Sunday, 16 September 2012

Putting Two Great Encumbrance Ideas Together

The first great idea, of course, is James Raggi's Lamentations encumbrance: heavy items are written in a separate list, and encumbrance can just be figured out as the count of that list. By "heavy" I take it to mean objects longer than about two feet, or heavier than 4-5 pounds or so.

The second, which you might not have seen, is Rotten Pulp's visually interesting location-based encumbrance, by Matt Rundle and Jack Mcnamee. Their logic is solid: in fiction, adventuring characters never think about their total load like eighteen-wheelers at a weighing station. Instead, the drama revolves around backpacks, sacks and belts; individual carrying items that can be pilfered, damaged, or dropped in a hurry.

Realistically, too, so much of packing depends on a good distribution around the body. If you pile too much onto your back or your hips, you're not going to move as effectively as if you've packed in a more even way. So shouldn't it make sense that it's the location rather than the whole body that can get overloaded?

 Here's what I came up with as a combination of the two ideas. You have a list divided into three sites: backpack, torso harness, and waist belt. Half of the lines in each list are "overload"; any item placed on them will reduce your move by 3. Dwarves and strong people get free items. Bad things can happen to items outside the backpack - they'll have a chance to break on body criticals or if you fall down, and can be pickpocketed - but things inside the backpack need a full combat round to retrieve.

Armor worn can be thought of as an extra area, with leather being part of the free zone, chain giving -3 and plate giving -6.

Smaller and lighter items are non-encumbering, but it makes sense to also have separate areas for backpack, pouches and purses that are handier to get to, and items secreted on the person, in blouses, boots and so on (these take a round to get out as well.)

Loads should be listed out assuming the character is carrying nothing in the hands. If carrying a shield or weapon makes a difference, this should be noted. If not carrying any useful tool or weapon, the hands can also be used as an extra space that can carry up to 4 weights without losing movement, or 8 weights with an additional -3 move.

(Incidentally, I changed "Encumbrance" to "Heavy Items" as the title for the list and system - it's more understandable to normal folk and leaves behind the baggage, so to speak, of old encumbrance systems detailed down to the copper piece.)


  1. Nice combination. There is a third great encumbrance idea in the OSR. Mazes & Minotaurs uses encumbrance as difficulty for saving throws and such relating to dodging and movement.

    1. Yep, my system also gives a minus for athletics per encumbrance, but you're right, it should probably reduce Speed saves as well.

  2. I like this a lot, but propose a tweak: rather than a fixed penalty for armor, maybe there's a way to abstract armor into this "heavy things by location" paradigm so that armor encumbrance isn't a separate subsystem. Like plate might count as 4 heavy things on the torso, two at the waist or some such.

    I'm thinking in particular of internet videos which appear to show fit people in plate with no gear being not at all encumbered by their armor. But I think it's clearly desirable for there to be a cost of some sort for the protection. Limiting the additional gear you can carry offers such a trade off in the form of an interesting choice - protection against weapons limits your ability to be prepared for other exigencies.

    Rather like spell choice in that respect.

    1. I'm not sure about that - see, each "overload" is designed as the effects of putting too much in the pack, on the chest, in the waist. If armor was molded to the body then it wouldn't really contribute to that, but would have more of an effect weighing you down in general and limiting movement. Perhaps each armor movement penalty could be offset if you had absolutely nothing at one location?

    2. it's probably a case of six of one, half dozen of the other, but that seems like a case for the proposition of making armor be a fixed number of slots across the board - perhaps one for light armor, two for medium, three for heavy.

      That amounts to more or less the same thing as your sugggestion absent a strength bonus - heavy armor leaves you with only one back slot (shield?, big weapon?) before the penalties kick in, and no free slots anywhere else.

      But somehow I like that better than starting with a move penalty and offsetting it in a special circumstance. YMMV, of course.

  3. Oh goodness, I wasn't logged in to wordpress and it deleted my rather lengthy comment... perhaps a summary would've been best anyway.

    First, great blog, great content, and this mashup of two ideas encapsulated everything I had been hoping for as a way to get all the good parts of encumbrance gameplay without any of the time consuming and annoying parts. I changed a couple minor details to adapt it to my own use, but what you present here is still about 90% of what I'm using and for that I am eternally grateful - making encumbrance "fun" has been a goal of mine for years and I had never yet managed it until I happened upon what you present here.

    What's more, I plan to use your one-page dungeon contest entry as a hexcrawl frame for an OSR dungeon I intend to run (I figure it'll do the people who game with me some good to get some variety and a taste of history-with-lessons-learned).

    With that (well deserved!) flattery out of the way, I do have a request for your help with a small encumbrance-related system I had been thinking about. The comment by frijoles junior on this very post got me thinking about the "quiddity" (I like the word a lot, so thanks for bringing it to my attention in one of your earlier posts) of armor in a sort of pulp fantasy medieval/renaissance europe environment, and what struck me is that armor in the game is very homogenous (i.e. a suit of plate, a suit of leather, a suit of chainmail) compared to the sorts of armor people would've ended up with in our own world's version of that rough time period. Basically, unless you were rich, chances are you didn't order your armor all at once (or, indeed, pay for it at all - the benefits of battlefield looting), so chances are it didn't match terribly well, either. That piece of realism isn't really super concerning, though (realism for its own sake ruins games a lot of the time), but what is interesting to me would be how that means every piece of a person's armor would've basically been "inherited", and thus had a story behind it that the player was themselves a part of. I somehow got the idea in my head that it'd be quite cool to have a place for the players to write down just where they got those gauntlets ("the evil knight we slew during such-and-such etc.") or whatever it is they're sporting.

    I suppose to support that system I'd first need a way to have armor get busted up and give out, making replacing or augmenting your kit necessary in the first place, but even setting that aside ("I'll wing it happening on a crit or something") I had some pretty serious concerns about making a system that was overcomplicated ("leather gloves are .5 ac, and if I wear such-and-such a breastplate that's another 2, and...") and thus fun-sucking, or else too abstract ("why is my armor type only reliant on what material my chest armor is made of and not the other armor I'm wearing?") and thus lacking believability, either of which would doom any such system to eventual failure in the eyes of any player.

    I was wondering if perhaps you could come up with any ideas to help me with that sort of armor-pastiche system, such that it would make sense to augment partial armor with other armors (so as to get players into the situation of having "inherited" armor in the first place) while avoiding overcomplication, and simultaneously would have a place to put down where you had acquired the pieces, so your gear had its own short little history right there on the sheet?

    Thanks for taking the time to read my comment, and thanks again for all the great blog content you provide, whether you have the answers I'm hoping for or not!

    1. No problem and thanks for your appreciation. My first, simplifying impulse is just to have certain critical hits against you degrade armor by 1 AC point, which can only be repaired by cannibalizing another similar suit, or by visiting a repair specialist. I agree that armor needs to be more "special" - my players casually loot and sell suits with impunity - but need to think on how to do this without increasing bookkeeping and complexity.

  4. May I include this inventory chart in a free d20 Risus adaptation I'm working on?