So I’ve had this idea for a different way to do encumbrance kicking around in the old noggin for a while. Then I read What’s in your backpack? A healthy dose of reality and started thinking about it again.
What it comes down to is this. I don’t like weight as an abstraction for how encumbered you are. It should be a factor for sure, but you shouldn’t be able to carry a dozen 10 foot poles without issue just because they’re light weight.
What I do like as an inventory system is the grid based inventory CRPGs use. I think the first one I saw was in Diablo. Long items took up more space. And that axe head protrudes down from the rest of the axe. And you get to sort all that stuff to make it fit.
Well, that’s great for computer games but not so great in pen and paper. As a general rule, I’d like my mechanics to simplify things. Fitting stuff in a grid simplifies nothing. I haven’t found a way to satisfy the shape element of the grid inventory. Instead, lets use the size part. Different items take up different amounts of space. You have a limited number of slots to store things…
Why not treat a line of text as a slot? You get one item per line. And you have a number of lines equal to the size of your backpack. Let’s just call a backpack 10 items. Write backpack on your sheet, draw a box around the next 10 lines. Done.
Well, not quite. Items need some level of size. I don’t think D&D’s approach of weighing each item is any good. Too much math for anyone to want to recalculate it. But I also don’t want a backpack full of chainmail to encumber you the same as a backpack full of feathers.
So items will need some sort of size. Let’s go with small, medium and large. Instead of item weights, you’ll just use their encumbrance value. This is an abstraction of weight, size, unwieldiness, etc.
Now let’s go back to the backpack. Instead of holding any 10 items, let’s say it’s a container that holds 10 medium items. The backpack itself would have to be large. Maybe one of the medium items is a first aid kid, which itself is a container of small items.
Basically you’re getting a number of slots to fill in with items of varying sizes. This doesn’t seem as obnoxious as tallying object weights and looking up an encumbrance chart.
But what about actually carrying these things? Well, I think the way to do that is to give the body itself slots for carrying. If a person has 3 large slots, that’s a backpack, armor, and weapon. To give a bit of realism, lets make that number of slots a variable. In D&D parlance, we’ll use the strength modifier. Give each PC a number of large item slots equal to his strength mod plus one (with a minimum of one, or else the weaklings can’t carry anything). Packs and weapons occupy large slots. I imagine donning armor would occupy a slot as well (maybe more than one for certain types of armor? If so, this would be the first system I saw that made you take off your backpack because it didn’t fit around your armor). I might even introduce more types of containers, just so the strong characters get to carry more. ie, the backpack carries 10 medium items and occupies 1 large slot, but the hiking frame carries 16 medium items at the cost of 2 large slots.
On paper this would look something like
I know I’m biased, but this seems a lot simpler than keeping track of the weights of all your items. It would automatically keep you from carrying stupidly unwieldy things by factoring size as well as weight. The container business might be a little over-engineered, but it was the best I came up with. (The alternative was to say that large items took up more slots. Saying a greataxe is worth three swords is fine, but I don’t really want to know how many eyes of newt correspond to a single tower shield.)
Anyway, if you find this usable please let me know. I’ve gone a year without RPGs and that’s not likely to change. Someone else will have to beta test this one for me.
I finally hung out with my players again. Game ended two months ago and I’ve been reclusive since then. They were telling some other friends stories about the game.
Without fail, all of their stories were player driven. None of the plots that I wrote were retold. Everything the PCs told our friends was a situation where they decided something had to happen and took the initiative to see it through.
I’m not griping that they don’t appreciate my stories, quite the opposite. I’m proud of them for leading the narrative. And I’m pleased with myself for giving them the opportunity.
But I want to emphasis that GMs who shut down their players in favor of a preconceived story are selfish. Your players are not an audience. If they want a story on rails, they’ll read a book, watch a movie, or play a video game. They’re roleplaying because they want control over the story. They’ll remember those times you let them drive the story. They’ll also remember those times you shut down their plans to go off rails, but not in a good way
I got a lot more mileage than expected out of the Game Wrap posts. This last topic (for values of “last” pertaining to the original list of Game Wrap topics. I’ll probably come up with more thoughts and observations later. For now this is the end though) is something I’m still struggling with, because it’s something I’m still torn on.
This was the first campaign where I’ve fully embraced a campaign setting. Before this I usually bit off a section of a campaign setting and ignored the rest. We’d stick to a city or town and have an adventure there, but ignore the rest of the world. It makes the game seem small and severely limits the scope of what you can do, which is why I preferred it for my 8-10 session long adventures.
I should add the caveat that when I say ‘campaign setting’ I mean something explicitly written as a campaign setting. The game before this was set in George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. I spent a lot of time rereading the books and finding resources for world info. Going into this game, I expected my experience with Westeros to be similar to using FR as a setting.
Some time ago I wrote about trying to wear NPCs as hats. I’m more of a method actor (assuming you can call what I do acting at all), so switching around between NPCs has always been a challenge for me. In a previous post I discussed my plan to treat NPCs as caricatures, defining their outward traits first, never worrying about their inner psychology.
I’d link to that earlier post, but the method sucked and the beginning of the game sucked because of it.
I’ve previously advocated the use of fudging to fix die rolls. This game changed my mind.
As I’ve mentioned, one of the themes of my last game was trying to break my own rules. Early on in game planning I came up with a crazy idea for a backup scenario. If a certain overpowered boss fight wiped out the party, the only idea I had for fixing it was to declare that the world had lost. The bad guys were too powerful. And the players would have to go back in time to slow them down, before things got so bad. The idea only got more over the top from there.
With last post’s introduction to level skipping I encountered a problem. I wanted to jump over some sections of the plot between levels. When I started jumping levels, the players were in Vesperin and needed to get to Tantras. For those of you without a ridiculous Knowledge: Geography of the Forgotten Realms check, that’s about 1000 miles1.
I didn’t want to skip over the travel. Doing so makes light of the huge world I’ve chosen. I use campaign settings for a reason, and to throw them out when they’re inconvenient invalidates the whole setting. I also didn’t want to describe a thousand miles of traveling misadventure to my players. Well, I did, but I didn’t think they’d want to listen. Unless it came back up, they’d know it was filler. And if it was important enough to come back up, they’d rather have a say in what happened than allow me to narrate their actions. There’s no point in playing a game where the GM has full say in what you choose to do.
So I opted to give the players full agency of the situation. The results were fantastic.
This one should be short and sweet. I thought the biggest disruption to my recent game would be getting married. We took 6 weeks off and lost a ton of momentum. Turns out that the Mrs. and I found another way to disrupt my GMing. She’s due to roll character creation in about 10 days. That’s why game ended when it did.
Being extremely slow, I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to run a game and manage a baby at the same time until we were about 5 sessions away from the due date. The PCs were level 12 at the time. I saw two options. Keep them around this level and finish off the local plots, but leave the bigger plots unresolved. Or fast forward between levels and story elements. I elected to fast forward.
We played a session at levels 12, 15, 19, 24, and 30. This didn’t hurt the story at all. The problem was we never felt comfortable with the mechanics. Combat was slow. Players made mistakes. I made even more mistakes. Nobody felt like they knew what they were doing. And this method gave everyone a ton of homework.
Now I don’t regret this choice, but in retrospect I’d have jumped around a little differently. I’d have fast forwarded one jump to level 27, and then done one level at a time between sessions. Then we wouldn’t have as much to process between sessions.
On the other hand, this 3/4/5/6 level jump between sessions really helped the narrative control, which I’ll be discussing just a few posts from now.
After game I asked the players for some immediate feedback. Different parts of the game worked for different people. That’s fine, it’s something I was expecting. One of the GM’s biggest tasks is managing entertainment so that everyone gets what they like a fair share of the time. But the one thing they all agreed on was my beginning. It sucked.