2 May 2020

Across the Clones - Encumbrance

In a previous post I examined how the old-school TSR rulesets tackle encumbrance, by taking an assumed equipment baseline and seeing what a PC would look like with that in each edition in terms of burden levels.  As a follow-up, I'm going to examine a series of retroclones and see how they tackle the issue.

As I anticipate doing this sort of old-school and OSR rules dichotomy for multiple mechanics, I thought I'd pick a base set of clones and return to them again and again.  As such, we have:
  1. Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS)
  2. Astounding Swordsmen & Sorcerors of Hyperboria (ASSH)
  3. Blood & Treasure 2nd edition
  4. Basic Fantasy RPG (BFRPG)
  5. Crypts & Things Remastered
  6. Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
  7. Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  8. Swords & Wizardry Complete
As our guinea pig, we're using our friend from the previous post, Ricky the Burdened.  If you recall, he carries:

Leather armour, dagger, longsword, shield, backpack, bedroll, one week’s iron rations, full waterskin, tinderbox, belt, clothes, hard boots, two large belt pouches


ACKS uses an encumbrance system rooted in the UK's stone measurement.  1 stone weighs 14 pounds (6.35 kilos).  Everything is measured in terms of stones.

ACKS encumbrance

There are three burden levels, with Strength being irrelevant.  An interesting element of the system is how much coinage it lets you carry: 1 stone = 1,000 coins.  Following the old-school standard, many games make coins enormously heavy, and while pretty much everyone recognizes that the old-school coin weights of 10 to the pound were far too heavy from a historical perspective, some justify this by saying that it makes it an interesting and useful challenge to recover coinage and thus gain XP.  Using traditional rules, the 14 lbs of a stone would get you only 140 coins.  To take an example, in BECMI, the most generous old-school system, you're going to be able to stagger around at best with 2,400 coins, and even then your speed drops by 87.5%.  With ACKS, with nothing else on you, you can carry 5,000 coins and not even hit the first level of encumbrance.  It's a huge change to gameplay.

In leather armour, Ricky the Burdened would be at 6 stone, just into the first level of encumbrance.  However, he doesn't have much of a cushion before bumping into the next burden level: just two more stone: adding chainmail would put Ricky there (-50% move).  However, that one stone left in the current category means 1,000 coins, which again is far more generous in that regard than any other system.

ACKS uses about 71 coins to the pound.


ASSH follows a broadly 2nd ed AD&D setup: variable encumbrance based on Strength, with the system of measurement using pounds.  However, it doesn't go anywhere near as silly in terms of the number of burden categories as 2nd ed does.  It also allows a slightly greater unencumbered load than 2nd ed (e.g. Str 3 unburdened in 2nd ed is 5 lbs vs ASSH's 10 lbs, while Str 18 unburdened is 110 vs 125), and a noticeably greater one at maximum encumbrance (e.g. Str 3 max burden is 10 lbs vs 30 lbs, while Str 18 unburdened is 255 vs 375).  There are two burden levels (-25% and -50% movement).  It's less penalizing in terms of movement rates than most systems, but adds an Armour Class penalty at both burden levels (-1 per), also unlike most systems.

ASSH encumbrance

In this system, Ricky at Str 12 would be unencumbered with leather armour, and at the first level with chain.  At Str 17, he'd be unencumbered no matter which armour he used.  This matches 2nd ed AD&D, though his burden level effects are slightly different (-25% Mv and -1 AC for ASSH, vs -33% Mv for AD&D 2nd ed).

ASSH uses 100 coins to the pound.


BFRPG encumbrance

BFRPG sticks out in its fixed racial categories: a Halfling just plain carries less, regardless of their Str value: about 20% less.  However, halfling armour is 1/4 the weight of any other race's armour.  Additionally, it only has one burden level, which allows for up to roughly 2.5 times your unencumbered weight value.  Like B/X and BECMI, the armour you're wearing is the major determinant of your burden level.

As you can see, the burden rates aren't fixed: they depend on what armour you're wearing, so that the one burden level effectively becomes three different levels (well, five technically, but only three are mechanically distinct).  Someone with no armour and someone with plate move at different rates, even if carrying nothing else.  You also add the raw weight of armour when calculating your load (which is where the halfling's armour weight savings comes into play).

I'm not sure I see the value of having a separate set of rules just for halflings, even as I readily acknowledge the realism factor.  At the same time, I don't see the value in halflings, so this could be just me.

BFRPG uses 10 coins to the pound.

Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition

Blood & Treasure encumbrance

B&T's system is also a variant on 2nd ed AD&D.  It hews pretty closely to that edition's weight capacities: a little more here, a little less there, depending on the Str value.  However, it chops down the burden levels, just as ASSH does: just two (-33% Mv and can't run [x4 move], and -50% Mv and can't jog [x2 move]).  In this system, Ricky would have the same base burden levels as ASSH, whether Str 12 or 17, and whether leather or chain armour.

Blood & Treasure uses 30 coins to the pound.

Crypts & Things Remastered

The Table of Contents for C&T is quite bad, but its encumbrance rules can be found on page 16.

Crypts & Things encumbrance

C&T goes for pounds.  It uses a variant of the B/X miscellaneous equipment rule in that whatever random stuff you have always weighs 10 lbs.  Otherwise, it's three burden levels: -25%, -50%, and -75%.  Neither Strength nor armour has any effect.  It's an unusual approach, in that it adopts the more precise pound standard, but then proceeds to abstract a lot of the remaining bits that would benefit from such granularity--not necessarily a bad idea.  The lack of Strength modifiers quite annoys me, though: that Raistlin carries as much as Throthgar the Destroyer is a bad ruling, IMO, especially considering C&T is a sword & sorcery game, where brawn should have greater prominence.

Under this system, Ricky is going to be unburdened in leather (25+30 pounds) and lightly burdened in chain (50+30 pounds).  At 25 pounds, only S&W out of the clones has leather armour weigh this much.

As you can see above, C&T uses 10 coins to the pound.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery

FH&W encumbrance: click to enlarge

FH&W goes for both the granular Str and pounds measurement of 2nd ed and the burden level adjusted by armour of B/X, BECMI, and Crypts & Things.  It also has the greatest role for encumbrance in the system: you absolutely do not want to be burdened in this game.  The "Dice rolls penalty" listed at the bottom applies to attacks and damage both.

Annoyingly, you have to refer to the armour section to get the armour burden values, and no page references are given: you're just told to go to the appropriate chapter, which is bad in general and especially so in a book of this size (armour is on pages 64-65).  Uniquely, the speed reduction provided by armour (which is always either 0 or -33%), does not stack with encumbrance: if you already were slowed that much due to the weight you were carrying (which includes the weight of your armour), then you don't get the armour penalty on top of that.

Under this system, Ricky is going to be unburdened at Str 12 in leather, but hits the first burden level in ring mail (the closest equivalent to the typical +5 AC chainmail of most systems; 40 lbs).  Considering the penalties of being overweight, this is a bit disappointing, but then again, many characters wearing mail would have a higher Str.  At Str 17, our other assumed Str score, you'd be fine even in mail, which is the case for all games with this sort of Str & lbs-based system.

Like 2nd edition, FH&W uses 50 coins to the pound.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Probably the best known encumbrance system, LotFP uses a unique points-based system that abstracts everything.  I think it's a great base concept, but could certainly use some tuning.  In particular, once again, Strength does not affect your carrying capacity.  In a system like this it's particularly odd, in that the Str modifier could easily give you free items or free points or modify the number of points before burden levels kick in: I don't understand how that could have been missed or passed up.

LotFP encumbrance: click to enlarge
There are three burden levels, with speed reduced at each as usual (-25%, -50%, -75%).  You can get some strange artifacts as a result of this system: you can carry ten longswords or 1,000 coins and get the same encumbrance level.

In this system, whether at Str 12 or Str 17, Ricky is at the first level of encumbrance (weapon plus 11 or less points of stuff) regardless of whether leather or chain is worn.  Or at least, I think so: the way armour interacts with encumbrance here is not worded the best (worn metal armour is worth points per the top, but worn armour doesn't count for encumbrance purposes per the second footnote, so I dunno).

Coins have no individual weight in LotFP per se, since weight isn't tracked in real-world units; 100 coins = 1 item point.

Swords & Wizardry Complete

This system has a bewildering host of variants and subvariants, but Complete is the main version, and the one Frog God Games plans to support going forward, so I'll be focusing on it.

S&W Complete encumbrance
The pounds standard, three burden levels, Str modifies your capacity: simple and straightforward.

In this system, even at Str 12 Ricky is unburdened in leather (though as with C&T it's a hefty 25 lbs here).  In chainmail (50 lbs) he hits the first burden level.

S&W uses 10 coins to the pound.


System summary; burden assumes Str 12 score

Overall, the main thing that leaps out at me is that there's a decent variance in terms of measurement systems, but the gameplay effects are very similar.  Every system here abandons the old-school coin measurement standard for something new.  Using our test-case PC, Ricky the Burdened (assuming Str 12), whether we're using pounds, stones, quatloos, or what have you, we see that he usually starts out as unencumbered (usually just barely), but about a third of the time he's at the first burden level, and the overall result of being burdened in any way is that he's slowed down.

That having been said, what that means exactly varies from system to system, sometimes notably so.  ASSH's first burden level is very generous in terms of movement lost, but makes you easier to be hit, which no other system does.  ACKS gives you mountains of room for coinage, even if you'll be limited in trying to load up on almost anything else: it's the most conducive to hauling in the amount of coin you'll need to level up, especially at high levels, which I think is a big mark in its favour even if the rest of the system doesn't particularly stand out.  FH&W has you wanting to avoid a burden like no other game: having even the first one is practically a death wish, reducing your average damage by almost 50%.

Creating this overview, combined with looking back over the discussions I've read or had on encumbrance systems in the past, has made me realize something interesting: the general mindset around designing OSR encumbrance systems is centred on a) what the best unit of measurement is; b) overall item granularity; and c) what a coin should weigh.  The most common item in favour of an encumbrance system is "how easy is it to use?", which is why LotFP's is so commonly recommended.  What does not come up, oddly enough, is "What sort of gameplay are we looking to create here?"

  • What should be the system's base measurement unit?
  • Should your average adventurer start already burdened?
  • Should Strength matter?  If so, how granular do we want to get with that? 
  • Should armour have a special burdening effect, separate from its weight?
  • How many burden levels are needed?  When do we want burden levels to kick in?
  • How much burdened weight should you be able to add on top of the unburdened weight?
  • Very specifically, how much pure coinage do we want an adventurer to be able to haul around?
  • What penalties do we want burden levels to grant?
  • If movement penalties are granted (a universal assumption), how severe should they be at each burden level?

Most everyone agrees on a base pair of principles: 1) old-school D&D had encumbrance as part of resource management and if we're copying those games then we need that too, and 2) encumbrance should be in general bad and in particular slowing.  Perhaps that surface unanimity has prevented much of a deeper look at the subject.  Obviously, a lack of design notes on the systems covered above hinders an analysis of what the overall goal of each system above, if any, was.  Each differs in various ways, but it's not clear if a specific goal or set of gameplay effects was intended from the start.  I suspect in most cases there wasn't.  I think reasoning from principles (what do I want to achieve) rather than from obligation (okay, I need to have this in there) is going to get you a better ruleset, even if the foundation of any OSR ruleset as a whole is essentially going to start with the latter.

I'll make one more post on the topic where I consider my own system in light of what I've covered.


Ynas Midgard said...

I love the analysis!

David B. said...

I like your analysis (and your blog in general). I posted on my own regarding coin weight from a historical perspective, and the reality is the same as the old school system: it varies, a lot. Even coinage can't be trusted as a weight measure. I personally use OD&D coin weight variance with no Strength benefits, but I really wish I could use something else. I just don't see any system having something better TBH.

Also, a case against Str providing a bonus: since movement is especially important as a measure of long distance travel (whole dungeon or wilderness), it shouldn't make a 'noticeable' change. In long range patrols or long trek, endurance (i.e. Constitution) have a much bigger impact. Sure, a high Str can LIFT something bigger, and probably carry it a few pace further than the high Con character. But what about a 10 miles trek ? History and personal experience in the army proves that average Str people with very high will/endurance can carry heavier things much further than the high-Str low-Con guy. That being said, some people are gifted on both areas and will carry further than the low-Str high-Con: but at the end of the day I don't think I want to go into that granularity. In any cases, my point is that Con > Str in terms of long-distance carry.

Daren C said...

Well, what did you decide? I went with a slot system inspired by Knave (and LotFP). Items = Str. Extra items subtract 10' of movement. Hasn't come up much yet, honestly.

Keith Hann said...

Darren: Had to wrap up my dissertation, so I got a bit sidetracked. :) But now I have three weeks to kill while the committee reads it, so I'll make a new post or two shortly. But honestly, your system seems to work as well as any. Mine isn't so much a radical new thing as an old thing unlikely to elicit excitement but that gives exactly the results I want it to. The most important thing with systems like encumbrance is that they give the results you want, over and above being tailored to your particular desired level of granularity: I think a lot of encumbrance designers get hung up on the latter while sort of forgetting about the former.