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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    Obligatory oots: giantitp.com/comics/oots0025.html – Nacht Sep 18 at 6:54
  • 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. – Neil Sep 19 at 11:50

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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    Great call on the adv/dis mechanic here - but I would give the same caveat I gave above not to penalize things (like AC) where there are specific cases that suggest being unarmored gives someone higher AC. – NautArch Sep 17 at 15:20
  • @NautArch addressed – David Coffron Sep 17 at 15:40
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    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. – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 17 at 16:11
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    @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. – David Coffron Sep 17 at 16:13

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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    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. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Sep 17 at 20:15
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    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. – fluffysheap Sep 18 at 7:41
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    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. – KerrAvon2055 Sep 18 at 13:30
  • All I'd add to your answer is addressing Sun exposure in some way. – The Nate Sep 19 at 2:26
  • 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 – Garret Gang Sep 19 at 16:38

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.

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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