Keeping track of the passage of game time, and of resource usage, has long been a big deal in old school D&D games. That makes sense to me as a player and referee, given that when you're in a hostile environment - be it dungeon or wilderness - it really does matter how long your torch, rations, potion of water breathing, or w/e will last. Make the wrong call when buying kit, or about when to return to the surface for resupply, and your brave adventurers can be left starving and lost in the darkness while the surly natives close in, knives and eyes a-glint and banjos a-twang.
That said, tracking each individual torch, slice of bologna, handful of trail mix, arrow or sling stone can get old really quickly, especially for newer players who've come to the game via CRPGs and such. But, to quote the always interesting Jeff Rients (posting on the RPGDiehard blog):
The nice thing is that in most D&D settings oil-measures probably aren't accurate, food portions are best guesses, and torches aren't manufactured to exacting standards.
With that sensible observation in mind I'll be cheerfully yoinking and adapting The Rambling Bumblers' Savage Bookkeeping alternate inventory system for my own twisted DMing purposes. Savage Bookkeeping is a sweet little hack for the Savage Worlds system that allows you as a busy DM to not sweat the small stuff, while still ensuring that the player keep an eye on the appropriate timers and gauges during play.
So here's my lightly panel-beaten version of the mechanic:
Instead of keeping track of every torch, chunk of chalk, coil of rope and whatnot there are now 4 levels of inventory for expendable items (food, light sources, ammo): Very High > High > Low > Out.
Adventurers, being reckless types, start out with their essentials at High unless they specifically raise them to Very High. Quite how they do this in game terms is a bit nebulous atm, but I imagine it would involve them forking out for new Microlite20-style dungeoneering Fast Packs ("The best 50gp you'll ever spend!") on a semi-regular basis.
At set periods, or in specific unusual circumstances as determined by the DM, the designated quartermaster (or just the person with the best applicable mod.) should make checks for each of the following:
- Rations and water (1/day) - Survival or Dungeoneering check
- Light sources (1/hour) - Dungeoneering check
- Ammunition (1/fight) - BAB check
A failed check means the inventory drops by one level in that category, with the party being deemed horribly screwed in a particular department when said quantity reaches 'Out'.
Hunting, looting food stores, scavenging ammo and the like can restore depleted levels of inventory either per DM fiat, or according to the rules for the Survival skill.
Yes, the fact that higher level groups can be larger than lower level ones at an equivalent level of risk is intentional. Higher level (and thus more skilled) characters are generally more experienced in gauging logistics than are their 1st level counterparts.
So, between Delta's enc. mod and Josh's inventory hack, that's me pretty much covered for the inventory management stuff. Just throw in a quick adventuring time sheet for spell durations and the like, and that's me sorted for at least the first few Vaults crawls.
edit: It appears that I've reinvented the wheel once again. d7 beat me to this...by months.