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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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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!

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

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 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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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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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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@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

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

I wrote the Realistic Fatigue Oblivion mod and for that I did a fair bit of research into human stamina and performance, which I documented (link omitted because of link limit, but you can find it from the others). Unfortunately Oblivion modding didn't have the hooks needed to implement everything in the model, and the research and documentation of my efforts was getting messy, so I summarized it into another document just describing the model.

Note that this model is just focused on short-term stamina burn/return for running/jumping/fighting, and doesn't model long-term stamina/hunger/sleep/thirst. However, in practice those can be modeled as higher-layer energy systems on top of the short-term layer. I hint at these in the RealisticFatigue research doc.

The model was designed for computer games and would need simplifying for a manual table-top game. Something really simple would be;

1) A characters max stamina represents a combination of their speed, strength and endurance.

2) A characters available stamina is their max stamina minus their encumbrance, minus their lost health. If this goes below zero, they collapse under their weight/wounds.

3) Each "turn" a character recovers half their missing available stamina rounded up.

4) Each "turn" a character can run a max distance "units" equal to their stamina, Each "unit" uphill movement costs an extra unit of distance, and each 2 units downhill gives you an extra unit of distance. Running costs half the distance traveled rounded down worth of stamina.

5) Each physical attack/block/action's effectiveness/damage/whatever is equal (or proportional) to their available stamina, and consumes half their available stamina.

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Can you speak at all to the practical application of this research to a tabletop roleplaying game, to make this a fully-relevant answer to this question? – SevenSidedDie Jul 10 at 4:29
I'm not that familiar with modern tabletop games so I'm not sure how much complexity they can handle... but I had a go at describing something simple. – Donovan Baarda Jul 13 at 12:51


Torchbearer is a dungeon-fantasy game about scarcity. Everything is scarce in Torchbearer. Carrying capacity. Food and water. Light...and endurance. It models decreasing performance due to fatigue with a mechanic called The Grind.

Every fourth turn during the adventure phase, all characters earn a condition. If your character has no other conditions, you suffer the hungry and thirsty condition. If your character is already hungry and thirsty, then you take the exhausted condition. If you're already exhausted and hungry, take the angry condition. If you're already angry, exhausted and hungry, you become sick. If you're already angry, exhausted, hungry and sick, you suffer an injury. If you're angry, exhausted, hungry, sick and injured, you're made afraid. If those six conditions are checked on the fourth turn, your character dies—you unceremoniously drop dead from exhaustion.

Each condition has an effect - a penalty or restriction that intersects with the mechanics in mostly non-overlapping ways. So conditions make some actions harder, some impossible as a result of their being incurred. It's not just a simple penalty-per-condition, and it's not just a renamed hit point track.

Note that it is possible to incur conditions in other ways, so if you are injured in a fall, for example, when the grind comes along to that stage you'll become afraid instead.

The game uses this scarcity to both drive the adventure/camp/town phase cycle and to make hard, interesting decisions out of what can be boring bits in other games - like deciding whether to push one more room into a dungeon now or rest now. You want to camp so you can clear some conditions, but you only have so much food - should you press on now hoping to earn more chances to clear conditions but possibly advancing the grind? Or play it safe and know you might be leaving some rooms unexplored later due to lack of progress now?

It's not a simulationist modeling of the issue - it's not about caloric intake or catabolic byproduct buildup or caridovascular fitness. It's a gamist model, about hard choices and meaningful player decisions.

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What about using the existing Fatigue/Exhaustion rules in D&D 3.5 to cover your scenarios with a few modifications?

  • Marching all day and then entering combat is surely equivalent to Force Marching (p. 164 PHB). Make an immediate CON check or take 1d6 nonlethal damage & the PC is Fatigued.
  • The nonlethal damage healing rules adequately cover the restorative effects of short rests & long rests. Fatigue penalties disappear when nonlethal damage is healed at a rate of 1 pt/hour of rest per PC level (p. 146 PHB).
  • I'd rule that the effects of long-term fatigue (i.e., sleep deprivation) are similar to Force Marching - make a CON check for every night without a full night's sleep (8 hours) or take 1d6 nonlethal damage on top of any other fatigue/exhaustion effects. Penalties from sleep deprivation apply to all attributes and skill checks, not just STR and DEX. Nonlethal damage resulting from sleep deprivation cannot be restored except by a full night's rest. Every 8 hours of uninterrupted, restful sleep restores 1d6 nonlethal damage inflicted from sleep deprivation. Nonlethal damage from other sources of fatigue must be restored by additional rest as described above. If nonlethal damage equals or exceeds the PC's hp level, the PC falls unconscious and immediately sleeps 8 hours.

One more house rule for combat fatigue:

  • PCs engaged in continuous combat must make a STR or CON check after 20 rounds (and every 10 rounds thereafter) or take 1d6 nonlethal damage and become Fatigued. Modify the roll by -3/-6 for PCs encumbered with a Medium/Heavy loads. Fighting in armor is very tiring - count the weight of armor double when calculating a PC's encumbrance for making combat fatigue rolls. Players may avoid a combat fatigue check by dropping a shield or removing their helmet (-1 AC penalty). Nonlethal damage resulting from combat fatigue is restored at the rate of 1d6 pts per 5 minutes the PC is not engaged in combat (nonlethal hp recovery of only 1 pt damage/hour per level seems a tad slow during combat when the adrenaline is pumping).
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Have you used this suggestion in actual play or can show someone who has? – Wibbs Jul 13 at 17:48
@Wibbs - No, the modifications to the RAW I'm suggesting have not been used in actual play. But they're fairly simple common sense tweaks - nothing game breaking I don't think. – RobertF Jul 13 at 18:05
In which case, this is likely to get downvoted heavily. Game-rec questions require answers to show actual evidence of successful use of whatever is suggested – Wibbs Jul 13 at 20:45

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