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.
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).