Sunday, June 28, 2009

You know what rules everybody loves? Encumbrance!

Today's flaws are generally well known. The magical backpack and the absurd and difficult to work out encumbrance. Most people don't even bother with it, but at the same time it does get ridiculous, often unintentionally.

The encumbrance system in piecemeal is both simple and easy to use. Its the "Dot System". How does it work?

Each character can carry a certain number of abstracted "dots" worth of equipment. A dot is way of representing awkwardness, weight and unusual storage requirements.

Characters can carry a number of dots equal to their strength before becoming over-encumbered. But how much is a dot?

A small item (like a short sword) is 1 dot, a medium item (a longsword) is 2 dots, a large item (like a two handed woodcutters axe) is 4 dots. A tiny item (like a small knife) is half a dot. Other items take up varying amounts of dots, a suit of armour for instance is 1 to 3 dots depending on type. Its fairly abstracted, but also intuitive and easy to alter or change.

Now what about items like backpacks? Containers allow you to store many dots worth of things inside them, while taking up fewer dots worth.

example: A full backpack is 4 dots..but can hold 8 dots worth of things, with restrictions. No individual item can be larger than 2 dots, and rooting through a container has a "search time", for a backpack that's a d3 rounds. This is a way of making it known that items you store aren't easily usable in a crisis situation. You cannot nest items (obviously).

What happens with encumbrance? Well lets take an average man with strength 10 as an example.

If he is under-encumbered by 2/3 (less than 4 dots in gear) he gets a bonus to his move, physical ability checks and attack. Running around with a sword, buckler and leather armour thus keeps him at peek performance in a fight.

If he has normal encumbrance (between 10 and 4 dots) he is unaffected. So throw a full backpack, and a pair of belt pouches (1 dot) on him and he's able to move about.

If he is over-encumbered at all (he picks up another belt pouch full of stuff) he gets -1 penalties to his move, attacks and physical checks.

If he is over-encumbered by 1/3 (13 dots) he suffers -2 penalties.

If he is over-encumbered by half again (15 dots) by saying throwing on ANOTHER backpack full of coins and gems and he's at -5's. He'll have a hard time moving unless he drops something.

If he is over-encumbered by 2/3 (17 dots) he's at -10. So throwing a suit of chain-mail on top of his arms, combined everything else is just too much to even move..something has to be dropped (or he needs bigger muscles, or better training on how to carry awkward items).

Why is this good?

1.) Its simple and easy to calculate

2.) Its still related enough to "reality" that it is easy to reconcile and not feel like a stupid "just because" rule.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Great minds think alike: Delta's Encumbrance mod (based on Imperial stones)

  2. I make no claims that others have not also thought of everything I have and will ever write. Roleplaying Games after all tend to draw alot of creative people.

    My inspiration for this came from working on computer games and noticing how nice and clean their "Slot" systems where as a solution.

  3. Excellent post! I especially like how easy it would be to estimate the dot value across systems and settings.

  4. I love it! You called it, I always ignore encumberance and its effects. This is a great little house rule that plugs into, well, EVERY GAME.

    I shall swipe it from you.