The Alexandrian

Samwise Gamgee's Backpack

ENCUMBRANCE BY STONE

Encumbrance by Stone for OD&D
OD&D Equipment Sheet

Encumbrance by Stone for Legends & Labyrinths
Legends & Labyrinths / 3rd Edition Equipment Sheet

DESIGN GOALS

Basically, the entire point of the Encumbrance by Stone system is to simplify the encumbrance rules to the point where they can be used to meaningful effect on-the-fly during actual gameplay.

All the way back in 1974, this type of gameplay was discussed. In Volume 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, for example, we can read:

If the adventurers choose to flee, the monster will continue to pursue in a straight line as long as there is not more than 90 feet between the two. (…) Distance will open or close dependent upon the relative speeds of the two parties, men according to their encumbrance and monsters according to the speed given on the Monster Table in Volume II. In order to move faster characters may elect to discard items such as treasure, weapons, shields, etc. in order to lighten encumbrance.

But in actual practice the encumbrance rules are such a pain in the ass that either (a) they’re not used at all or (b) the amount of calculation required to adjust your encumbrance is sufficiently huge that no one is going to try to do it in the middle of a chase scene.

But in the half dozen sessions since I’ve introduced the encumbrance by stone rules, I’ve had explicit encumbrance-based play crop up twice. And although “encumbrance-based play” may not sound all that exciting at first glance, being forced to throw away your favorite shield or abandon several weeks worth of rations on the pack horse actually provides a great deal of interest. (Going back to get your shield, for example, can be a unique motivator. Running out of food because you had to leave them behind can throw your plans completely out of whack.)

The real root of my desire to find a workable encumbrance system, however, lies in the open table wilderness explorations my campaign is currently moving towards: Encumbrance can make a big difference in how you supply yourself for a particular expedition and that, in turn, will lead to a lot of interesting strategic decisions down the road. Similarly, being forced to leave potentially valuable treasure behind because you can’t carry it will drive interest in revisiting locales.

THINKING ABOUT STONES

Roughly speaking, for the purposes of estimating the stone weight of larger items:

OD&D 1 Stone = 15 lbs.

D&D3 1 Stone = 10 lbs.

But in practice you can just assume anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds. Although eventually set by British law at 14 pounds, the stone historically varied depending on the commodity being traded and the location in which it was being traded. (For example, the 1772 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica states that a stone of beef was eight pounds in London, twelve pounds in Hertfordshire, and sixteen pounds in Scotland.) This makes it fairly ideal to provide a system which uses crude approximation in an effort to vastly simplify the bookkeeping involved with tracking encumbrance. And the slightly archaic nature of the terminology is immersive for a fantasy world. (“I’m carrying about eight stone.”)

In terms of performance, the system will give you a result fairly homogenous with 3rd Edition up to around Strength 25 and then it begins to fall behind the actual tables when performing a straight conversion of stone-to-pounds.

I’m generally okay with that performance for a few reasons: First, most characters won’t reach those levels of strength.

Second, the bundling system tends to be friendly towards the characters. Each bundle is supposedly around 10 pounds, but many common bundles will actually weigh more than that. (Other bundles will under-perform, of course, but I suspect the opposite will more often be true.) And if you’re carrying 40+ stone, then you have to be carrying 150+ bundles (or a lot of really bulky items).

Third, speaking of 150+ bundles, bulk does become an issue at some point. You may be super-strong, but there are only so many places for you to strap stuff to your body. The exception to that is when you’re just lifting a single, heavy object in your hands (which is why I included a separate column for lift).

Fourth, I just don’t care that much. If I did care that much, I would just use the full-fledged, count-every-single-pound method of encumbrance.

SPECIAL THANKS

The design of this system is heavily influenced by Delta’s D&D Hotspot and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

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17 Responses to “Encumbrance by Stone – Design Notes”

  1. John says:

    I’m really liking these rules.

    I’m glad you clarified about the 10 lb stone, it was going to be one of my comments. Like you, I don’t care that much how much a standardized British stone actually weighs (especially considering it is a unit only used for body weight).

    One of my pet peeves is the weight of coins. Again, I don’t care much if someone can find a 1 oz silver coin on wikipedia–I hardly think that was the norm. I have lots of coins around the house, and they don’t weigh much. In fact, 100 quarters weighs close enough to 1 lb for me. That’s been my standard. Personally, I would bump the coins/gems per stone to 1000. But that’s just me.

    Secondly, the weight of equipped weapons bothers me. I know bulk and awkwardness are being considered, but I just can’t reconcile a long sword (or dagger for that matter) weighing 10 lbs or having the equivalent “bulk effect” of 10 lbs of bundled gear. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I think an exception could be made. One of the reasons I like this system is that it is friendly on the players as you said, but this point seems uncharacteristically unfriendly, especially if characters choose to be prepared (ie, having a long sword and a bow within reach) or if they are unfortunate enough to wear two daggers on their belt.

    My solution to this would be to consider all 1-handed weapons to be miscellaneous. (My concern with this is it may proove overly difficult to distinguish different rules for 1- and 2-handed weapons, in which case maybe all weapons should be considered miscellaneous. That is probably an easier pill for me to swallow than others though, as none of my weapons weigh more than 5 lbs.) Somehow, there ought to be a way to designate a weapon as “equipped” but have it only count as a “bundled” item for weight purposes.

    Lastly, the ruling. IMO a 1-2-3 ruling would be more appropriate, for one simple reason. Most people can’t carry their own weight. So if we take an average person (STR 10, 150-ish pounds), their carrying limit is going to be 150-ish pounds. This lends itself to a 50-100-150 distribution, or a 1-2-3 rule.

    Anyway, thanks for these. I’m going to modify them for my own use and thought I’d share how.

  2. Justin Alexander says:

    Re: 1000 coins = 1 stone. I say go for it. The 150 coins to a stone for OD&D was designed to make the system closely replicate the encumbrance effects of OD&D; the 500 coins to a stone for L&L were designed to fit the 50 coins = 1 lb. guideline of 3rd Edition. If you want quarter-sized coins, 1000 coins = 1 stone looks pretty good to me.

    Personally, I like my coins to be a little larger. Maybe it’s one too many pirate stories when I was kid, but when I imagine chests full of loot I think of gold doubloons and silver pieces of eight. The Spanish silver dollar (a “piece of eight”) weighed roughly 25-30 grams, which works out to about 20 coins per pound if I’m doing my math right. Half the size of OD&D coinage; a little over twice as big as 3rd Edition coinage.

    This also lets me pretend that some of the copper pieces my PCs are carting around are actually silver slivers (or bits). I generally don’t worry about this for bookkeeping purposes, but it also allow my players to occasionally snap off a bit of silver for color or to make convenient change.

  3. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    > Most people can’t carry their own weight. So if we take an average person (STR 10, 150-ish pounds), their carrying limit is going to be 150-ish pounds. This lends itself to a 50-100-150 distribution, or a 1-2-3 rule.

    Most people would be significantly encumbered when carrying 50 pounds. Particularly if it’s not well-distributed. Try lugging a laden backpack (or a 50-pound kid) around for a few minutes, and see how you feel about sprinting and fighting monsters. :)

    Personally I don’t mind the system for weapons “weighing” more than they do in reality due to their encumbrance. Weapons, even if not particularly heavy, tend to be (a) long and (b) pointy, sharp, or otherwise dangerous, so you tend to want to take care when you’re moving fast. Plus almost anything of any size held in the hand tends to interfere with your natural running motion. But if the weapon is properly stowed (strapped down, in a sheath, something like that) I’d allow treating it as a miscellaneous object. To prevent abuse, you could create some restrictions on the number and size of weapons that can be stowed in this manner for ready access. (I had a guy in a game who would run around with a bow as his primary weapon, and then when melee occurred, he’d “take out [his] longspear.” Really? Tell me, what orifice did you have that longspear stuck in?)

  4. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    > The Spanish silver dollar (a “piece of eight”) weighed roughly 25-30 grams, which works out to about 20 coins per pound if I’m doing my math right.

    Also note that gold is about twice as dense as silver, copper, and other precious metals. So a gold coin of that size would weigh twice as much. (Alternatively, gold coins are smaller than silver coins to keep the weight-per-coin more or less constant.)

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    Re: Weapon weight.

    First, note that daggers are light weapons. That means they’re miscellaneous equipment and you carry them in bundles, so if you want a bandolier of throwing daggers, go for it. This even applies to things like short swords (which make me more concerned I’ve erred in the opposite direction of being too liberal).

    Beyond that, the rules are partly about encouraging realistic equipping of weapons without layering on more complexity.

    Another way to think of it: Under this system you can strap 5 longswords onto your back in a position where they can be quickly drawn and ready for action instantaneously. The encumbrance for doing so is equivalent to strapping on a large backpack that’s been fully loaded. That feels pretty accurate to me, based on experiences with using and transporting real weapons.

    This also comes back to: “How many places can you really strap 5 feet of steel to your body in a way that makes it quick and easy to draw without impairing either your mobility, your ability to carry other stuff, or both?”

    Which is why non-light weapons which aren’t in “ready to draw” condition count as a bundle. Take 5 swords, tie ’em together into a manageable bundle, and it’s a lot easier to carry then 5 swords strapped to your hips. (In designing this exception I was specifically thinking about (a) my experiences transporting weapons to and from theatrical gigs; and (b) a recent session where my PCs needed to haul 20 captured swords out of a dungeon as loot.)

    > Really? Tell me, what orifice did you have that longspear stuck in?

    Spears are probably another area where this system is being way too generous (at the expense of, in other situations, weighing a piece of chalk at 5 pounds).

    We’ve also been playing under a rule where 10-foot poles count as weapons for the purpose of encumbrance. (These are often carried in hand and then simply dropped or tossed away when a combat breaks out.)

  6. nobodez says:

    I guess my main problem with the system is that, well, I’ve never had need of it. My characters usually are at a light load (d20 systems, so 3rd, v.3.5, Pathfinder, and 4th, as well as the various Star Wars d20s), or had a magical item to carry things more than that. From my first time playing, I always did encumbrance, and in one of my games I’m playing now, my character has a medium load, but it’s mostly in a backpack, so if I need the speed, I’ll drop the back and bam, light load.

    But then again, I’m weird (hell, I’ve figured out the size all the coins have to be to remain at the 1/50 pound constant, and really, copper coins are huge, and platinum coins are tiny).

  7. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    > really, copper coins are huge, and platinum coins are tiny

    Well, if 100 modern-day quarters (copper & nickel) weigh about 1 pound, then 50 quarter-sized coins made of gold would weigh a pound as well. So gold pieces are quarters made of gold (and weighing twice as much as our quarters). Silver, copper, and nickel are all roughly half as dense as gold (and, funnily enough, just about the same density as a quarter), so to get the desired weight they could be more-or-less double-thickness quarters. Platinum is a bit denser than gold, so maybe between a quarter and a nickel in size.

    I, too, will figure out encumbrance details for my characters on the rare occasions I get to play, and I’ll know that I’m at a medium load until I drop my backpack, say. But my players generally don’t have enough of that obsessive quality to follow through, so I usually just do a quick spot-check once in a while and say “no way you’re at light load carrying all of that stuff; call it medium.”

  8. nobodez says:

    >Well, if 100 modern-day quarters (copper & nickel) weigh about 1 pound, then 50
    >quarter-sized coins made of gold would weigh a pound as well.

    First off, 100 US quarters weight almost exactly 1.25 US pounds, not 1 US pound.

    Cupronickel averages at about 8.9 g/cm3 (via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupronickel), and gold has a density of about 19.3 g/cm3 (via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold). A US quarter has a volume of 0.8 cm3 (808.93 mm3, via a 24.26 mm diameter and 1.75 mm thickness, found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_(United_States_coin)), so a quarter sized coin made of pure gold would have a mass of 15.44 g. Fifty such coins would have a mass of 772 g (or 1.7 US Pounds).

    To have 50 coins be close or exactly 1 US pound, each coin should have a mass of 9.07 g, or for gold, a volume of 0.47 cm3. A US Penny (19.05 mm diameter, 1.55 mm thickness) has a volume of 0.448 cm3, so either a gold coin would be slightly thicker (about 1.65 mm halfway between penny and quarter), or slightly larger in diameter (19.65 mm diameter, barely larger).

    I guess I’m too much of a scientist and mathematician to see a quarter-sized cold piece in my fantasy game. Though, I’m perfectly fine with penny sized gold and platinum pieces and golden dollar sized silver and copper pieces (with silver and platinum being slightly smaller than copper and gold).

  9. tussock says:

    The main problem with a functional encumbrance system is that it makes you think about encumbrance values.

    Stones are good, but then you want half stones for most weapons, and then your 1kg bundles come in, which are basically what Castles & Crusades uses, only they base it on size, to mostly limit the volume of goods carried rather than the weight of them, making armour very “light” while worn, but shields and swords a bit bulky, and things like bed-rolls and tents a killer.

    Which takes it too far, because while balance is everything in combat, you still end up exhausted and slow wearing chainmail all day, even if it shouldn’t be a problem in combat. But that speaks to two measures, day-weight and combat-weight. Which makes me think about fatigue systems. Curse you Alexander!

  10. Justin Alexander says:

    Ain’t that the truth.

    I am happy to report that these continue to be a success at the table. There’ll occasionally be joking about anti-gravity waterskins or neutronium chalk during character generation, but I’ve held a fairly hard line on “it’s an abstraction, live with it” and making rulings within the system instead of around the system.

    And the result continues to be effective, spontaneous encumbrance play that doesn’t bog down the game session: Needed supplies are getting left on pack horses (and their lack cursed). Items are being abandoned in order to speed up retreats.

    In my session last night there were several such moments, and a couple more that stand out particularly:

    – The weight of a particular treasure trove factored into their appreciation of just how much wealth they had actually just discovered.

    – At one point the party was stuck with one paralyzed companion, another companion who had been knocked unconscious after they had been charmed into attacking them, and the ghoul-ified corpse of a former companion that they had been hired to retrieve. They also had something incredibly bad trying to pound its way through an iron door to reach them. The redistribution of loads in an effort to figure out how they could carry all three bodies (which eventually led to the ghoul’s head being passed around like a football while the rest of its corpse was carried by other people) was brisk enough that you could feel the frantic panic at the game table.

  11. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    I brought this up to my group via email, and had one person say it sounded like rules creep. (My new game is a return to vanilla 3.5, abandoning nearly all of the house rules we developed over the past several years.) I disagree — it’s a way to implement the spirit of the 3.5 encumbrance rules without having to track things by the pound, which you can manage when you are preparing a character, but which is impracticable to do (and basically impossible to audit) during play.

    I’m going to try to implement this at our game this weekend and see how it goes. (I’m also going to try out my “Exploration Turn” rules for 10-minute turns underground to see how they feel.)

  12. Justin Alexander says:

    Yeah, I’d almost say that this is the opposite of rules creep.

    Definitely interested in hearing how it goes.

  13. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    Oh, incidentally, this is the game where the PCs “buy” experience points by sacrificing treasure to their patron. Essentially every XP costs 1 gp. I am awarding 10% of the normal 3.x experience for combat encounters. It’s early days yet, but I like the dynamic it seems to be creating.

    It also may have the effect of putting a bit of a damper on the revolving door of death. If a raise dead costs 5,000 gp for the material component, plus the raised character loses a level (which will cost at least 4,500 gp to buy back assuming 9th level characters), AND that gold is directly impacting the advancement of all the other characters, it may at least discourage its casual use.

  14. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    Well, not much to report yet; we had a short session. There was a little push-back in discussion, but basically we’re grumpy old men who argue about stuff for fun so if there’s no push-back there’s no interest. Hopefully there will be more to say about this in a week or two.

    Because I can’t leave anything alone, I’ve been tinkering with your system a bit; I reduced the number of items in a bundle from 20 down to 10, and calculated weights for armor based on the weights in the Player’s Handbook (rounding down for worn armor, rounding up for carried, to reflect better distribution). I also put a limit on how many slung/sheathed weapons you can have (up to 4 “hands” worth of weapons), and decided that no weapon with reach (except the whip) can ever be slung or sheathed.

    Another tweak: I changed the “belt pouch” container to be a “belt/pouch” container; this is intended to model pouches, belts, bandoliers, and similar ready-access items (and a character can only have one such container). It holds 5 bundles, and these bundles (which could be bundles of light weapons) can be drawn/readied as a move action just like sheathed weapons. Any item that is not sheathed or stored in a belt/pouch requires a full-round action to ready, provoking an attack of opportunity. (This is to put some kind of a limit on how many weapons/potions/scrolls/whatever can be immediately available to-hand.) Hmm, mundane material spell components should probably be called one bundle…

    I added a “quiver” container which holds 5 bundles (up to 50 arrows) and allows “ammunition” it contains (including most thrown weapons like javelins) to be readied with a free action.

    I also ruled that a water/wine skin of up to 4 pints weighs one bundle, as do 4 days of trail rations and 1 day of normal rations. (My dungeon exploration turn system has a model for how often you need to drink a pint of water, so I wanted a bit more fidelity in the weight of supplies.) I called 25′ of rope (or 50′ of silk rope) a bundle as well, and at that point I was able to stop before feature creep totally took over.

  15. Leland J. Tankersley says:

    Ok, we saw some actual play use of the encumbrance rules (as further hacked by me; see comment above). In general I think it worked well, once we got past the initial grumbling about a different form and so on. (Some of that because the version of the encumbrance sheet I created and gave to my players wasn’t editable. I’m actually not sure that’s a bad thing, though, since the idea is that you WILL be making changes on-the-fly.) And the party finished a small adventure and found about 30,000 coins, so we got to exercise the “how much coins can we carry?” question quite a bit. (Answer: quite a lot, actually, if you have a half-orc and two dwarves in the party. And if you’re willing to drop all the food and water you can’t eat/drink on the spot, and your bedrolls, and so on. It helped that they had cleared the place completely except for an ooze they spotted in time, so there weren’t any significant threats to overcome at that point. And they had their mule, fondly named “Number One” in anticipation of its eventual demise, to help lug the stuff back to town.)

    Some complaints from the Strength 10 human cleric who was (barely) at light load under the standard rules, and at medium load with these rules. The culprit is the 1 stone per weapon abstraction, which ends up being the one bit of rounding that generally penalizes the players. I could tell him to pound sand, but a quick perusal of the weapon table makes me think that maybe adding a bit of granularity so that 2-handed weapons weigh 1 stone, and two 1-handed weapons weigh 1 stone, would be a better approximation to the 3.5 “book weight.” (Add up the “handedness” of all non-light weapons carried/slung, divide by two and round up if necessary to find the weight in stone.) The cleric bought banded mail with some of his share of the loot, so now he’s at medium load and has armor encumbrance regardless. But I think some kind of adjustment like this would be necessary anyway in the case of Small characters that have lowered carrying capacities (but whose weapons are supposed to weigh half normal).

    There was also a desire to have spots for ALL equipment including weapons and armor on the sheet. So I’m going to add that to my version — maybe that could fill up your blank spot, Justin.

    I also am really liking the “10% of normal XP for encounters, and sacrifice treasure for XP on a 1 gp / 1 XP basis” system. The party just got their first major windfall, and reached 2nd level. They’ve found a few magic items, including some of limited utility, and they are keeping them rather than immediately trying to sell/trade them. (Actually, they all chipped in and gave the cleric enough gold to reach 3rd level, which is totally mega-game thinking but that’s the kind of game and players we have. They’re not dumb; the cleric pretty much always gets what he/she needs.)

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