Friday, July 1, 2016

Plans for Encumbrance

Complaints about encumbrance:  bookkeeping, looking up the weight of things, keeping track of arrows and other missiles thrown or fired, re-calculating every time money is collected or spent, figuring out adjustments due to strength and other elements, the total lack of benefits from having LESS stuff in order to get exactly the same effect as ignoring encumbrance has given.

It is this last that is the killing feature for anyone who has ever proposed actually using this rule.  The immediate effect is NOT to increase the player character's power but to restrict it.  Your character that used to move 5 hexes per round now moves 2.  Why?  Because we've decided not to ignore all that weight your character is carrying, the weight that has been carried since the beginning of the campaign.  Sorry.  Your move is crap now.

I have managed to wean my players onto the penalty of carrying too much weight by having movement linked to armor.  More protection = less movement.  Now that I want to change that by bringing in encumbrance as a thing, my players are likely to be less resistant to the policy.  They already know that no one moves at full movement rate unless they're prepared to strip down to only their clothes and a weapon or two.

The bigger problem for my players is the tracking - and this is a problem for everyone.  It is impossible with pencil and paper, especially if what's wanted is a proper account of where the encumbrance is - hips, shoulders, backpack, saddlebag, pack animal, etc.   Otherwise, what is the point?  Once players have been encouraged to believe that carrying something on their person is going to be a hassle, they'll get smart enough to realize that shuffling off their backpack before a fight will make them move faster . . . and that's the sort of thinking I want them to have.  It shouldn't be a question of "now you are loaded, you're screwed," it should be, "now that I'm loaded, what can I ditch at an opportune time that will make me not-loaded?"

Many make the mistake of thinking that encumbrance is a yearning for realism.  Realism, while nice for museum curators, means nothing to me.  I am interested in game - which means that any rules about encumbrance must be a game unto themselves, thereby adding to the role-play experience.  I want players who take a hand axe into combat because they know they can throw it right off and move faster.  I want players who choose a club for a proficiency because they know that if they really need to, they can discard it and lose nothing valuable.  I want players who choose what goes in their backpack not in terms of what fits, but in terms of what can be lost forever without it mattering much.  I want players who realize that no everyone can take a grapple, because they weigh 7 lbs. a piece and that's a lot of excess weight just in case its needed.  I want players who think.

Ah, but that paperwork.  That is something else entirely.  That is why I plan to take the price table and build an encumbrance table out of it.  All through making the price table I very carefully assigned weights to everything.  The next stage is to take those and build them into drop down lists that the players can pick from, then assign a number of things carried and have the weight of those things automatically calculated, along with all those other excessive details that no one wants to keep track of.  Fire an arrow?  Just change the number on your excel sheet.  Add 375 coins?  Just change the numbers.  Want to take it out of your backpack and put it in your saddlebag?  Change the location tab and instantly see the effect.  Easy peasy.

Yes, it means using a computer.  Horrible things, with buttons.  Aw.

It will mean some work and some time, but I should have something workable along those lines soon - the hard part, the weights themselves, have all been assigned.


Tim said...

I can't wait to see what you come up with for this.
If it speeds things up at all, the last time I tried using encumbrance in Excel I made a formula to easily keep track of the ounces/pounds conversion ratios when calculating the total:
=SUMIF(units_column,"=" & "oz",weights_column)/16 + SUMIF(units_column,"=" & "lbs",weights_column)
units_column is the column of units, which are text of "oz" or "lbs." Logically this can be extended to any other unit, like stones or tons.
weights_column is the column of numbers matching whatever the unit is beside for some given item.
The division by 16 is so that the sum of all the ounces is divided by sixteen (since sixteen oz = one lb) and then added to the sum of all the pounds.
Good luck!

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Excited to see how you convince Excel to pull this one off. Sounds like quite a task to me, but it's not my chosen medium.

Also: I hope that you have been able to extract some enjoyment from moving in and settling into your new place. With any luck you're reading this from your favorite computer chair, fully moved to your daughter's home.

runningwithscissors said...

I really like the sound of this. I've always thought that a series of minigames within a larger game was an interesting way to make the more 'book-keeping' aspects of the game more engaging. Things like inventory management, party resources, and things that allow players to organise things beyond just their backpacks such as personnel and assets can give extra, cool dimensions to the game.

In a way, it could be said to approach realism from a slightly oblique angle. Attempts at verisimilitude that convert the humdrum into something with which to illustrate the challenges of negotiating the world, but in a way that makes it a more gratifying experience rather than a slog, are always a good thing in my books.

I'm quite interested in how this all might be done with spreadsheets etc, but personally I quite like a more tactile approach. I wonder if there could somehow be some kind of synthesis- the computers for the number crunching, and some kind of tabletop manifestation simultaneously?

Maliloki said...

Have you thought about basing encumbrance (at least slightly) on Constitution. It always seemed weird to me that encumbrance was solely based on Strength when the penalties seem more endurance based.

Maybe a combination where the max amount you can carry is based on your Strength, but it slows you down based on your Constitution. So a high strength/low constitution character can power lift, but tires quickly and cannot carry that weight around for very long without penalties.

Alexis Smolensk said...

It is my opinion that "constitution" does not refer to endurance but to health and composition. I consider endurance to be a condition of strength. I feel that the aspect of constitution that refers to 'vigor' has been misconstrued by gamers to mean endurance, but in fact I believe that vigor is in reference to the body's ability to fight off diseases and poor nutrition, not exhaustion.

I suggest giving a good look at a definition of constitution and particularly its etymology. You'll find that endurance is not fundamentally part of the meaning of the word.

Maliloki said...

Good points all around and I SHOULD be doing more research before spouting off random things.

On the plus side, this information fixes one of the issues I had in my own game, so thank you.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Not your fault! You're merely the victim of years of casually scattered thinking regarding the bleeding together of words and concepts that's the result of a role-playing publishing industry that never saw fit to hire proper editors or be self-conscious about the endless logical conflicts they themselves perpetrated.

Hare said...

Rules to facilitate meaningful player choice. Boom. Save the guy in plate? Abandon him? Drop the treasure and run or risk the fight? Good stuff. Critics misunderstand things like this by thinking it's about realism, as you mention.

I suppose you'd find an abstract "coin" system to be unsatisfying? 1981 D and D has a flat cost for all small miscellaneous items and values for armor and treasure. We've been writing the number to the left of each item and keeping a running tally. Not a huge deal really. No push back from the players. Maybe because they haven't played before.

One of the players observed that it hadn't had a significant effect yet. Between sessions I realized that it actually had. Less distance covered per wandering monster roll.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Believe me - in my highly tactical combat system, it will be noticed immediately.