Saturday, January 5, 2019

Crossrant: Feeding the Horde (Armies and Starvation in Twilight: 2000)

So a week or so ago, Wayne of Wayne's Books posted on the "Twilight 2000" MeWe group in a post entitled "Mouths to Feed" about his party's return to Warsaw and their involvement in assisting resolve conflict in Kamiensk between the villagers created by the imminent food shortage for the several thousands of troops in Piotrkow. As I'd just worked through my Foraging post with calculations for a lone traveller and a small group typical of a starting T2k campaign, I commented that by my reckoning, a large force of soldiers cannot live off the land according to the RAW.  This post outlines my discussion of this with examples based on the previous post, so for a more detailed discussion of the assumptions and "working out" I suggest you read that one first!

Armies may be able to distil their own fuel, mechanics may allow their vehicles to have regular maintenance, but no army marches on an empty stomach.

And an army is a *lot* of mouths to feed.

Even in the Twilight World, the remains of regular units can comprise hundreds, even thousands of men, and need to settle in areas of sparse population and limited resources. This can not only be a burden on the local villagers in terms of harassment and demands of supplies for "protection" - but it can also be fatal. Feeding a horde, for that's what such irregular collections of soldiers and/or marauders resemble, is a difficult task and one which living off the land by foraging helps only minimally.

Let's look at some assumptions and work from there:

  • Each soldier requires 3kg of wild food (or 2kg of "civilised" food) per day
  • A human on foot can travel 20/20 (a 20km hex on Jed McClure's hexmaps) in a 4-hour period
  • Any given 1km square area of land can only be foraged once per month before becoming depleted

Like the previous food-related post, I'll be assuming the groups are travelling without animals as feeding and upkeep of animals will require a whole separate discussion and post - horses and mules require significant amounts of grain in addition to grazing for two periods each day but don't use the Fatigue rules so are essentially a separate "mini-game" in themselves...

Recap: Foraging for One (or a Few)

Finding food from the surrounding countryside isn't automatic - it's a Survival:DIFF task, and one that yields either twice the amount of required food per day (Woods/Scrub in Summer and Fall) or nothing. A character with a Survival Asset of 10 (ie Novice/Experienced) therefore operates at 50% efficiency and can find enough food in a single 4-hour period for themselves on average every other day to last the next 2 days. Even if the character is successful every day whether due to luck or better skill, the character can at most forage enough food for an extra week's supply or for one other character. Spending an extra period foraging doubles the amount, but on average the amount of wild food obtained is still only sufficient for 2 characters or at most 4 characters.

If the conditions are less favourable ie the Survival Asset is lower eg 5 or less, this drops off considerably and an individual character can survive off the land on half rations and suffer a Fatigue penalty until they have a full day's food.

Surviving outside of Woods/Scrub is very hard - even with the "best case" scenario of success every day for 2 two 4-hour periods over a week, a character foraging in Meadows (or Swamp) in Summer or Fall, collects only 4kg of food per day, sufficient for one character for the week or half-rations for themselves and an additional character. Outside of the favourable seasons, this drops off to barely enough food to eat at half-rations for a few days or to no food at all (Winter in Meadows or Fields).

As long as the character is moving, and even if a small group remains stationary for a week, the surrounding countryside can potentially provide sufficient foraging opportunities (see earlier post). It's when the group gets larger that it starts running into trouble and depleting the land, particularly if it is forced to not move to distil fuel for its vehicles.

Larger Groups and Depletion

So let's look at an example of how the foraging rules scale and how depletion and encounters become limiting factors. The RAW state a particular 1km square area can only be foraged once per month before becoming depleted, so for any particular group, the rate the maximum available area to forage becomes depleted depends on three factors:

  • How fast the group is moving
  • How many individuals in the group
  • How many foragers per day
  • How many foraging attempts per day

The skill level or Survival Asset of any individual forager is irrelevant to the depletion rate - the success or failure affects the amount of food obtained over a given time period, but each attempt at foraging depletes a 1km square area regardless of the result.

Example: a group of 200 Soviet deserters (the remains of a MRD) are travelling overland by road through a Scrub area in Fall on their way back to Russia, accompanied by a few 5-ton trucks with trailers carrying medium stills and their extra equipment. They are not carrying extra fuel, so they need to stop and distil alcohol intermittently for a few days to keep the vehicles running. Fuel reserves have run out so they stop to distil more fuel and attempt to forage for food to survive for the next few days. 
Assuming each has a Survival Asset of 10, and forages for two 4-hour periods in a day in addition to sleeping, guard duty, maintenance and other activities for the other four periods, they will produce on average of 6kg of wild food each, totalling 1200kg or enough to feed each soldier for the day and the next day. Even if all 200 are successful, they obtain 2400kg of wild food, sufficient for each soldier for the next 4 days. If the season is Spring the amount of food is halved and the group only obtains food enough for each soldier for that day. If the group is travelling through a Meadow (or Swamp) instead, they'll only each gather enough food for a half-ration for that day (400kg) or if *all* soldiers are successful, enough food for each of them at full-rations for that day. In Winter, they will barely be able to forage a half-rations worth of wild food each.
Each foraging attempt incidentally provokes and Encounter check, so even if the soldeirs split into small groups of 10 or so that maintain within close range and/or radio contact, this means an additional 10 encounters above the base single encounter check for the main camp that day (calculated as 2 periods x 50% chance x 10 groups of foragers).
This foraging will also deplete a 400km square area in a single day, slightly less ie 8/9th of the area of a 20km hex (450km square) on Jed McClure's Hexmaps of Poland, but near enough to a single hex for our purposes. As all these 1km square foraging spaces are not overlapping, many of the soldiers will have to walk up to 10km to and from their foraging area to access the more distance spaces - for the purposes of the example, let's assume this amounts to at most another 4-hour period for about half the soldiers, enough to make it a limiting factor to suggest three 4-hour periods is unusual but not enough to have to break down into further detail or provoke additional encounters. 
Once the area is depleted, the large group is forced to move on at least 20km each day if it wishes to keep foraging as accessing the surrounding area becomes impractical and possibly dangerous.

This means that to feed every 400 mouths, a group will deplete a roughly 20km hex's area of food for the next month (using exact calculations, 450 mouths per 20km hex) assuming Woods/Scrub and a favourable season eg Summer or Fall. Even then, this calculation assumes each forager has at least a Survival asset of 50% - while specialised foragers help slightly, the sheer amount of mouths to feed is the overriding factor and there are only at most 3-4 available foraging sessions in a day (accounting for sleep and travel to foraging sites). Smaller foraging groups don't actually change the depletion rate, they just increase the number of encounters and make each encounter potentially riskier.

Any more mouths than 400 (exact 450) or any less favourable conditions requires a proportionate increase in available foraging area and will often provide only enough food for half-rations for each soldier. This will effectively necessitate moving beyond the occupied 20km hex and add travel time (and therefore the risk of encounters) to the calculation.

More Mouths to Feed

Piotrkow Environs
Let's now look at the "Piotrkow Situation" from Wayne's campaign:

  • there are 3600 men of the Soviet 124th MRD needing food for the Winter
  • many of the soldiers are listless with hunger already (Fatigue penalties from starvation)
  • the Soviet 20th TD in Łódź apparently has no extra food supplies
  • the food tax request for 2 tons is barely enough for half rations for one day
  • including the main hex, there are six 20km hexes around Piotrkow, 5 of which are clearly Woods
  • the town of Kamienks lies ~30km south ie ~6 hours of travel on foot (1-day return trip possible)

Note: I'd estimate the civilian population of Piotrkow in October 2000 at perhaps ~800 at most - this is based on an arbitrary rule of thumb of 1/100th of the circa 2000 population, which is similar to the 2018 data as the population of Poland has not shifted significantly since the 1990s.

Even discounting the civilian population and dismissing that the built-up area is probably not useful for foraging, that the available foraging area is ~3000km square (7 x450km square). This calculation assumes the neighbouring towns aren't also foraging this area or the hinterland hasn't already been foraged out for the month.

So in Fall (October 15th to be exact per Wayne's post), assuming 6kg of food is available per square km (Wood/Scrub) and the foragers are 50% successful, the whole area produces ~9 tons of wild food, almost but not quite enough for each soldier to eat for one day before being the area is completely depleted for the month. Even with the theoretical maximum  100% foraging success rate, the maximum yield is only 18 tons of wild food, enough for a single day for each soldier at full rations and maybe a day or two at half rations.   

This is for the *best* case scenario of terrain and season combination.

Once Winter descends, there's negligible food available by foraging for a group this size.

So failing an external food supply, starvation sets in (or more likely continues)...

Example (cont.): In Wayne's post, there is a comment about the soldiers are already listless with hunger - this is highly likely, because of the Soviet 124th MRD has run out of food or running out of food as suggested, at least some of its soldiers will actually be starving. Unlike subsisting on half rations, where the penalty is only the equivalent of 1 Fatigue level (-1 on all Attributes), starving characters lose 1 from each Attribute per day without food down to a score of 1 in each Attribute (T2k v2.2, p 148) until they start eating a full ration per day. 
Restoring fatigue levels occurs at the rate of one per day of full rations eaten, so a starved character with normal average attributes (score of 4-6, total 32) reduced to Attributes of 1 will take about a week or so to fully recover even on full rations. 
This means that once the 124th runs out of food, it will take about a week or so for it's soldiers to be reduced to near incapacity and they will die in about a month unless given at least a full week's ration of food. It's only a matter of time unless they can secure a source of food to last them through the Winter months and Spring.
That's 320 tons per month of wild food over 1000 tons for the Winter...

Fishing, grenade fishing, hunting and barter are all options to obtain food but as discussed previously the first two have only a supplementary benefit and grenade fishing expends military resources. Hunting can have significant yields for small groups but the benefit of large amounts of meat per animal drops off when larger groups >100 people are considered and the additional risk of encounters is factored in. Bartering is plausible for small groups but quickly becomes difficult if not impossible for large numbers such as several hundred soldiers or more.

Carrying enough food to feed a large group of soldiers while travelling becomes a logistics issue - wild food for a month is ~100kg, more than a soldier can carry themselves....

The Fields of Dreams

So maybe fields are the answer?

In the Fall, a "foraging" character can automatically gather 50kg of wild food per 4-hour period without a die roll and separating out the accompanying 50kg chaff, which can then be used to distil methanol. Being wild food, this is sufficient to supply a single soldier at full rations for 2 weeks - vastly more efficient than foraging in Woods/Scrub if fields are available.

Fields don't appear to have a depletion rule - the text states the character can gather "as much as they can carry", so the limitation to total yield appears to be the number of harvesters and the area of fields available to harvest.

Example (cont): the hex that Kamiensk sits in has a total area of 450km square so assuming this is *all* fields for simplicity, a group of 450 harvesters can obtain ~20 tons of wild food in a 4-hour period, enough to supply the 3600 soldiers of the 124th MRD for two days at full rations. Two weeks of harvesting once per day will therefore produce enough food for the whole Soviet 124th MRD to eat for a month, or the unit can send a detachment to harvest food for 8 hours a day for a week with a similar result. Harvesting this area of fields for 8 hours a day for the month yields enough food for 4 months - enough for the whole unit to survive the Winter and the first month of Spring (March). 

Essentially a 20km hex full of fields harvested for 8 hours a day by a maximum of 450 people can produce ~40 tons of wild food in the Fall (halved in Summer), enough to feed those 450 people at full rations for a month. In Summer, enough is produced to provide half-rations for a month. Fewer people harvesting just means that the number of people that can be fed for a month is reduced, the number of days of harvesting needs to be increased or alternatively, the number of weeks of the food supply is decreased proportionately.

  • A field 1/10th the size of the 20km hex ie 45km square (about 7km by 7km) will produce enough wild food for each of 45 people for a month - this is not an unreasonable size field for a typical settlement and means that for a town of 800 people that 3 weeks of harvesting will produce enough food to last a month at full rations or two months at half-rations.
  • A 64km square field (8km by 8km) at 1/7th the area of the 20km hex (7 smaller hexes fitting into the normal sized hex, about the size of the city of Kalisz) yields enough food in 8 hours for 64 people for a month, 32 people for 2 months (or 2 days harvesting for 64 people), 16 people for 4 months (or 4 days harvesting for 64 people), or 8 people for 8 months (8 days / 1 week harvesting for 64 people). For a settlement of 800 people, 2 weeks produces enough food to last a full month.

The area of fields in a cantonment or taxed by a military unit needed to supply the group for a 4 month period after a single 8-hour day of harvesting in the Fall can be readily determined as 4x the size of the group in km square. Smaller fields or harvesting in Summer requires more days spent harvesting to achieve the same yield in proportion.

The above suggests that "harvesting" (or if you prefer raiding, pillaging or taxing) the produce from fields is really the only workable solution to avoid starvation for large groups of soldiers in the Twilight World. This sets up stories of conflict and negotiation with farmers that intensify as Winter approaches - once sufficient food is obtained, there's really little incentive to return to the village until before the crops are ready to "harvest" for the next Winter...

Let's go back to the "Piotrkow Situation":

Example (cont.): let's say the Kamiensk fields occupy a 64km square area and thus an 8 hour day of harvesting yields enough wild food for 32 people for 2 months, 6400kg in total. This is about 1/100th of the food needed for the 124th MRD to survive on half rations through the Winter and into April. As there are six weeks left until Winter, if the harvesting occurs every day for 8 hours, there is a maximum remaining yield of 270 tons of food, just enough for half-rations for the Soviet soldiers. This is barely enough for the soldiers to survive into the Spring and does not leave any food for the villagers, unless they have already stockpiled food or supplemented their stores with hunting and fishing.

So feeding an army or group of thousands of men is hard, *really* hard.

Feeding a town of a few hundred people with reasonable fields is not only possible but even likely to produce a surplus over the harvesting months, making the fields and stores of such settlements very attractive targets to small groups of wanderers in need of food.

Follow this link to the Field Harvesting Google Spreadsheet calculator I've developed to help calculate the yield of food from any given harvesting attempt (season, harvesters, days spent).


I draw the following conclusions about Food for larger groups ie. groups larger than the typical player party of a dozen or fewer characters:

  • Feeding up to 450 mouths per day while living off the land in Summer/Fall is difficult, but not impossible as long as the group keeps moving as it depletes the forage area in its immediate vicinity. This usually necessitates travel by foot rather than by vehicles, although vehicles may accompany the column if sufficient fuel stores are carried. Assumptions for this optimal scenario include Survival Asset of 10 for each forager and Woods/Scrub terrain.
  • Living off the land outside of the optimal scenario above (limited foraging resources, other terrains) is very difficult for larger groups of several hundred travellers and they must carry extra food even if foraging, particularly if they are travelling with vehicles and need to spend periods stationary to distil fuel.
  • Towns of several hundred civilians require significant areas of fields to support their food requirements - this equates to several weeks work by a proportion of the working population as each day spent harvesting a square km of field produces only enough wild food to last a single person on full rations a month in Fall and half-rations in Summer.
  • Large groups of soldiers with more than 1000 troops simply can't live off the land or barter easily for bulk quantities of food and must rely on fields to obtain their food supplies, whether by negotiation or force. Carrying sufficient food becomes a limiting factor, requiring either animals or vehicles to assist.


  1. As a side note for foraging in Poland, a lot of local people forage for berries and mushrooms during spring and summer. This is practically a tradition as it has been happening for many, many decades and many of them would sell their finds in little stalls (or from their cars) by the roadside. I believe this would further reduce the chances of locating food in a T2k scenario as any troops would have to compete against Polish people who have local knowledge of the area and the best forage sites.

  2. Hmmm interesting - I haven’t accounted directly for civilians foraging (I have assumed they grow crops) but that’s got a few story seeds in it I reckon...