Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thoughts on Encumbrance

Art by Chuck Whelon
Encumbrance always seems to be one of those rules that people either ignore completely or try to house rule so that it can actually be used at the table. For the longest time, I belonged to the former category. I understood why the encumbrance rules were included in the game and I could respect the attempt to add a shade of realism to the game. However, I've always felt the rules as written required too much math and calculations to actually be used at the table without causing things to grind to a halt. Seriously, who wants to stop in the middle of a session and re-calculate your current weight to make sure you are still carrying a light or medium load?

Now, after seeing some other people's attempts at re-designing the encumbrance rules, I believe the idea can be salvaged. I think the key to creating an encumbrance system that can actually be used at the table without affecting the speed of a session and the overall enjoyment of the players is abstraction. While the system presented in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook is more "realistic", that level of realism just adds another layer of complexity to a system that is already rather complex. However, I think if you were to take the basic idea of encumbrance and build a more abstract system around it, I'm pretty confident it would work better at the table.

With that in mind, here's the encumbrance system that I've been toying with for awhile now. I'm pretty sure I'm not the first person to come up with it, but I thought I'd post it anyway so that I could get feedback and continue to refine it. In this system, every character can carry a number of "significant" items equal to their Strength score without being encumbered. The character can carry up to double their Strength score as a Medium Load and up to triple their Strength score as a Heavy Load (suffering from the same penalties and restrictions found on pg. 171 of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook). So, for example, a fighter with a Strength of 16 would be able to carry up to 16 significant items as a light load, up to 32 as a medium load, and up to 48 as a heavy load.

Now, I keep using the term "significant item" a lot in the above paragraph and I should probably define it so people will know what I'm talking about. Since I'm trying to make the system easy to use, I don't feel like a character should count every single little thing they are carrying, but only the items that would have a significant affect on the capacity of items the character can carry. Those items would be:

  • The character's backpack
  • The character's armor
  • The character's weapons
  • The character's magic items
  • Any item the character would carry in bulk (like rations, ammunition, etc.). These items are counted by the bundle, which for these rules, is defined as 10 items. So, a character carrying 20 arrows would be carrying 2 significant items. 
So, that's the basic system that I'm working with. It might not be the most original re-working of the encumbrance system, but I believe it will make things easier at the table. However, I have yet to actually test it, so keep that in mind. I'd love to hear what other people think of it and if there is anything they believe I should change or alter to make the system better.