Encumbrance in Savage Worlds

Brendan at Untimately got me thinking about encumbrance tonight. He presented a slightly modified version of a system from Papers & Pencils; essentially Brendan takes the slot-based system from LotFP and introduces variable carrying capacity based on Strength. If you aren’t familiar with LotFP, instead of worrying about what an item weighs, it puts the emphasis on how many different items your character is carrying, with some special considerations for bulky armor.

I’ve decided that his system as presented can be very easily adapted to Savage Worlds with minor variation. The rules presented in SWD note to only worry about encumbrance when it really matters, but I’m personally a fan of the idea of encumbrance rules for medieval fantasy games, just not of the fiddly bookkeeping of weight.

Image by Papers & Pencils

The first thing to consider in this alternate system is that items are divided into two categories: Insignificant and Significant. Insignificant items are tiny things that don’t have any real impact unless you carry a lot of them, such as coins. Significant items are all of the weapons and gear that your adventurer really needs to do the job. Characters can carry a number of significant items equal to their Strength score and count as Unencumbered.

Since Brendan is working with D&D scores, his system imposes a -1 penalty for each additional significant item carried. For Savage Worlds, I’m going to adapt it to match closer to the rules found in SWD, meaning that a characters can carry a number of significant items equal to their Strength at no penalty, equal to twice their Strength at -1, three times their Strength at -2, and maxed out at four times Strength at -3. Carrying 100 insignificant items counts as a significant item (hence, every 100 coins carried). Plate armor and two-handed melee weapons each count as two items. Backpacks count as one item and can carry a reasonable number of items inside (probably 10).

Now we come to the part where I’m still trying to make some decisions. Should characters with the Brawny edge double all of these amounts or should they just move everything up one step, i.e., they can carry twice their Strength at no penalty, three times at -1, and so on?

Also, the encumbrance rules in SWD apply the penalty to all Agility and Strength trait rolls, including the skills based on those attributes. It does not mention any penalty to Pace; my house rule thus far has been an inversion of this, penalizing Pace while leaving the trait roles unaffected. However, Brendan’s system includes applying the penalties to attack and skill rolls in D&D as well as to movement, and he makes a short but sound argument for why. I’m leaning toward bringing the penalties to trait roles in addition to keeping the penalty to Pace, since the movement penalty really captures the old school fantasy RPG vibe. I’m also thinking the penalty should apply to the running die, although this could have the odd side effect of allowing the character no extra movement (unless I introduce another house rule I’ve been considering, which allows characters to always run the maximum distance).


Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

8 thoughts on “Encumbrance in Savage Worlds”

  1. So the weakest half-orc, d6 STR, can carry 6 significant items with no penalty. Let’s say Plate armor, Greatsword, backpack and minimum loot (100 coins). If this character picks up anything else he suffer a -1 pace (and potentially attack penalties).

    Now Savage Worlds Encumbrance as i understand it is 5x STR. The above character can carry 30 pounds with no penalty. With the armor and sword alone he is carrying well over 30 lbs.

    It seems you’re more interested in bulk than weight so I agree with your method. The question then is would 100 more coins prevent the character from swinging his sword properly? I don’t think so. But would an extra 700 coins make things more difficult? It would be in the 3x character’s STR but I still don’t think that would be the case.

    That being said it is a game and, as the pic you chose aptly demonstrates, there should be some rule in place to discourage such over encumbrance. I suggest thus:

    – Brawny edge: they can carry twice their Strength at no penalty, three times at -1, and so on.
    – Add the penalty to all AGL and STR trait rolls and pace.
    – I would say running should be rolled because it could be dramatic (i.e trying to escape) and penalties for encumbrance should apply for the same reason. I would however make run a min of +1” no matter the penalty.

    It’s a simple system to use and discourages abuse.

    Nice ideas, John. I’m stealing this too.

    1. Good point about bulk vs. weight, Bry. 100 insignificant items just seemed like a simple round number to pick, and I still think it might be an OK way to go – ancient coins had some heft to them, and a swinging coin purse of 100 coins could have an impact.

      Considering the bulk vs. weight issue, you may disagree with this, but I had a further thought on backpacks: regardless of the number of items that can actually fit in the backpack, the distribution of weight allows X significant items stored in the backpack to be counted as 1 item, where X is the PC’s Str. So a character with a d6 Str might have 10 items in their backpack, but only 6 get counted as a single item. This reduces the number of additional items carried in the example from 10 to 5.

    2. Or perhaps a better version of the above backpack system would be for every number of items stowed equal to Str (or fraction thereof) to count as one item. So a character with a d6 Str and 10 items in the backpack counts that as 2 significant items carried.

      1. Actually I was thinking the same thing. There’s a reason we carry things in convenient packs on our back. It’s easy to do. And the rule wouldn’t bog down gameplay with unnecessary math.

  2. The only time I’ve ever bothered with encumbrance rules is in an Elder Scrolls game where the Strength d6 (or Strength d4!) characters wanted to waltz around in platemail. Your system is much more forgiving. Even if you break plate mail into four parts (chestplate, greaves, armguards, and helmet), the average character can still carry a sword and shield. Perhaps that works for some games, but I think that only the strongest warriors should be decked out in plate mail.

    One thing you might consider is taking this idea of significant and insignificant items and creating more levels. Say you get a number of “slots” equal to half your strength die, but some items take up more slots. Daggers, short swords, leather armor, or anything else of weight (a purse of coins, a bag of potions, a spell book, etc) take up one slot each. Longswords, flails, chainmail, and small shields take up two slots each. Greatswords and large shields take up three slots each, and plate mail takes up four slots. The Brawny Edge gives you +2 slots. You can adjust the slot distribution or give more slots if desired.

    1. Good thoughts for a more strict system, but I am intending to be pretty forgiving. Yes, this does allow a d4 Str character to wear plate mail (counted as 2 significant items) and carry a sword and shield with no penalty, but he can’t really carry anything else. Or he could drop the sword and have a back pack allowing 4 more items at no penalty, but again, I’m going for simple.

    2. I agree that Simple is the goal here. If you want realism then you need more rules. More rules mean more record keeping.

      I kinda like the idea of slots but half STR die seems unrealistic. A character of d6 STR couldn’t carry a backup weapon without suffering a pace and attack penalty. Too bad for the longsword fighter when the random encounter is skeletons. He just couldn’t afford to carry a mace.

      Chainmail, Longsword and Large Sheild would be 7 slots. A character would need a d12 STR AND the Brawny Edge to carry very basic “Fighter” gear. And he still doesn’t have a backpack, coin pouch, lantern, rope, loot from the last adventure, etc.

      Encumbrance is realistic but complicated. This is a game. Keep it simple.

      1. Nearly two months later, my thoughts strayed back to this post and the way I’m handling the system. I still intend it to be a pretty forgiving system, but I am now leaning toward saying that “armor” counts as a number of significant items equal to the bonus it provides in the torso – so leather is 1, chain is 2, and plate is 3. Still much more forgiving and simple than the poundage system, but it gives a little more weight to armor (heh). Plus, it has the benefit of actually being simpler to remember than “plate counts as two because it’s plate.” In this case, the number of items it takes up is right there in the bonus it provides.

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