I have multiple fighter characters who are also poor and sometimes starving beggars. How would this less than optimal physical health affect what a fighter might need? My story is sort of fantasy but there isn’t a lot a magic at least when it’s about people.
So, any extreme physical activity will require a pretty significant caloric intake. Meaning, if you’re fighting, you need to be well fed. There are countless aphorisms and clichés about the importance of logistics to military campaigns (such as, “an army moves on its stomach”) and there’s a truth here: It is vitally important that your fighters are well fed.
So, the big problems from chronic malnutrition for your characters are: an impaired immune system (meaning they’ll get sick more easily and have more difficulty fighting it off), generalized fatigue and weakness, cognitive impairment (difficulty thinking and focusing), and a slowed healing rate.
Slightly less severe, but they’ll also have increased difficulty maintaining their body temperature, meaning they’ll frequently feel cold. This has some real applications if you’re needing to wait overnight somewhere watching for someone.
If your character is underage, chronic malnutrition is catastrophic, as it will permanently impair their physical and mental development.
So, the short version is, your characters will be weaker, slower, more prone to injury and illness, less able to recover from injuries taken, and less able to focus on the fight in front of them.
You really cannot win a fight if you’re not getting enough to eat.
In a larger context, if you’re leading a group, and you can’t feed your fighters, your group will scatter. It’s one of those Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs things, if you literally cannot keep your people alive, they have no reason to follow you. If you can keep them fed, but can’t keep them safe, they may stick around until that illusion is shattered, but then they’ll be looking for something better. If you can do both of those things, then you need to worry about keeping them happy, and need to worry about giving them a purpose.
One place where shoddy writers will manufacture drama is in these kinds of survival situations, but, because they didn’t consider Maslow’s Hierarchy, the whole thing will feel a bit, “off.” They’ll have characters who are facing a lethal threat, but they’ll be upset about accommodations, or engage in political infighting. Things that are, absolutely, not a concern when characters are being hunted, or facing starvation.
So, the short version, you need to feed your fighters. Following that, unless you’re setting up some kind of authoritarian cult, you need to feed your other members as well. After that, your fighters need to be able to protect the other members of the group (to some degree. And, there is a reasonable tension in their difficulty with that point.) If they can’t protect the group, then the group will hemorrhage members. If they can’t feed the non-combat members, they’ll leave, and if they can’t feed anyone, the group will splinter and the individuals will go looking for someplace where they can avoid starving to death.
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