Encumbrance

Rereading Beyond the Wall inevitably leads me to reread other OSR games and of course just generally googling around for neat OSR gems. One topic that often comes up are encumbrance rules.

I wanted to present my take on it, which is very similar to others but not quiet the same. The basic idea is from +Frank Falkenberg who wrote the method called “Setzkastenmethode” in German for Savage Worlds. It itself takes inspiration form the SWN encumbrance rules.  I always liked it and I am attempting to adapt it to BtW and other, similar systems. Here is my tweaked version. 

A characters inventory is split into several sections. One section for ready items, a section for carried items and an expanded section for carried items where you become overburdened. Each category has a specific amount of “slots” and every item uses a specific number of them.

The first category are “Ready Items”. These are directly worn, like armor or backpacks, and items you can get to easily, like a sword on your hip. You can use any ready item as part of another action. The number of “slots” in this area is equal to half the characters strength, rounded down.

The next section is “Carried Items”. This includes items in your backpack or similar containers or worn somewhere on your body in a secure way. To get access to an item in the carried category requires an action/round. The number of available “Carried Items” slots is double that of “Ready Items”.

 Every character also has three “Encumbrance” expansions, each expansion has half the characters strength in slots.  If any slot in an “Encumbrance” area contains an item the character suffers a cumulative negative modifier of 1 per expansion category to all rolls relating to movement, including combat. I personally never really count pace in detail in my games, but if you do, this should probably affect pace too.

As mentioned items take up various slots. This is a mixture of  general bulkyness and weight.

Normally worn clothing does not require a slot, but heavy, protective clothing, for example in winter, may take up one slot.

Very small Items, like a single potion or a piece of jewelry do not take up any slot and do not count against encumbrance. However a bunch of them, like 3-4 Potions, count as a bundle and then use up one slot.

A normal item, like a shield, light armor, quiver with arrows, sword, backpack etc. take up one slot.

Bigger items, like most metal armors, a medium shield, two handed weapons etc. take up 2 slots.

Truly big and cumbersome pieces of equipment, like a lance, tower shield or plate armor take up 3 slots.

To illustrate this better here some filled out examples.

durin_dwarf_str18

This is Durina, Dwarfen Fighter with STR 18. She can carry a lot of equipment, ready to take action. I usually put loose items that do not require slots yet in the last available columns bottom in brackets, as you can see here.

eric_cleric_str16

Eric the Cleric here is a bit more challenged already with a negative modifier of 1. But with a STR of 16 he is still in the upper range.

tion_thief_str10

Tion the Thief has only STR 10, but a slight greed problem. No treasure left behind! Best hope no one is chasing him and he can steer clear of any trouble. With a negative modifier of 2 on all movement related rolls, including combat, this might end in disaster. If push came to shove he might be able to cut off the backpack to quickly be agile again.

measle_the_meek_str5

And finally poor Measle the meek with STR 5. He may be a powerful Mage, but not a beast of burden… He has a hard time carrying anything. Probably needs someone else helping him carry most stuff, or some magical trinkets like a bag of holding.

As you can see, compared to many other systems this is relatively punishing to anyone with a Strength below 6. Anyone with low STR score will have a hard time carrying a backpack, armor and a weapon at the ready at the same time. It just wont practically happen. Such a character will likely put his weapon in a carried area, like binding it to the backpack or some such, and needs to spend time making it ready. This can be somewhat alleviated if you let people round up instead of down. But rounding up “devalues” the higher strength scores a bit. I also experimented with slots equal to strength but found that too easy.

What do you think? On paper I believe this is workable and manages to force characters to think about what they can use in a pinch. It is still easily managed with rarely any calculating to be done. Do you have suggestions or comments? What encumbrance system do you use?

 

4 thoughts on “Encumbrance

  1. This is an interesting idea and kind of reminds me a little of the encumbrance system in FGU’s Aftermath game. It goes without saying that your system is far more streamlined and workable🙂

    One suggestion I do have is with the way you fill in the slots on the sheet – Tion the Thief looks as though he has three chests of coins and three expensive carpets. It might be better to indicate in some way that they are the same item taking up multiple slots.

    • Good point. I did it this way because I was not sure if US uses the same annotation for Indicating “Same Thing”. In Germany I would write

      Chest of Coins

      The ” indicating that it would be the same thing as the one above it. So I would only ever write the full name of an item in the first row it takes and indicate following rows with “

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