Posts Tagged ‘encumbrance’

So I finally got the Strength Tables up on my Carrying the World on Your Back post; there has to be a better way to do tables in WordPress…

Anyways, I got the tables up and I wanted to share a few more thoughts on the topic.  The primary complaint about the D&D/Pathfinder encumbrance rules is that they’re too granular.  Each individual item is tracked with weights down to the fraction of a pound, and characters have varying levels of encumbrance based on their strength.  It’s straightforward but not easy or quick to calculate a character’s current encumbrance and, most damning, it is not easy or quick to figure out what the character needs to drop if he suddenly has to run from a monster.  I have a MS spreadsheet-based character sheet I grabbed off the Internet that does a good job tracking such things, but a system that requires a computer to use effectively is not a good system for a tabletop game.  Knowing what their biggest weights are should be as intuitive to my players as it is for their characters. This is the argument Pencils and Papers made that changed my mind on Encumbrance.

There are, I think, two ways to simplify the system, and both of them consist of moving to a coarser measure.  Delta suggested the use of the Stone, an archaic measure of weight that was roughly 14 or so pounds.  She kept herself to whole-Stone numbers, The Alexandrian introduced fractional-Stone measures with certain containers and the notion of Bundles (which he put as 5 Bundles to the Stone).  The math in the Alexandrian’s system bothered me, with talk about Stone and half-Stone and one-fifth-Stone (thanks to Bundles)…  So my thought was to set a Stone at 15lbs and a Bundle at 5lbs (1/3 Stone) and only track to the Bundle level.  I want to say that if it’s less than a Bundle you should ignore it, but I think that may make problems later on.

One of the things I’m happily cribbing from the Alexandrian is his general notions on how much things weigh and how things should be carried.  Basic weights for weapons and armor were taken by him from Delta, but he added containers and more granularity for miscellaneous equipment.  It should be noted that adding granularity when our intent was to reduce granularity is something to be wary of, but at the same time we don’t want to disassociate ourselves to much from the fictional world, and it’s not desirable to me to allow a player to carry infinite arrows or other such things.

From Delta and the Alexandrian, Heavy armor is 5 Stone, Medium armor is 3 Stone, and light armor is 1 Stone. Shields and full-sized (one- and two-handed) weapons are a Stone each.  Obviously characters should still recognize that a war hammer is weightier than a rapier, but I don’t think so much so that our mechanics need to care.  In particular, Items should be measured in whole Stone, as a single Bundle, or as a Bundle when collected (like arrows).

Light weapons in my system are a Bundle for 5, bolts and arrows are a Bundle for 20, and coins are a Bundle for 250. Miscellaneous gear should cover everything else from rations to potions to maps and whatever else you have.  Light items like a compass or Holy Symbol (unless it’s a particularly big or weighty holy symbol, I guess) can be ignored, and everything else gets put together in Bundles of 10.  In most cases if it’s less than a Bundle it can safely be ignored, but you may want to make exceptions if a character has several mostly-full bundles (3 daggers, 14 arrows, 200 coins and 8 misc. items should probably weight something).  Treasure should be assigned a weight by the DM, with a Stone being a hefty statue, a Bundle being a large gem or sack full of coins, and smaller items treated as misc. equipment.  Something unwieldy like a painting or rug may count as several Stone despite not actually weighing that much.

Containers include things like backpacks, belt-pouches, and sacks, and should be used to explain where a character puts his gear when he’s not holding it.  Weapons are assumed to come with sheathes and quivers which can attach to a belt or be slung over a shoulder, but other things need to be packed away. Empty containers are considered misc. equipment, containers holding things are ignored (just count the stuff they’re holding).

Finally, creature weights.  This will usually refer to familiars, who tend to be misc. equipment- or Bundle-sized. Small creatures are about 2 Stone, the average Human is 12 Stone, and a Large creature is 100 Stone. Individuals can weight more or less if you care to make a distinction, but should stick to whole-Stone numbers.  I’m just taking this stuff from The Alexandrian, so look to his page if you want to deal with larger creatures, though I’m not sure I want to know when or how the weight of a Colossal creature needs to be tracked…

Finally, for a guideline on figuring out weights of odd things you want in your dungeon, just divide the weight-in-pounds by 15 and drop any remainder; that’s how many Stone it weighs. If it’s smaller than a Stone but bigger than misc. equipment, call it a Bundle.

A little bit ago, I read a post on The Alexandrian about how the current Pathfinder/D&D system for encumbrance doesn’t work and proposing an alternative method (influenced heavily by Delta’s D&D Hotspot and Lamentations of the Flame Princess).  Shortly afterwards, a budding DM friend of mine suggested something similar (probably borrowing from the same sources).  In both cases, though, I resisted; the Pathfinder system is accurate and granular, and the coarser measurements of the Stone system seemed to make things unnecessarily vague.  With the Pathfinder System I know when something is heavy enough to put me in the next load category, and it wasn’t clear that the same would be true with Stones, or that Stones would represent various character’s abilities faithfully.  So I cast Stones aside.

In the meantime, though, it’s become apparent that I was probably wrong, and that (as The Alexandrian noted), the current system might be accurate but it wasn’t useful.  Encumbrance was calculated once, at best, and then generally ignored.   computer could quickly and easily adjust a character’s load in real time, but it is kind of silly to have a system in a tabletop, ostensibly-paper-and-pencil role-playing game that requires a computer to use properly.  So I’m thinking of adopting the Stone encumbrance system myself.  The fact that saying things like “I’m carrying about 3 stone” is evocative for the setting helps.

Paper & Pencils had a post a short time ago about making encumbrance work.  There’s a lot of good stuff in there and it’s a big part of what finally changed my mind.  However, I didn’t like the Significant Item system they presented, or the fact that they tossed aside the notion of adjusting carry limits for Large or Small creatures.  The problem I have with that is that (1) a Small creature should be able to carry less than a proportionately-build Medium creature, and not all Small races have a STR penalty.  It seems weird to assume that all halflings are naturally stronger, proportionately, than their human counterparts.  The corollary to this is that shrinking someone would have no effect on their ability to carry their gear.  Granted, most extant “reduce person” spells have a STR penalty built in, but even if that weren’t the case, it’s only reasonable that a smaller frame wouldn’t be able to carry the same amount of stuff.  So I argue that encumbrance systems should take Size in to consideration.  I could be persuaded that this makes things unnecessarily complex, but I’m not sure it does.

I also liked The Alexandrian’s idea of bundles to replace Delta’s simple “misc equipment” category.   I think there should be better guidance on what can/should be bundled together — does 1 torch, 1 wand, and 1 potion really hinder someone as much as 5 torches, 5 wands, and 5 potions?  I did like his notion of containers and only being able to pack on so much gear, but I’m not sure I agree with his numbers for how much a character can life — particularly since they all seem to be less than the character’s “max load” numbers. it’s vague since Max load is listed in Stones and lift limit is listed in Pounds.

Most of the rules I would include can be found at the Alexandrian post.  This includes the general weights of items and creatures, how bundling misc. equipment works, and the use of containers.  The only change I would make is that light weapons are 5 to the bundle, ammunition is 20 to the bundle, and coinage is 250 to the bundle (750 to the stone).

Below are my own Encumbrance By Stone tables for Medium, Small, and Large creatures.  These are essentially a direct transform from the Pathfinder table, which by the numbers is apparently what everyone else did as well.  For my purposes, 1 Stone = 15lbs, more or less, which divides nicely into thirds. Bundles are 3 to the stone.