Hunting seems to be a hot topic in the last day or so, between this spell of Mr. Bat's that causes people to hunt (a great spell to clear a bunch of people out of a village so you could steal their stuff, if you ask me), and this Simple Hunting mechanic laid down by Mr. Talysman. I always dig what Talysman puts forth. His posts are often what I wish I could come up with instead of my own posts that are 80% material that only I find amusing, and maybe have 20% of something useful for anybody else. As I commented on his post, I think he's got a simple mechanic that is also nicely granular. But wilderness foraging rules still just stick in my craw, and I've touched on that once before when looking at the Joy of Cooking Grindhouse Edition.
In the comments to Tal's post I bitched about "Why is wilderness food-getting all hunting and no plant gathering?", and I said "Well when I'm in Belize I just go eat bush food and look at me I'm so special." What kind of a twat writes stuff that? But anyway, to me hunting game is just a big risk and big waste of time for the traveler. Here's my take on wilderness adventuring hunting.
First, why are you in the wilderness? You either have a specific goal to get to and you've decided it's quicker to risk going off-road to reach it, or you've got a vague sense that there's something in a general area and you've got to explore the hex until you find it. Or you got teleported there or whatever other deus ex machina scenario. [I have literally never played a hex crawl session, so please jump in and tell my why else you are in the wilderness.]
Second, why are you hunting? You ran out of rations, I guess. Is this bad planning? Lack of player skill? Or did something steal your rations, or they got rained on? Hmm. Well if it's either of the latter cases, the DM cares about not hand-waiving* the particulars of wilderness adventuring. If one has to resort to a hunting mechanic, simple or otherwise, one is probably the DM that wants grit and realism in the hexcrawl (or delights in another tool to throw shit at the PCs perhaps?). As a player, well, I'm going to buy so many iron rations and commission a 500gp sack for them that is both waterproof and has a chainmail outer lining before I play in your game.
The PC is hunting because he/she/it has no food. The player is hunting because the DM is stripping away attribute points like CON or STR (and CHA, obviously -- starving people are just NOT attractive), and probably HP. So I propose this axiom or something:
That's a problem with LabLord, which otherwise has a decent (i.e., plant-gathering option) mechanic: the penalties for starvation are left to the DM. Raggi's Grindhouse Rules (p.36) do give a mechanic, which is a Save vs. Poison each day or lose 1 CON. At the same time, he acknowledges the real problem is dehydration -- Save or CON is at half.
Note that I'm not proposing any mechanics myself. First off I'm too busy, otherwise lazy and stupid to do so. Second, I don't see the realism that it would add as adding fun overall. Any hunting mechanic must exchange PC time for caloric returns. That's at some cost of movement rates through the wilderness. Depending on the starvation mechanic, in most real situations one is better off just moving on toward the goal rather than spending time and energy chasing game they may not catch, i.e, get out of the wilderness. Time spent hunting is also time for Wandering Monsters to appear. They may either kill you or solve your starvation problem by becoming food. At worst, I envision a space where the party has to devote all their time to hunting rather than moving, and so end up in a positive feedback loop that locks them into sitting in place and not adventuring because they need to devote all their time to hunting. Sucks to that ass-mar.
Why hunt when you can gather?
I'm an archaeologist, and I draw on the anthropological traditions of cultural ecology and what is typically called human behavioral ecology in my work, among a billion other things. Before starting this post , I went back to some classics looking for data to show why hunting shouldn't take precedence over plant gathering. And I got confused. Here's a classic on Ache foraging by Hawkes et al. (1982)** that shows that deer and peccary are the highest ranked resources they encounter in Paraguay, and most plants and insects are lower ranked:
i/hi is energy per handling time by resource, and E/t is energy return per time invested in foraging given the breadth of resources in the diet (i.e., the return at rank 4 is for a diet that includes resources ranked 1-4 inclusive). It happens that plants are more abundant, so the encounter rate for these resources is higher than for game, but in this group of foragers a lot of the diet is made up of game (about 75% during the period of this study). But it's important that as the diet breadth increases, (the number of resources acquired from rank 1 to rank 12 increases), the average returns of foraging per hour increase. So all the stuff from rank 7 to 10, including the larvae, birds, palm products, capuchin monkeys, lead to overall higher average returns.
These returns are in kcal/hr, so for a 2000 kcal/day diet, this is going to mean ~2.5 hr foraging/PC/day when plants and all the better stuff is included (~800 kcal/hr return). If you only take big game (the two 1st ranked resources) and ignore other foods, you'll get big caloric returns when you bag them, but the hourly return rate goes down to ~100 kcal/hr, so it's going to take 8 times as long if you're picky. That assumes you're in Paraguay and you're with subsistence foragers, or have a good ranger, etc.
If you added the costs involved in devoting so much time to hunting, like random monsters encounters with no loot reward, some other plot-related time-crunch, then all of these things get shifted around. More time spent foraging = more bad stuff, and therefore PCs are foolish to go for the big kill. They should get on to their goal, and not sink time into hunting big game. But again, the DM and the players need to know the costs of starvation for these types of evaluation and decision-making to have any meaning.
And next time I put my money where my mouth is: The Spawn of Endra cooks gopher soup in Belize.
*Is it hand-waving or hand-waiving? Discuss on spellingpedantry.com.
** The reference is: Kristen Hawkes, Kim Hill, & James F. O'Connell. (1982).Why Hunters Gather: Optimal Foraging and the Aché of Eastern Paraguay. American Ethnologist, Vol. 9, No. 2, Economic and Ecological Processes in Society and Culture, pp. 379-398.