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My Ranger character has the Urchin personality trait of "I hide scraps of food and trinkets away in my pockets", which I have been RPing, without thought for much benefit. I have been just saying in story that every time we eat a meal I tell the DM I am taking 1 or 2 scraps, which I have been tracking in my inventory. Occasionally if the food available is specific ("Meat pie" and "biscuit") I have put that in a special section of my inventory "Food hidden in pockets" specifically for the personality trait, without much thought for if they get used or rot in my pockets.

I had assumed that being so generic they were similar to "rations" in longevity, as it is part of the Urchin background where the purpose would be to avoid starvation, ie. a homeless child hiding away their own rations from scraps they gather, though I haven't actually attempted or thought of using them yet. It's been mostly for the fun of RP.

In our latest session some questions we can't seem to satisfy our pedantry on have come up.

  • What are food scraps?
  • Do they go bad, and after how long?
  • Is their longevity different from or similar to rations?

I suggested that yes definitely the "meat pie" is now spoiled and changed the biscuit to "stale biscuit". But what of these scraps and what exactly they are, we can't seem to google up a precedent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "without thought for much benefit." It's not supposed to be a benefit. It's a personality trait, not a feat. \$\endgroup\$ – Studoku Nov 20 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like if you want to keep track of the actual food in your inventory, you should probably role-play the unspoken other side of the trait: that you probably pull scraps of food out of your pockets occasionally and snack on them. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason Goemaat Nov 20 at 18:40
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Since there are no rules related to 'scraps', this is entirely a roleplaying element with no real mechanical benefit.

However, if you want something moderately mechanical, I'd suggest that instead of making this a bookkeeping exercise, it's simply assumed that your character always has a little bit of old-but-edible food and a couple of trinkets on their person. We don't need to concern ourselves with where your last meal came from or how long any given thing has been in a pocket; instead, if you find a time when you want a piece of food to give to an animal, or a bit of something worthless but shiny to cheer up a child, or whatever, you just have some on you because your character sheet says you're always stashing that kind of thing.

It's fine to have a little stage business where you describe your guy stuffing bits of food in his pockets at each meal, but actually tracking individual chunks of food is probably too much detail for what is meant to be just a roleplaying bit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Last paragraph is so true. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 19 at 20:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ One should be wary of the McGuyver pitfall. Once the scraps of food and trinkets are used as "clever" ways to circumvent challenges, it's time for the DM to take a step back and set their foot down. As stated, it should have no real mechanical benefit. They won't save the character from a starvation scenario or suddenly become a lockpick when they're captured and stripped of their adventuring gear. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Nov 20 at 13:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin, on the lockpick thing, I would let the lockpick thing fly the first time, but have a reason it doesn't work/get them anywhere, eg. it breaks in the lock, sound draws attention, theres a second door but its lock is too hard to pick etc. rewards rp, but doesn't get them anywhere unless i want it to \$\endgroup\$ – Bob Kerman Nov 21 at 9:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mindwin It shouldn't circumvent a challenge, but there are times when a specific piece of gear or character trait should be allowed to reframe a challenge from something the character is poor at to something they're good at. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Nov 21 at 16:40
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Food scraps are but a role playing aspect of the character.

The only rule about "food scraps" is common knowledge. They also don't grant any benefit since it's a RP trait and not the feature of the background. You could RP your character as occasionally nibbling on some of the scraps they have put aside as a snack, or you could try to have a small pet (like a mouse) and feed it those, and at DM's discretion even persuade other small animals.

It's definitely not filling as a normal meal or a ration. The only limit to these kinds of traits is creativity.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I changed my wording to reflect that that was not my intended question, I am not trying to turn them into rations. My question to you now is how long before they become spoiled/rotten? That's all I've been doing with the scraps so far. Eating them and feeding them to my Companion Beast and other stray animals. It's all RP....but if DM is going to say my pockets are full of rotten food from RPing this, I am definitely not going to be RPing to my detriment. (bad smell, ruined clothing). \$\endgroup\$ – bitfed Nov 19 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can always throw them away if they go bad. The character is not compelled to keep every scrap in their pockets indefinitely, they could be doing it for some reason, but not to hoarde rotten foods. \$\endgroup\$ – Mauro Scarpaleggia Nov 19 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ You, of course, could role-play waking up in camp to a bear stuffing it's nose in your pocket... \$\endgroup\$ – CGCampbell Nov 20 at 12:12
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Talk with your DM about how to use these

There really aren't rules around food scraps. Because of that, it becomes a table roleplay concern and you should talk with your DM about how it may work. As long as the two of you work out something that fulfills your character goals along with table mechanics and fairness, then everyone should be happy.

How I'd rule

I typically like it when players lean into their characters, and wanting scraps around to 'feed' or simply 'treat' animals, I think is fun and fine. Now, maybe there is something about having to store some current rations or food to keep it 'fresh', but I think that is probably fine and fun. But as long as you're eating, you've got scraps. And you are likely aware enough to know if they've gone bad and can opt to either keep or throw them out.

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They are nothing but RP flavor at present

There is no item classified as food scraps that I can find in 5e, which essentially guarantees that they won't have any mechanically-defined, in-game purpose. Further, nutrition and food decay are really not simulated in D&D very deeply (or at all)-- going without enough food or water makes you progressively more exhausted, and that's it. Food freshness, staleness, or other degradation is not a part of the game.

As they are not a game-defined item, they have no properties of the type you're looking for. Because food spoilage isn't really a thing in 5e, food scraps won't spoil, nor would the food that produced those scraps.

If you think that those mechanics around food scraps and food preservation would be fun in your game (I do!), then talking to your DM about homebrewing rules to deal with those is the way to go. You will be stepping outside of D&D 5e's core focuses as well: it can work poorly when simulating scarce resources both due to the lack of relevant mechanics (it's either exhaustion getting worse or not happening) and because many spells easily make those mechanics irrelevant (if your character uses the Goodberry spell, food scarcity and spoilage will almost always be irrelevant).

So, answering the question directly, food scraps are nothing in particular and they do not degrade. If you work with your DM you can make them more, but will need to determine what would be fun about them and then build mechanics to suit. Anything that causes food to be scarce (or otherwise a resource requiring attention and management) can make the food scraps and their preservation relevant.

The lack of scaffolding in the published rules can mean either that the whole system has to be built from the ground up but also that the sky's the limit on what that system can be! It can be anything from food being a fundamental resource that players need to manage every day, or it can be purely a plot element where your character's habit provides an edge-- the lack of existing mechanics give you a lot of freedom to find the fun for your table for that element of the Urchin background.

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Only magically-created food has rules for spoilage

"Food scraps" are not really a thing RAW. The solitary reference to food scraps in the PHB is the Urchin Personality Traits table you referenced (p. 141). In the DMG, the only reference to "food scraps" is as result 51 on a random table of "General Features" in "Dungeon Dressing" (p. 299). Since there is no definition of food scraps as an item, we can assume that they are just bits and pieces of food.

RAW, food may be obtained by characters through purchase, though foraging, or through magic.

Purchase ("Adventuring Gear", PHB 153)

Rations. Rations consist of dry foods suitable for extended travel, including jerky, dried fruit, hardtack, and nuts.

Purchase ("Food, Drink, and Lodging", PHB 158)

The Food, Drink, and Lodging table gives prices for individual food items and a single night’s lodging. These prices are included in your total lifestyle expenses.

Foraging ("Foraging", DMG 111)

A foraging character finds nothing on a failed check. On a successful check, roll ld6 + the character's Wisdom modifier to determine how much food (in pounds) the character finds, then repeat the roll for water (in gallons).

Magic ("Create Food and Water", PHB 229)(emphasis mine)

You create 45 pounds of food and 30 gallons of water on the ground or in containers within range, enough to sustain up to fifteen humanoids or five steeds for 24 hours. The food is bland but nourishing, and spoils if uneaten after 24 hours. The water is clean and doesn’t go bad.

Notice that in all these sources of food, the only one that specifically mentions spoilage is the magically created food. Interestingly, at this point in the development of 5e, there is no rules mechanism by which normal food spoils.

The rations one can purchase for "extended travel" certainly seem like they are types of food chosen to avoid spoilage, but notice that there is no mechanism by which fresh food foraged will go bad - no condition that raw meat you foraged in the tropical heat won't be just as suitable to eat next week as it is now. Note that I am not saying that normal food doesn't spoil - just that rules for this, the rules the OP asked about, do not exist.

This is a clear departure from previous editions, in which one could cheaply purchase "standard rations" (which would quickly spoil) or could pay much more for "iron rations" (which would last much longer). If you are interested in the subject, you might want to start with this and this.

Furthermore, in 5e there is no mechanism by which spoiled food may be made wholesome again. The spell that previous editions used for that simply does not have that function.

"Purify Food and Drink", PHB 270

All nonmagical food and drink within a 5-foot-radius sphere centered on a point of your choice within range is purified and rendered free of poison and disease.

Compare that is previous versions of the spell, such as in 3.5e:

This spell makes spoiled, rotten, poisonous, or otherwise contaminated food and water pure and suitable for eating and drinking. This spell does not prevent subsequent natural decay or spoilage.

The first answer to your question is that 5e simply has no mechanism for non-magical food spoilage; the scraps you have in your pocket, even uncooked meat scraps kept at room temperature, will not spoil as a consequence of anything written in to the game. If it is a truism that D&D is not a Physics Simulator, in this case neither is it a Biology Simulator. If this is a level of detail you or your DM would like to incorporate you can do so. This could simply be by DM fiat, telling you that you scraps have spoiled, or you can create a more formal set of house rules. You might find previous editions useful in this regard. Working within the mechanics of 5e, the simplest thing to do might be to come up with a table for how long different kinds of foods may be kept before they are considered "poisoned".

So what is the point of the personality trait?

As you say, you have so far just been collecting these scraps for role-playing your personality trait, it it is fine to have it remain there. The purpose of having specific, listed personality traits is exactly for this type of role play:

"Personality Traits", PHB 123

Give your character two personality traits. Personality traits are small, simple ways to help you set your character apart from every other character. Your personality traits should tell you something interesting and fun about your character. They should be self-descriptions that are specific about what makes your character stand out.

However, personality traits do not have to be limited to role play - they can have a mechanical effect, through Inspiration.

"Inspiration", PHB 126:

Inspiration is a rule the Dungeon Master can use to reward you for playing your character in a way that’s true to his or her personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw. By using inspiration, you can draw on your personality trait of compassion for the downtrodden to give you an edge in negotiating with the Beggar Prince... Your DM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, DM's award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way.

Since you have been role playing this all along, you may discuss with your DM whether they will be awarding Inspiration at some point based on your role play. They could use this to give you a bonus in a certain situation - as other posts have suggested, you might get Inspiration to use on an animal handling roll if you fish some table scraps out of your pocket before your interaction. Or if you are at a fancy dinner and insist on lowering your reputation with the host and other guests by saving food in your pockets, your DM might award you Inspiration for staying true to your personality.

None of this use of your personality trait needs to involve the food actually spoiling or the need to introduce new mechanics, since it is entirely up to DM fiat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So the spell purify good and drink is pretty useless then? "All nonmagical food and drink within a 5-foot-radius sphere centered on a point of your choice within range is purified and rendered free of poison and disease." \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Nov 19 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Certainly not useless if the food and drink in question is poisoned or diseased - but I don't know of a rules definition for 'purified', do you? \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Nov 19 at 19:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the same kind of logic that said "there's no rule that says death prevents a character from continuing to fight" or "there is no skill for bricklaying, therefore brick buildings do not exist in this setting," or "because the penalty to spot things a long way away is based on distance and has no upper limit, it is impossible for characters to notice the sun." There are things that aren't explicitly defined in the rules because the average group is able to handle those things without needing explicit rules for them. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 19 at 20:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe I am not saying that normal food doesn't spoil - just that rules for this, the rules the OP asked about, do not exist. Since that is exactly what every other post has said, but without actually citing the rules, I am a bit at a loss as to the negative reception. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Nov 19 at 21:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alchemy Jug Mayonnaise is magically created food and it doesn't have rules for spoilage. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Nov 19 at 21:34
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From an RP perspective, food scraps won't go bad in your pockets because your character knows how long each things lasts, what it looks like as it goes bad, and is accustomed to keeping it in mind or checking. It's the same as someone today remembering they've got milk near the expiration date, seeing those bananas are getting spots, that left-over frozen lasagna needs to be eaten sometime this week, they haven't opened that loaf of bread so that's good for a while... . It's second nature.

As far as what it is: hard cheese keeps well, and dried bread crusts won't get moldy (it gets too hard to even bite, but can add water). Root vegetables keep a long time (carrots, potatoes -- not sure about onions). Nuts. The less-wet fruits (a 2-day-old apple slice is ugly, but edible). Butter actually keeps at room temperature for a week or more. Meat-wise anything cured -- salami, pastrami, smoked sausage, pepperoni (that was the point of cured meat, to keep longer).

But I'd suggest this habit would go away. As an adventurer you're rich. You might save a few things to nibble on out of habit, or since you hate to waste food. But while wiping the sauce off the carrots in a stew someone left, you'll realize you can buy carrots whenever you want. Most people don't keep eating ramen noodles when they finally get a little money. It might turn into just a quirk: always sucking on rock-hard week-old bread like a toothpick, really enjoying left-over meatloaf-surprise at inns, and licking the plate clean. You might use your new wealth to pay it back, buying lots of nuts, apples and such to hand out to urchins; or sugar cubes to horses and deer. Maybe in times of stress you'd unconsciously resume it -- collecting everyone's pizza crusts "for later" the night before a trek through orc-infested lands, even though you have plenty of iron rations. Or go the other way "I grew up super poor and swore when I got money I'd have only the best" is common enough.

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Each morsel is worth a twentieth of a Rations, but your Ranger consumes an extra twentieth at each meal

Everything said above is perfectly true if you want to play it that way. On the other hand, it seems like you enjoy having them, and you can give them a mechanical "benefit" as long as you pay an appropriate cost. You could assume each morsel takes up a twentieth of a ration (I assume you mean a mini-pie, a whole pie seems really hard to squirrel away). Whenever you consume rations, eat an extra twentieth portion (keep track of this yourself, it might annoy your DM or other players), and add it as a food scrap. For other meals, if your food scraps spoil after three days, it probably won't have much mechanical impact. When you're negotiating with your GM, you might want to "pay" for this small mechanical benefit by saying that whenever you see another Urchin, you offer them a couple of days' worth of rations. But really, a sixth of a day's rations after some trips to town is pretty minor in the scheme of things and they might just let it go.

I hope you also sometimes have adverse role-playing consequences if other people consider your food-taking odd or objectionable. For example, a hotelier might charge extra or a noble might think you're low-status and not worth their time.

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