13 at 15:49
Technically, I should have added +1 at the start of my comment as well ^_~ –  Sardathrion Feb 26 '13 at 7:39
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Rolemaster (And I am using Rolemaster Classic) has an endurance system that works as a derived statistic from CON; endurance can be lost from a variety of activities.

Movement under extreme conditions, in rough terrain, and/or at accelerated rates will increase fatigue. (snip) Characters who used all their exhaustion points are at -100 to all activities and must rest. Expended exhaustion points may be recovered at a rate of one per round rested.

(Character Law and Campaign Law page 15)

A very typical modification to this (it is one of the Rolemaster Companions) that the endurance points scale up for penalties as endurance is lost. Ie 25% = -25, 50% = -50, 75% = -75, 100% = -100.

Characters have a base number of exhaustion points equal to their consitution stat (Rolemaster is 1-100 (ish) system) so this will typically be around 70-90 (if the characters have any sense!)

  • Pace. Each round that a character moves they expend exhaustion points depending on their pace. Walking is one per 30 rounds, to 40 per ROUND for a Dash (x5 pace). So running can quickly wear you out. If you don't have exhaustion points for the required pace, you can't travel at that speed.
  • Temperature and terrain. These modify endurance loss. For example Temperature above 100 °F is x2 cost, above 120°F is x4 and above 130°F is x8.
  • Terrain. Mountainous, sandy or boggy terrain modify travel endurance loss again (as a multiplier)
  • Damage Loss of 25% hits doubles travel endurance loss, Loss of 50% hits is x4 endurance cost.
  • Lack of sleep This also modifies endurance loss (10+ hours x2, 15+ hours x3, etc)
  • Combat Melee combat expends one endurance every 2 rounds, missile fire or concentration every 6 rounds.
  • There is no handling of long term exhaustion however, apart from the increased costs/expenditure for lack of sleep and wounds.

Note all multipliers add, rather than multiply; see below.

1 round = 10 seconds in rolemaster


A typical character with 90 CON could walk (1 end per 30 rounds) for 90*30 rounds = 7.5 hours without a break. 90 Con is rather healthy!

If that character was lightly wounded (25% (x2) and in hot conditions 100°F (x2) then they expend 3 end per 30 rounds for 90*30/3 = 2.5 hours without a break.

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Chivalry and Sorcery has a Fatigue Point system that is more developed than any I have come across. Your FP total depends on your physical stats, and can be developed by spending experience; you lose FPs for travelling faster than normal, casting spells, and exertion generally. So far so normal. The recovery system, though, is subtler. A 10-minute rest will restore a few FPs (depending on Constitution), but anything more requires sleep (X FPs/hr, again depending on Con). Cordials and spells will speed this up, but not restore instantly. So if an averagely fit character is really exhausted at the end of the day, he may need a full night's rest, leaving the more robust characters to keep watch; or need help; or else start tomorrow at less than full power.

The real benefit, though, is in combat. Damage comes off FPs first and then Body (much slower to heal). Also. at 0 FPs all skills are halved. So a typical fighter might take only short-term damage from the first sword blow (think of it as being winded), be less effective and need a week to recover from the second, and after the third be interested only in getting healed. If he's tired to start with, it's much more dangerous. In addition, dodging usually takes time (reducing your number of attacks), but you can spend FPs for an emergency dodge.

Usually, the Fatigue system acts only to limit the number of spells cast and the amount of fighting you can do each day. If the GM wants to make it important, though, it is not hard ('rough terrain; you need to travel long hours to catch up with them') to make the characters watch every Fatigue Point, and be torn between resting up and reconnaissance/keeping watch. Isn't that what should happen?

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Interesting; I like how damage comes off fatigue first in combat. –  Rob Feb 27 '13 at 9:20
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