Exhaustion is Terrifying

A while back, I read this really fascinating book:

No really, it's actually super interesting
The central premise of the book is that we're loading our soldiers (and marines) down with waaaay too much stuff, and that this has far reaching tactical, strategic, and geopolitical implications. It was written after WWII, and if anything, we're doing even worse now. One of the really interesting findings highlighted in it come from some inter-war studies that showed people who are exhausted and people who are terrified respond to situations remarkably similarly. And being more of one makes you more likely to suffer from the other.

So what's this got to do with the D&Ds? I think it would be interesting to link up encumbrance and psychology, specifically fear.

The Awesome Power of Modular Mechanics to the Rescue

I'm already a fan of Arnold's sanity rules, and you can find my slight modification of them, with Darkest Dungeon style Quirks here. I'm also already a big fan of Gus's encumbrance and exhaustion rules you can find here, and Brendan's Overloaded encounter die, as filtered through Gus's Exploration Die. While I was thinking of the rules ideas below, it suddenly came to me that combining these gives us damn near everything we need, with very few tweaks.

Tweak 1 is that instead of "exhausted" and "encumbered" being two separate conditions (as Gus does it), I instead have encumbered characters add an extra exhaustion pip when the exploration die comes up "Exhausted".

The next addition is for Exhausted characters to be more likely to freak out if subjected to stress, and this one's easy: just apply the exhaustion penalty (-4 to all rolls) to the test to avoid a breakdown. If failed, flavor the breakdown more as terror/running away, and less as going nuts.

I toyed with the idea of increasing the number of stress points gained if a character is exhausted, but it seems to make more sense that people are more likely to freak out when exhausted, but not more likely to receive permanent trauma than they otherwise would be. You might consider a lower bar for inflicting a single stress point on exhausted characters, though - those bandits or hobgoblins might not normally cause your steely eyed heroes to flee, but he's too tired to deal with it or think clearly right now. Anyhow here's the rule itself

Exhaustion and Stress

Characters that are exhausted apply the -4 exhaustion penalty to rolls testing for a breakdown upon receiving stress points. Exhausted characters breaking down are more likely to drop excess weight and run than other kinds of breakdowns. Some situations that would not normally subject a character to stress will  do so for exhausted characters, at the referee's discretion.

Some Alternative or Supplementary Approaches

And I think that's it! For some alternate ideas on making exhaustion count for psychology if you don't use the exploration die, exhaustion, or sanity rules, or if you just want a different approach check these out that I brainstormed before settling on the above as my favorite:

  • For hirelings, every level of encumbrance penalizes morale checks by -1 (alternately, if using a binary encumbrance system, go with -2 for encumbered)
  • For PC's - you might give monsters that normally wouldn't have them "fear" effects, and intensify the effects of already fear-causing monsters (like the Warhammer progression from Fear to Terror).
  • Exhausted or encumbered PCs become subjected to morale checks. Adjudicating what failed morale means for PCs might be a bit challenging, but should probably require a retreat (not necessarily a panicked one) until a major change in situation (get somewhere safe or allies show up or whatever). Since PCs don't normally have morale scores,  calculate it with the following: 6 + Level/3, rounded up, with a max of 10 - or use this table:

Level 1-3: Morale 7
Level 4-6: Morale 8
Level 7-9: Morale 9
Level 10+: Morale 10