So, another rambling idea I just had, so I’m kind of thinking out loud here (so to speak). I recently finished Bernard Cornwell’s excellent book Agincourt, which prompted some thoughts about the reality of medieval(ish) melee combat and, more to the point, exhaustion in combat (especially on the muddy fields of Agincourt) and how such applies to D&D.
Most editions of D&D have one or more rules about exertion, exhaustion and what not. OD&D, for example, requires a party to rest 1 turn for every 5 turns spent exploring, or suffer a -1 penalty to all checks. I vaguely recall AD&D having a rule about being able to sustain melee combat for a number of rounds equal to a character’s Constitution score before suffering penalties for exhaustion (a rule we never really used, I should add).
Most of the time I simply ignore these kind of rules and just play the game. However, I can see a style of game that is very much focused on the details and minutia of dungeon exploration: resource management, time management, mapping, lighting, etc. and, of course, exhaustion.
So, as a simple way to track exhaustion, each character is given a number of tokens equal to their Constitution score, representing the character’s stamina. Players surrender one of their character’s exertion tokens every turn spent exploring. Worse, they surrender a token every round of combat. Resting for a short period (1 turn? 1 hour? not sure on this) restores the character’s tokens.
A character unable to surrender a token is exhausted and suffers a significant penalty: at least -2, but maybe even -4, to stress the importance of resting and recovering one’s strength, especially after battle. Of course, resting eats up time, bringing more wandering monster checks and the possibility of sudden death with little reward.
You can also play around with the mechanic a bit, for example fighting in mud costs 2 tokens per round of combat. Also, spells could drain or restore tokens, or special attacks could reduce exertion tokens instead of hit points, etc.
I wouldn’t use such a system in every campaign, but it could play an interesting role in a gritty game of lethal dungeon exploration where mapping, lighting and tracking every resource is vitally important to survival.
Thoughts, idea, suggestions, questions all welcome. Cheers.