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A New Dimension to Taverns:
Optional Rules for Alcohol and Intoxication

by Geoff Gander

The seedy tavern was full; Hrothgar the Sly would do well tonight. With the recent defeat of the orcish warlord of Thrull, the Northlands would be safe for many years yet. Of course, the natural way of celebrating such good news was by means of a good, long bender. Hrothgar's tavern, The Gnostic Gnome, was chock-full of adventurers, newly wealthy from plundering the warlord's camp. They would drink - and drink deeply, thought Hrothgar, with visions of gold coins dancing in his head.


"Ah, Flaviush! Order me a nossher one *hic!*," bellowed the drunken elf. Flavius groaned inwardly; it would be the sixth time this evening that he would have to order a drink for Trellian, his inebriated friend. Of course, he was none too steady himself. Just how could the elf hold his liquor? he wondered. He sure didn't look like he was a drinker. Sighing, Flavius rose unsteadily to his feet and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

Unfortunately, he was redirected several times while trying to cut through the press of people in the tavern; he found himself shivering outside in the late autumn night. He was not alone.

"Oy there, guv'nor! Wot 'ave we got 'ere, eh? Looks like we gots ourselves a little lost sheep," cackled a voice from a nearby alleyway.

His heart pounding, Flavius grabbed for his sword. Unfortunately, his hand missed by over a foot, snatching thin air. With his unseen assailant laughing, he finally managed to draw it unsteadily, the light from a nearby lantern glinting off of its shiny, curved blade. His opponent - a small, cloaked figure - stepped into the pool of light, bearing a needle-like dagger. His other hand was extended towards Flavius, gesturing with its long, nimble fingers that he was eager to take on the burly warrior.

Roaring, Flavius charged the foe, but in his drunken state he miscalculated where the cloaked figure was standing. His sword missed its mark by a wide margin, and the normally agile fighter smashed with a loud thud into the stone wall of the tavern. As he collapsed to the ground, he heard a chuckle behind him, "That was too easy! See, me lads? This is 'ow you gets your loot - pick off the blasted sods when they're smashed, and you'll 'ave no trouble!"


Taverns. They're a vital part of every campaign at one time or another - whether they serve as a base of operations for a campaign, or as a rest stop on the way to a big adventure. Naturally, the adventuring party will want to take a couple of hours to unwind, sharing their legitimately-looted wealth with the locals in the form of paying for food and lodgings. This leads often to imbibing a couple of pints of the local drinks, possibly wandering about town for a while, and collapsing in bed. It need not end there, of course.

Many DMs will insert side adventures into tavern scenes, keeping their players on alert and letting them know that, just because an encounter doesn't have tusks, bad breath, and a nasty-looking weapon, it doesn't mean that it's not dangerous or worth investigating. This can take the form of a attempted mugging or theft, perhaps the adventurers' services are requested for some reason, or maybe fate has intervened in some way. Now, given that this sort of thing can happen at any time, and given that the adventurers could have been settled in at the tavern or inn for a couple of hours already, wouldn't it be interesting if they were forced to function at, shall we say, less than optimum levels?

Let's suppose that Rognord the Indestructible has returned from a lucrative dungeon-crawl, and has decided to dispense with some of his wealth in a pleasurable fashion at the nearest inn. A week of debauchery and assorted pleasures should be sufficient to erase his troubles (like that nasty little assassin who insists on trying to kill him every so often), he thinks. Consider what would happen if he was forced to fight after downing a few tankards of dwarvish grog and half a jug of moonshine, for example? How would being totally "hammered" affect his ability to perform skill checks? How much alcohol can be tolerate before passing out, anyway? How long would it take for him to burn the alcohol out of his system? How bad would his hangover be?

This article will set out to provide simple rules for determining the effects of intoxication on our lovable D&D game adventurers, as well as calculating just how much of that wonderful home brew they can imbibe without making a total fool of themselves, or worse. These additional rules are intended to provide a touch of added realism to the game; they are not clinically accurate in any way.

Alcoholic Beverages and Their Relative Strengths

No two alcoholic beverages are really equal in terms of their alcohol content and their effects on the body. What I have done is categorize them into broad groups, and evaluate them based on their relative strength. The potency of alcohol in this system is measured in units, and a comparison among the various types of alcoholic drinks runs as follows:

Beverage Quantity Alcoholic Units*
Ale, bitter, lager 1 pint (568 mL) 1.5
Cider 1 pint (568 mL) 1
Hard liquor (whisky, rye, rum) 1 shot (1 oz../29.5 mL) 2
Home-distilled spirits (moonshine) 1 pint (568 mL) 3
Liquor 1 shot (1 oz./29.5 mL) 2
Mead 1 pint (568 mL) 1
Wine, fortified (port, madeira, sherry) 1 shot (1 oz./29.5 mL) 1
Wine, red or white 1 glass (6 oz./177.4 mL) 1
*It should be stressed that these measurements are by no means scientifically accurate; the intent of this article is to provide playable rules covering alcohol consumption and its effects.

Alcoholic Consumption

Each person has their own capacity for alcoholic consumption; some people can really "hold their liquor," while others are tagged "cheap drunks." For the sake of simplicity, one's tolerance for alcohol is based on one's Constitution attribute, where the actual score represents the number of units of alcohol a person may consume before falling unconscious. A person with a Constitution of 14 could consume nine pints of beer (since one pint of beer equals 1.5 units of alcohol, and dividing 14 by 1.5 gives us 9.3, rounding down to 9), or seven shots of liquor, before falling unconscious. They would, of course, become intoxicated long before that point...


Although people with high alcohol tolerances can consume vast quantities before falling unconscious, the blissful state of inebriation descends upon the imbiber long before the act of remaining vertical becomes a challenge. As the alcohol concentration in the blood increases, so does the level of intoxication. In the real world, the process of becoming intoxicated is not constant; the rate may be faster or slower, depending on one's personal tolerance, body mass, and predispositions. For the sake of simplicity, the rules governing intoxication presented in this article will be based on one's Constitution attribute.

Intoxication under these rules is divided into three stages: mild, moderate, and severe intoxication. Each stage has its own penalties that are applied to the drinker. To determine when each stage of intoxication has been reached, simply take the Constitution minus one (CON -1), of the drinker and divide by three (3), rounding down if necessary. Each third corresponds to the mild, moderate, and severe stages of intoxication, and these are measured in alcoholic capacity. Thus, a person with a Constitution of 15 would be mildly intoxicated once she had consumed four units of alcohol, moderately intoxicated at eight units, and severely intoxicated once she had consumed 12 units. This has been calculated by subtracting one from 15, to arrive at 14, and then dividing by three (resulting in 4.66, rounded down to four); thus, the values are four, eight, and twelve. DMs may wish to have their players calculate and record these numbers for their characters for future reference, if drinking is a popular activity for them. The table below describes the penalties suffered by the drinker at each stage:

Stage of Intoxication Penalties
Mild No attribute penalties; skills performed at -2 penalty; thief skills by -10%
Moderate Wisdom and Dexterity penalized at -3; all actions (attacks, saves, and skills) penalized by -4; thief skills penalized by -20%; 30% chance of spell failure
Severe Wisdom and Dexterity penalized at -6; movement is reduced by one-third; all actions (attacks, saves, and skills) penalized by -6; thief skills penalized by -40%; 60% chance of spell failure

None of the above effects are cumulative. For example, Brian the Fist decides to embark on a bit of a bender, stopping by his favourite watering hole, The Vulgar Donkey. Being a tough fighter (his Constitution is 17) with a reputation for holding his liquor, he thinks nothing of ordering four pints of bitter to whet his appetite for the evening's festivities. In order to figure out his personal stages of intoxication, Brian's player deducts one from 17, and divides the remainder by three. As 16 divided by three is roughly 5.33, she rounds it off to five. As a result, Brian is mildly intoxicated after consuming five units of alcohol, moderately drunk at 10, and is blitzed at 15. Given that one pint of bitter contains 1.5 units of alcohol, Brian consumes six units of alcohol from drinking four pints of it (since 4 x 1.5 = 6). According to the scale Brian's player has constructed, she finds out that Brian has just passed the "mildly intoxicated" mark. She informs her DM of this, and he tells her that all of Brian's skills will be performed at -2 until he sobers up.

It should be noted that, should a character consume enough alcohol, in terms of alcohol units, to equal his or her Constitution score, they must make a Save vs. Poison at -8, every round, to avoid showing their friends what they ate that day. Additionally, they must make a Dexterity check, at -6, whenever they attempt to walk, climb stairs, or perform any physical action that requires co-ordination. A failed check in this case means the person falls down (this could be dangerous, depending on where they are). On top of all this, they must make a Constitution check, at -6, to avoid passing out for 1d4 turns for every unit of alcohol they consumed.

DM Note: Should the character's Constitution score be altered due to a disease, a curse, or some similar effect, the parameters determining the stages of intoxication will also be changed accordingly.


After engaging in a wonderful bender, during which the world seems to slip by in a kaleidoscope of bizarre colours and sounds, the time comes for all drinkers to become acquainted once more with the harsh reality of the real world...and quickly. As a general rule, the more a person drinks, the worse, and longer, their hangover will be. For the purposes of simplicity, only those drinkers who consumed enough alcohol to attain moderate or severe intoxication will suffer a hangover. Those who were mildly intoxicated may, at the DM's discretion, have a slight ringing sensation in their ears, or feel a little "off" for a few hours, but apart from that they will suffer no ill-effects.

For those who entered the blissful state of Bacchanalian delight, the following table applies. Hangovers may be cured with such spells as cure disease or remove poison, or they may be fought with any number of home remedies concocted with a wide variety of ingredients. The exact effects of the latter are up to the DM.

Intoxication Severity Hangover Duration Effects
Moderate 2d4 hours Constitution and all actions (attacks, saves, skills) reduced by 2; 20% chance of spell failure due to headache
Severe 4d4 hours Constitution and all actions (attacks, saves, skills) reduced by 4; 40% chance of spell failure due to severe headache

Alcohol Burn

Even if the drinker does not consume enough alcohol to suffer the effects of a hangover, he or she will still have alcohol in their system, while could impede them in one way or another. For example, even though Alexina the Gladiator has only consumed enough alcohol to be just shy of being mildly intoxicated, if she consumes one more drink her blood-alcohol content will go over the limit, and she will suffer the effects of that stage. However, if the person in question does not consume any more alcohol, the total number of alcohol units in their systems will decrease gradually. This is a function both of elapsed time during which no alcohol is consumed, and one's Constitution. Those blessed with high Constitution scores will not only be able to hold their liquor better; they will burn off the alcohol at a faster rate. The table below summarises how this works:

Constitution Alcohol Burn Rate
6 or less One unit of alcohol every nine turns (1.5 hours)
7-10 One unit of alcohol every six turns (1 hour)
11-16 One unit of alcohol every four turns (40 minutes)
17-18 One unit of alcohol every two turns (20 minutes)
19+ One unit of alcohol every turn (10 minutes)

DMs and players should note that alcohol burn occurs only if the drinker stops consuming alcohol for the time period indicated. For example, Alexina, who has a Constitution of 16, will only begin burning off alcohol if she stops drinking for 40 minutes or more, and even then she will only cleanse one unit from her system. It should also be noted that the moment a person begins drinking again, they will start to absorb units of alcohol into their system once more. In order for a person to purge their system completely, they must avoid alcohol until the last alcohol unit has been burned away. For people with low constitutions, this could take a while.

Putting It All Together

Presented here is a system devised to add a little extra depth to those seemingly monotonous taverns; now, players may experience the pleasure of public houses, as well as the interesting effects of drink. After feeling the effects of a bender, they may never look at a tankard of ale the same way again...

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Copyright 1999, Geoff Gander, based on material copyright TSR, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.