Wednesday, 6 April 2022

E is for Encumbrance

Encumbrance is far from an "edge mechanic" in RPGs. It is one of those rules gamers have a Love-Hate relationship with.

My introduction to D&D and WFRP came years after my father had introduced me to table top wargaming, the hex-and-chit kind. Titles like Panzer Leader, Rise and Decline of the Third Reich (yep, a grand strategy simulation of the ETO), Tactics II, and Squad Leader. I still play them, mostly solo, and discussed where these hobbies meet at the edges. I just finished Game Wizards by Jon Peterson and one comes away from reading with a foundational understanding of how influential wargaming was on the early hobby.

Thus we see why a mechanic for the burden of armor, weapons, and miscellany, the encumbrance on the character, makes an early appearance in rule sets. It's, again, an abstraction. Millions of words have been spoken and written on the realism of such a mechanic. And the mechanic is often set aside for it requires a more than a certain amount of bookkeeping on the player's part.

Encumbrance leans into the "simulation" mode of play and when ignored can make a game feel like a video game—where your weapon choices can be as many weapons as the player has recovered, switching between a pistol and an man-portable anti-tank weapon a simple button sequence—and thus leading to humorous meta-narratives at the table:

GM: Wait, you're going to repair the wagon?"
"Player: Yes, I have a Wagoneer's kit."
GM: Hold up. Reading the books description of a Wagoneer's Kit. It states this includes an anvil, hammers, a stock of wood, rolls of wheel bands, nails, chisels, a lathe. No, you can't repair the wagon."
Player: But I have the kit!"
GM: The listed in encumbrance is 350 pounds! You don't have a wagon carrying it, or a horse to pull said wagon. The wagon you do have is broken in the ditch and it was carrying wounded from the battlefield. Not your kit."
Player: But I paid for the kit! It's on my character sheet!"
GM: Yes. You have the kit, but it's escrowed to the seller back where you bought it. You don't have the kit with you. You can't carry these things in your backpack!"
Player: Ugh, I hate encumbrance."
While I don't enforce the strict bookkeeping of Encumbrance, I generally use it as a guideline, and use more than a dash of common sense at my table. But given the right kind of gamers at a table, I would gladly embrace a strict use of Encumbrance for a campaign.
Posted by caffeinated at 12:31 PM in d10