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I'm DMing for a D&D campaign where the PCs are currently on the run from a large group of Dragonborn. The pursuit was unexpected by the party, so they were forced to leave the settled areas without prepared rations or mounts.

Everyone is currently having a lot of fun with the running, which is interspersed with small combat sessions, and based mainly around stealth and speed. The problem is, the PCs are going to run out of food in about two days. There aren't any villages or settlements located nearby either.

Since the PCs are currently headed towards the next key part of the campaign, and were tipped off previously about that area being the next place to go by a quest NPC, I think the campaign is progressing at a great speed. However, it's going to take at least five days to get to the area running full speed eight hours a day.

I don't like the idea of having the players deal with continuous exhaustion or cutting down on rations - I want the current game progress to continue in this way, especially because it's going well and interestingly. I'm thinking about letting the players hunt food for themselves (they are currently located in a sparsely wooded region of hills, so there are rabbits and birds) but I'm not sure how this would balance with the pursuit.

How would the PCs be able to find food while on the run like this?

For clarification, the Dragonborn pursuers are not immediately behind, they are perhaps a day's trek behind. They are close enough so that the players have to keep moving 6-8 hours a day (and cannot double back to the village), but far enough that the players can have 1-2 hours of downtime and a long rest every evening, with opportunities for roleplay.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Frame challenge — don't pre-plan, let players figure out the solution by themselves. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Apr 24 at 16:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ You say the running is interspersed with "small combat sessions". What are these combats like? Are they sentient opponents who should be carrying their own food on them? (and see the answer by thegreatemu ). Are they bestial opponents, who themselves could become food once defeated? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 24 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ My party doesn't have a cleric, and everyone is fairly low-level - around 2nd/3rd. Also, the small combat sessions are more like short fights with one or two fast scouts who managed to catch up, with the occasional poisonous lizard or large snake. \$\endgroup\$
    – Redz
    Apr 25 at 6:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ One party I DM for is oddly obsessed with cooking and eating any Beast or beastlike Monstrosity they kill in a random encounter. A giant snake could easily feed a small party. \$\endgroup\$
    – CompEcon
    Apr 25 at 11:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean venomous lizard? Those could be edible. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 26 at 0:27

6 Answers 6

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Depends on the marching speed

First of all, Foraging depends on a successful Survival check.

But there are three traveling speeds for overland movement; slow, normal and fast. Traveling fast prevents any foraging.

At a slower rate the Players Handbook (p. 183) states:

Forage. The character can keep an eye out for ready sources of food and water, making a Wisdom (Survival) check when the DM calls for it.

But note that:

Characters who turn their attention to other tasks as the group travels are not focused on watching for danger. These characters don't contribute their passive Wisdom (Perception) scores to the group's chance of noticing hidden threats.

In the Dungeon Masters Handbook (p.111) the DC for a successful Survival check is listed, depending on the general availability of food and water in that specific area: 'Abundant food and water sources': 10, to 'Very little, if any, food and water sources': 20.

Also, the result of a successful foraging, that is, how many gallons of water and pounds of food are collected: 1d6 + WIS for food and water each. For reference, there's also a table on how much food and water is needed for different character sizes per day (double water if weather is hot). For a medium-sized character it is 1 pound and 1 gallon.

Although it's not stated explicitly, I think that the amount of food and water that can be collected is meant to be collected during the whole day while marching. That is, if the party goes slower for only an hour in order to be able to forage, the collected amount would be 1/8 of the values rolled.

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The players can trivialize this if they have access to Goodberry, or Create Food and Water.

If you have access to the Out of the Abyss book, there's a similar scenario with the party being chased (Foraging, page 20). The book recommends a Wisdom (Survival) check with a DC of 15. You could raise or lower the DC for your scenario, depending on the particular area where your PCs are.

In terms of balance, you might ask the party if they're moving at a normal or slow pace. Maybe if they move slower they could get Advantage to their foraging check, and try to cover their tracks. If the party falls too far behind, you might have a small group of Dragonborn scouts catch up to the party, and try to hold them until the main force arrives.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would follow a simple check like this or a group check pass/fail. If they fail they eat into their rations, if they don't they can get buy on the land. It's very simplified way of dealing with hunger and chases. After so many days you might consider exhaustion if their at a fast pace or if they are starting to run low on food. I usually don't worry about water too much unless their in a desert/dry biome or land devoid of lakes/streams in particular. If your by the coast you could give them opportunities to boil water etc. But then mimic the idea that the dragonborn are catching up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Spoo
    Apr 25 at 13:30
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Opportunities for role play

Good answers here already. I'll add a few additional suggestions that don't make up a complete answer:

Give characters a chance to shine

As others have noted, foraging is a straight WIS (Survival) check -- but that's boring! If you have any in your party, Druids and especially Rangers should shine here, so try to find some opportunities for them. If the party can't afford to move slowly enough to forage, can the ranger scout ahead on his own (maybe with Longstrider?)? Or drop back and attempt to create a false trail? Can the druid speak to some local animals, maybe convince a wolf pack to hunt for them in exchange for ?

Chance encounters

Maybe the party can stumble across an isolated farm, huntsman's shack, or logging camp. This could be an opportunity for the party face to sweet-talk the inhabitants into parting with some food. But what if they won't cooperate? Will your party resort to theft or violence against innocents?

Not the same old combat

How are the pursuers provisioned? If they are similarly dependent on foraging, they might have an even harder time of it since their larger party size would scare away game. So maybe let your party get some exhaustion levels, but give some to the pursuers, too. Then engineer a combat encounter with part of the pursuing force, where now both sides are facing exhaustion.

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DONT

  1. Suddenly tell the players that they should've been paying attention to food rations. Starting gear includes some ration packs but keeping track/caring about them isn't always the norm
  2. Shoehorn this "because realism": if anything, the default D&D tone is heroic fantasy.
  3. Present it as a problem and then solve it: "Oh you're out of food. But hey, you find a berry bush"
  4. Bring it up, then resolve it with a meaningless roll: "Ok folks, roll survival to forage. Hmm... that's not great. Roll again after 1h. Ok this works, you have enough food now."
  5. Build a super complex system for the players to forage, balancing it against various encounters, then throw a tantrum when the druid casts goodberry.

DO

  1. Just ignore it. We don't see Aragorn rationing lembas while they chase the orcs (along with showering, going to the loo, sharpening a blade or stocking on arrows).
  2. Build foraging into the chase and make it a meaningful choice. Perhaps if they need to spend time foraging, the chance of an encounter increases. Or they need to decide between exhaustion and an extra encounter. Keep in mind points 1+5 from DONTs :)
  3. Allow a retcon where the party stocks on rations if they haven't before (assuming this is something that matters; in the standard d&d economy rations are incredibly cheap).
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    \$\begingroup\$ These suggestions look good - I might just add a small bonus of rations to every successful, hostile fight they come across, to balance the game a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – Redz
    Apr 25 at 6:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, the retcon is a perfectly fine tool for solving a problem like this, especially if one of the characters can believably be expected to have just replenished supplies during the last shopping trip. There's a certain amount of default preparedness that can just be assumed of seasoned adventurers. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Redz that's actually better than all my suggestions, great idea! assuming dragonborns need to eat the same food, they should be carrying rations the players can use \$\endgroup\$
    – falsedot
    Apr 26 at 10:19
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Here's another way

As well as some of the excellent answers already submitted, I'd like to draw your attention to one of the benefits of having the "Outlander" background.

you can find food and fresh water for yourself and up to five other people each day, provided that the land offers berries, small game, water, and so forth.

In one of my current games, I play a druid who has this background. While we pay lip service to rations and restocking supplies (largely for flavour, and so the well-travelled epicurean artificer in the group can flex with his superior foodstuffs obtained from gods-know-where), we largely handwave finding food while travelling in the wilderness (which accounts for a majority of the campaign so far) because of this feature.

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I usually let the players declare 3 phases. Forage, Rest, March.

Anything less than 6 hours of rest per person and they get exhaustion. This includes horses and people.

Marching - Typical day on the road not foraging is about 8-12 hours. Standard pace not fleeing I really wouldn't worry too much about exhaustion. But if they are trying to run/hurry their travel I would make the players/mounts (whoever did the brunt of the legwork) a DC 10+2/hour con check at the end of the day to gain a level of exhaustion. Eventually even your horses get tired... But if your not really worrying about exhaustion you could just fudge a d20 roll. Those who roll REALLY REALLY bad maybe.

Foraging I usually just look at the biome their in. I set an arbitrary time frame based on how 'lush' that land is. IF they spend that amount of time foraging they can roll a dc 10 survival check. Can be assisted via group check and advantage rules. Success means they gather enough supplies for the day, failure means they don't. Like forest i set at 2 hours. Lush forest 1 hours, barren/desert 3. They can spend less time looking to try to get ahead of their pursuers but the DC goes up 2/hour. It's all really fudgable. General idea is more time they give their pursuers easier the roll. You could just have a DC 5 if they spend one hour looking and if they pass their foods good that day. If you REALLY don't want to worry about food.

I also let them decide if their planning any tricks to disguise their route or throw off their pursuers. I risk/reward the time vs. hours delayed. But i roll that roll in secret. (Just kind of a scare tactic that adds to the tension.

In the end I really guesstimate hours and speed. (Like if pursuers have horses versus non-pursuers). I let them role play in spells like pass without a trace and survival tricks to perhaps hide their tracks.

To see if they are gaining or not. I don't do precise math. It's all fun in the end. Generally faster beats slower and bigger party falls behind smaller party.

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