Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Logistics of Sleep Deprivation

I have a not-quite-two-month-old baby so I think about sleep a lot these days. She actually isn't all that bad a sleeper as these things go but a good unbroken 7-8 hour stretch is now a distant memory for me.

I also happen to be re-reading LOTR at the moment. I realised the other day I'd not read it in a few years so I dug it out for the, what, 10th time? In the early chapters as Frodo and his friends cross the Shire sleep features quite heavily; camping outside, marching at night, finally getting a proper rest at Tom Bombadil's house, etc.

Anyway, it amused me to think of how blithely sleep is treated by most D&D players. Night comes and they glibly decide "Boris is on watch for the first 3 hours, Gwendolyn for the second, Job for the last" or whatever and that's that. The cumulative effect of broken sleep (especially when there is an encounter as there often is), the fact that you never sleep all that well in a tent, the fact that dawn comes *really* early for much of the year... We just ignore it and get on with killing orcs.

People have come up with interesting ways to make encumbrance, rations and so on easy to keep track of. Is the logistics of sleep deprivation the last frontier? (Don't look at me for ideas - I got 3 hours, then 2 hours, then 3 hours again between 9pm and 7am last night. I'm hardly in a position to make up D&D subsystems.)

24 comments:

  1. I use the 5e exhaustion mechanic quite a bit. No sleep? Now you got's a level of exhaustion. Another day of no sleep? Now you gots another. Disadvantage on all checks is just level 1. It really focuses people on finding a safe place and getting some quality sleep.

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    1. That's a good idea actually. Had forgotten about the exhaustion thing in 5e.

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  2. Speaking as a parent of two, having kids just improved my ability to fall asleep quickly, space out sleep into 2-5 chunks over the night, and be instantly alert upon waking. I know people in militaries who have trained themselves to be that way too. It would not be unreasonable for adventurers to have this sort of sleep skill.

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    1. Did this just happen for you, or did you do something to train yourself this way? Cause I can say that having a 4-month-old has not taught me to do any of that stuff.

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    2. Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton both got by on 4 hours a night supposedly.

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    3. I'm with Grant on this one. Though I still really LIKE a solid 7 hours, I can (and do) get by on short naps throughout the day and night.

      Maybe it's the product of having TWO kids.

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    4. It may be the special product of having had 2 kids for 3+ years and being the main parental unit who takes care of them in the night.

      I was never ever able to nap until I had kids. Now I can take a nap on Sunday. So maybe secretly I'm perpetually tired and I just don't know it anymore. But I finished school with 1+ kid the whole time, so...

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  3. I play GURPS, not D&D, and it's got some useful sleep-deprivation rules in Basic Set. They're pretty simple - you just knock off fatigue points from your maximum, which limits you the next day. If you miss too much, you suffer penalties and might fall asleep when you're standing guard, taking a short rest, etc.

    Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures allows you to camp based on comfort, concealment, and line of sight - and it's easy to get one, reasonable to get two, and takes great skill and luck to get all three. If you skip comfort, you suffer mild but real penalties.

    You can adapt either of those approaches for a D&D-based game - missed sleep might require a saving throw or suffer penalties, or just give flat penalties. Sleeping in rough conditions might give the same. They are beyond trivial to utilize - my players memorized them right away and make real, actionable choices based on these needs and allot the needed sleep for all to avoid penalties for cutting it short.

    I'd probably err on the side of assuming "camping outdoors" is the system norm, though, and give bonuses for comfortable sleeping in town - recovering HP is easier, sleep required for spell memorization is shorter, leveling up training takes less effort, whatever. That's a carrot instead of a stick for doing the stuff adventures are going to do almost 100% of the time - sleep outside, in armor, because Wandering Monsters show up on a 1 in 8 (or whatever the odds are.)

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    1. I really like that comfort/concealment/line of sight idea.

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  4. I vaguely remember the days of no sleep from when my boy was little (he's 7 now). I recommend a YouTube video of Samuel L. Jackson reading 'Go the F@!* to Sleep'. It''s a bedtime story for all sleep deprived parents :)

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  5. Assuming you want a simple thing you can slot into old-school play instead of borrowing something specifically fatigue-oriented from another system, why not just say that each major sleep interruption is a -1 penalty to certain rolls and to hireling/follower morale?

    Groups that want to can develop it into something more complex - e.g. adrenaline makes the fatigue decrease in a fight but then it comes back harder after the fight has ended; Con bonus allows some of the penalty to be ignored, etc.

    Incidentally, my favored solution for watches is for a party of at least five characters: you spend ten hours overall resting, and everyone gets both a two-hour watch and eight hours of quiet time. If everyone was well-rested to begin with, then the first, middle (first sleep - second sleep dividing time) and final watches shouldn't be too bad, and you rotate watch positions.

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    1. Cumulative -1 to all rolls would definitely sharpen minds.

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  6. I think it's hard to rule for sleep deprivation in *active* situations because adrenaline can cut right through it. When my kids were at their sleep-disruptive peak a few years back, I always found playing sport, etc., surprisingly unaffected by (ahem!) a yawning sleep deficit. Weariness of limb - perhaps from climbing in the mountains all day or having fought in multiple encounters in the same day - would have a much more significant effect on combat and the like. (In that regard, I think RPGs tend to have ludicrously forgiving encumbrance systems - ones that encourage PCs to fight with their packs on and so forth.)

    In passive situations, though, some sort of simple cumulative penalty to saving throws is surely the way to go. Perhaps -1 for each hour less than six the previous night for situations when the PC is trying to keep awake without any obvious stimulus (like an orc war party coming up the gully).

    There's huge scope to unsettle players by having a PC fall asleep on watch, of course - you can instil considerable paranoia by having them discover their sleeping sentry and then frantically check to see what's gone wrong (nothing at all, perhaps, or possibly a small hungry animal rummaging through their supplies ...).

    On broken sleep: there's some evidence that two periods of sleep was the norm for much of history:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783

    So I suspect that sleeping in chunks is less of a burden than we might assume.

    I'd disagree with you on one point: "the fact that you never sleep all that well in a tent". I've always found that it's only the first night or two under canvas that are unsettled. Every time I've done a longer stint of wild camping in the Highlands, sleep's always been easy and plentiful - not least because of the effort of lugging a tent and water up and down a couple of Munros in the day - and then ascending to make camp sufficiently high up to avoid the dreaded midge ...

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    1. Whenever I sleep in a tent I'm always wide awake early in the morning because it's too bright and/or hot. Although sleeping on hard ground is great for posture I think.

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  7. I'm curious what Kevin Kulp would have to say about this. IIRC his day job is (or was) working as a sleep expert / consultant for companies that have a lot of shift work.

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    1. Published RPG author, famously excellent GM, Piratecat on EN World.

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    2. Piratecat on ENWorld, pleasant fellow.

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  8. Echo JC's note about rest periods in previous eras: the natural cycle for the human body (and mind) is to sleep for 3-5 hours, wake for maybe an hour, and sleep again. The total amount of sleep a person needs to function, however, varies depending on conditions. Medieval European farmers would sleep more in winter and less in summer, depending on available daylight and their daily workloads.

    Grant mentioned conditioning Soldiers to function with little sleep. US Army regulations call for 4 hours of sleep within a 24-hour period, but it's not required to be consecutive.

    My own rules tie in with an overall exhaustion mechanic: each level of exhaustion results in a percentage penalty to all stats/abilities. The penalty progression follows the Fibonacci sequence, so level 1 is 0% penalty, levels 2 and 3 are 1%, level 4 is 2%, level 5 is 3%, etc. The next thing I consider is duration of the deprivation. (Sleep deprivation is measured in units of 4 hours.) Every unit of deprivation results in 1 level of exhaustion. So a fully-rested person stays awake for 16 hours - a standard day of activity - and is at a 2% penalty. A minor inconvenience which, I feel, accurately represents the typical exhaustion of just being awake during the day. (Add in other activities, however, and you get progressively bigger penalties.)

    Of course, this isn't a simple approach. I use Excel character sheets so the calculations can be done quickly. If you needed something more manual, you could probably come up with a derivative system. The key point I'd recommend focusing on is consistency: try to use the same mechanic for anything related to the same concept, like deprivation or exhaustion.

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    1. Imagine what the US Army could achieve with a good night's rest!

      Just kidding. Yes, I've heard of that 3-5 hours thing before. I imagine these rules are for GURPS or something equivalently crunchy?

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  9. Some stuff to think about. Thank you. But my two cents:
    1- Differing levels of survival training camping experience seems to be the critical factor in how well one sleeps outside period. But, one with training can help a city kid (or Shire rat) get comfortable quicker; I imagine that if Frodo had Strider's help from the get-go he would have known things about setting more blankets on the ground, making a lean-to, how close to a fire to sleep, etc.
    2- REM cycles are a thing about restful sleep, and are more important than getting straight 8 hours. In a weird sort of way, you are more fucked up if you sleep exactly 8 hours than if you wakes up from only an hour and a half, because one REM cycle for a human is 1.5 hours, and that 8 hour sleep where you are woken up would "unplug" you from the middle of cycle 6 and leave you more tired. I figured that was why wizards needed 8 hours to rest- 7.5 hours of sleep followed by half an hour just mentally preparing their spells.

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    1. I understand that idea about REM cycles but I also have my doubts. If I slept for 3 hours I might wake up just as refreshed as I would from 8, but you can bet by evening the next day I would be shattered.

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    2. You are right, 3 hours is not enough, you still need the 5 cycles. But the impact of waking up at the wrong time is quite significant. When timed right, it does not take much to wake me up, then I can do stuff (let's say go fill up a glass of water) and I fall asleep right away. If I wake up at the wrong time (regarding the cycle) it takes much more to get back to sleep.

      I think it would be a nice system to just count the number of missing cycles, and after a couple, start applying small penalties, that would go away with a good night or two

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  10. I think the kind of short term sleep deprivation adventurers face is akin to what soldiers on short term maneuvers experience. From experience, as long as you get 5 hours or so (even broken by a watch in the middle) you (young, fit you) are ok to function the next day, for at least a few days - very unlike full no-doze sleep deprivation, which is devastating immediately, or the draggy effect of weeks of inadequate sleep.

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