Races of the Old World for B/X

One of the oddities of B/X D&D is that nonhuman races are treated as classes. It’s actually a nice streamlining of the fact that nonhuman characters in OD&D were all limited to just one class. All that B/X does is providing separate tables for human fighters, dwarf fighters, and halfling fighters and a table for elven fighter/magic-users.

When adapting the system to settings that are not limited to human PCs something needs to be done to make the other humanoids playable. In the Old World elves are the only race that has stats in B/X and humans don’t exist at all. In addition to that all races can be thieves and witches in addition to fighters. So my solution is very simple: Don’t use special stats for races at all.

All races can be of all classes (no clerics) with no level limits. It’s pointless to make twelve custom classes when I can just use the three classes out of the book. And what difference does race really have for characters? In most editions of D&D it’s almost none and what little there is evaporates to nothing after a few levels.

Though one thing I am currently considering is to create maximum limits for ability scores. Elves are limited to 15 Con, kaas to 15 Dex, skeyn to 15 Str, and yao to 15 Int. But I might even ditch that.

Why have I not been informed: New LotFP edition in work

I just now spotted an article on the playtest document for the new edition of Lamentations of the Flame Princess that has been send out to some GMs back in february. I also noticed just a few days back that the new Referee Guide is still in work, which will include new unique monsters for the game. I assume it will be released alongside the new rulebook.

I don’t have the playtest rules myself, but looking at this summary from Dragons Gonna Drag (another new OSR website, like what you did so far Justin) I already spotted some things that I found interesting.

Intelligence determines skill points at first level. After that only specialists keep getting more points. I’ve been thinking about ways to give fighters and witches limited access to skill in my campaign these last couple of days. This is certainly one way to make it work.

There’s also a Medicine skill, which is nice, as it indicates support to play without magic healing. Very Sword & Sorcery.

Strength affects how many items characters can carry. This is one shortcoming I’ve seen with the Encumbrance system of the current edition and something which I think the system by LS from Pencils and Papers did better.

What I find really interesting is that classes are reduced to fighter, specialist, and magic-user (the other classes are said to be put in an appendix). I did the very same thing for my campaign. There’s been some talk not long ago about clerics and how they are pretty much a unique thing of D&D and not really fitting for other settings that don’t want to be worlds defined by the D&D conventions. (B/X is a great system on its own, even divorced from its D&D legacy.)

All characters advance with the same amounts of XP, a topic that I’ve been discussing on a forum just today. And I am very much in favor of it. Making miniscule adjustments to XP required for the next level is pointless when level loss, replacement characters, and characters of newly joined players all have a much bigger impact on the different levels of characters.

Justin mentioned having the impression that group initiative is being ditched, which is something I wouldn’t approve of. But it’s trivially simple to do anyway, and it isn’t like Dexterity would become a useless stat if it no longer affects Initiative.

There’s a new saving throw mechanic that basically uses a d6 dice pool and counting successes. That’s something I really don’t see myself using if it makes it into the new edition. I think a d20 roll against a target number indicated by your class level is just fine and much less of a hassle. There’s also partial saves, which is more granularity than I want to bother with. This new system also doesn’t improve odds as the characters level up, which I think is a pretty important feature of B/X. I can see why Raggi wouldn’t want that in his home games, but it’s something that I would really not want to miss in mine.

There’s also big changes to how spells are prepared, but since I’m using a completely different magic system that doesn’t have anything to do with D&D magic anyway, this doesn’t affect me personally.

Overall, I think this all sounds very good. I almost certainly won’t use the rules straight out of the book, but I don’t think there are many OSR GMs who do that with any game that is around. I am very much looking forward to the new rulebook and referee guide.

Return of the Magical Creatures

One problem I’ve been struggling with since when I started working on the Old World setting is creating a clear concept of what spirits are and how they behave. Since shamans and animistic religion are a major focus of the setting, this issue is a pretty big deal. I’ve been doing a lot of shuffling around and recategorizing of my creatures over the years but never really got to a satisfying conclusion. The last set of categories I had been using was people, beasts, undead, and everything else was a spirit. They are all inhabitants of the Spiritworld after all.

But looking back, this only seems to have caused more confusion than clarity. And I now think this is because there are two fundamentally different types of beings that are all said to live in the lands of spirits, at least in the way we think about these beings today. The fey people of celtic myth, or at least their modern interpretation in the British-Irish tradition are not animistic beings. They are people. They are generally human in shape, talk in human languages, dress in human clothing, live in human dwellings, cook their food, and are apparently born and age. But they are the people of a parallel world that obeys diferent rules, which makes their behavior seem very strange and gives them powers that are for all intends and purposes magic. This is not unique to the British Isles, though. You find many similar creatures in India and Japan as well.

But the spirits of nature are fundamentally different beings. They can appear in human form, but that’s not their real form. They are not born and do not age, they do not need to eat and you can not kill them with a blade. They do not live in a river or in a tree. They are the river and the tree.

When you lool at original descriptions of supernatural mystical beings, I don’t think this distinction holds really up and doubt people actually saw them this way. But when creating stories for modern audiences, I  think it’s a quite important distinction that we take for granted, even if we never really think about that.

Taking these things into consideration, I don’t think my shie, naga, raksha, and giants really qualify as spirits anymore. They have supernatural powers and they are native to the spiritworld, but they are all people who were once born and who can be killed with a blade. While I think the execution of creature types in the RPGs Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder is a total mess, I think it is the right idea. There needs to be a category of creatures that are magical instead of mundane mortal, but also clearly different from immortal spirits of the land, angels, and demons. So I will be expanding the categories in my creature document from four to five and add the Magical Creatures group. Hopefully this will help me get a better grip on the supernatural in the Old World.

The Force is strong with this one

I’m not just a huge classic Star Wars fan, I am also one of those 90s kids who think Tie Fighter is one of the greatest videogames of all time. And purely be coincidence I found this video that has been around for over a year now.

If you played the game, you recognize that this isn’t just a Star War movie, this is a real Tie Fighter movie. I’ve played this game and X-Wing to no end and this one was clearly done by someone who has not just seen it, but knows how it feels to play. I’ve never seen such a smoothly done attempt at representing game mechanics in a movie. If you haven’t played the game, you probably won’t be able to spot the moments that emulate it.

Very nicely done.

RPG Review: Qelong

Qelong is a small sandbox setting written by Kenneth Hite for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Since it’s a short little book, this will also be a somewhat short review. Qelong consists of a river valley on the coast of a fantasy country loosely inspired by Cambodia. Two immortal beings have been fighting over the country for a very long time, and some 20 years ago one of them discarded a broken weapon during a battle and it landed in the headwaters of the Qelong river. Since then it has been leaking a supernatural toxin into the water and into the air, making the calley barely inhabitable. The player characters are intended to mercenaries from a far away land who might be on a mission to remove the weapon from the poisonous swamp or salvage pieces of it for a sorcerer unbothered by its dangers.

117257The book consists basically of three parts: Mechanics, creatures and factions, and locations. The content covers 45 pages plus two simple maps. While it’s certainly compact, I am not a big fan of the organization. There are several important faction in the setting, but half of their description is in the monster section and the other half in the descrption of their base in the locations section. This made it somewhat difficult to get a first bearing and when I tried to read the book simply from front to back, most of the things mentioned in the mechanics section didn’t mean anything to me yet. It’s only once you made it through the whole thing (admitedly not long) that you get the whole picture and what the book provides and what it doesn’t. A general outline that tells me what this sandbox is about right at the front of the book would have been really appreciated.

I am also somewhat under the impression that this was not actually playtested. And that the author is not a veteran GM of this game system. As other reviewers have pointed out before me, the rules for the supernatural poison are much too long and complicated for the minimal payoff they have. There are three full pages on how the toxin works, but in actual play it will come down to the players starting to make occasional saving throws after a few weeks and eventually they will fail one and get a -1 penalty to most of their rolls plus some wild magic effects for spellcasters. Counting the number of days spend breathing the toxic air and how much poisoned food and water has been consumed, and how often each character was injured is just overkill. The other thing that stands out is the abundance of special attack that are basically instant kill. I think the naga should have no problem completely wiping out a full party in a single turn.

But the main issue I have with Qelong is the amount of content. For a hexcrawl (which I assume is meant to be the default use) there is just too little material there. The area is 24×18 hexes, yet there are only ten locations in total. Seven of which are already clearly marked on the player map handout. So not really anything to discover beyond the next hill unless the GM creates it. On the other hand, for a fishtank the factions are all much too one dimensional. It’s not really more than you would find in an old D&D module from the 80s. And what makes the whole thing somewhat annoying is that the content that is actually there could have been fully explained in a lot less space. You get a full page of text that doesn’t really give you any more information than “One 8th level dwarf with ten gnome slaves and a mechanical elephant mining for gems”. You still have to make a map yourself and have to come up with your own ideas for how interactions with the NPC could play out. So I have to wonder, who is this book for? The crunch is too little to be usable out of the box like a D&D module, and the fluff is too light to get stories going. Either way, you’re going to have a lot of work ahead of you to run a Qelong campaign. You can use it as a starting point for your own creative work, but the material that is already present doesn’t really seem that imaginative to me.

Pretty much all the reviews that I had read have greatly praised it as a wonderful Asian fantasy sandbox with great spooky and weird elements, but I am personally not seeing any of that. The Asian elements really only go as far as a few names and terms, with no real references to Southeast Asian cultures. Which I don’t have a problem with. Taking inspirations from other cultures is great, and there is no harm done unless you have an outsider who understands very little of a culture attempting to educate others about its traditions and social meanings. Which Hite really doesn’t do at any point in this book. Nothing objectionable about that. And it’s great when you see a western author create fantasy that isn’t set in faux medieval England. But there also isn’t any ground to praise Qelong for it’s presentation of an Asian fantay setting. It’s a generic fantasy setting with monsoon, lotus, and stupas. I am also not finding anything spooky or weird about it. When it comes to spooky content, Dungeon magazine adventures regularly went a lot further. Now the garuda-lich is a cool idea, I admit that. But the myrmidons, the naga-kin, and the lotus monks are all very much standard fare.

Now is Qelong a bad book? No, I would not say that. It’s reasonably well done and at $7 it’s also reasonably priced. But I am not a fan of it in any way, and neither do I think this is something others should check out. So when it comes to chosing yay or nay, it does come down to nay.

The Fishtank Sandbox

Sandbox campaigns are always and endlessly fascinating subject when it comes to roleplaying games. They are widely regarded as the type of campaigns that uses the unique abilities and potentials of the RPG to the fullest. No matter how well designed, written, and scripted a videogame is, having a gamemaster who can take direct input from the players and completely reshape the game world in response in a matter of seconds is somethings computers can not even approach to replicate. You can have very fun and entertaining adventures following a general chain of events and visiting locations according to a script, but to many this has a somewhat unsatisfying taste of wasted potential.

A sandbox campaign is the ultimate form of interactivity. The players can attempt any action they can think of and change any aspect in the world as long as the GM deems their attempts a success. You will never see the notification “you can not use this here”. The only way to really push the boundaries of a sandbox is to travel off the edges of the map. But even that could be fixed by giving the GM a few week to create more map. (Your GM will hate you for this, though. Have a heart and don’t do this.)

One challenge when talking about sandbox campaigns is the unclear terminology. There’s no kind of even informal authority among OSR gamemasters and designers. It’s true anarchy where terms become accepted because the majority uses them in the same way. But even then, you usually won’t find any clear definition. And to make things worse, people are using terms in the way they think they should be used, even if they are in a minority. Very often sandbox is used seemingly synonymous with hexcrawls. And after having been interested in this wider subject for years, I am only now starting to get an idea what hexcrawling actually means to the people who actually run succesful hexcrawl campaigns. (Those who complain that their hexcrawls sucked are usually told that they had a wrong impression of the concept.)

A week back I had started a thread about sandboxes at rpg.net, and wanting to make it clear that I wasn’t interested about either hexcrawls, domain building, or diplomacy sandboxes, I came up with the description of “dynamic sandbox”. One of the early replies was from someone who immediately got what I was getting at, who also mentioned that in Sweden they call them the equivalent of “fishtank”.

And I think fishtank is a brilliant term that really should get widespread use in our English RPG terminology as well. It just hits the nail square on the head. A fishtank is a kind of sandbox campaign (that is: no script, players set their goals), but one that is focused on and build around various factions and important people. The big fishes and the little fishes. And these are all swimming around in the fishtank, doing whatever fish business they have. The players are introduced into this environment – usually as the smallest of fishes – and mingle with the various other big and small fishes that already inhabit it. It’s the relationships between these important parties and players that the campaign is really about.

A fishtank campaign can have a hex map. Just like a hexcrawl or a domain building campaign. But it can also just as well be run using a point map, or a city street map. Since my Old World setting is a wilderness setting and I am more of a Sword & Sorcery than a survival or expedition guy, my personal choice is a point map that lets me easily track travel times with just a few lines and squares and without the need to create a sophisticated geography. (I think I’ll have to do a full post about this later this week.)

I’ve never seen the term fishtank used for this type of campaign, but I think it’s almost self-explaining to people who know the basic idea of sandboxes. It’s a sandbox of various actors doing their various things and fighting out their conflicts, and the players are joining them. As this is just the kind of sandbox campaign I have always been envisoning since I became familar with the concept, I am really hoping that it might gain a widespread acceptance. And maybe help more people become aware that a sandbox does not have to be a (poorly run) hexcrawl. I will certainly be using it to describe my campaign in the future.

Looking a bit around, I found the term fishtank referenced before in two posts at Gnome Stew. By a Finish author. Figures.

I think I’ll write a book

Three, actually. I have been working on the Old World campaign setting for years and have long planned to compile all the material and release it as a free download when it’s done. By now, I think the worldbuilding is pretty much completed and now I only have to write it all down. It’s not nearly as big a world as the Ancient Lands grew to be, but don’t expect it to be out this year.

I also got a good a good list of some 80 creatures inhabiting the Old World, almost all of which already have stats for use in OSR games. Again, I only have to write down the description of each creature and then release it as a stand alone document. This one might be done sometime this year.


But now over the last weeks I’ve been doing a lot of reading and tinkering with rules and systems to run a sandbox campaign in the Old World. And the amount of material I collected and improved upon turned out to be quite a lot. So much stuff that it would be a major part of an Old World campaign setting document, and also easily enough to make it another stand alone work that can be used for all campaign settings. Aside from rules for Encumbrance that can actually be used, a system to very easily track random encounters and overland travel with a minimum amount of work, and a just as simple mechanic for food and water supplies, I also learned a lot about populating a sandbox with people and sites that are actually interesting and designed to get players involved in ongoing events instead of being semi-random dungeon crawls. This is a rather different beast from the many guides and tutorials about hexcrawls that are around (in fact, they aren’t used in my rules) and I think an approach to running sandboxes that should be much more accessible to people under 30 who started with roleplaying games only this century. However, this would really be an instruction manual and guidebook, and actually explaining things in a way that is not confusingly rambling is a lot more different than describing some creatures or locations.

I really want to do this, but with this one I feel very certain that this isn’t going to be finished within the next 12 months.

Sand as far as the eye can see

In recent weeks, I’ve once more become very interesting in sandbox campaigns. My last campaign never got to the point where the players could really set out to pursue their own goals as most of them were new to the game, so my own experience with running sandbox campaigns is still very limited. And so, once again, I went out to search for more helpful material on the topic on the internet.

And one thing that I noticed, and that I had been struggling with two years ago, is that despite the very considerable number of guides and tutotrials on the subject, almost all of them are limited to the making of a hexmap. How to make your coastlines, where to place mountains, how to draw rivers, roads, and borders, and long elaborations on how characters travel from each hex to the next and why you need random encounter tables. And then somewhere near the end, there’s a throwaway sentence like “Oh yeah, and then throw in some towns and dungeons and you’re done”.

“I don’t like sand.”

Well… no. You’re not done. Maybe it’s my own familiarity with geography, but drawing the overland map is really by far the easiest part. Once you know the basics you can get something very nice done in two hours or so. Slap a hex grid on top and you’re done. Now these guides are not actually bad. If you know nothing about geology, climate, and ecosystems, these are all great resources to making maps that are geographically plausible. But as I am seeing it, this is all still just step 1 of 12. Even when your campaign is a hexcrawl, and not every sandbox campaign is one, the actual game does not consist of endlessly wandering from hex to hex and running into random encounters. (Reportedly a lot of sandbox campaigns do start this way and then never make it past the second session.) The whole point of a sandbox is not to wander around, but to get somewhere. Guides on mapmaking only give me the sand, with barely any hint of what I could place into it.

A while back I somewhere saw the idea that it’s better to not talk in game design about exploration, but about discovery. Probably nobody goes exploring just for the sake of wandering around and maybe something will happen. The whole reason why exploration is fun is the anticipation of discovering something. And in my opinion, the difference between finding something and discovering something is that a discovery is something meaningful. You not only have to find something, you also have to learn something from it. You need to gain some kind of knowledge or understanding for the discovery to be meaningful. Now in many videogames, you can get away by putting a gold piece behind the sofa and then the player feels happy when he thinks about checking behind the sofa. But I think in a roleplaying game where you have a gamemaster who is limited only by his imagination, this isn’t really exciting.

To give the things the players can find in the campaign area of a sandbox game some kind of meaning, they need to have a purpose and be where they are for a reason. And to make it even better, they need to have some kind of connection to other things in other parts of the campaign area. And sadly, this is something that all the guides and tutorials on sandbox campaigns that I’ve ever seen so far never even touch upon. How do you prepare settlements that are connected to the world around them? How do you prepare NPCs that are engaged in interesting things in which the players can get involved? How do you prepare ruins and dungeons that contain things to discover that make the players learn something new about the campaign area?

As I see it, these are the really important parts of preparing a sandbox campaign. And never have I seen anyone giving halfway decent advice on the topic. Or actually, any advice.

Now over the last few weeks I’ve been giving the subject some thoughts and there are some pretty good sounding ideas forming in my head. Which I might be sharing here in the near (or not so near) future. But then, I’ve never actually done anything like this and probably won’t be running a new campaign until next year, so anything I might have to add to the (mostly nonexistant) discourse will be purely hypothetical. Probably will be better than nothing for many people, but I really wish those GMs who have been doing this stuff for years and decades would share some of their experiences and wisdom with the rest of us.

Water and Rations in a Wilderness Campaign

As I mentioned in my previous post about Encumbrance, supplies of food and water are the main factor of deciding how much weight you can afford to carry, other than treasure. Wilderness adventures have always been the most interesting thing about RPGs for me, and while I think dungeons can be pretty nice when done well, town adventures never were of any real interest to me. Compared to dungeons, the density of threats is much lower in a wilderness even in the most hostile regions. And those dangers you encounter might not be as outright hostile. Compared to towns, a wilderness has very few people you can meet, and its even more rare that those are directly in conflict or allied with each other. When trying to prepare wilderness adventures as a GM, one of the biggest question is what the players might actually do?

Dungeon adventures are players against monsters and town adventures are players against people. Wilderness adventures are players against environment, but since the environment doesn’t have any goals or motives and doesn’t care about what the players do, making adventures in the wilderness needs a somewhat different approach than usual. One way in which the environment can become a big part of the adventures is by including supplies in the campaign.

What can water and rations add to the game?

Food, water, and other supplies all only become important when they have run out. Or when there is a threat they might run out. When this happens, things can get very interesting.

Say, for example, that the players have run out of water. They need to find some and relatively quickly. When they encounter someone who has water, they need to consider their options: Are they trying to just ask for it and hope that those people will share? Are they willing to trade some of their possessions for it? What if those people are hostile? Will the players try to steal water or will they be willing to let themselves be captured to escape looming death? If a fight breaks out they might already be in really bad shape and it would be a fight they absolutely can not afford to lose. Alternatively, the players can steal or destroy the food and water supplies of their enemies and then wait to starve them out to give them an advantage in an upcoming confrontation.

Or instead, the players will have to decide to risk entering a highly dangerous place that might have water. Usually caves and ruins are explored searching for treasure, or the players might consider them too dangerous to be worth the risk. You can always get gold from another place later, but when you’re looking for water there might very well not be a later. There might also be a chance that they could find a safer source of water soon, but they might not be able to reach it if they are getting seriously injured now.

Or you could have another situation in which the players have to get to the other side of an area with very food and water quickly. Should they risk taking the short route straight across, or perhaps take the long route around where they will be able to forage for more supplies. Taking a lot of water on the trip would mean a lot of stuff to carry which might even slow them down enough so that the short route actually takes longer.

There are a lot of interesting things that can happen when supplies are running low.

Making the tracking of supplies practical

But as much as running low on supplies might lead to interesting situations, for as long as as the supplies are lasting nothing is actually happening. Not having supplies is fun. Having them is boring. An in practice, how often will running out of supplies actually happen? Unless you are playing in a desert setting, it’s very unlikely that the players will find themselves in a situation where they begin to starve. My Old World is almost entirely forests, rivers, and coasts, where it probably is going to be particularly rare. Under those circumstances, is it really worth the efford to track the consuming and restocking of supplies every day? To have a nontrivial amount of bookkeeping that then probaly will never actually lead to anything? That really seems like way too much trouble for being worth it.

And I had actually already considered to not track supplies at all and with that also ditch Encumbrance as well. But then I got an idea that I think is really clever: One situation in which supplies matter is when travelling light and travelling fast. When you run out of water and food, you will have to make a break in your journey to forrage for it, which could make you lose time that could have been saved if you had packed more from the start. So my idea is this: Normal travel distances per day are based on the assumption that the party is constantly foraging to gather as many new supplies as they consume. But if they have extra rations they don’t need to take time for foraging and can cover additional distance for the day. (Say six additional miles per day, as my Encumbrance system uses 6 miles steps for each category of encumbrance.) This makes ration effectively a consumable item that boost travel speed for a day. If the players don’t use it, it simply is assumed that they always gather some new food while eating the food items that are getting old. So the “ration” items in their inventory remain constantly fresh. As long as the players don’t tell the GM that they are using their rations to increase their travel speed, those rations just quietly sit in the inventory without anyone ever having to think about them. If throughout the whole campaign supplies never become an issue, the rations will just have taken up some inventory space but not caused any amount of bookkeeping work for anyone.

But if it ever happens that the players get in a situation where resupplying might not be possible, this changes. The GM then tells the players that from now on they have to consume rations whether they want to or not. One ration is substracted each day and when they are out, they get whatever effects there are for lack of food and water. (Still have not decided what effects I will use, but I probably make a post when I have picked an option.) If the players decide to go on a journey where this will probably be the case, the GM will tell them as soon as the characters would become aware of it. Which might well be several days before they will actually have to start consuming their rations.

This can also be applied to arrows. In most situations the players will be able to collect a good amount of their arrows and even those that got damage could still be fixed in the field by replacing a shaft with a piece of wood from the forest. Or they might pick up some that have been shot by their opponents. It’s only when the GM thinks that collecting arrows might not be possible that he tells the players to start tracking their arrows now. If the players are fleeing from an enemy and keep shoting arrows behind them, it would be one such situation. If it happens occasionally that players retreat after some arrows have been shot but nobody tracked how many, it’s not going to be a big deal. Just start counting when it becomes clear that running out might become a problem.

This system really is the best of both worlds. It lets me eat my cake and have it too. As long as everything goes fine, supplies completely stay out of everyone’s hair and are fully invisible. But once there is an opportunity to have an adventure with supplies running low, they are instantly there, ready to do their job.

War Cry of the Flame Princess: Encumbrance

I retroactively added this post to the WCotFP series and made some small channges accordingly.

Encumbrance is possibly the most hated and most ignored rule in games like Dungeons & Dragons, simply because it’s way too much bookkeeping for usually no noticable gain. An Encumbrance system that people are actually going to use has to be so simple that it’s practically invisible when not doing anything, but immediately available when it becomes relevant. As a GM you never want to tell the players “please look up the weights for all the items in your inventory and calculate your modified travel speed because of Encumbrance”. You just wouldn’t do that.

Why have Encumbrance in the first place?

Because Encumbrance shows up so rarely in adventures and campaigns and the games work just fine without it, there’s the obvious question why to bother with it at all? The answer I have to that is that the effects of Encumbrance are actually a lot of fun and can lead to great encounters and even whole adventures. It all comes down to the players having to make decisions what things they want to carry with them and what things to leave behind. The more stuff you carry, the slower you move. In the older editions of Dungeons & Dragons this is hugely important. Characters get some experience points for defeating monsters and other enemies, but the majority of XP will be gained from bringing treasures back from their adventures. The most efficient way to become more powerful and not dying in the process is to steal treasure without fighting the onwer. And if you do get caught, it’s often the smartest way to run. The amount of experience you get depends on how much treasure you collect. The speed at which you run depends on how much tools and treasure you are carrying. This is a kind of conflict, and both in fiction and RPGs, conflicts are always great. That’s where things get interesting.

There are also the wandering monsters and random encounters. The longer you stay in a dungeon, the greater the chance of accidentally running into someone. Since wandering monsters generally don’t carry their treasure with them, they are a lot of danger for very little potential reward. The best way to get treasure out of a dungeon is to do it quick, and to be quick you need to be able to move fast. Do you really need that big bag of copper coins that are worth barely any XP? Would it perhaps be better to just ditch it? How much are you willing to risk for a few XP more?

When dealing with wilderness adventures where the characters are away from civilization for days and weeks, another element comes into play. Without places to simply buy food, you have to bring your own or be able to find some along the way. If you run out, you have a problem. This is especially important when traveling through deserts, where you might have to carry a great amount of supplies, which will slow you down a lot and make the whole trip significantly longer. And staying longer in the desert means greater risk of running into someone hostile. And, as players of post-apocalyptic campaigns might probably know, it makes supplies a potentially valuable type of treasure to be found. Unfortunately, most RPGs don’t bother with any rules for going without food and water and so this is something that almost never comes up. Tankfully, Lamentations of the Flame Princess does have some pretty decent rules to cover thirst and hunger in easy to handle ways and also with a simple system to find new supplies in the wilderness. I recommend using those.

Tracking Encumbrance the easy way

When it comes to a system for determine a character’s Encumbrance level, I simply recommend using the system from Pencil and Paper. This is by far the best way to track Encumbrance I have ever seen and even though it was designed with Pathfinder in mind it works with every game that has a Strength score and movement speeds. LotFP uses something that is based on the same idea, but I think this execution is even much more elegant than that.

The rules I am using for the Ancient Lands are these:

  • All items smaller and lighter than a dagger do not count towards encumbrance. Containers holding multiple such insignificant items (like a bag of coins, a quiver of arrows, and so on) count as a single item.
  • Items that require both hands to carry or are unusually large (such as a polearm) count as two items.
  • Light armor counts as two item, medium armor counts as four items, and heavy armor counts as six items.
  • Characters carrying a number of items no greater than their Strength score are unencumbered and have a speed of 120′ per round/24 miles per day.
  • Characters carrying a number of items no higher than two times their Strength score are lightly encumbered and have a speed of 90′ per round/18 miles per day. If attempting to swim, they have a 1 in 6 chance of drowning.
  • Characters carrying a number of items no higher than three times their Strength score are heavily encumbered and have a speed of 60′ per round/12 miles per day. If attempting to swim, they have a 3 in 6 chance of drowning.

As by the standard rules of LotFP, being encumbered has some limitations on the use of skills. Characters other than specialists can not make dificult climbs requiring Climb checks if they are encumbered. Specialists (and scouts) have their Climb and Stealth skills reduced by 1 in 6 when lightly encumbered and by 2 in 6 if heavily encumbered.

Tracking Encumbrance

But don’t you still have to constantly count the numbers of items in your inventory and then check the Encumbrance table? With the right type of inventory sheet, you don’t. Most character sheets have a space for the inventory that just consists of a number of rows. Simply number each row at the left and then make sure you won’t have any empty spaces when you fill in your items that you are carrying. The number of the last row that holds and item is the number of items you carry. Since the amount of items you can carry never changes as the character advances, you can then simply use some kind of marker to make a clear line below row 10, row 20, and row 30 if your character has a Strength of 10.

To the left of the list you can then simply make a small note for the movement speed your character has when the inventory is filled up to those marked lines. You will always be able to tell immediately what your current movement speed is whenever the GM wants to know it, and it doesn’t mean any extra work for the players. All they have to do is write all their items down on the inventory sheet.

Encumbrance for mounts and pack animals

One thing that RPGs (and fantasy in general) almost always gets wrong is how traveling with a horse works. On a short sprint, a horse will always beat a human easily. But when it comes to endurance running, the only creature on Earth that can keep up with humans are dogs. This is the big superpower of our two species and was the beginning of a wonderful fiendship (consisting mostly of killing other animals and eating them). All other animals need a lot of rest during the day and can’t keep marching all day. For humans and horses, the differences between speed and endurance are about canceling each other out and so you are not going to be any faster on a horse than on foot. That is, if you are not carrying any big loads.

If you have to not just get yourself from one point to another, but also a lot of other stuff, a horse can make a big difference, especially when you’re not riding it. Having a horse allows you to walk without having to carry anything, while your horse is slowed down only very little by what would be a really heavy load for yourself. And if you have two horses you can ride one while the other carries your stuff, and so you don’t have to walk.

So the effects of encumbrance for mounts are like this:

  • Small characters count as 10 items, human sized characters count as 30 items, and large characters count as 50 items for calculating encumbrance. All the items carried by characters have to be added to be mount’s encumbrance as well.
  • Mounts carrying a number of items no greater than their Strength score are unencumbered and have a speed of 240′ per round/24 miles per day.
  • Mounts carrying a number of items no higher than two times their Strength score are lightly encumbered and have a speed of 180′ per round/18 miles per day.
  • Mounts carrying a number of items no higher than three times their Strength score are heavily encumbered and have a speed of 120′ per round/12 miles per day.

I originally had another post covering water and Rations, but I since realized that this system doesn’t really work, so better ignore it