The Hurt Locker: Iron Rations – A Compleat Guide to Victualing in Ye Olde Dungeon, Part I

Guest Post by S. A. Fisher

For many dungeon delvers, the goal is simple: kick in the door, fight the monster, and loot the room. Rinse and repeat. For them, a week’s worth of “iron rations” and a water skin is more than enough detail to account for how they survive on their adventures outside of immediate combat. This is a fine gaming tradition, but it’s not the only way to approach the issue. This article is for those who want to account for life in the dungeon in a bit more detail (or for those who want a good list of paraphernalia for when the adventurers loot the remains of anotheradventuring party!).

Note that it will become quickly apparent that a thinking party of adventurers will need to become acquainted with mules, horses, and donkeys to carry the weight of their rations (see p.18 of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 16 Wilderness Adventures for a handy table of animals, prices, and their Basic Lift). At a cost of $1,000 to $2,000 per animal, it gets expensive fast. The GM who wants to encourage this accounting might simply give each adventurer, or the party, a mount, perhaps as part of the “deal” struck with the mysterious stranger in the tavern. The GM could also offer the player 5 character points if they write a PC’s detailed backstory or a description of his appearance, to be spent on cash (and only for food, expedition gear, and animals), or possibly on a low-level Cook ally! 

What’s the point of dungeon delving if you can’t eat fine fare and drink finer wine?

Ye Olde Iron Ration
This is the perennial dungeon adventurer’s favorite – a days’ worth of traveling food wrapped in wax-paper and sealed inside a lightweight tin box. If kept cool it will keep for weeks or even months without spoiling.

The food generally requires no cooking, or at most very minimal cooking skills. The tin is a useful plate and cookpot. The flour, oats, etc. can be eaten cold straight from the tin – a bit of water and honey makes a passable porridge. Flour can be formed into a paste and fried into a bread on the ration box lid, or formed into a thick dough and wrapped around a stick and cooked over a campfire as a firecake, etc.
The iron ration menu varies on a basic theme, see below, and is never written on the outside (roll 1d when each meal is opened). GMs are encouraged to create their own menus; simply switch out one or two of the components listed below for new ones. Some contend that there is code written somewhere on the tin which describes the contents…but if there is it is a well-guarded secret! (Perhaps it’s a campaign Perk.)
Each meal comes with a sundries pack and the famous “surprise,” too! See below. One day of meals is $6, 1.5 lb., or “a week’s iron rations” can be had at a slight discount: $40 and 10.5 lbs.
1) Ansuz:
Butter, 1 ounce.
Nuts and Raisins, 4 ounces.
Cheese, 1 ounce.
Pemmican, 8 ounces.
Wheat Flour Hardtack, 4 ounces.
Honey, 4 ounces.
Dried Cod, 2 ounces.
2) Berkano:
Butter, 1 ounce.
Nuts and Raisins, 4 ounces.
Cheese, 1 ounce.
Bacon, 2 ounces.
Wheat Flour, 4 ounces.
Oats, 4 ounces.
Honey, 2 ounces.
Dried Cod, 6 ounces.
3) Dagaz:
Olive Oil, 2 ounces.
Nuts and Raisins, 4 ounces.
Bacon, 2 ounces.
Semolina, 4 ounces.
Wheat Flour Hardtack, 6 ounces.
Honey, 4 ounces.
Salami, 2 ounces.
4) Ehwaz:
Olive Oil, 2 ounces.
Nuts and Raisins, 4 ounces.
Cheese, 2 ounces.
Wheat Flour, 4 ounces.
Oats, 4 ounces.
Honey, 4 ounces.
Salami, 4 ounces.
5) Fehu:
Butter, 1 ounce.
Nuts and Raisins, 2 ounces.
Pickled Egg, 2 ounces.
Cheese, 1 ounce.
Pemmican, 8 ounces.
Wheat Flour, 4 ounces.
Honey, 4 ounces.
Dried Cod, 2 ounces.
6) Gebo:
Butter, 1 ounce.
Nuts and Raisins, 2 ounces.
Pickled Egg, 2 ounces.
Cheese, 1 ounce.
Pemmican, 8 ounces.
Wheat Flour, 4 ounces.
Honey, 4 ounces.
Salami, 2 ounces.
Sundries Pack
Each iron ration has a thin flat wooden spoon; a toothpick infused with peppermint oil; a small folded paper packet of black pepper, and one of salt; a tiny greased paper vial of (1-2) spicy vinegar, (3-4) mushroom ketchup, or (5-6) cane syrup; and either a (1-3) small pickle or (4-6) a bite-sized morsel of chocolate. If the lucky recipient rolls two sixes on those two rolls, it’s a special sundry pack with one of the following instead (roll 1d):

1. A penny whistle.
2. A peppermint stick.
3. A tiny envelope of tobacco and one alchemist match.
4. An envelope of sugar and powdered chocolate.
5. A greased paper vial of the legendary ghost pepper hot sauce.
6. A vial with a shot of hard liquor (rum, whiskey, schnapps, etc.).
The Iron Ration Surprise
Every iron ration includes a “prize” inside. This is a small sheet of rough pulp paper with message of some sort hand-written on it. It may be a recipe, a handy bit of Survival knowledge, a doggerel verse unfit for the ears of goblins, women, or children, a bit of religious scripture, a silly image or joke, or a bit of witticism from a cast of famous characters (e.g., “Elphaz the Mighty says to never approach a dragon from the front, a hippogriff from behind, or a fool from any direction.”) Iron ration merchants contend “these little gifts enliven the meal and bring a smile to even the most hardened dungeoneer’s face,” but they’ve also been known to start plenty of fights and annoy the party to no end. Of course, when the meal is finished, the pulp paper is good for the usual uses, too.

Pinky Pastries
Six small finger cakes packed into a tin. They are not meant as a “proper” meal, but rather are designed to break the monotony of trail rations with rich, sweetened, delicacies. They are made from crushed elven ration wafers, plus expensive spices and sweets, and thus are quite pricey – and lightweight and long-lasting. Every pastry looks identical on the outside, but the fillings vary. Roll 1d6 for each of the six pastries in the box.
                1. Frost pudding: refreshing mint. A favorite or frost giants and ice worms.
                2. Red mold: spicy cinnamon. An orc favorite.
                3. Black jelly: licorice. Beloved by horses and donkeys.
                4. Green fungus: apple tart. Elves and forest creatures prefer them.
                5. Yellow ooze: lemon tart. Basilisks love them, mistaking them for weasel urine.
                6. Blue spore: blueberry. Gnomish delight.
Each cake has its fans, and they are reputed to be irresistible bait for traps and snares. GMs are encouraged to inflict – err, makeup – their own flavors. Mages, of course, realize the pastries are an excellent correspondence for certain dungeon monsters and use them in spell components. On the darker side, they have become an unfortunate addiction for some delvers; it’s not uncommon to find a washed up old paladin or cleric begging for yellow ooze or blue spore in the back allies of the adventurers’ quarter. The pastries are tiny but filling; each pastry counts as a meal. $60, 1 lb.

Merry Mouths
These are “toothbreakers,” “hard cracks,” “hard boilers,” “soor plooms,” “burwick cockles,” and so forth – the hard candies and confections sold in bulk by iron ration merchants. Each one is either a hard crunchy candy (1-3) or a chewy, gum-like resin (4-6). Both types come in the following flavors (roll 2d):

1,1, Almond 
1,2, Anise
1,3, Apple
1,4, Banana
1,5, Black Licorice
1,6, Blueberry
2,1, Blue Raspberry 
2,2, Butterscotch 
2,3, Caramel
2,4, Caramel Apple 
2,5, Caramel Vanilla
2,6, Caramel Chocolate
3,1, Cherry 
3,2, Cinnamon 
3,3, Coconut
3,4, Coffee
3,5, Cotton
3,6, Dark Chocolate
4,1, Dark Chocolate Peanut
4,2, Grape
4,3, Honey
4,4, Hot & Spicy
4,5, Lemon
4,6, Mango
5,1, Orange
5,2, Orange Vanilla
5,3, Peach
5,4, Pina Colada
5,5, Peanut
5,6, Peppermint
6,1, Pineapple
6,2, Raspberry
6,3, Red Licorice
6,4, Spearmint 
6,5, Strawberry  
6,6, Watermelon

The dungeons have their uses, they say. Delvers know that some clans, guilds, and tribes have been known to adopt a flavor of merry mouth as their own, and sometimes even demand (partial) payment in them – they are the perfect Quirk, in other words. The right flavors can be used to bribe guards, children, pets, innkeepers, etc. The can be fed to watchdogs, used to mark a trail in a tunnel, or spread on the ground where the unsuspecting might step on them and cause them to crack loudly and warn of danger. The gummy ones are very sticky when half-chewed and can be used to repair boats, wineskins, or if suspended from a string, to pick up a coin, key, etc. that is out of reach.
A GM may, optionally, assign each of the candies a low dose medicinal effect from those listed in GURPS Low-Tech, pp. 150-151. Thus a candy flavor might correspond to its secondary use as carminative, emetic, purgative, etc. Note that in most cases it makes sense for a “dose” to be 5-10 candies, rather than just one. Keep in mind that the candies could be prepared as infusions, poultices, etc. and really are just tiny bundles of herbs and extracts. Feel free to let the PCs figure this out on their own. Tasty and powerful!

A pound of the candies (about 75 of them) costs $5.
Posted in The Hurt Locker and tagged , , , .


  1. Maybe you can do that. 🙂 Mr. Fisher was kind enough to write *Pyramid* quality material for my blog (the two posts were almost 2,500 words!) and asking him to write more would be a bit selfish of me.

  2. Hat's off to Fisher here! This is the kind of write up that I love to see! I would of never thought to go in to detail over what's in a ration tin but something like this just adds so much flavor (if you'll pardon the pun) and character to a setting. I can just see a bunch of delvers sitting around a campfire trading their rations for their favorite ones just like a lot of military units do in field. This is the little stuff that goes a long way.

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