Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Preponderance of Encumbrance

You know, I’m sitting here, and I can’t think of a single game—ever—where I’ve used the encumbrance rules as written. Either we simplify, we hand-wave it, or we use common sense. From the Rules Cyclopedia and Palladium Fantasy of when I started gaming to the Castles & Crusades, Rolemaster, and HARP of today, it just one of those parts of the buffalo we don’t use.

Now, that’s not to say I let characters get away with anything; if you have 5 longswords, 2 full backpacks, a rubber tree plant, a spare chain shirt, and 50 feet of rope strapped to your back, and you are of middling strength, you’re not going to be winning any races (or moving that much at all, potentially). We still do generally practice resource management—just not down to the decimal.

So, this is my question to you: am I in the minority here? Do you pay a lot of attention to encumbrance? Why or why not? If so, what does it bring to your game? I’m curious to hear other thoughts on this.


Alex Schroeder said...

I keep saying that I want to use encumbrance rules, but in the end we never do. So what happens when the archer says he is carrying five quivers? What happens if the fighter is carrying a longspear in addition to a warhammer, a shield, and a ranseur? Nothing much. Sometimes we try to make fun of the player, I guess. ;)

Social pressure as a way to make the shared imaginary space work…

jcosmon said...

A great point -- and I never used them, trusting in a common-sense idea of "c'mon, are you kidding me?" to guide the day.

There have been some problems, though:
1) I have always felt lazy about not doing the bookeeping 2) When I have wanted to invoke limits and institute some kind of encumbrance rules, there have been (admittedly minor) conflicts over "okay, how much is too much?" Players don't want to go to the rulebook values, as they seem too limited, but they need to know how much stuff they can carry out and how much it will effect them in combat, etc. Not having planned an alternative system, almost any imposition of minuses feels like a lot to them. I think it sometimes falls to, "you can carry up to x but no more, and that much really doesn't give you a penalty." But sometimes even this kind of fades a few games later.

Finally, I wonder, having read more game theory and game books in the last year than any point since like 1983, if not using encumbrance seems to avoid one of the main themes of resource management that true acolytes of the OSR see as crucial. The idea that managing weight, like hit points or spells, is one of those things that sets the rhythm of the game -- "we need to go back because this is all we, the henchmen, and the rented mules can carry at anything above a slow waddle." This forced players to hire and manage allies or take penalties while offering plump targets on the way back to AdventureTown to cash in their loot and bank the eps.

I don't know, I have never played it straight, and even with these caveats, I might be scared to do so.

You wrote that you keep a balance between requiring resource management and bookkeeping -- does it usually work pretty smoothly?

jcosmon said...

Sorry to go on (who knew encumbrance would hit my buttons?) but do you usually give eps for treasure? If so, when do they get them -- on the getting, or the spending?

If the second, then encumbrance could be a big issue, as getting a mound of metal back to town becomes a major plot point for the players.

Bonemaster said...

I don't think many people use the encumbrance rules. If they do, they usually don't use the ones that are written. I heard that some people use some sort of slot system, much like some computer games.

I know that I tend to hand wave these things. I only get technical if you will, when a player and myself can not come to an understanding of what is an acceptable amount of gear to be carrying. Usually much to the players disadvantage as usually the amount they can carry isn't even near the amount that I would let them carry.

Zachary The First said...

I haven't really had any issues with a "common sense" bookkeeping approach. We play that if it isn't on your character sheet, you don't have it, so my players are pretty good about tracking those sorts of things.

I also review sheets every level (and ideally make backup copies), so if someone has decided to pick up an anvil and lug it around without saying anything, we usually catch it then. :)

My group does get some XP for treasure, as they obtain it. If it was in the spending, that would be another resource issue, wouldn't it?

jcosmon said...

Well, I think that you are right that giving ep on the spending would be another resource management issue. I think for some GMs, the more resource management, the better! :)

I have never done it, but I read on different sites that some GMs did that to encourage characters to "stay hungry" (ie cash poor)to encourage adventuring and to encourage them to move towards what some folks call the "D&D endgame" -- building a keep, hiring servants, getting land, etc.

Some blogs have described players who basically say "I blow it all on wenches and drink" to get the eps.In some accounts it sounds like recreating the "Conan Syndrome" (he gets lots of diamonds and gems but is always poor at the start of the story.)

Again, not recommending it, but it is floating around out there.

BlUsKrEEm said...

The4 only game I ever used Encumbrance was in X-Plorers, other than that I use common sense.

DeadGod said...

In fantasy games, I just make the players count up the weight of the weapons and armor. If a character picks up something ridiculously heavy I might have them add it to their weight total. I hand-wave the rest of the weight.

In modern or sci-fi games, I discourage characters from carrying around anything larger than would fit in a pocket. (Unless they are suiting up for battle or something, then I default back to the weapons and armor total.)

Rob Iannacone said...

At character creation, each player in my group looks up the maximum load in pounds they can carry without slowing them down. We basically just guesstimate the weight of their gear from there. Not terribly accurate, but meh: it's good enough for Bavarian folk music.

Jerry said...

What we ended up going with in Gods & Monsters is to combine keeping track of what the character is carrying with keeping track of how much they're allowed to carry.

Each character can carry x items (based on endurance and strength); no item can weigh more than their strength. So on the back of their character sheet, they have, say, 9 slots, and if they're carrying something it needs to be written on one of those lines.

Gleichman said...

I almost always use Encumbrance rules, for the simple reason that common sense isn't common.

I may modify them from the core rules (as in the case of HERO System). And depending upon the genre they may seldom apply (Superheroes comes to mind here).

But I always use them.

Giga boy said...

I'm very meticulous about encumberance (I also use grids and minis!).
You should see how many players start to think that plate armor is not such a good idea in the end.

Rules Magis said...

I would do like we Marines do and track a combat load. The only real time you are woried about weight in GURPS is in Combat. So this is the gear my guy fights with and his weight. A quick dropping of a pack and bamm your at your fighting weight.

Stuart said...

We've always hand-waved encumbrance as well. Although I really like what was suggested in Searchers of the Unknown -- characters can have 3 weapons, or 2 weapons and a shield. I'd add to that and say if they want to carry more than that they bump down a speed category as if they were wearing heavier armour. Carrying heavy sacks of treasure or tons of gear would bump them down a speed category as well.

Not perfect, but pretty fast and hits most of the points I'd want to get out of an encumbrance system anyway.

Ameron said...

As long as the PCs don’t seem to be abusing the lack of encumbrance tracking then I don’t care. This becomes even less relevant if they have a Bag of Holding.

As long as their equipment list seems to make sense then I’m cool with it. Until they tell me they have 3 suits of full plate and a 10-foot ladder then I’m not going to enforce encumbrance rules.

Joe said...

We think of it as a guideline too. As you say, if you've got 5 long swords, 2 backpacks, etc., that's a red flag.

Here's a post I did on 5 different RPG rules subsystems that are often ignored/hand-waved/treated as guidelines:

Thasmodious said...

For years I wanted to use encumbrance but it was just too cumbersome. In 3e I made up separate equipment sheets, divided by item type (mundane, weapons and armor, magic consumable, etc) and had encumbrance on the sheets. I also had the PCs designate what was their adventuring load and what was their around town load. My PCs often walked around slightly encumbered out in the wild, but with carefully stuffed backpacks they would drop at the beginning of a fight to reduce encumbrance. In the end, its just not worth the bookkeeping, ti doesn't add enough to the game.

I handwave it with the common sense tag now and I use a mundane equipment houserule to eliminate bookkeeping of chalk, fishing line, pitons and other mundane items.

David Nett said...

Wow. Seems like this strikes a chord for a lot of us.

Like you, my group mostly fudges encumbrance -- we commonsense it (and sometimes ignore) with armor, weapons, and normal adventuring goods (have you ever thought about how hard it would really be to carry around 50 feet of medieval hemp rope?). The places where I pay close attention are:

1) Characters who are extremely physically weak - if a player has chosen to load a really low value into his/her strength slot (which rarely happens), I make sure I watch that player like a hawk for encumbrance. Same thing, maybe to a slightly lesser extent, with endurance or constitution.

2) monetary treasure - Piles and piles of gold can be a serious problem. Because I hate keeping track of it, almost all of my parties can count on finding a bag or box of holding somewhere early on, which lets me off the hook until they accumulate a whole lot of it. I do make a point to have moneychangers in every village so they can trade-up for gems, etc.

Apart from that, I don't worry too much unless someone wants to try to carry something stupidly big and/or bulky. Encumbrance, for me, is a bit like bathroom breaks. I don;'t wanna have to keep track of bladder capacity for each character either ;-)

-David Nett
GOLD, the Series
can you take the hits?

Ryven Astrology said...

I use a system that is somewhat blended between item slots and pure weight. Slots are useful for clothing, weapons, armor and attended gear; you have a head slot, a couple of arm slots, maybe 3 belt slots for weapons or consumables and so on. This stuff is assumed to be non-encumbering. What matters for encumbrance is what you're carrying around in bags or backpacks - those items are weighed out and applied to a slightly decreased encumbrance calculation to account for the slots. This system has the nice side effect of helping everyone keep track of just how available your goods are if you need to get to them quickly.

Tim Shorts said...

We usually caculate encumbrance in the beginning to get all the correct scores, but as we play if someone get a 1000gp we don't calcualte the weight. If They find a solid gold statue that weights 20 pounds we calculate it in. When I DM I just do it in the beginning and within the game let them know their characters are being weighted down. It not a game stopper for me just a hint to go back and reload for another round.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to use it, but it's simply too much hassle to be constantly adjusting the total every time the PCs pick up or lose an item. I like the resource management aspect of it though... too bad.

Zzarchov said...

I always use encumbrance rules, it adds to the strategic thinking, and makes players focus on what they really need. I had to right my own, simpler rules though. So that players could pick up and leave things without much hassle. It also adds the thought on how much you really need to strip down a dungeon to the grout between bricks. No more do high level heroes loot every corpse. Sometimes the coin isn't worth carrying.

The simple rules I use:

Geek Gazette said...

We have always ignored and just used common sense. Luckily the majority of people I have gamed with will say, I don't think I can carry all of this and then we deal with it. Most of the time I ask them what all they have on them before giving them anything significant. If it seems like a ridiculous amount of weight I may require they come up with a way to transport the extra weight or drop some things.
We tried to use the rules once or twice and it just got to be a headache for everyone, so we quit. We don't want that level of realism anyway. If the encumberance rules made the game more fun, we would use them, but they don't and the fun is the most important part of the game.

1d30 said...

We're always found encumbrance to be a pain and a bore. Mainly because it's constantly changing! And you wear little holes in your character sheet from all the erasing, even if you've printed on cardstock.

An alternative: use the stone-weight system by Delta (1 stone is 14 pounds). A very OS way to do things would be to say the character fits within three encumbrance categories based on how much treasure he carries beyond a backpack of gear, armor, and two weapons. You get those for free.

Effectively you're assuming people who wear armor have a class-based bonus to encumbrance capacity equal to their armor.

Downside: what about people carrying extra food and water for the desert? What about a Fighter who decides to not wear armor so he can carry more treasure?

Solution: It's assumed you're carrying two weeks food and a couple days of water. You need to continually find water along the way. If you carry extra then you have to track weight and it cuts into your treasure capacity.
And your treasure capacity is the same whether your Fighter wears armor or not. Makes no sense, but it's fast.

This way you still carry more treasure if you have high Strength, but you're not constantly tracking weight of things. The bookkeeping plus the reduced treasure capacity is a punishment on the player for wanting to carry an extra suit of chainmail and seven weapons.

And using Delta's stone-weight system, you don't track small items unless you have a lot of them. And most items are a half-stone or one stone. Since you're not counting armor you probably won't carry any single item weighing more than 1.

CRAPTCHA: amplaut. n. Like an umlaut, but the dial is turned up to 11.

da Trux said...

i don't think i've ever paid much attention to encumbrance rules either. it just always seemed as an unnecessary thing to worry about. but i'm always trying to streamline rules and speed up dice rolls, so i guess it isn't surprising that i feel that way