I can't sleep tonight, so you get your herrings early.
So what is all this about pickled herring? One of the challenges at the heart of old school D&D is logistics. This is the reasoning behind the rust monster and the giant centipede whose “bite does no damage, but the victim must save vs. Poison or become violently ill for 10 days. Characters who do not save move at ½ speed and will not be able to perform any other physical action.”
Logistics are especially challenging for first level characters. Let's turn our attentions to the brave Adler Wyrmbane, “gnomish dragonslayer extraordinaire” and brave PC in my Thursday night game. Adler is a brand new character, with but a single evening's adventuring under his belt, and little in the way of treasure to show for it. Learning of a promising dungeon two days away, Adler's player perused the equipment list I gave them for provisions. Alas, a week's worth of standard iron rations proved too expensive. What to do?
I've always found the Moldvay/Cook equipment lists to be a tad anemic. 2e had by far the best equipment lists in D&D, and since I wanted a slightly exotic cast to this game, I cribbed liberally from Al-Qadim to fill in the holes. The barrel of pickled fish (3 gp), however, comes from the standard 2e PHB. It was rendered cheaper by my special rules for the gnome class.
But now I'm left with a quandary. How long can a gnomish hero survive on pickled fish alone? The PHB isn't much help here, alas. Thank the gods for the 'net, where the answers to all of life's tough questions may be found.
Let's see what we can learn:
1 cup of pickled herring has 367 calories
1 US beer barrel = 496 cups
(Let us hope that the barrel was emptied into mugs of good cheer before the fish were pickled in it.)
Thus, some basic math tells us that 1 barrel of pickled herring has roughly 182,032 calories. And an active adult male needs roughly 3,000 calories per day. So our barrel will supply our gnome with just over 60 days of the raw caloric energy he needs. Granted, he won't be a happy gnome, and unless he supplements his diet he runs the risk of scurvy, and I sure as hell won't want to be standing downwind of him.
But wait, you say, shouldn't a tiny gnome need fewer calories than a full-sized human? Yes indeed, but remember, our gnome purchased the gnome-sized barrel. The gnomes cancel out, leaving us with the same answer: a man-sized barrel of pickled fish yields 60 days of calories for a man-sized hero, and a gnome-sized barrel of pickled fish yields 60 days of calories for a gnome-sized hero. Or, at least it does in my world, because I like to keep the math simple. ;)