Roleplayer #21, August 1990


Advanced Rules for Fatigue and Recovery

by Richard LeDuc

A typical human spends a third of his life asleep. The nature and quality of this time can have a dramatic impact on our waking hours. Because adventurers often find themselves unable to meet their sleep needs, the following guidelines are presented to help GMs deal with the effects of sleep in their GURPS game.

Properly motivated, a healthy person can remain awake and functioning for many hours, but it will become harder and harder to resist falling asleep. An adventurer who fails to get enough sleep each day will first feel Fatigued. Then a loss of mental and physical acuity will occur. When sleep is finally possible, the tired individual will need a few extra hours of rest to recover fully.

Staying Up Late

Each individual needs a certain amount of sleep per day – typically 8 hours. Older people need less sleep; typically, someone from 35 to 50 will need 7 hours sleep, and someone over 50 will need 6 hours sleep.

Young people, on the other hand, need more sleep. Children under 6 should sleep 10 hours per day; those from 6 to 14 typically need 9 hours each day.

Subtracting the person's sleep requirement from 24 will give their normal day length (usually 16 hours). After staying awake longer then his normal day an adventurer will lose one point of Fatigue. Each additional eight hours of wakefulness will cost one more Fatigue point. After an individual loses half his Fatigue (rounded down), he will start to lose one Fatigue point every four hours. These losses can only be recovered with sleep.

The sleepless person will also lose one point of IQ and DX with each lost Fatigue point. The losses will be reflected in lower skill levels. A person who has lost enough sleep can appear drunk, staggering and slurring his words. Should a character's ST or IQ reach zero, he will pass out from exhaustion.

For the first day-length (typically 16 hours) after the character's normal day, he can remain awake as long as he is occupied. This means performing some skill or action that requires concentration or movement – e.g., driving a car or playing a game. In order to remain awake while not doing anything even remotely exciting, a Will roll is required. At this stage, one Will roll is needed for each two full hours of inaction. This would include boring, uneventful tasks, like standing watch in a deserted area.

After 16 hours it starts to become harder to stay awake. From now on the characters will need to make a Will roll every two hours that they are occupied. A character who is doing nothing must make a Will roll every 30 minutes.

Getting Up Early

Not only will characters stay up late, they will often find themselves getting up early. Getting up early carries penalties as outlined in the table below.

Factors that influence the quality of sleep will have the same effect as not getting enough hours of sleep. Sleeping all night in an uncomfortable place might be the same as waking up two hours early, as would waking up several times in the night. Spending the entire night in the rain, or with a loud party going on next door, can be considered equivalent to waking up four hours early.

Hours of sleep missedEffect
1 or lessno effect
1+ to 2-1 Fatigue
2+ to 4-2 Fatigue and -1 DX.
4+ to 6-2 Fatigue, -2 DX, and -1 IQ
6+-2 Fatigue, -2 DX, and -2 IQ


Adrenaline is the body's way of responding to life or death situations. This powerful hormone is dumped into the blood when we are frightened. When someone is threatened with grievous physical harm, they can try to throw off the effects of staying up. Any penalties to DX and IQ are temporarily removed for a character who makes a Will roll on the second turn of the threatening situation; the penalties may be ignored until the life-threatening situation ends, or for 15 minutes, whichever is less.

If the emergency situation is still going on after 15 minutes, a new Will roll is required; roll again each 15 minutes. If and when a roll is failed. all the original penalties are felt, plus one additional Fatigue point.


The effects of lack of sleep can be put off for one hour by a successful meditation roll. There is a penalty of -1 to this roll for each three hours that the character is up past their normal day length. There is an additional penalty of -5 if the meditator performs any action other then standing alert or sitting in quiet contemplation. A character can continue to put off sleep this way until a meditation roll is missed; then he will feel the full effect of his lack of sleep, and may not make further attempts to meditate until he is caught up on sleep. A critical failure on a meditation attempt will cause immediate sleep!


Characters who go to sleep regain Fatigue at the normal rate. Lost attribute points will be restored at one point per hour. The hours used to recover from staying up do not count towards the next day's minimum sleep required. Therefore, staying up will require the adventurer to take an extra hour or two of sleep.

New Advantages

These advantages should be used only if the above rules for sleep and sleeplessness are used.

Deep Sleeper . . . . . 5 points

You can quickly fall asleep in all but the worst conditions, and continue sleeping through most disturbances. You always wake up in the morning feeling great. Deep sleepers never suffer any ill effects due to the quality of their sleep. An IQ roll would have to be missed for a disturbance to wake a deep sleeper. But some deep sleepers are conditioned to wake to a single soft noise. Witness the adventurer that sleeps through a firefight in his apartment only to wake to his wrist watch alarm. A deep sleeper can choose one regularly recurring event that she will wake to. This might include the family rooster, a particular alarm clock or even sun rise. In the absence of this cue, or any other disturbance the deep sleeper will sleep a full night's sleep.

A deep sleeper who also has Combat Reflexes will awake to any unfamiliar sound, but will easily get back to sleep if it was a "false alarm."

Less Sleep . . . . . 3 points/level

You need less sleep than most people. Each level of this advantage lets a character get by with one hour less sleep per night. This will allow a few extra hours each day in which they can study, or work on other projects.

A character can have a maximum of five levels of Less Sleep. Cost: 3 points per hour less.

New Disadvantages

Light Sleeper . . . . . -5 points

You do not tend to sleep as soundly, or as easily, as normal people do. When you are sleeping in an uncomfortable place, or if there is more then the slightest noise, a Will roll is required in order to fall asleep. If the roll is failed another attempt can be made after an hour of trying to fall asleep. Light sleepers usually wake up if there is activity going on around them. The GM should require a Will roll, minus any Alertness, in order for the light sleeper to continue sleeping when people are moving around them. In some cases this can actually be to the character's advantage, but usually the character will be waking up each time an inconsiderate companion changes the watch, or comes home from a night on the town. Light sleepers will often suffer temporary penalties due to the quality of their sleep.

Extra Sleep . . . . . -3 points/level

You need more sleep than most people: one additional hour per day per level of this disadvantage. Thus, you must go to bed early, or sleep in, for a few hours each day. The GM should remember that these characters have less time each day to work on their projects or to study.

A character can take a maximum of four levels of extra sleep.

Insomniac . . . . . -10 or -15 points

You go through periods where falling asleep is very difficult. Each night during an insomnia episode the character must make a Will roll. If they succeed, they fall asleep easily, and this episode is over. If they miss the roll they lose two hours of sleep that night, and the episode will continue another night. On a critical failure, the victim gets no sleep that night. Once an episode ends, the GM secretly rolls 3d to determine how many days until the start of the next episode (at the -15 point level, he rolls 2d-1). However, whenever the insomniac suffers prolonged stress, the GM can require a Will roll; a failure means an episode starts immediately. (Ever since we entered the Dark Lord's realm, Galgar has been having trouble sleeping.)

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