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I am writing a campaign that begins with the PCs washing up on an island without any equipment besides the scraps of clothes that barely cover their body. They will quickly be able to earn money and buy equipment, but initially I want them to feel so destitute that they are excited about being rewarded with some commoner’s clothes.

I’m looking for a rule that affects the PCs not just in or out of combat, but rather one that affects them in all aspects of the game.

In real life, the act of being (essentially) naked doesn’t physically hurt us directly but being exposed to the elements has some undesirable consequences. If these consequences were translated into RPG terms, I’m thinking:

  • Lower AC. Clothes act like armor in a minor sense. I wouldn’t want to climb a tree in the buff, but I’d be willing to do it if I were clothed.
  • Lower constitution? The presence of clothing on my body may not change how well I can withstand poison or determine how healthy my body can be at its best, but even a thin shirt and pants does help me withstand nature’s elements—rain, wind, and sun, for example.
  • Penalty in social interactions and when performing a social skill. IRL, the presence of clothes (or lack thereof) plays a big part in our social encounters. (I’m familiar enough with the rules regarding lifestyle expenses [PHB p. 157–158].)
  • Refusal of service: In the United States (at least) some stores have a sign on the front door that reads “No shirt, no shoes, no service”, especially in hot climates or places near the beach. (I assume that pants are assumed to be worn as well and are only not explicitly listed so as not to destroy the alliteration.) A PC who has is not wearing any or enough clothes might similarly be refused at a restaurant, merchant’s store, and elsewhere.

Is there a rule out there (perhaps like any of those suggested above) that penalize the characters for being insufficiently clothed?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Obligatory oots: giantitp.com/comics/oots0025.html \$\endgroup\$
    – Nacht
    Sep 18, 2018 at 6:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget the weather. There would be a significant chance of a cold night, and player should roll to see if player can't find decent shelter, and if player can't find decent shelter, roll again to see if the player gets some weakening illness. \$\endgroup\$
    – Neil
    Sep 19, 2018 at 11:50

5 Answers 5

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There is no rule but there is some guidance you can find

As of yet, there are no rules for nakedness. The section on advantage and disadvantage in the Basic Rules, though, says:

The GM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result.

Applying disadvantage could be useful for some things you listed (like Constitution checks for weather and Charisma checks in social situations).

Armor Class change?

Minor cuts and bruises (such that you would get from climbing a tree bare) is usually not accounted for in HP calculations if only for speed of play.

I doubt the added vulnerability of your skin would factor in much. I've always considered the base 10 AC to just be a DC for accuracy in so far as rolling less than 10 means you were off target. Under that interpretation, being unclothed makes no difference.

Furthermore, some methods of calculating armor class are specifically designed for wearing little to no armor (see Unarmored Defense for monks and barbarians). You would be affecting the core of these features by reducing armor class.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To add to this, in response to both the lack of clothes for warmth, and the risk of infection due to constant minor injuries, this does pose a good situation to implement the Disease mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 17, 2018 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanielZastoupil I've never tried implementing infection for minor cuts and stuff (mostly because magical healing is a thing used often), but in a gritty realism game I could see it being helpful. You may want to add something as another answer. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 17, 2018 at 16:13
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The DMG has some guidance for the effects of attire in mitigating exposure. The rest is up to you.

Exposure

Page 110 of the DMG has some rules for "Extreme Heat" and "Extreme Cold". In short, the PCs must make constitution saving throws to avoid taking on exhaustion levels - but check out the actual text, because there's some nice nuance to the way the rules are written.

The DMG describes how the effects of these temperature extremes can be mitigated or worsened depending on the player's attire. For cold, "creatures wearing cold weather gear" automatically succeed in saving throws against the effects of cold. For heat, creatures "wearing medium or heavy armor, or who are clad in heavy clothing" have disadvantage for heat saving throws.

This does not directly address your question regarding nakedness, but it might be a good place to start for homebrew rules. What might otherwise be normal, temperate weather might feel like "extreme cold" if you're buck naked, so perhaps you might apply the "extreme cold" rules to players who are naked in "normal cold" weather.

Seeing as constitution would be the primary stat for avoiding the effects of being naked, I think it would be a bad idea to also lower constitution as a consequence of being naked. It seems sort of like double taxation to me. In general, 5e seems to discourage effects that reduce ability scores in favor of applying advantage/disadvantage.

AC Penalty

Homebrewing a -1 AC penalty seems like a good idea to me. My only note would be to exclude barbarians and any race with natural armor from this penalty!

Social Interaction

I don't think there's any need to impose any kind of formalized penalty. When you RP conversation with your players, there is always a need to adjust DC in accordance with how they describe their own conduct. For example, there is no need for a formal rule stating that a player who throws open the doors of the throne room and demands a favor from a king must subtract -10 from their persuasion DC; these kinds of things are typically done on the fly. Similarly, you should probably just go by ear for how certain social interactions will go with your naked PCs. They might even have an easier time in some circumstances, for example if they are begging.

Other Considerations

To me, this sounds like a great opportunity to get real strict about spell material components. Typically, for spells with material components that are not consumed and do not have a listed cost, it is assumed a spellcaster either uses a spellcasting focus or has all the necessary components in their spellcasting fanny pack. It sounds like your players don't have anything at all to start with, however, which is an exciting puzzle opportunity!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the social interaction penalty is key. Nobody pays attention to beggars or naked people. Well, not the kind of attention you'd prefer. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 17, 2018 at 20:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a player, I would be pretty cranky about an AC penalty. Clothes don't protect you from a sword or a mace, and for that reason clothing isn't part of AC calculation. Social or weather penalties, though, would be totally fine. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 18, 2018 at 7:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just an alternative to a combat AC penalty - consider adapting the rules for caltrops if the characters are crossing ground covered in thorny growth, sharp gravel etc without footwear. Apply similar rules if they are pushing through thorny bushes etc without stout clothes. Use in moderation, but it will make them grateful for protective clothing and footwear without penalising them further than they already are in combat. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 18, 2018 at 13:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ All I'd add to your answer is addressing Sun exposure in some way. \$\endgroup\$
    – The Nate
    Sep 19, 2018 at 2:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Clothes define try protect you from a sword (depending on the weave this can be slight if it is significant). I agree about the mace \$\endgroup\$ Sep 19, 2018 at 16:38
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Not at this time

While there aren't specific mechanics for dealing with either Roleplay or combat for being 'naked', you as a DM are more than welcome to come up with something that is fair to your players (as long as they are on board with this type of encounter/campaign...everyone really should be having fun!)

Many classes even have abilities that key off of being unarmored/unarmed - so I'd be wary of penalizing something that they should be doing well (and it suggests that in general there isn't a penalty for this stuff.)

Closest will be CON ability checks for surviving in inclement conditions

But if the weather is comfy cozy, I'm not sure that's the right mechanic - just the closest.

Situational Adv/Dis

I need to credit David Coffron's answer for inclusion in mine, but applying Advantage/Disadvantage to ability checks could make a lot of sense. When to apply it is going to be a decision you need to make, but don't do it lightly and consider all factors in play in terms of both characters and actions.

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I'm not sure of a rule exactly, but a 1st edition adventure module 'Treasure Hunt' involved an adventure for level zero characters that starts in a similar way to your question. In this module the characters are washed up on a beach with only their wet and tattered clothes after the pirate ship they were slaves on crashes. After some time the players are told their characters are getting cold and must find protection from the wind and rain. If they delay, the GM is instructed "For every hour they stay in the galley or out- doors, they sustain one point of damage. In short, if they stay on the beach for six hours, theyll all die of exposure."

This seems like a simple way to iterate how grave their situation is, whilst pushing the players to quickly find a solution, be that finding clothes, building a fire or searching for a cave or house.

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I wish I had this resource when I was running my own campaign world on a regular basis as this question actually came up. As someone who is an actual nudist I recognize some stereotypes here.

Here is my answer addressing the points in the original question:

AC effect - this needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis. In a battle the effect of simple cloth does not contribute well to any defense unless layered. In fact some forms will tend to hamper defense if they are too loose or flowing (inertial effects and obstruction as well as a chance on the clothing getting hung or caught on an item). Humans have actually been fighting very well in the nude for millennia actually without ill effect. Additionally there is reduced encumbrance for the person. I'd argue no effect on AC other than a slight dexterity bonus and reduction of exhaustion penalties. Of course certain hazards pose penalties for a lack of protections (like footwear). Thorns I've dealt with in real life and I've had shirts and pants caught on the thorns in a manner that has made the hazard worse. Gloves and tools to combat the thorns work better. Again, the DM needs to consider the totality of circumstances here.

Constitution - Actual research and experience has shown that the body's ability to regulate temperature improves with lesser amounts of clothing. With regards to rain the body dries faster (clothing tends to hold onto moisture for quite some time). Over time the skin gets better in adapting to environmental effects like sun, etc. - it evolved to do that. There should be an initial penalty for someone who has just started "dressing" in this manner but it should vanish fairly quickly. There may a bonus afterwards but it would be slight. There is an interesting bonus with regards to contact poisons, hot oils, and the like in that there is a likely saving throw bonus. Why? Because there is nothing to cause sustained contact after the initial exposure. One of the things that is part of emergency procedures is removing any articles of clothing in the area of exposure. While there is a joke about cooking bacon or other oily foods, it can be safer to do so in the nude. The only really safe way for that is to wear a full body suit that is insulated and impermeable with a decent face shield. :) Otherwise any exposed skin (and the eyes) are subject to grease splatter.

Social interactions - This depends entirely on the culture. Nudity used to be quite common in the Western world among the average farm worker and the like. Clothing was expensive and difficult to get so it was treated accordingly. The average RPG is often in ancient settings so the effect of nudity may be minimal or non-existent. In some instances it might be an aid. Consider the issue of tattoos instead of clothing, for example. The covering of such might cause issues if they are socially important. Same goes for body paints.

Refusal of Service - This is just an extension of social interactions. Much of the U.S.'s "No shirt. No shoes. No service" was a result of events and practices during the 1960s. Until fairly recently you could go out to eat naked in San Francisco (I think some of this license still exists there but my memory for details is hazy).

Please note I refer to "slight bonuses" where I assume DM discretion. This can be as little as +0 to as much as +2 typically. This term has been used in official magazines and other publications since the earliest days of D&D.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey On the contrary, this answer seems to respond to all the specific concerns listed in the question in the negative, which is an answer - or a partial answer, at least. Admittedly, it'd be improved by adding a "No special rules are necessary, because:" line at the beginning, but even without that it does answer the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Dec 12, 2021 at 20:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RichardRobertson this site is not a forum, so 1) we don't have a concept of "nekro threads" here, except for a badge of honour for good answer to an old question, and 2) if you don't think your answer brings something new to the question, you should refrain from posting. I'm referring to the last sentence here, not judging your answer myself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Dec 12, 2021 at 21:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is no "slight bonus" in D&D 5e, so this answer doesn't seem very applicable to actual game play. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 12, 2021 at 23:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've been playing D&D since the early 1980s and Basic Edition. The phrasing "slight bonus" has appeared in official literature since that time. What it means is up the the individual DM (I've actually been published in gaming magazine on the subject of mechanics). I'm a regular in programming Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow, but I also frequent forums so they all tend to blend in my head. Hence my usage of "necro". I believed my answer did contribute but I'm still new to this stack exchange and I tend to be cautious in my assertions about the worth of my postings. I DID provide an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 13, 2021 at 22:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you can find some actual reference to "slight bonus", that'd be good. Like quote from those older edition rulebooks (ideally from a core rulebook), if you happen to have them at hand. Though there is no such thing in 5e, as far as I know, and 5e in general does away with most bonuses (because of bounded accuracy), and I'd be hard pressed to support the idea that being naked offers same protection as a hardened leather armor (AC 11, the first step above base AC 10), unless you have a special ability (such as Monks, Barbarians, Lizardfolk, Draconic Sorcerers, Tortles etc. already do). \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2021 at 11:35

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