Sunday, August 8, 2010

White Box House Rule: Encumbrance

This morning I had a moment of enlightenment about encumbrance. This was due to me remembering a line from Matt Finch's Old School Gaming Primer.

Rulings Not Rules.

I was looking for a way to handle encumbrance with a really simple system that didn't create some confusion. There are a couple of systems out there using slots (like video games do), or encumbrance value systems giving every item a value and then adding them all up. However, each system requires complete tracking of all the items that somebody is carrying.

Instead I'm going to try this alternate system:

1. During character creation - the character can pick out items and purchase them and put them on his sheet without recording weight or anything.

2. The GM will make a ruling on the encumbrance level of the player when it becomes important in the game. I'll probably take the character's strength score into account while figuring this. Overall, when players are hanging out in the tavern all of this won't matter, but if you are hiking 15 miles a day through rough terrain with >90lbs on your back it may start to cause fatigue. And if you try to do acrobatic combat maneuvers or leaping a
cross chasms I'll use my action resolution system and adjust the difficulty due to the level of encumbrance.

3. I'll keep some stock photo's of zero encumbrance characters, light encumbrance characters, medium encumbrance characters, and heavy. When the players are choosing items, I'm going to ask them to think about the backgrounds they are choosing and see if the items they are picking match up with pictures of that kind of character. For example, an acrobatic fighter probably should only carry a few critical small items in pouches along his belt or on his legs. This would allow him to leap chasms, run along tree limbs, etc... A dungeon explorer might call up the mental picture of a dude with a heavy backpack full of spikes, picks, hammers, torches, a 10-foot pole, he knows that he isn't agile, and he takes last initiative in round 1 while he take time to drop his pack before entering combat etc....

4. From time to time I'll check players character sheet and discuss what they are carrying and see if their default encumbrance has changed.


  1. Sounds like a great approach to me.

  2. Thanks for this post, got me thinking as I am about to start my embryonic career as a DM and encumbrance is one of the things that fills me with dread.

  3. I run things pretty much exactly like this. I've called it encumbrance auditing in the past and do it as the situation dictates. All seems very reasonable to me!