Friday, December 19, 2008

A Weighty Issue


Players don't want to track it because it's just pure paperwork to do something that hinders their character.

The referee doesn't want to do it because he's got his own crap to take care of without worrying about every coin that every character is carrying.

But I believe encumbrance is important, and not just for "realism" reasons.

Encumbrance affects movement rate, which becomes an issue when needing to run from a monster. Can you outrun the monster? Can you if you drop that big fat sack of loot you're carrying? Can you outrun the dumb bugger who won't drop his big fat sack of loot?

Loot or equipment? My current campaign is plagued with a lot of oil flask bombings, which I'm admittedly soft on. But every coin, if 10 coins = 1 pound, creates a dilemma. "Do we need this many torches? This many flasks? Or do we want this treasure instead?"

I like that it creates choices.

My main problem in enforcing encumbrance isn't keeping track of the weight. That's easy. The problem is a measure of capacity.

You know, the guys carrying a ten foot pole, a lantern, shield, sword, plus having holy water, oil flasks, and his scrolls and potions at the ready. He's also carrying the group's treasure and mapping. And if something happens while he's checking for secret doors, this is all at hand anyway.

Because I'm dealing with five to eight people and dealing with the environment and its inhabitants too, I can miss this. I'm not even sure if this is happening. I'm just suspecting that it might be. Yeah, I keep everyone's character sheet between sessions, but a simple list of equipment ("It's on my horse!") isn't enough for a conviction. It's not that I think they're cheating or anything, it's just that if I'm not keeping track or seeming to care much, why would they?

I need a solution to this. Here is what I am going to try.

Index cards!

Every player will have two index cards standing folded in front of him at the table, each representing one hand of the adventurer. One side of the fold will be non-combat, the other combat. And I can enforce some simple rules:

Torch or lantern takes up a hand.
Shield takes up a hand (I won't believe that an adventurer is walking around for hours with a shield strapped to a raised arm carrying something else).
A non-empty sack takes up a hand.
Mapping takes up two hands (did your character buy his mapping paper?)
Weapon takes up a hand.
A staff takes up a hand, can't be stuffed in a sack or anything.

Each player will also have an index card representing his body (belts and straps to hold things), one representing his backpack (they've all got one, and your characters should too!), and one for each sack or other container being carried.

Carried items will not be placed on a general "equipment sheet," but on these index cards, in order to regulate the carrying capacities of each item. I shudder to think how much stuff some of my players might have stuffed in a sack, you know? No "group treasure" list, unless somebody's backpack is the group treasure receptacle.

I'll tell them it's up to them to keep track of their items, and I have the right to "audit" their equipment lists at any time however often I want. On first infraction, I issue a warning. On second infraction, I confiscate one of their packs (preferably one with the party treasure or the mystic key to open the important doodad) and say they dropped it somewhere and dungeon filth carried it off...

What do you think?


  1. Pretty good solution. I know encumbrance is probably one of the first things to be ignored in every game I have played and ran.

    I might combine the hand index cards into one single card, with a dividing line drawn through the middle. I already use cards for things like commonly used skills, armor class and the like, so I'd want to keep things consolidated.

  2. I think you've hit upon the perfect solution.

    Not only does it give you a specific way to check up on your players, but it forces them to think about what they're carrying and where and why.


  3. Great post but what we really need are Mini's that are like buckaroo! The characters keep piling stuff on until the character pops and gear flies off everywhere. A gap in the market perhaps? :)


  4. I think that would still be too complicated for our table. I've been toying with a simplified solution where each character gets to have 12 items beyond first weapon, shield, armor, backpack. Six of them reachable, six in your backpack. Anything else needs a porter, a donkey, etc. Then I made a list for small items: 1 items slot will also do for 20 arrows, 10 bolts, 50 coins, 20 gems, 10 jewels, four daggers, two potions, etc.

  5. Good idea on the item cards. I know paizo do a pretty set, but a few minutes work with GIS and a printer can save cost.

    I've been thinking of using a schematic sheet using either lbs or stones as a measure of capacity (derived from Delta's Pure 20 mod IIRC) and breaking it down by location in the manner of a Diablo inventory layout. So you'd have five or six boxes with items in them something like:

    helmet, diadem, etc.
    armour (weight)
    -Arms (L&R)-
    bracers, weapon, shield, torch, etc. (weight)
    gloves, rings
    -Belt Slot 1-
    Scabbard or material component pouch
    -Belt Slot 2-

    A little notation would go at the top of each package indicating how many actions/what initiative penalty it take to retrieve an item from it. Hopefully there'll be no more teleporting items or quantum lanterns ("So, you're wielding a two-handed sword. How are you carrying a lantern too please?").

  6. I think I've seen a carried-items tracking sheet that does more or less just what Chris (above) is talking about. Though I agree such a thing could get tedious during gameplay.

    I was in a game recently where my character ended up toting a huge amount of gear. She had two loaded bandoleers, a belt full of pouches, a Heward's Handy Haversack full of junk, and had loaded her pants pockets with more stuff. It was a play-by-post game so keeping up with all that gear wasn't so bad, but even I had to agree she must have been quite a sight and probably on her way toward hernia surgery.

  7. See the example of Malchor in Holmes Basic; your cards and similar forms just alter the presentation, it seems.

    Some people like grosser measures of encumbrance, such as RuneQuest's "things." Really, 1.6 ounces -- or whatever is considered the equivalent volume -- can easily seem a bit too nit-picky. Common sense can often quickly suggest a "close enough" appraisal of a burden's unwieldiness.

    (You're carrying a dozen big, fluffy pillows ... how?)

  8. Two thoughts on this. The first is that the old Ghostbusters International game from West End rated equipment by weight and by bulk. Something that just tucks away in a pocket has a bulk of 0 (bit a large number might count as 1/2 or more), something that's large enough to be noticeable will be rated by how many hands it takes to carry it or use it. A torch is one hand, a sack of loot takes two hands to carry; some objects might be 1.5 if they can be carried in one hand but might need a second hand to use effectively (like a battleaxe). An adventurer may have plenty of places to carry stuff if outfitted properly - including backpack, belt, and hands, he might have about 7 units worth of bulk at any time. Adapting this to D&D, pushing beyond this limit could slow movement not due to weight, but simply due to being bulkier, clumsier, and perhaps having to make frequent adjustments to keep things from falling off. (I have visions of the little boy in A Christmas Story immobilized by his own snowsuit).

    My other thought, perhaps more directly applicable, is that you could ask one of the players to take up the task of tracking encumbrance for everybody. I'd offer some kind of token benefit for doing this, such as a chance to reroll one roll each session (or to roll a d20 roll with a d30, at least on Shatnerdays); but i like to make such bennies available for other things, like chipping in for pizza, providing rides, and the like. It's a nice motivation, and the players can rotate such tasks as well as benefits if they like. I know some players are more inclined to be devious than cooperative, but if you occasionally ask for current totals, and note the current level, you can help them resist temptation without having to track every little nitpick yourself.

  9. I like the ideas in this thread. I had to jump on my Cleric for carrying half a dozen weapons and not keeping records of items. No record no item. This is my first time as DM. I am running TOEE with 5 kids 13 and under plus one adult and an NPC so this issue is very relevent. Not to mention being able to decipher their writing.
    Have thought about a dedicated laptop for the game but a little expensive and not keen on introducing a computer. Has anyone produced software for this sort of thing?
    I think I will go with the card idea for now and if it wont fit on the card then it is to much stuff. Depending on size and bg holding etc. I like Alexs idea to.
    Have fun