Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why I Hate – and I Do Mean HATE – the Encumbrance Rules in Every Game I Play

I don't object to realism in fantasy. On the contrary, I think it's a necessary component to a fantasy game – you need the realistic in order to make the fantastic feel fantastic. But I do object to rules that, in the name of realism, create even more unrealistic effects in their own right. Case in point – the encumbrance effects of armor:

Check out the following videos:

"Armor Mobility" – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1YEkuWYUKM

"For it to be truly effective, a knight's armor has to allow the freedom of movement to match the swiftness of a lesser-armored opponent on the battlefield." (Note: this excerpt comes from a National Geographic documentary: "Medieval Fight Book")

"Running in Armor" – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNcKolKQ1F4

"Can You Move in Armor?" – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-bnM5SuQkI

Now most game rules I've seen do something along the lines of the following, in the name of realism:

Unarmored: move 120'/turn
Leather armor: move 90'/turn
Metal armored: move 60'/turn

and I've even seen some games that break metal armored into:

Chain mail: move 60'/turn
Plate mail: move 30'/turn

As the videos show, there is no way in hell a fully armored man moves at one half the speed (or worse one quarter the speed) of an unarmored man. On the contrary, the evidence shows a fully armored man moves as fast, or nearly as fast, as an unarmored man in most situations.

If we want realistic encumbrance rules (and there's no point in having encumbrance at all if it's not realistic), then we need to reduce the effective encumbrance weight of armor dramatically. What I'd recommend is one of the two following options.

If we must insist on making armored characters slower than unarmored ones we could try this:

Unarmored or Leather Armor: move 120'
Chain or Plate: move 90'

This keeps things easy for dividing rates by three for combat round movement, which a lot of rules call for.

Personally though, I think even this rate is too slow for the armored man. I think the better option is to simply exclude armor worn from encumbrance calculations entirely, in the same way we typically exclude the clothing, jewelry etc. Now if you were carrying that armor, instead of wearing it, it'd just be 35-55 pounds of dead weight. But wearing it, that's another story.

So in the games I run, I intend to treat worn armor as 100% unencumbering, and will put limitations on carried items only.



13 comments:

  1. Armor is fatiguing not hindering this from personal experience having worn the stuff day in and day out from when I was involved in the SCA and boffer LARPS. But.. in order for armor not to be hindering the straps have to adjusted and set properly. Otherwise it pretty bad as you have pounds of metal and gear hanging off of you moving every which way as you move.

    But the only mechanical effect of this is that you need to spend a rest period adjusting a new found suit. Afterward with everything at the right lengths it just matter of normally donning the gear.

    Glad you mention this, I am going to reconsider this for my Majestic Wilderlands rules. Likely I will do that 120'/90' split. This is not quite accurate but does reflect that somebody with little to no gear can out run somebody who is weighed down even with properly fitted armor.


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    1. Yeah, I was thinking I'd handle the difference (which definitely exists) by situational rulings in certain circumstances where it matters -- say, an unarmored guy and an armored guy running to grab the same McGuffin; the unarmored guy would of course beat the armored guy to it -- but just by a few feet or a few seconds, rather than the enormous gap most rules create.

      I totally agree on the whole strap adjustment thing. I don't have the concrete experience you have but my past reading agrees with what you say; i.e. that armor was only minimally encumbering *because* it was properly fitted to evenly and economically distribute the weight. Without that proper fit, I can easily see how you'd be back to dead weight and significant encumbrance.

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  2. The notion that armor slows movement is an error that goes back to Chainmail, in which Heavy Foot moved slower than Light Foot. The problem with that is that Heavy vs Light referred to formation as much as equipment. Heavy Foot marched in ordered ranks, with each man maintaining his position as he moved. Light Foot was more spread out, and was therefore more maneuverable. In my games, encumbrance is used solely to drive resource management, the only things that count are supplies and loot. Armor, ready weapons and equipment are free to carry.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I like your points both about heavy vs. light foot, and about resource management -- which is another really good reason to keep track of things.

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  3. Completely agree Chris. It is a ticky tacky rule in my opinion. I understand it, but don't like it. It doesn't enhance the game or a player's experience so it does me no good. Into the toilet it goes.

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    1. "Ticky tacky" -- I have to log that expression in my word bank!

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    2. He uses that a lot, ticky tacky. It's a good phrase, he got me to start saying it.

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  4. Great points and interesting ideas! Yeah, you could definitely ditch armor as counted against encumbrance and easily defend it. In P&P, all characters, regardless of armor worn, have a flat movement rate per turn mainly because I'm a lazy bastard who doesn't want to have to calculate things on this scale. But now I have a much better reason, so thanks for that!

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    1. Yes, the flat exploration movement rate for all characters (regardless of armor) is one of the many things I like about P&P!

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  5. The one time I wore a 20 kg chain mail my spine really hurt after like 10 minutes so I had to take it off. I'd say ignore the fact that it is light/medium/heavy armor and just take into account the weight.

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    1. Interesting -- thanks for the comment.

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  6. An armoured man would be trained and conditioned to move and fight in armour!

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    1. That's the impression I get as well. My whole inquiry into the question began when I started wondering: if armor so impeded mobility (as many rules would have us believe) then how would a person ever be able to fight in it?

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