Designer’s Notes: Low-Tech Transportation


First, let me preface this with the following: Steven Marsh was even more of a freaking hero than normal. That man is the Patron Saint of Long-Suffering Editorial Work. Seriously, we need to get him canonized or something. I turned in a draft that could have been better, but the timeline just wouldn’t allow it. This is also the impetus of my new rule: If I don’t have at least two months of fine-tuning on a super-crunchy article I will not be submitting it. It was too much headache for the editorial staff and way too much pressure. I don’t mind a challenge, but when it spills over on others – that bothers me. Immensely.

That out of the way I really must say that this was half of an article (this article in particular – see the Designer’s Notes here) that I cut out to make its own thing. This was the first time I’d ever did this. I think in part, this was why it contributed to the somewhat-disaster that the first copy was. I ironed out a lot of those kinks, but some persisted like delaminations in a freshly forged knife. I’m not proud of that. I screwed up. That sucks. But every time you screw up, it’s not that you didn’t succeed that it’s important, but rather that you continue onward and remember what you did wrong so you don’t do it again. It’s cliche, but true. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail at doing something, only that you don’t actually give up doing it.

So research on this was a right royal pain. I’d been gifted with many books from folks on the internet (thanks everyone that sent me research material!) which set the backbone of the article. (Note: I love digital books, being able to scroll and search are heavensent. Especially when doing research.) I must have spent days of man-hours reading and taking notes. I had some very thorough helpers (thanks Travis Foster and S. A. Fisher!) as we checked and rechecked various numbers from the article vs. historical examples. In the end, I settled on a playable solution. Gameable assumptions. Something the GM (or player) could use in just about any low-tech setting. I know that’s not going to prove popular with some folks and I think it was the right call to make. A big example of this is the use of a draft horse vs. a large mule in Transportation by Beast section. Historically, mules and donkey’s seem to have been the go to beast for moving wares. I went with the draft horse for pure game-mechanical reasons: it’s the same cost as a large mule, has a higher move, and a high ST. (It’s also pretty common to see a horse vs. a mule in movies and such.) No player in his right mind is going to choose the mule over the horse. It’s just not going to happen.

I’m pretty proud of the optional rules for riding too. The amazing and talented Elizabeth Platt Hamblin is a copy editor for the medical research field and owns several of her own equines. While she’s not a gamer (that I know of), I trust her opinion quite a bit. I took a few liberties with mechanical effects, but I think it’s a good balance between real life and what we see in popular culture.

One thing that did make me nervous were the rules for foundering. I must have spent 8-10 hours on that box alone…

The original version had lots and lots of equations and every single reviewer said it made their eyes bleed. So I switched over to tables at more or less the last minute. As Lucius Fox said in Batman Begins…

Bruce Wayne: Am I meant to understand any of that?
Lucius Fox: Not at all, I just wanted you to know how hard it was.

What else? Oh, I wanted to cover a more realistic treatment for food for horses and oxen, but I just didn’t have the room and LTC3 covered them pretty decently. So, a couple of quick notes:

Horses: This varies according to the activity level of the equine. In general, active horses need about (Total Body Weight x 0.014) in hay and about (Total Body Weight x 0.006) in grain. This is usually broken into two discrete feedings (morning and night). Nonworking horses (those who are stabled, but still get regular exercise) need about (Total Body Weight x 0.016) in hay and about (Total Body Weight x 0.004) in grain. Sedentary horses (those who are stabled and not exercised) need about (Total Body Weight x 0.018) in hay and about (Total Body Weight x 0.002) in grain. Total water intake on a daily basis is about 7 gallons for a 1,500 lb. specimen. Adjust from there based on weight ratio. For example, a sedentary horse that weighs 1,200 lbs. would need about 21.6 lbs of hay and 2.4 lbs. of grain, as well as 5.6 gallons of water. 

Oxen: Oxen need about (Total Body Weight x 0.012) in hay or grass and about (Total Body Weight x 0.006) in grain or corn silage. This is usually broken into two discrete feedings (morning and night). Total water intake on a daily basis is about 4 quarts per 100 lbs. of weight (twice that in hot or very dry climates). For example, an oxen that weighs 1,400 lbs. would need about 16.8 lbs of hay and 8.4 lbs. of grain, as well as 14 gallons of water

One thing I really wanted to cover (and didn’t) was the amount of food a person needed, as well as how they could overeat to be better equipped to deal with the leaner months. A somewhat bashed together example would have been:

Humans: A human needs about 2,500 to 3,300 calories per day depending on activity level. A sedentary subject needs around 2,500, a “normal” activity level is about 2,700, and a “high” activity level is about 3,300. Food, as a very rough estimate has about 4.5 calories per gram which translates to about 1.25 lbs. of food per person, per day. (I ignored age, but that too has a part to play). Divide that by three to determine the weight of an average meal. This can change radically depending on exactly what is being eaten. Fat is 9 cal/g, alcohol is 7 cal/g, protein and carbohydrates are 4 cal/g, organic acids (often found in food preservatives), sugar alcohol/artificial sweeteners are about 2.4 cal/g, and fiber are about 2 cal/g. For example, a diet high in fat and carbohydrates is going to have about 10.8 calories per gram and thus be about 0.5 lbs. of required food. This can vary according to weight as well. In general, 150 lbs. is an “average” weight and food values can be increased based on the subject’s weight ratio to that score. Water is a bit easier. On average, most people need about a half a gallon of water per day (about double in very hot or dry climates). This can change according to temperature and weight. As a general rule of thumb figure the weight ratio from average and add another 10% increase for water for every 5 degrees above 80 F the current environment is. Diseases such as diabetes, gout, polycythemia, and so on can add another 10% to 30% as well. For example, a 250 lb. man who is highly active will need 3,300 calories per day. Since he’s got a “balanced” diet he needs around 1.62 lbs. of food per day and needs around 3.34 quarts of water per day.

I didn’t include this because, honestly, there is so much wiggle room and even a generalized set of rules wouldn’t cover everything. Moreover, I couldn’t decide how to turn FP loss into weight for starvation that I liked. Best I could figure would be something like 1 FP equals about 0.62 lbs. of mass loss for the average guy (adjust for weight ratio for larger or smaller). This would be instead of losing FP, with every loss of 6.2 lbs. also knocking down a point of FP from starvation. That would then go on to give you an idea of how to put on weight for the lean months. But like I said, I couldn’t make it work the way I wanted so I left it out.

All in all it took me about 60 hours to write, 70 hours to edit, 50 hours worth of research, and 110 hours of revision. There must have been another 20 hours or so of looking over the semi-final PDF as well. I’m pretty proud of this one. It’s out of my normal wheelhouse, but it was something I wanted to do.

Posted in Designer's Notes and tagged , , , .


  1. I will have to check this issue out! I had been using Overland Travel rules from the Saga of Westmarch as my go-to travel rules thing for some time now.

    On mule v horse – I figure you're talking raw stats vs raw stats alone (so I'm not contesting your selection). It has been a while since I've worked with mules, hinnies, donkies, and horses, but there are a number of reasons why one would typically go with a mule. Firstly, they're not as fragile – they don't overeat/drink as readily, don't founder as easily, don't really require grain, are less panicky, and don't falter as much. Their leg bones are also stouter to my recollection. I have not read your article, so I don't know if that information is relevant, but someone might find it useful.

    2.3kCal seems like quite a lot, though as you say it does very wildly. Last time I ran the numbers, my "sedentary" was between 1.3k Cal and 1.4k Cal. But, I am not an especially tall or swol individual.

  2. Mule v Horse: Yes. Purely from a game-mechanics point of view. I figured it would be easy enough to do it the other way if folks wanted. As far as calories go – I need a minimum of 3,500 or get very sick. I may be morbidly obese (about 400 lbs.) and tall (6'5"), but my metabolism is very high (I have a suspected thiamine deficiency which seems to be the cause of the weight flux). I'm fairly sedentary. When I'm active I need around 6.6-7.0 kCal per day or I get sick. They are starting to unravel all the crap wrong with me – which it appears to be not so much as "wrong" but misunderstood. Anyways, check out the article and let me know what you think. 🙂

  3. I eat around 2600 Calories and exercise a smidge. That's half what I ate a few years back when hyperthyroidic. Literally, as I ate over 5k a day and was far more sedentary. But I am 215 lbs and 5'11, so not quite average male and female settler size.

  4. My doc started me off on 60 carbs a day and was bewildered when I grew sick. So she told me to eat what I was comforotable with – but not overeat. Over the course of several months my mother (who was helping me convalescence) helped me track the perfect amount – about 60-90 per meal (I typically eat more in the morning and less in the evening). Doc thought I was BSing her so she did a full work-up/metabolic panel and was surprised at the results. I also have a severe electrolyte deficiency – several enough that I have to take vitamins, eat a banana or two a day, take magnesium pills, AND put salt on like, everything I eat.

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