In Out of the Abyss, PCs are equipmentless and travelling in a dangerous and hostile environment where food and water is scarce. To top it all off, they are actively being hunted down by an overwhelming force. The PCs are out of their element, lost and hungry and with no means to magically "cheat", being at a very low level to have access to useful magic. They also have almost a dozen other mouths (NPCs) to feed.

Our party composition is: Inquisitive Rogue 3 (from the UA), War Cleric 3, Old One Warlock 3, Vengeance Paladin 3. There are also 7 NPCs that managed to stay alive (3 died in the first session). Apart from the Dwarf Scout that is with the party, highest survival in the party is +4 (the Cleric) or +3 (the Rogue). So food is a very big issue during the journey.

I like how the module forces the PCs to be on their toes with logistics, requiring Wisdom (Survival) checks to find enough food and water to survive. And we enjoyed RPing who got enough food and dividing it up among the party.

What I don't like is that the PCs are making the check every day of travel. It was fine for short travel (a week or so, 7 checks, no big deal) but over really long distances of almost a month of travel, it quickly became not fun to roll 28 times and adjudicate who gets to not eat on a particular day.

Is there an alternative that doesn't ignore the urgency of finding basic needs like food and water?

Though related, this question asks mostly about rolling a large number of dice, like twenty d6s. However, foraging is much more complex — it involves a single PC rolling a Wisdom (Survival) check against a certain DC then if it succeeds, the PC finds a number of pounds of food equal to 1d6+WIS.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What about homebrew, are you ok with some homebrew? I have a nice idea, but as far as I know is not in the books \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 12:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chepelink yes, I am open minded to house rules. Just keep in with good subjective. And back it up! \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 12:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 I'm not familiar with the abyss, but what I thought it would be a good answer is to delimit a set of rules that reduce the number of dice rolls, while giving the opportunity of the feeling of survival. If is not what you are looking, could you specify a little more? \$\endgroup\$
    – Chepelink
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Last question, I promise: does your party have any sort of sense what sort of lead they have on the overwhelming force? In my campaign it was that pressure that made the decisions of whether or not to even forage interesting ones, as time was such an important resource. (Resting, pace, exhaustion, foodstocks all coming into play.) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 15:02

5 Answers 5


Cheese as a Food Group that can Help

(TL;DR You don't need to roll every day if the party uses this approach, but on the real tough days (DC's > 15), there will be some rolls that reflect how Out of the Abyss is a hard adventure).

Get Help when Foraging

This approach may smell of rules manipulation, and will only work if you accept this as the DM. The party and NPC's together can create advantage on all of the foraging efforts by using the Help rules for ability checks. As you do not define a DC I'll offer three examples when I sum up.
Rule of Thumb: Advantage amounts to a +5 on a given ability check.

As the DM, you first need to determine the following: since it's a survival situation, is there a valid reason that the NPC's will not help foraging? It's their necks too if they all starve. If there is a reason that the NPC's can't or won't forage, then what follows is at best partly applicable, and possibly inapplicable.

Working Together

Sometimes two or more characters team up to attempt a task. The character who’s leading the effort—or the one with the highest ability modifier—can make an ability check with advantage, reflecting the help provided by the other characters.
A character can only provide help if the task is one that he or she could attempt alone. Moreover, a character can help only when two or more individuals working together would actually be productive. (Basic Rules p. 59)

This works for foraging. Why?
- Searching for food is something you can do alone.
- Two people looking for fungus/fish/bugs/caviar/water have a better chance of at least one of them spotting food/potential food and water.

  • Food and Water Requirements (Basic Rules p. 66)

A character needs one pound of food per day and can make food last longer by subsisting on half rations. Eating half a pound of food in a day counts as half a day without food. (Summary: after 3 (+ Constitution modifier) days without food (min of one) a character automatically suffers one level of exhaustion.

This matters because once a player character has exhaustion, that player gets disadvantage on further ability checks, which cancels out the advantage (+5) bonus of help. On the other hand, once enough characters have a level of exhaustion, help (advantage) can reduce the effect of disadvantage on skill checks (foraging/survival). In this regard, after some bad luck days or a few days of DC's at or near 20, not having disadvantage can mean the difference between success and starvation.

Exhaustion (p. 106 Basic Rules)

\begin{array}{r|ccc} \text{Level} & \text{Effect}\\ \hline \text{1} & \text{Disadvantage on ability checks} \\ \text{2} & \text{Speed halved} \\ \text{3} & \text{Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws} \\ \end{array} Once the foragers lose advantage due to exhaustion, the risk of a vicious circle of failed foraging looms. Foraging is a priority concern for this phase of the adventure.

As in RL, water is the more critical resource to avoid exhaustion. The gathering rate for a successful foraging check (water) is 1d6 + wisdom gallons. (DMG p. 111).

Water Requirement: One gallon of water per day (Underdark, we'll assume that it isn't hot enough to trigger double requirement).

Half water rations forces a DC 15 Constitution saving throw of one level of exhaustion, added at the end of the day. Less than half rations automatically adds another level of exhaustion at the end of the day. If the character already has one or more levels of exhaustion, the character adds two levels of exhaustion. Lack of water triggers a compounding exhaustion problem, with the ability to forage impaired at only one level. Thirst kills.

Needed resources:

4 PC and 7 NPC ~ 11 gallons of water per day.
4 PC and 7 NPC ~ 11 pounds of food per day, with an occasional half rations day being acceptable.
Foraging rate: on a successful check 1d6 (+ wisdom bonus) pounds of food.
The objective: enough food and water to avoid exhaustion levels that harm the party.

Foraging and Difficulty

  • Top foragers:

    Cleric has +2 Wisdom Bonus (per your data)
    Rogue has a +1 Wisdom bonus (per your data)

  • Foraging check prospects DC 10:

    • With advantage (Help) cleric's the modifier amounts to +5. His +4 means even on a rolled 1, he finds food. Average of 5.5 pounds of food per day. (1d6 + 2)

    • Rogue with a +3 and the +5 help has to roll a 1 to fail: 95% chance to succeed with help. Yields an average of 4.5 pounds of food per day.

    • Warlock has a standard chance: +5 help means 80% Chance to provide 3.5 pounds of food.
    • Paladin: +5 from help gets 80% chance of a successful forage for 3.5 pounds.

    Average take: 5.5 + .95*4.5 + .8*3.5 + .8*3.5+ = 15.375 (15 3/8) pounds of food per day when using help. The prospects are very good, particularly if they over forage now and again to have enough for half rations for the day that everyone fails.
    Bottom line: when the DC is 10, food isn't a problem if they use Help with foraging. They can store food for harder days.

  • Foraging Prospects for DC 15:

    • Cleric with Help is +9: a five or less fails. .75*5.5 average = 3.75

    • Rogue with Help is +8 so a six or less fails. .70*4.5 average = 3.15

    • Warlock with Help has +5 so a 9 or less fails. .55*3.5 average = 1.925

    • Paladin with Help has +5 so a 9 or less fails. .55*3.5 average = 1.925 lbs

    At an average of 10.75 pounds per day, the party needs someone to go half rations most days, or get maybe the Dwarf Scout to forage as well with help.

  • Foraging Prospects for DC 20:

    • Cleric with Help is +9: a ten or less fails. .50*5.5 average = 2.75

    • Rogue with Help is +8: an 11 or less fails. .45*4.5 average = 2.025

    • Warlock with Help has +5: a 14 or less fails. .30*3.5 average = 1.05

    • Paladin with Help has +5: a 9 or less fails. .30*3.5 average = 1.05

    At an average of 6.825 pounds per day, the party needs someone to go half rations most days, the Dwarf Scout ought to forage as well with Help (another 1.05 pounds from that pair), and maybe have another pair of NPC's do likewise. When the DC is 20, or high like that, getting that food is what makes possible getting the following day's food.

    Resource issue: at the cost of a precious spell resource, the Cleric can create water (10 gallons, Create Water 1st level spell) if there is no water to be found. Because of how critical water is, see the compounding exhaustion point above, that may be a reason to save one spell slot on the really hard days to make sure nobody gets disadvantage the following day for the search.

    The above shows how well they do when party members forage with an NPC performing the "help" function to assist with the ability check. While the Rogue and the Cleric are likely to get the most benefit since their Survival checks are highest, all of the character/NPC pairs can roll with advantage. This means that most of the time, they can forage enough unless you trigger conditions that prevent it. When DC's get very high, things get dicey, so that is when the rolls need to be made.

How does this answer your question?

Mostly, it means that if the party can concentrate on foraging and DC's stay 10-15, they can keep going. No need to roll (see the average foraging rates using Help) since they'll average enough food per day. That means that you only have them check when it is significant, or when a significant change of condition occurs:

  • too much fighting to forage
  • dead or incapacitated Rogue / Cleric who are the prime foragers
  • Change in terrain/surroundings where the DC goes up
  • NPC's die/leave and Help becomes scarce
  • The DC established for a given day, or a given week, is higher.
  • You can control how successful the party members are in foraging by adding or subtracting other encounters/things that occupy their attention so that on some days, all of them can't forage.

    Adjust the DC to any value you like, run the template again (when the terrain or conditions change significantly) and see how likely failure is. Then the fun part comes: the role playing interactions on who goes on half rations, who doesn't, and why? (Hint: keep the Cleric and Rogue fed! They are the party's seed corn). It's up to the party to play out the food distribution, with your input from the hungry NPC's.

Or, you can ignore all of that (if you feel that it's an exploit, and that this Underdark scenario in Out of the Abyss is trying to stress the characters in a survival situation) and not let Help operate in that manner. You're the DM, it's your ruling to make. What the above provides is a method within the rules that leaves you open to picking your spots where you make foraging matter and thus force a foraging roll since success or failure becomes significant on certain occasions.

FWIW, @BenBarden points out that if one gets down in the numbers, the +5 is a sweet spot for advantage rolls. If you go through the details at the link, you can see how the bonus for advantage will vary as the difficulty / DC / Target Number varies. You may want to adjust that "+5" - but the whole point of advantage and disadvantage a s a mechanic is to replace the fiddly bits of stacking plusses and minuses that we all know and love from previous editions. A good reason to consider just going with the +5 is on page 62 of the Basic Rules, the straight "+/5 for adv/disadv" is used for passive checks.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Alternatively, you could travel at a slow pace to get additional bonuses in foraging, at the risk of the pursuers catching up and potentially killing some party members. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 4:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ For future readers, I accepted this answer because of the idea of just averaging out the food/water foraged per day. Great stuff! \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 4:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Advantage is worth +5 only in conditions where the chance of success or failure are equal. As you get out to the edges, it gets less and less helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Jun 21, 2019 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden Yes, I agree. That is explained in detail at the link. If you'll note, the basic rules/phb advise that for passive checks adv / disadv is a +/- 5 (for ease of use I think). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast that's... almost bizarre. Do you have a quote for that? That seems like something that would add significantly to the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Barden
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 13:56

Foraging is combat against Nature. Survival is the Attack Roll.

Seriously. Stop thinking of Survival as a roll that you make once per day to see if your stomach is full, and think of it as a combat skill that you use to do battle with the elements. Then put your players into "combat" situations and see what they do.

I'm not at all familiar with OotA, so I'll just give some examples from more generic settings. I never ask my players to make a Survival Roll. Instead, I present situations for them - they discover a set of tracks, they find some elk spoor, their waterskin springs a leak - and I let them tell me their reactions. In most cases, their reaction - identify and follow the tracks, hunt the elk - involves a Survival roll. Sometimes another roll is more appropriate, or even multiple rolls - e.g. patching the skin with an artisan skill and then finding a water source with Survival.

I take the text regarding "Foraging" as a guideline that about one such encounter should occur each day. I make it clear that there are countless minor events during the day for which no roll is worthwhile. I use the key encounter to set the tone for how the day went and to establish the consequences of failure for that day. So instead of simply saying, "You failed to forage enough food today", I get to say, "Despite your efforts to stalk it, the elk eluded you. You get through the day eating berries, but your stomachs are growling for some protein."

I don't think you'll find it hard to come up with 28 or so challenges. In addition to hunting and gathering opportunities, consider all the sorts of glitches that can occur. Go beyond just food and water - consider morale (esp. w/ so many NPCs), mobility, carrying capacity, getting lost, illness and injury. And if you can work these challenges into other elements of the adventure, all the better.

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a really interesting way to view Survival rolls, possibly a great answer to "how do I make Survival rolls interesting in-game?" But I don't think it's a great answer to OP's question because it ignores all of the things that make OotA's travel sequence more than just "get from A to B". \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 16:04

I am assuming you want to compress the daily roll into a single weekly or monthly roll.

There is a function called a binomial distribution. It answers the question of what the odds of X trials succeeding with y odds. You can use it to construct a chart that simulates the odds of various outcomes of a week or month worth of foraging rolls. While accurate it is bit involved. I only used it for mass combat rules.

There are two easier techniques.

The first is to get the free Inspiration Pad Pro from nBos. Learn how to use it to write random tables. Write a random table that takes the DC and the Wisdom modifiers as inputs and rolls up a week or month worth of foraging rolls. But the problem it is not possible or desirable to have a computer at the table to run the software.

The second is to make an assortment. An assortment is a table of the results of a more complex series of random table. For example Gygax wrote a series of monster and treasure assortments for OD&D. Each table has a 100 entries that is a complete result of the random monster and treasure table. You make one roll, look it up and that.

In your case you randomly roll a week or month worth of foraging rolls for the characters. Do this at least 20 times. Make a table and roll on that when you need to see how much food is gathered in a time period. It much faster and the result is within the bounds of what the character is capable of.

You can prepare it quicker if you use a program like Inspiration Pad Pro. The assortment will free you having to somehow run the software at the table.

Finally with assortment you can prepare it how ever you like. Just be consistent in how each entry is rolled up.


It sounds as if your problem is that you are having your players make rolls without consequences. If, for example, you decide they have successfully traveled for 28 days "off camera" then why does it matter if a particular character went hungry on one day or another?

In other words, if the players don't have to actively do anything other than roll 28 dice to survive AND you've already decided they survive the journey anyway then there is nothing to be gained from those dice rolls because there is nothing to be lost from those dice rolls.

An alternative I would offer is to have your players actually role-play the act of foraging for food (this is a roleplaying game, after all). Have them actually declare actions like "going to the stream to get fresh water" or "following a game trail and tracking a boar". This way the players can feel engaged in their own survival and can use more than just one skill to gather survival supplies.

Or, even alternative-lier: if nobody is having fun rolling for Survival then just say they survive the journey and move on. You could always have them roll once to see if they are fatigued or starving after the trip, but if you just want to get from Point A to Point B without worrying about all the stuff in the middle then don't worry about the stuff in the middle.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe the OP can clarify further, but in the mentioned adventure (Out of the Abyss), things happen in that 28 day span. It's not a 28 day "off-camera" trek that cuts out the actual travel -- much of the adventure takes place during this travel time, and the adventure explicitly calls for the DM to track food, water, and exhaustion levels. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think my answer is still valid. If the module is asking you to do something that your group is not finding fun, then you should change it or cut it. But yeah, if I've completely missed the point of that module then I would need to modify my answer. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Understood, and I agree, just pointing out that cutting the journey out may not be an option, as my understanding of the module is that exploring the Underdark is supposed to be hard. That doesn't mean the DM can't take liberties to reduce the number of foraging checks in some way. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 13:26

There is really only two reasons to worry about the foraging roll.

  1. if it's possible the PCs could starve and die, then you might want to make some checks, and if they start doing poorly, ask if the PCs are still traveling for the day, or if they would take the whole day to concentrate on securing some food.
  2. if it's possible they would have an encounter, and not being at 100% of health would affect the actions the PCs would take.

But if the PCs are just going to travel, and you'd rather not play any encounters along the way, one easy option would be to hand-wave the whole thing and have them arrive with little to no food on their persons.

Basically, if there is a chance they would be put at a disadvantage in an encounter because of the lack of food, or if they could starve, then you check. Otherwise, an option that has worked for us is to make it to the destination, peckish, hungry, or starving, as would fit in the story.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ When you say "an option that has worked for us" are you talking about a group that played Out of the Abyss this way? Or just "generally, this is how we do overland travel"? Because there are some complicating factors in OotA that, I think, need specific consideration. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfair. The original question only made casual reference to OOtA, and specifically stated that answers would be helpful for "general survival questions". That is why I answered as I did. If OOtA has specific complications, they should have been in the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – JPicasso
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know if you saw, but over time this question's gotten almost twice as many comments asking for various clarifications as it has upvotes; as originally posed it was a little broad, a little unclear. The original wording was problematic, in my opinion. Now that the question's tightened up I simply point out what I think is lacking from this answer. Just trying to help. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 If the party were clever, help is what would resolve this dilemma in the first place. ;-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:49

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