Food Rations

By Shamus Posted Friday Nov 23, 2007

Filed under: Tabletop Games 80 comments

Shawn and I were working on Chainmail Bikini this week when we realized we had no idea what the classic D&D “food rations” should look like. These are some of the most common objects in the game, and yet we never see them.

The only time I’ve seen them depicted is in the 1990 game Eye of the Beholder. Someone actually has a screenshot of the game which shows the food rations here.

I’ve sort of carried this image with me since then, although I hadn’t thought about it until Shawn brought it up. In that game they look sort of like a square wrapped in brown paper and tied up with a + of white string. I suppose I’ve always pictured them them this way. This suggests that most adventure parties have people carrying around wads of brown paper and loose string in their packs, or that most parties are made up of rampant litterbugs. (Maybe this is another difference between Lawful and Chaotic characters.) It also suggests that brown paper must be both fireproof and watertight, since players regularly encounter plenty of both without ruining their provisions.

Which brings up another interesting point: What was in them? I’m sure I could Google around and find someone who has not only thought about this, but who has actually prepared and eaten the food rations in real life. (We geeks are funny that way.) But just looking it up is no fun. Roleplayers deal with this stuff all the time. How do you picture them? What do you imagine they have in them? What do you think they taste like?


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80 thoughts on “Food Rations

  1. Robin Z says:

    Hardtack and salted meat?

  2. Adam says:

    “Rations” depend on the area in my opion, but mostly you get salted pork/beef and possible cheese sealed in wax. These hold up well to weather and can depending on element one or the other will survive. Now, it all depends, I did have a player that used his bag of hold for nothing other than to hold and keep food. As the bag is a sealed pocket demention that is air tight when the bag is closed, I could not see why he could not. That guy always ate like a noble where ever he went.

  3. i imagined they’d be wrapped in oilcloth and leather. I dont actually know what oilcloth is, though.

    They’re prolly some variant of jerky. Beef, chicken, kobold, take your pick. Kobold jerky.. gross, but a half orc dude might take a fancy. regardless of content, i imagine the thing tastes pretty much the same. like chicken. or jerky. Or a salt lick.

    so what we probably have is highly compressed, heavily salted mystery meat conveniently packaged into thin hard rectangular packets wrapped in leather and oilskin. For those low-protein days you might eat the wrapper too. in this form, the food is probably flame retardant, water resistant, and even doubles as a 1d4 club in a pinch.

    This reminds me of the famed Lembas! commercial

    1. Darkstarr says:

      Oilcloth is just what the name implies: cloth soaked in mineral oil to make it waterproof. Feels a little slimy at first until the cloth absorbs all the oil, but it’s as waterproof as a duck’s… .

      And from what I’ve learned from watching History Channel, fruitcake first started out in the Roman era as a form of portable rations. No wonder the things have a shelf life longer than a Twinkie! ^_^

  4. Dave III says:

    I’ve always imagined them to be essentially dried jerky and hard tack. The wrapped packages would be the gaming world equivelant of C-rations or MREs, but for less experienced characters (they who have yet to run across enough water and fire to drive the lesson home, or had the benefit of someone else’s tutelage) probably pack them a little looser.

  5. Rob says:

    I’ve always pictured leather pouches containing jerky, nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Eye of the Beholder was my first experience with Crpgs!!! I loved that freaking game!

  6. Gbyron says:

    Well, you need food that can last outside a refrigerator. So salted meat, protected cheese and dried fruit is the best choice. Also, you need another source of carbohydrates like bread (preferably , potatoes and such.
    I can tell you what a daily ratio in the Greek Army contains if you like, since i unpacked hundreds of them during my military service.

  7. ChattyDm says:

    Lembas Wafers, Troll Jerky and Holy Water!


  8. ChattyDm says:

    And seriously, what are Iron Rations made of?

  9. Ann says:

    I’d always imagined them as the lembas packets that Frodo and Sam carried through everything, wrapped in a leaf that has an innate magic to make it stay shut and resistant to fire, flood, and flies.

  10. Mari says:

    Errrr….former SCA geek here. What we always packed was jerky or salted meat, hardtack (which was actually a more modern invention but served well), and dried fruits. It was packed in an oilskin (which is cotton or canvas waterproofed with..*shock*…OIL).

    That said, D&D&D is a fantasy game. If you guys were so inclined it could be C-rations in the round tin or TV dinners and who could argue it because it’s YOUR fantasy.

  11. Hal says:

    Hm . . . I always kind of pictured them like a protein bar, only . . . a medieval protein bar?

    I just figured, y’know, you’re not maintaining that 16 Strength eating only carbohydrates.

  12. C David Dent says:

    I always imagined it would be a mix of chopped jerky, nuts, seeds(like sesame seeds or caraway seeds) rolled oats, dried fruit and packed in a light dough made of flour and honey or suet.

    It would be palatable for the most part but fresh berries, and live game would be preferable. You’d buy it by the pound and it would come in loaves wrapped in cheesecloth.

    I can’t say I ever EXPRESSED this idea in a game (it never came up) although I remember on many occasions arguing about how tasty “rations” were with other party members as I would try to use them as lures for animals.

    Other players seemed to regard them as virtually inedible although that never deterred them from buying them for their pack.

  13. Nick says:

    In serious consideration, I always pictured dried meat and fruits, perhaps preserved in fat like pemmican, along with nuts and seeds and the like. Basically, trail mix and jerky, but with a vaguely disgusting faux-medeival edge.

    In less serious consideration, I think of them as their modern-day equivalent, the MRE: compact and nutritionally dense, highly resistant to environmental perturbation, and with a culinary quality that is only good by comparison to eating one’s own footwear. My wife and I brought some with us to Iceland last summer to eat as road food (Iceland is a very empty and very expensive country; packing lunch is a very good idea if you’re going to be driving), and I was reminded rather forcefully why our cases of MREs should be reserved for circumstances such hurricanes, blizzards, and the imminent collapse of civilization.

  14. Puffinstuff says:

    I’ve always pictured them as some sort of long-lasting, big crackers.

  15. I’d back up everybody’s assumptions by pointing out that when, in real life, people needed “rations” and were at D and D levels of technology (in “real” technology, if not “magic” technology), dried meat was indeed the bulk of such rations.

    That’s what I’d look to if you’re really interested, the real history of what people carried during the real-life Age of Exploration.

  16. Mavis says:

    Rock hard biscuits – like a ships biscuit – something that needs to soaked in water to be edible.
    Hard dried meat.
    Dried Fruit.

    To be honest there such a total nonsense game invention….

  17. M says:

    In most D&D games I’ve played in, one of our first priorities was getting our hands on a Murlynd’s Spoon (and to have a caster in the party who could handle Prestidigitate, for flavoring).

    That said, I always figured the rations available in the PHB were a combination of dried meat and dwarf bread.

    1. RCN says:

      Discworld’s Dwarfbread?

      So marvelous it ends hunger with prejudice?

      So filling it lasts for years?

      So valuable you’d never get yourself to actually eat it?

      So dense it can be shot through stonewalls?

  18. Evil Otto says:

    IT’S PEOPLE!!! Food rations are made out of people!

  19. BlueFaeMoon says:

    I never really imagined the rations to all have a manufactured look (same paper packaging, etc… Where do you get those? The D20 Eleven?). And meat can be obtained almost anywhere (for pete’s sake everyone is carrying weapons) so the travel “rations” probably consisted of salty, hard cheese and some form of flat bread… like pitas, but stale. Carried in an oiled cloth bag to help keep out moisture and bugs. When more “rations” are purchased they go into the same bag. See! Environmentally friendly! :D

  20. aSmD says:

    It’s not D&D but “DSA – Das Schwarze Auge” aka “The Dark Eye”, but they describe the most durable food-package as follows:

    10 ounces of zwieback(rusk)
    10 ounces of either bacon/hard cured sausage/dried meat
    10 ounces of hard cheese
    10 ounces of soup vegetable

    Sounds kind of practical, as it contains meat as well as vegetables and would last quite a while…

  21. Dev Null says:

    The Romans used to march on olive oil and flour. On a good day you make some sort of frybread; on a bad day you drank the oil and made cold mush from flour and water. Sounds foul to me, but on the plus side, you can count your rations as extra flasks of oil!

  22. Zaghadka says:

    A large cylinder, with a top made of an unknown, semi-opaque material. It contains a bunch of crisp, wafer-like rations, in the shape of a saddle, nested one on top of the other.

    The front of the can features an elf with a mustachio. It is labeled “Pringolas Lembas Wafers.”

    Enjoy. ;^)

  23. Sarah says:

    I suppose I always imagined them as these sort of processed bars, along the lines of an extremely bland granola bar. Rather than being made of granola, they’d be some sort of cardboard-consistancy all-pupose nutritional stuff. Definition of bland and chewy, but the most nutritious thing you’ll ever find.

    Looking up at all the other comments, I suppose the preserved meat makes more sense.

    Lamnas bread, anyone?

  24. Depends on the race, no?
    Humans get jerky, hardtackish stuff and maybe cheese, possibly dried fruit and maybe some onions.
    Dwarves get about the same only they use Cram instead of hardtack.
    Elves get lembas and miraculously well-preserved fruit and other things that weigh hardly anything and taste far too good to be amazingly healthy.
    Drow probably get some kind of dried underground mushroom stuff.
    Halflings get bacon, sausages, mushroom stew, watercress sandwiches, cheese, beer, steak and ale pie, hard boiled eggs,

    . . . I don’t think hobbits really *do* the iron rations thing.

  25. Zyzzyva says:

    While I agree that the whole hardtack/dried meat thing is sensible, the mental picture that I actually get when I think of D&D rations is a cardboard box with the words “Ration, Type K” on it.

  26. Gabriel Mobius says:

    I have never had to run with food rations in D&D before, actually. Most of the ‘campaigns’ I’ve played haven’t been classic ‘move around randomly’ campaigns, and we mostly have a base of operations.
    And in the one campaign where we do roam around, I play a cleric with a ring of prestidigitation, so I just use create food and water and spice it to taste good.

  27. Davesnot says:

    I’ve always thought they were just what the area had that kept well.. just that the DM and the PCs didn’t have to role-play the shopping.. I suppose you could imagine some smart merchant packaging Clif Bars.. but the idea that they’d be the same everywhere.. well.. that thinking comes into the world with assembly lines.. which is industrial revolution stuff.. which is fine if you want it in your world.. but more fitting in a Steam Punk deal..

    hard tack here.. jerky there.. pemmican.. dried grasshoppers.. yummy!

  28. Zukhramm says:

    Obviously they look like rations in the Metal Gear games.

  29. Anon says:

    Dry, crumbling, incredibly dense bread, jerky, and possibly some sort of dried vegetables.

  30. Corsair says:

    Presumably, the dried rations would vary, but I would imagine they’d be predominately salted beef or pork.

  31. IronCastKnight says:

    Giant rice krispies treat squares.

  32. tussock says:

    Dried, smoked, or heavily salted foods of all descriptions, same as people ate in the winter and early spring before the winter crops came in and the cows came back into milk.

    Medieval people couldn’t import Bananas from Ecuador all year, you know. Food was pretty short in the early spring a year after a poor weather, and old preserved stuff with a few nuts from the woods was how they survived.

  33. Smee says:

    lol my antispam was d20

    I imagined they looked like the metal gear ones

  34. Davesnot says:

    Wow, Smee… my anti-spam was d20 too!!! do you think we are long lost brothers! Oh my!! We should trade e-mail addresses!! What are the odds..


    (Please note: The above comment is typed with a touch of sarcasm.. the writer is completely cognizent of the fact that all Anti-spam words on this site are d20.. now.. back to your regularly scheduled comments)

  35. Viktor says:

    Salted meat, hardtack, dried fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, jerkey, and whatever else the local area produces that won’t spoil, and supplemented by a wizard with prestidigitation so that you don’t puke while eating it. In terms of taste, I always thought of it as being around the same quality as the army’s “Meals Rejected by Etheopians”. High nutritional value, lots of energy, but tastes slightly worse than your left shoe after a 4-day hike.

  36. Tom says:


    Oddly enough, that’s the first thought that came to my mind when I thought of rations. o.o;

    Took me a while to figure out where that image was from though.

    Hmm, I’m gonna have to agree that it’s probably somewhat race-sependant, but in general, dried meat and cheese seems to make the most sense.

  37. kamagurka says:

    I’m guessing it’s some variation on pemmican.

  38. froggalpha says:

    I always figured rations were baseline. If you’re adventuring, and can’t find real food, you can subsist on these for weeks, but given technology and nutritional knowledge, they won’t keep you indefinitely at full adventuring capacity.
    This is why you hunt, gather food, and eat at inns. Rations are drek, and who wants to eat them when they don’t have to?

    Also always thought “summon food & drink” was cheating. That should really leave you hungry in an hour or so.

  39. Joush Mark says:

    Well, in my current game rations normally consist of potatoes that are the staple crop of the civilized west, dried fruits, tea and vegetables. Salted pork too, but it’s foul, tough stuff that most people only eat in an emergency. It’s worth remembering that salt was used vary often as a preservative in preindustrial settings. You can eat rations raw, but whenever possible it’s preferred to stop and make a simple soup.

  40. Jeff says:

    My mental picture is the same, however the source was Betrayal at Krondor.

    An image can be found here:

    I looked briefly on the web for a description, but I couldn’t find it.
    In BaK, every single item in the game has a ‘description’ where you get essentially an excerpt of a novel (the novel you’re playing, in fact) examining the item. That’s what I’ve always thought about – the only thing that ever comes to my mind is ‘sweet tarts’ is a part of it. I’m tempted to download and reinstall it, to read through descriptions if nothing else.

  41. McNutcase says:

    The imnportant thing is not so much what they look like, but what they do to you.

    Rations, and iron rations in particular, are not going to be wonderful sources of fibre in your diet.

    The first week out of the dungeon and on real food is gonna HURT, even if you start drinking your oil.

  42. McNutcase says:

    Oh, and @ froggalpha: so Summon Food & Drink gets you a Chinese takeaway? Cool!

  43. Alex Ponebshek says:

    Can you please put a large % on the outside of the food ration package, for those of us who are into that sort of thing? It would make me happy.

    I’m surprised nobody else proposed that first…

  44. DaveP. says:

    In the Real World people managed to pack food that didn’t spoil (much) and carry it on voyages of months’ duration, in most cultures and for much of history. Depending on locale there will be some variation (you’re more likely to get fish if you’re buying near a river city or seaport; small towns in densely forested areas may lean towards venison and rabbit) but you’ll see some assortment of the following:

    *Salted meat (example: salt pork- ask Captain Aubrey)
    *Smoked meat (ex: Virginia ham, smoked salmon)
    *Jerky (very common in extremely low-civilization areas as all you need is a drying frame, a sharp knife, and a sunny day)
    *Sausage (a good, well-seasoned summer sausage can last a loong while)

    *Dried grain (dried rice in the damp areas and lowlands, parched corn or barley et cetera- rehydrate it in soup or stew, powder it for flour, chew it raw if you’re desperate and being chased)
    *Flour- (not as good for a long-term trip, as it does go bad and can be destroyed by damp, mold, and insects… but with the right packaging it can last until you need it)
    *Travel bread (hardtack, twice-baked bread, call it what you will. Usualy rock-hard and needing to be soaked in water or wine to soften or with a armor-quality crust, but a staple since Roman times)

    *Hard cheeses, probably coated in wax
    *Butter, heavily salted and wrapped in wax paper.
    *’Jar food’- pickles, preserves, potted meat, souses, jams, et cetera. Probably far more common at sea where the extra weight and fragility won’t matter as much.

    *Honey (the only food known that NEVER goes bad); also used as a preservative
    *Dried vegetables- carrots, potatoes, et cetera.
    *Fruits, either dried or preserved with honey or salt (yes, it can be done).
    *Olives (both raw- they last a little while- and preserved)
    *Nuts. The food that comes prewrapped.

    *Wine and vinegar (travel better than water, can be mixed with local water to kill the microlife, can be used for field-expedient first aid.)
    *Beer (very common at sea; the English sailor of the Revolutionary War era was issued a gallon a day in Northern climates)
    *Distilled alcohols (Rum, whiskey, brandy; to be mixed with water, as in grog, or for first aid)
    *Vegetable oils specifically olive oil (though others can be used; cook with it, drink it raw, use it for first aid or to treat your leathers, pour it into your lamps when you run out of the right kind of fuel… a thousand uses)
    *Spices! As the entire United States military knows, with enough Tabasco ANYTHING is edible. In liquid, powdered, and dried (as in chili peppers) forms.

    Packaging would probably be waxed or oiled paper or cloth for pounds-or-less amounts; casks and jars for tens-of-pounds amounts; barrels for hundreds-of-pounds amounts.

    Here’s an example from the 1500s- what the Royal Navy of Drake’s time served its Jack Tars:

    Sunday through Tuesday and Thursday- 1 lb bread/biscuit, 2 lb fresh beef or .5 lb salt beef or .5 lb bacon., & 1 gal beer.
    Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday- 1 lb bread/biscuit, either a quarter of a stockfish (cod) or 4 herring, 4 oz butter and .5 oz cheese.

    This info and more can be found here (replace the X’s with W’s):

    When I think of iron or travel rations, I think of an oiled linen packet with about one days’ worth of the above, plus some spices and a little crystallized honey.

  45. Davesnot says:

    Evil Otto knows… somebody.. quick.. send out the hit men!

  46. Rehtul says:

    Wow… DaveP – that’s one heck of a list.

  47. nyxia says:

    Pshhh, everyone knows REAL adventurers carry around entire pantries of food stuffed into bags of holding.

  48. DaveP. says:

    That’s the possibilities, not an actual menu. What you GOT would depend on the location, what was in season, and the tastes of whoever was doing the setting-up; and would probably be about as monotonous as the Royal Navy diet I included and those shown through the link I left. I’d bet I’d get awfully tired of salt pork and mackerel afer the first week.

    How would it taste? Well, salty. Real salty. Salt is the easiest and most common preservative known, even today. Also either kinda bland or kinda like it’s a few days past its sell-by date, unless you took my advice about spices. Frankly, in medieval settings (which most fantasy RPG’s at least make claims of being) the big issue is gonna be ENOUGH, not TASTY food.

    Try it yourself: here’s a basic one-day food ration that wouldn’t be out of place in Dark Ages Europe:

    Meat: The cheapest way is just to get a pound of hard sausage (the kind that doesn’t need refrigertion) and go with that.
    Bread: Matzoh bread or a half loaf of Italian or French bread, the crustier the better. One pound.
    Cheese: One-quarter pound of hard provelone or equivalent amounts of those little baby Goudas packed in wax. Alternatively, you can try a half-cup of olive oil.
    Fruits and veggies: one handful of dried fruit.
    In this day and age I’m not about to suggest that anyone down a gallon of beer or half a gallon of wine during the course of their day, so just stick with spring water.

    Note that this is PER DAY, not per meal.

  49. Clyde says:

    No matter what the iron rations contain, it’s likely that the second stop a PC would make in town (after selling loot, of course) would be the inn, looking for fresher food and drink.

    And potatoes? Would that work for a game which is based on dark ages European technology? Potatoes are a New World crop, after all, like maize (corn), tomatoes and chocolate, and weren’t introduced to Europe until the 16th Century…

  50. BlueFaeMoon says:

    My Bag of Holding has a McDonald’s inside.

  51. Zaxares says:

    I always imagined rations to contain a mix of the following:

    1. Salted or otherwise preserved meat, such as jerky, ham or sausage

    2. Hard tack (biscuits which are baked rock hard to eliminate any moisture in them. Keeps for months if it doesn’t get wet)

    3. Bread (We’re not talking the soft, fluffy bread we have today either. We’re talking crusty, burnt stuff that can last for a week or so without going bad)

    4. Nuts

    5. Dried fruit (Dried and preserved fruit such as dates, olives and apricots date back to the early Middle Ages in the Mediterranean, well within the parameters for a fantasy setting)

    6. Beer/ale (alcohol stores a LOT better than fresh water. As others have pointed out, during the 17th and 18th centuries, sailors would drink almost nothing but beer during long sea voyages)

  52. DaveP. says:

    Clyde: If we’re assuming wizards, aliens, angels, demigods, elves (of several colors), magic bags you can stuff a Wendy’s franchise into, trees that walk, et cetera… than why strain at assuming corn and chocolate?

    You ARE dead-right about the monotony, though. MRE’s come in about twenty different varieties and a lot of attention is paid to making them as tasty as possible, and they DO include things like chocolate and Tabasco sauce; and soldiers STILL grow to hate the damn things after a few days.

    All of my post(s) were intended just for campaign flavor, so if the GM or a player wants to bring up what you had for lunch (no pun intended) they’d have an idea of some possible specifics. Obviously, if the GM wants to run an Arthurian-based game and be a purist about it, say goodbye to cavy and chiles.

  53. Gbyron says:

    Correct me if I am wrong, but aren’t alcohol drinks dehydrative? You need more water than what is in them in order to remove by urination all the salts and other substances you won’t use.
    So, fresh water is a necessity.

  54. DaveP. says:

    Gbyron- yes and no.
    Medically, alcohol WILL leave you drier- but usually you have to be talking very large quantities or very high concentrations (like spending the evening with Jim Beam) for this to become significant. Beer and low-alky wine are less of an issue, and generally you’d mix the wine or distilled liquor with water anyway (grog was cut between 4 and 7 times, depending on the captain and the circumstances). The point here was to AVOID drinking ‘fresh’ water if you could. Dehydration due to alcohol was a MUCH smaller risk than dehydration due to diahhorrea from untreated water- and until the mid 1800s, most water was untreated.
    Remember, the records of the English (and American, French, and Spainish) Navies show that they ran, in all climates, on some water but mostly beer and wine and grog. If this was lethal they would’ve done something different.

  55. Gbyron says:

    Fine with me. Learning something new every day!

  56. Davesnot says:

    Bad Dates…

  57. Takkelmaggot says:

    In the context of “a long, long time ago” I immediately think of hardtack (or some other dense biscuit), salt pork, and maybe- just maybe- a slab of cheese. Substitute uncooked rice when the campaign setting allows.

  58. Lord of Fools says:

    Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned oats! Oats were pretty much THE food for soldiers in northern Britain, as they’re a hardier crop than wheat, especially in the Highlands. You could make porridge with some water, or you could make oat-cakes, or grind them up a bit, mix them with water and dry them. I wouldn’t rule out things like jam or other sorts of preserved fruit that would make the bread and biscuits more interesting, if still hard to chew. Also, they might carry some salt and other cheap spices with them- they’re lightweight and change the character of what would otherwise be a ridiculously bland soup.

  59. Boingophile says:

    Maybe they look like the Alliance’s protein supplement bars in Firefly…

  60. hf says:

    A very good point, DaveP, but Create Water or Purify Food and Drink is a 0th level spell for clerics. At least Create Food and Water requires a lot of experience by Earth standards.

  61. DaveP. says:

    hf- Sorry, but Shamus’ original post ASKED what iron rations would look/taste like, and what would be in them… NOT what level ‘create food and water’ was as a cleric spell.

  62. Mrs T says:

    Our monthly gaming session starts with a trip to the store, where we pick up fresh baked bread, cheese, cumberland sausage, some fruits and veg, trail mix, and a whole roasted chicken. So far, it is all stuff that could be available in a pseudo-medieval world where portals exist to easily transport food from the fertile regions to the populated regions (though perhaps we stretch it a bit by having it available on the trail… perhaps we should procure some bags of holdings!) But since I refuse to game without chocolate or soda, I have convinced the DM that cacoa trees grow in the forgotten realms, and that there are secret societies passing down the secrets of chocolate making to their apprentices. And ‘create fizzy water’ is a low level spell–just add caramel, sugar, some form of acid, and whatever other form of flavorings needed. Since I provide whichever soda is on sale, that simulates the different formulas that would be closely guarded by different taverns and merchants.

    I have to say, whether authentic or not, we eat a LOT better than the old college gaming groups where everyone begged change off whoever was currently in cash to procure whatever the local vending machines had in stock.

  63. Anonymous Botch says:

    Just to back up the point about alcohol. Alcohol is dehydrating, but you gain far more from the water content of all but strong spirits than you lose from the dehydration effect of the alcohol. Most medieval europeans, drank beer. Watered down for children, weak ale for daytime drinking and strong stuff for getting drunk.
    There are graves in England attributing deaths to drinking water, fruit juices or small beer, rather than decent ale.
    Fermenting your local staple crop was always the easiest way of making a relatively sterile drink, other than in east asia where they had tea.

  64. Miako says:

    With enough gold, take oatmeal cookies (yes, sugar/honey is expensive).

    Also, good bread doesn’t need to be hardtack — it just compresses better than Music Paper Bread (it’s really really thin– much more than matza).

    Everyone’s right with the salt — I expect moldy sausage, ala Katz’s Deli in New York City (where they keep the sausages out at room temperature, and send them overseas like that too).

    Or try Halvah, which I did last time I went backpacking (we needed non bulky, because of the bears and the need of a bearcan) — halvah actually gets more fat per ounce than meat, and is surprisingly edible. You’d really really want anything else by the time you got to an inn, though…

  65. Celti says:

    I always envisaged iron rations with some sort of preserved meat: bacon, jerky, salt pork, pickled herring, or whatever; a hard cheese, sealed in wax; some sort of bread: lembas, hardtack, oatbread, or whatever you have that keeps; maybe some dried fruit, nuts, or other sundries. All this would be kept in tightly wrapped oiled cloth or leather, with lots and lots of variation depending on locale.

  66. The Gremlin says:

    Jerky, hardtack and dried fruit. At least, that’s what it says in the PHB.

  67. Chris Arndt says:

    Mice, squirrels, and bubblegum.

  68. Susie says:

    in D&D 3.5, I’ve added up the cost for my favorite hiking/camping fare (dried sausage, bread, fruit, wine, cheese, etc.) and compared it to rations – same price – same number of days, so that’s what i buy instead.

  69. avoidingreallife says:

    In regard to post #7’s troll jerky, I have a rather esoteric note to add. There is a thread on the rpgnet forums, “The city built around the Tarrasque,” which speaks of a city built around harvesting the flesh, carapace, and bones of the Tarrasque. The idea is that it regenerates all damage done to it, including lost extremities; hence, a Tarrasque flank steak will regrow within a few seconds of being hacked messily off. People in the thread mention that trolls may be partially descended from the Tarrasque (tainted by consuming the flesh, if not reproductively related), evidenced by their own regenerative abilities.

    My rambling does have a point: some people have mentioned Murlynd’s Spoon and the Create/Purify spells, but I suggest an alternative. Imagine the creepiness of a crazed troll berserker in the party, who basically does not feel pain, ‘donating’ meat to the party ration pool. You still need some carbs and green stuff for party, and theoretically something for the troll (see below), but this adds a lot of flavor (hyuck hyuck) to the adventure in addition to simplifying rations a bit.

    As far as powering the regeneration goes, you could either say that it runs on ambient magic, or operate on the theory that troll metabolism is insanely efficient and can subsist on worms and grass and dirt, working wonders if it has access to meat and dairy. Whatever placates your DM.

    1. BanZeus says:

      I always just pictured trolls as ravenous omnivores that require at least twice as much food* as their body mass would suggest.

      *mostly livestock, unlucky adventurers and smaller trolls

  70. Tacoma says:

    I imagine normal rations as just regular food. The kind of thing a farmer’s wife would set out on her table: bread, cheese, a stew made from a starch vegetable and maybe a little meat in there.

    Adventurers can’t need more food value than a farmer, right?! They work too hard!

    Since that food won’t last beyond a week and it takes more time to prepare, and it’s not very dense, we have iron rations.

    These are salted meat jerky, starchy vegetable that’s been dried, fruit preserves, hard tack, pickled vegetables for vitamins, and a trail mix of nuts, sugar, fat, and oil – possibly pressed into a packet that you eat like a modern energy bar. This is stuff you can eat while you ride or walk, you don’t need to cook, has dense caloric content, won’t go bad as quickly, and is pretty light because of a low water content. Of course you should drink a lot more water – but you’ll probably end up drinking liquor instead.

  71. Miran says:

    The primary stable is a less-than-satisfying one in terms of hunger and the like, but it’s Hardtack. This solution actually holds the nickname “Sheet Iron”, which fits nicely with “Iron rations”. If you’ve never tried it, imagine a really, really dense biscuit, and you can actually try some (or at least something really similar) by making some bread out of spelt flower and leaving out the leavening (generally baking soda or baking powder these days). It’s the kind of thing that will keep you on your feet, but it’s rather unappetising for long stints in the wilderness and is prone to problems with vitamins and other essential nutrients.

    This assumption also fits very well with Tolkien’s LotR, which D&D is based off, which you can find some reference on here:

    If you’re really concerned, look up the fare that sailors and soldiers used to eat in the middle ages. They generally ate hardtack, dried meats (salted jerky), and cheese rounds, with the occasional orange, lime, or lemon to prevent scurvy and whatever they could scrounge to liven it up. One thing to remember about traveler’s fare, is that it is very bland. While cheese is fairly smelly and is quite full of flavor, it is generally the first thing finished in a traveler’s pack, and is also relatively heavy, which leaves mostly just hardtack and your meat. Hark tack, like I mentioned earlier, isn’t particularly appetising, but it does make you drink your water rations effectively. For each piece of hardtack, the average adult male will drink a quarter liter or so, which adds up pretty quickly.

    Some people strongly advocate dried fruits, and it’s a very smart thing to carry. One thing to realize with this, however, is that you can’t carry a lot of it. On a per-pound basis you can generally fit one day’s worth of hardtack, compared to maybe two or three meals’ worth of using the fruit as a side dish. The fruit also takes up more volume, the other serious concern to a traveler. In small amounts, it helps a great deal (particularly with vitamins), but it’s definitely not a true staple of a traveler’s diet.

  72. eljacko says:

    The Rations likely contain the following:

    – Dried, salted meat, capable of lasting for a long time.
    – Some sort of durable, non-porous bread.
    – Perhaps some manner of vegetable?

    Rations are assuredly not delicious, but certainly nutritious.

  73. Lachlan the Mad says:

    In my campaign, I’m very strict about enforcing at least one feed per day, otherwise their extended rest doesn’t count. I did what any DM would do, though; give them enough trail rations at the outset (which I described as jerky for my humans and dwarf, and dried veggies for my elf) to keep them alive until they’ve finished a few quests, and then a gracious noble gives them an Everlasting Provisions. Normally means that food is henceforth completely ignored except for 5 pounds of dead weight in a PC’s backpack.

    However, I added a big twist to the story. Inspired by Shamus’s “Create Food” post, I had the idea that the big war that was going on in my setting had led to major food shortages, and that everyone was surviving off magical food. I also repeatedly described magical food as being bland and tasteless, and never really filling anyone up. A couple of half-starved gnomes who were eating their magic food when the protagonists were eating their trail rations even looked enviously at the Elf’s dried veggies. Damn, but I love making my protagonists feel guilty.

  74. David Horne says:

    Beer also has the added advantage of packing extra calories and nutrients.

  75. RCN says:

    Mostly, I picture then as whole grain and dried fruits, with a bit of jerky. Possibly nuts as well.

    It must be because I always picture the stuff that’s durable and easily accessible as something you’d rather avoid if you’re able to.

    Now you put some milk in there and you have something akin to oatmeal.

    And magically, you’re not feeling as averse as a second ago to go out and hunting.

    (Now that I think about it, this logic is similar to Discworld’s dwarf bread. Dwarf bread is something marvelous. It can sustain you for years on end. One look at it and your hunger vanishes instantly. It is fire-proof, water-proof, spoil-proof, mold-proof and teeth-proof. It can be used as a lethal weapon as well, in a pinch.)

  76. brian says:

    Google: Pan Forte – it’s basically a fruitcake, although “rations” could include anything. It all depends on how long you need it to last and where you’re taking it. Fresh fruit will keep for a few days, smoked and dried meats, dried fruits, nuts (nuts in their shells will last for long periods of time), and, yes, even hardtack (generally baked twice, like Tolkien’s cram from the folk of Long Lake in The Hobbit).

  77. Dimitris says:

    Historically, rations consist of long lasting food. Salted meat (white or red) dried fruit, nuts, dried bread. They were used by soldiers in organised armies like the Roman army and by sailors.

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