Encumbrance and Move Rate


Like many, as far as I can tell, I’ve long struggled with making encumbrance and movement rate calculation realistic AND playable at the same time. Many times over the years I’ve put my foot down and decided that we’re going to do it by the book come hades or high water only to abandon it ten minutes after rolling up PCs.

What I see as ideal is a coarsely-granular system which:

  1. Is simple enough to use and update during play
  2. Takes strength into account (stronger characters can carry more)
  3. Has at least a passing similarity to the real world weight and bulk of gear
  4. Gives results approximately the same as the by the book systems

Here is my (very alpha) stab at such a system. It uses a lot of inspiration from Delta’s stone system, Erin Smale’s gear pack system, Telecanter’s House Rules system, and Jim Raggi’s Weird Fantasy RGP system, plus, I’m sure, tidbits from countless other systems and forum discussions.

Most medium-sized items have an encumbrance (ENC) value of 1. Small items have no ENC value. Larger and/or heavier items such as large weapons and armor have ENC values of 2 or higher. Yes, a sword weighs more than a hand axe which weighs more than a club, but for our purposes all three have roughly the same effect upon a character’s movement rate and ability to carry gear; they all have an ENC of 1. Two-handed swords or lances, however, are significantly larger/heavier/bulkier and have a greater impact upon movement, so they have an ENC of 2. Heavy suits of armor have even higher ENC values.

Most small items which are usually carried in pouches or backpacks don’t have an ENC value, but the backpack or pouch does. This eliminates the detailed tracking of all sorts of small, light items. If it fits in the pouch, it doesn’t add to the encumbrance of a character. This applies to coins, too, so getting treasure out of the dungeon is manageable if you’ve got the capacity. But if you have to take a sack out of the backpack and start putting gold in it, you start paying ENC for the sack (1 for small, 2 for large, 3 for Santa-sized.)

Every character gets one free ENC “slot.” Beyond that, they can carry 1/3 of their STR and still move at full rate (120), up to 2/3 of their STR and move at 90, their full STR and move at 60, and 1/3 over their STR and stagger along at 30. What I like about this base concept is that the numbers are small (almost always lower than 20, usually much lower) and readily-evident (they’re equal to the first ability score.)

The key is to get the ENC values of gear right, particularly armor. We’ve still got some tweaking of the numbers to do, but initial results look workable.

Take a fighter with the following gear: Chainmail, Shield, Helmet, Sword, Bow, Quiver, and Backpack (full of stuff). Pretty standard.

In B/X/LL, this guy moves at 60 and using my simple encumbrance system, he moves at 90 if his STR is 12 or greater (as long as his money is in his backpack.) He moves 60 if his STR is 8 through 11.

Here’s another example: Character with leather armor, short sword, dagger, and pouch. Moves 120 in both systems, unless his STR is under 9, in which case he moves at 90 in my system. Both of these examples use the 80 pounds for misc clothing and items rule for B/X.

Regarding the dagger in the second example, and the lack of a dagger in the first, I’ve come up with this: Some small lightweight items do not have an ENC number but they have a dagger symbol ‘†.’ Besides the dagger, other “dagger items” include holy symbols, wands, and vials (potions or holy water). Each character has an additional “Dagger Slot” which can be used for one ‘†’ item. Dagger items beyond the first count as normal 1 ENC items unless carried in pouches or packs, in which case they are treated as no-ENC items.

This means that the first example can carry a back-up dagger without affecting his move rate in my system and the second example can have a STR as low as 6 and still move at 120 in my system.

There are still a few details to tweak, but I will probably have a full write-up available soon. Any feedback on the base idea would be greatly appreciated.

UPDATE: Based on some of the feedback (thanks!) and further discussion with my son, I think we’re going to simplify this a bit by removing the concept of basing the number of slots on a percentage of STR and using a flat number for each movement rate and adding (or removing) slots based on high or low STR instead. That will simplify it a bit (vital) and also resolves some issues I was having with making the encumbrance values for armor work for both normal and high-STR characters.

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