Simplifying Encumbrance for Dungeon Weariness

The old standby
The old standby

In my last post, I struggled a bit to determine the DC for “encumbrance as encounter,” or a Weariness check as I dubbed it. I got a lot of positive feedback on the post, but Noah pretty fairly pointed out that there’s still a lot of work getting in the way of the fun in documenting encumbrance as suggested. I agree, and at the time I was thinking that a highly customized character sheet was really the only good way to make it simple. I essentially repeated the sentiment to Harley and expressed the additional difficulties I was having thinking how to incorporate it with DCC specifically, given the armor check penalty already incorporated in those rules. I had a few different thoughts on tweaks and revisions I could make to fit it into DCC, and how a sheet would look that would make it less difficult to track in any D&D-ish system.

Until tonight, when I realized that DCC’s armor check penalty not only didn’t need to be modified, but that it actually could be the key to really simplifying this for any D&D-like game, and not requiring a major character sheet overhaul. Here’s what I’ve got …

Count up how many things your character is carrying. Not wearing (like you wear armor), but weapons and other strapped-on things do count. That’s your Encumbrance number. When a Weariness check is made, you need to roll that number or better on a d20 or get a level of Weariness.

Anything big that would take two hands to use, like 10′ pole or two-handed sword, counts as two things. Anything smallish or notably light counts up to 5 of the same thing as one thing — i.e., four daggers counts as one thing, and three scrolls counts as another one thing. Anything tiny like coins, gems, or caltrops, counts 100 of the thing as one thing. Quivers of arrows or abstracted items (as in my provisions system) count as one thing for each quiver or level or whatever.

So if you’re carrying:

  • Sword
  • Shield
  • 3 daggers
  • Bow
  • Quiver of arrows
  • 2 torches
  • 2 levels of provisions
  • 10′ pole

Then you’ve got an Encumbrance score of 10. Based on that alone, you’ve got a 45% chance of gaining a level of Wearniess every time a check is made (based on the cards averaging every 6-8 turns). As I noted in the last post, though, both Strength and Constitution (Stamina) modifiers apply to the roll. Using a common OSR scale like LotFP or DCC, you could have a bonus as high as +6 (or penalty as low as -6). If you’re a burly fighter with a +2 Str bonus and +1 Con bonus, the chance of Weariness drops to 30% per check.

The best Google Image result for Encumbrance, for sure

But how does armor, one of the heaviest things utilized by adventurers, play into this?

In DCC specifically, the armor table lists armor check penalties ranging from -1 all the way up to -8 for full plate. The penalty applies to a bunch of thief skills and any other action that the judge thinks would require freedom of movement. It also applies to Weariness checks. If you happen to be carrying a shield, in addition to counting it toward your Encumbrance number, it also provides a -1 check penalty (seems fair, shields are big and heavy).

So the your fighter from the previous example is wearing scale mail (-4 check penalty), you actually makes your Weariness check at a cumulative -2: Str +2, Con +1, scale mail -4, shield -1. Against Encumbrance 10, you’ve now got a 55% chance of gaining a level of Weariness when the check is made. Swap out that scale mail for full plate, you’re staring down -6 and a 75% chance of failure on each check.

Let’s port this to systems other than DCC. If the system uses ascending AC, simply take the armor bonus and make the same number the check penalty — chain mail +5 AC is -5 check penalty. If it uses descending AC, subtract the AC the armor grants from the system’s unarmored AC, the difference is the check penalty — chain mail AC 5 in an unarmored AC 9 system is -4 check penalty. Done and done.

I am tempted, but not convinced, to tweak the Weariness roll so that beating your Encumbrance by 5 or more gives a second wind rather than just a natural 20. My internal jury’s still out. But what I really like about this, is that it’s really easy to keep track of, and only requires one or two things new added to a character sheet: your Encumbrance score, and your check penalty if you weren’t already playing DCC. Pick up an item in the dungeon, chances are your encumbrance went up by one unless it was a dagger or something.

So what does everyone think?


Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

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