I'm thinking about a campaign/setting with an emphasis on the gruelling: a mid- to post-apocalyptic setting where the crawl is a real all-fours crawl and half-mouldy bread constitutes fabulous treasure: where food is the constant driver of activity and where hideous, monstrous things test the party's mental and spiritual stability on a regular basis. More to come sometime on what this setting - which in my head is called The Starving Lands - is like.
But for now, such a setting - and maybe your own campaigns - needs a way to keep track of the PCs' physical and mental togetherness: stamina and sanity, let's call them. These are rules to replace 5e's exhaustion system (stamina) and optional sanity system (sanity), neither of which I much like for a campaign that's going to heavily focus on these ideas. Stamina and sanity aren't like hit points: they're less finely graded and less easily lost and won. But nor are they like ability scores: they're more changeable than that, and they're not used for checks in quite the same way. They do relate to ability scores though, thus -
A character's starting (and max) stamina = their combined STR, DEX and CON stat bonuses
A character's starting (and max) sanity = their combined INT, WIS and CHA stat bonuses
So this will give most characters something like half a dozen of each, to begin with. As for losing them, there are five set ways -
Starvation – you lose 1 stamina every 12 hours you don't eat
Exhaustion – you lose 1 stamina every 24 hours you don't sleep, and 1 sanity every 48 hours
Suffering – you lose 1 stamina every time you drop to 0HP
Grief – you lose 1 sanity every time another PC dies
Darkness – you lose 1 sanity for every 48 hours without seeing sunlight
Additionally, any number of in-game effects may cause you to lose one or both things, occasionally automatically but usually by testing. When tested, roll under your current total on a d10 (usually) or lose 1. A 10 is always a fail.
Instances in which you might lose stamina -
- Engaging in a long fight
- Force-marching a long distance
- Being poisoned or diseased
Instances in which you might lose sanity -
- Witnessing a massacre/atrocity
- Fighting something unearthly or horrific
- Being cursed
Once either drops below zero, things begin to happen: in the case of stamina, generally exhaustion-like debuffs, in the case of sanity generally random negative traits of increasing severity. Tables for these things to come. Eventually these things lead not to death but to am irrecoverable collapse that is basically equivalent – coma (stamina) or catatonia (sanity). In the Starving Lands, death is not the only fate that ends you.
As for how to get these back up? Depends on how gruelling the campaign style is. I envision the Starving Lands as being a slow spiral into insanity and death for everyone (though a clever and ruthless party could keep their heads above water for a good long time on these parameters) , with only the occasional way to boost these stats back up, to make it something really worth putting in the effort for. Mostly these would be quest-linked: I think the only fixed one would be that each stat (but not the max) increases by one every time a PC levels up. This brings home the seriousness: you can't just sleep off a bout of massive psychic trauma, but you can maybe claw something back through redemptive heroism.