Friday, December 6, 2019

Encumbrance rules

If buying equipment at char-gen is often a waste of time, keeping track of the weight of each item is often too much even for the fanatic OSR player. Numbers to add and subtract, movement rate to re-evaluate, etc.
The good things is, there are plenty of easier encumbrance systems out there for you to use.

The first link uses a simplified weight unit: the stone.
Most stuff weights one stone (150 coins, several small items, a normal weapon or shield) and a few of them weight a little more (armor, basically).
The link contains also a few notes about the Imperial units vs. the Metric system.

Encumbrance is one of those fiddly bits in D&D that no one really enjoys (and lots of people just ignore once the game is in progress). [...]
In short, you should just use a coarser unit, one which makes the numbers easier to count mentally, and only have to deal with them when it makes a direct difference on gameplay.
Calculating encumbrance can alternatively be done using the old English unit of the "stone" (that is, 14 pounds). For D&D, let's say that 1 "stone" = 150 coins weight. For example, a grown man weighs about 12 stone. 
Conversions for gear are as follows:
Plate -- 5 stone
Chain -- 3
Leather -- 2
Shield -- 1
Weapon, heavy -- 1
Weapon, light -- 1 per 3 carried
Misc. Equipment -- 1 (total)
Tiny items are counted only if a character carries a large number of them; such gear as a dagger, potion, scroll, jewelry, etc. can be counted at 1 stone per 6 items, if so desired. Obviously, every 150 coins of treasure adds 1 stone (a backpack or large sack can carry 2 stone worth). 
Conversions for movement categories follow:
12" Move -- up to 5 stone weight
9" Move -- up to 7
6" Move -- up to 10
3" Move -- up to 20

If you like this system, note that Adam in the comments also proposed a small tuning based on the Strength score:
A Strength 12 man can carry 12 stones of encumbrance and still move 6".
You could make the categories12" = 1/2 Strength in stones9" = 3/4 Strength in stones6" = Strength in stones3" = 2 x Strength in stones (this seems a little high, but 150% of Strength is lower than the top of your current scale).

A further simplified version of encumbrance rules could just track the number of items, without the need to specify their weight. This post by Eric Diaz was directly inspired by the Delta article linked above.

Encumbrance, Movement and the rule of four
[...] Nobody seems to care much for "coin" weights, so a number of alternate systems have emerged. Delta's stone encumbrance is a favorite and an inspiration for this one.
For encumbrance, a "rule of four" might work quite well to help you remember that a regular character can carry 40 pounds without adverse effects, and up to four times time much, but with one fourth of their speed (if you carry more than STRx3). Combat movement is 40' per round.

I wanted STR to be relevant to encumbrance, so let us say that you can carry a number of 4-pound items equal to you STR. Four pounds is a good weight for a sword, mace, etc, with a scabbard. Two-handed weapons, or shields, counts as two items. Armor is a bit trickier; to keep it easy and quite close to Moldvay, I would make it count as [...] 4/8/12 for leather/chain/plate

The article contains a link to a single page pdf with the complete encumbrance rules:
In the PDF the rules refer directly to a number of items, instead of pounds (while it still maintains a reference to the weight of objects).

A character can carry a number of regular items equal to his or her Strength score before being slowed down. Thus, a character with Strength 12 can carry up to 12 items without penalty.
Any number of items over the Strength score will cause speed to drop to 3/4 of the regular speed and a -1 penalty to various activities. If the number of items is equal to Strength x2, speed is halved and the penalty is -2.
A standard “item” weights up to four pounds; examples are one-handed weapons such as sword or mace (with belt, scabbard, etc.), a winter blanket, climbing gear, a backpack, a grappling hook, 40’ of rope
Heavy items such as two-handed weapons, shields, 10 foot poles, winter clothing, etc., count as two items (or more, depending on the case).
Leather, chain and plate armor count as 5, 10 and 15 items respectively.
Small items may be bundled together and count as one single item (for example, four knifes, 40 arrows, 40 coins – or 1000 coins if you’re being historical, etc.).

The first article used "stones" as the measurement unit for encumbrance, the second a basic 4 pounds item, then further simplifying in the pdf by simply counting the items themselves instead of their weight.
This is of course very similar to the most popular system now, based on "encumbrance points" and connecting that directly to movement rates. Yes, talking about Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

When I've first read the rules, I had to glance at the character sheet to understand better how it worked, but it's in fact quite simple:
- Every 5 items, it's 1 encumbrance point
- Multiple items get written together (i.e. "arrows") and count as a single item
- Armor and/or oversized items count directly as encumbrance point(s)
- Worn or very small items are not counted

For additional details about the encumbrance of each single item, look at their forum:

The only part which I don't like too much about the LotFP approach, is that you have a layer of abstraction (encumbrance points) and:
- you track your armor separately,
- you count your oversized items (but have no space in the character sheet for them, unless you use the non-encumbering equipment space),
- you write items in the list and count them by multiples of 5
... then after you've done all this, count your encumbrance points and figure out your movement rate

When I worked on the Black Dogs 'zine, I wanted an even easier system: something that worked by slots and told you right away what your level of encumbrance, and penalties, are.
It's done like this:
- Regular items are written one per slot (as in LotFP)
- Small items are written together in a slot, a few of them
- Armor is not tracked separately, but counts as multiple slots (as a rule of thumb, each point of AC counts as 1 slot)
- Very large or heavy or long or encumbering items count for 2 or more slots...

You have a number of slots equal to CON score + STR modifier (so both stats count... but it works easily with an average of the two, or just using STR, and so on).
So if you have 14 slots, you simply erase (fill with black) all the slots above number 14 on your character sheet.

If you need to carry more than that, you must use the "encumbrance boxes" which have fewer slots. By default, each box is 1 slot + CON or STR modifier (whichever is higher, or whatever you prefer). Again, you simply erase (fill with black) the slots you cannot use.
Note that the slots come with progressive penalties.

Design notes:
- Tracking the weight of each single item, adjusting movement speed and penalties, and so on, is simple but time consuming and therefore encumbrace rules are often overlooked, or turn into a burden for many players
- A simple solution is to use a measurement system with a large base unit, such as the "stone"; a sack of coins is a stone, a weapon is a stone, a large weapon 2 stones, multiple small items are a stone, etc.
- The stone, or a fixed weight, could be used as the base for the encumbrance system. Often these alternative rules use a generic weight which is equivalent approximately to the weight of a one-handed weapon, a piece of gear, a sack of coins (heavy items count double or triple, small items are bundled together)
- This allows to move from a weight-tracking system, to simply counting items
- Which is what LotFP does: every 5 items is 1 encumbrance point, armor and oversized items count for 1 or more enc. points, very small items do not count... and you get a movement rate based on your encumbrance level (number of points)
- In the Black Dogs 'zine, I mixed those ideas in what I felt was a very functional character sheet: items go in slots, armor takes multiple slots (i.e. one per AC point), large items take multiple slots... and when you're out of regular slots, you write in the encumbrance slots which give your character progressive penalties