Inspired both by The Dice Bag’s post on equipment and my recent dive into Fallout 3, I’ve come to the realization that encumberance rules bug me.
There are several paradigms that I’ve run into:
- The standard D&D one, which pretends to have some semblance of realism by tracking the weight of all your gear, and imposing penalties if you go over the weight you can carry by strength. This leads to all sorts of wackiness if you actually think about it.
- The one that goes for maximum realism by making characters track exact weights and locations of all the items they are carrying, and is annoying as hell to keep track of.
- Systems that don’t track your carrying capacity, leading to players carrying everything they’ve ever found.
- Forced restrictions. “You can wear one set of clothing and wield one weapon, and that’s all.” Usually only in video games.
All of them have their issues, as you can probably tell. I lean more towards the more abstract, less-bookkeeping intensive systems for a variety of reasons (I hate tracking ammo and food, too).
In my last D&D campaign, the players invested in mules and a cart to cover it, though that meant having to keep track of it when they went sailing, into dungeons, and so on, while also having to keep track of what items were in the cart and which ones were on someone’s person. At least I never asked them to calculate how much weight the cart was carrying.
The “pack-rat” tendencies of players are pretty interesting though. In some games, it’s simply a part of the economy. You will kill hundreds of goblins, and you are expected to pick up all their suits of armor and spears and sell them to your local blacksmith as part of the expectation of gaining money. (In my current game, I tend to make it clear that monster equipment is generally worthless).
But then there’s the Chekhov’s Gun or Self-Fufilling Chekov’s Gun principle: every item, especially the weird or obscure ones, will either be important to the story later or the player will come up with an important way to use it.
The latter is one of the really fun parts of RPGs: finding unexpected uses for things. That’s something I want to preserve. I just wish it meant that the players didn’t carry around a lot of, excuse the expression, dead weight all the time. Especially in combat. I prefer my badass heroes to be relying on their weapons and armor, and not have to think about how the halfling rogue is carrying around a ten foot pole while tumbling all around the battlefield.
There are a few suggestions, like “bulk points”, giving away bags of holding freely, or just plain old DM fiat (“no, you can’t carry an anvil with you.”) When thinking about it in summation, I’m not looking for more game rules to cover it. I’m looking for some shift in the meta-game that makes players care about how their character looks and operates while supposedly carrying all that gear. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for pseudo-abstractions.