Code/Switch – Roll vs Malnutrition

Hi, my name is James and welcome to Code/Switch. Today I want to talk about food. What do your characters eat in Pathfinder? Are their meals always lavish Heroes Feasts, or do you just eat whatever you kill raw and bloody? The answer I usually get when I ask this question is “I dunno, trail rations? Alcohol? Just let me seduce this cabbage salesman.” Pathfinder has trail rations specially made for core races, and a general one for humans that contains bread, dried meat, and dried fruit. Today on Code/Switch I’m going to do a nutritional analysis of that standard trail ration and we’ll figure out how sick your average adventurer can get!

Oh no, that’s too sick!


Malnutrition is a spectrum, not just bad or good. Malnutrition can be acute, taking place over a short period of time, or it can be chronic, indicating a longer condition. Malnutrition can also be separated into 2 mega-groups that can overlap; macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are things you need a lot of; carbohydrates, water, proteins, and fats. Micronutrients are things you only need a little of at a time like vitamins and minerals. Considering the human body needs to ingest ~30 micronutrients, 2 fatty acids, 9 essential amino acids and a host of other things too boring to mention, it’s easy to become malnourished on even a healthy looking spread.

According to Pathfinder Core Rulebook a trail ration is enough food for a day and weighs 1 pound. A trail ration contains the above mentioned bread, jerky, and dried fruit. Just my intuition but this already seems lacking. To double check myself I’m going to put this ration into the USDA’s food tracker and we’re going to do a nice, sloppy metabolic need equation to see an adventurer’s nutritional need. The Core Rulebook doesn’t give proportions, I’m going to assume the ration is half-bread by weight, a quarter by weight meat and a quarter by weight dried fruit. The specific bread mentioned in the Core Rulebook is hardtack, which you can only find at specialty stores now. It’s basically a cracker made with just flour and water. The closest analogs that we can buy today are water biscuits, which are used in the calculations. I also selected a dried fruit mix to represent the wide mix that these rations come in, also so I didn’t have to redo this with each and every fruit.

Voila! Here’s the report!

Ignore the 2,000kcal assessment at the top, because we’re going to calculate that separately, but this ration already looks like a recipe for malnutrition. We’re under the required needs for 5 of the 9 listed minerals, and 8 out of the 12 listed vitamins.  Using the Harris-Benedict equation and average human values from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook the average human would need around 3,764 calories a day, slightly higher is male, slightly lower by male (+/- 200). This ration provides just shy of 1700 calories, under half of what our adventurers would need on an average adventuring day! Not to mention as an adventurer your butt is going to get kicked. The Harris-Benedict equation only works up to the needs of pro-athletes, not people who are in a constant state of healing wounds and contracting diseases. For example the iron intake is just shy of need, but that need would be higher for someone who drops a pint of blood on the ground every day. Just from this assessment we see that the adventurer is at risk for: Marasmus, VAD, Hypocalcaemia, Hypokalemia, Vitamin E Deficiency, Weakened Bones, and literal Scurvy.

Hopefully this inspires you to treat your characters nicer, and the next time your GM asks you “What are you eating?” you give an answer beyond “Trail rations”. Seriously, they could make you roll for scurvy.

James Ballod

James blossomed into geekdom like a piranha plant in the crack of a sidewalk. Watered by the muscle-brained lore of Warhammer 40,000 and nurtured in the rough bosom of World of Warcraft, tabletop RPGs came late in life to James. The rich lore and real-world influences in games like Pathfinder inspire James to explore them from every angle. When not being an annoying anime-fanboy he can be found discussing the history of various cuisines and over-analyzing real world influences in works of fiction.

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