I am so freaking sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Backstory (and I’ll try and keep it brief): as some of you know, for the past two years I’ve been suffering from some strange sort of food allergies/sensitivities. We’ve narrowed it down to where I can basically eat grass and water, but we’re not too sure about grass. Or water. Now, it’s done wonders for my waistline: I’m wearing t-shirts and jeans I last wore nearly 30 years ago. After all, when you’re not eating--and if you do eat it’s immediately and forcefully eliminated for the following 36 hours--your weight can drop fairly quickly. But painfully. Whatever it is has affected my body in other ways: I’m constantly tired, and suddenly so, as if someone had simply “unplugged” me; my depression is aggravated; I have difficulty thinking at all let alone clearly and/or creatively; painful bloating and uncontrollable, vile gassiness.
Short statblock: All this makes me the life of the party and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the pain, the fatigue, the emotional and mental issues. I’m tired of watching my family eat burgers and pizza, milkshakes and cookies while I’m eating carrots and celery, simple unseasoned ground beef (assuming it has no filler) and the occasional kosher hot dog.
So, sitting here tonight in the midst of an allergy attack and--ahem--“marinating” in my office, it got me thinking. When I game--and I know the rest of my group thinks the same way, so I can only assume we’re not unique--I don’t give much thought to my character’s illness, fatigue, and the like.
In other words, being sick and tired.
You and I get up at 5:00 a.m., maybe work out for an hour sometime during the day, put in a long day at the office or the assembly line with its accordant stress, anxiety, frustration, and back- or mind-breaking labor (physical or mental, respectively). Add in rush hour traffic both ways--or the stress and discomfort (again, physical and mental) of public transit--then you crawl your way in the front door and your toddler climbs up on your lap and either knees you (dad) in the wobblies or head-butts (mom) your sweater puppies. Then there’s the familial stresses and duties expected of you now that you’re home. And it all starts again tomorrow. Five days a week, if we’re lucky. If not, then six or even seven.
Now, I know that the above paragraph is perhaps the biggest reason many of us game. We want to get away from our normal lives. I understand this, I really do. And in this fantasy escape of ours, whatever the flavor or system, why on earth do we want to worry about mundane things. There's a reason we don't play "Houses and Humans." (There's probably several reasons why we don't play it, but that's another story.) But face it: whether it’s through ability score modifiers, “conditions,” or some other form of RPG abstract health-tracking, characters should feel--and are, by rules as written at least, expected to feel--sick and tired. And this goes beyond simple encumbrance tracking.
Look, like it or not, it makes sense, at least from a ROLE playing standpoint. No matter what any of us do during the day, it’s not likely that we commit deeds on par with the basic tasks of our characters. When was the last time you killed a band of roving kobolds, defended a village from marauding orcs, suffered the slings and arrows of outraged towns guardsmen, or simply ran screaming from the biggest fire-breathing lizard you ever saw? All while wearing armor. And weapons. And adventuring gear. After spending the night on hard ground, half-frozen, and with a rock in your back Right. There. Oh, and you have the runs from a bad tavern meal; you’ve also been saved from near-death a half-dozen times by magic--you have to believe that that puts a little bit of stress on a body. And this is every day of the tenday. Yet we all--and I realize I might be generalizing--we all assume that a healing potion and a good night’s sleep in the woods is going to take care of all those aches and pains.
I mean, if I go camping, I’m on an air mattress and in a nice, cozy tent (if not a trailer). I’m in sweats or pajamas, not armor. And I still get up in the morning with a crick in my neck, a screwed-up back, and the legs of a 90-year-old near-invalid. Forget running from kobolds, I can hardly make it to the breakfast table.
What I’m saying is this: maybe tracking encumbrance or noting conditions, fatigue--or whatever the system equivalent is--maybe it’s a pain in the neck. Maybe it’s that “one more thing” with which you don’t want to hassle. All this might be true. But if you’re in the mood to do a little ROLE playing--or in the mood to force your players to do a little ROLE playing--consider the fact that even semi-super-human demi-demi-gods might get a little muscle-stiff or brain-sore once in a while.
Now, I don’t know the right answer here, I’m just brainstorming. Thinking aloud, as it were. Throw a couple extra conditions on ‘em. Drop an ability score or two. Give ‘em a little extra something to think about when they’re tracking down the big bad. Or running from the big bad. Whichever the case may be. Of course, you’ll have to be judicious: what would be a discomfort to high-level characters obviously could incapacitate low-level characters. Conversely, what would be a discomfort to low-level characters may be nothing more than a mosquito bite (or less) to a high-level character. Scaling the discomfort may not be the right move, as logic dictates the longer you adventure, the more accustomed you become to the rough conditions. On the other hand, the longer you adventure, the older you get, the stiffer your muscles get, and the more fragile your bones get. Then you get into the “aging” rules--something else that a lot of us tend to ignore in our adventures/campaigns.
Just something to think about. Please: let me know where I’m mis-thinking this or what your ideas on the topic might be. Until then, I’m just going to keep muddling along as best I can.