Sunday, October 9, 2016

Catching up after Moving!

Moving: Why it seems so much easier in RPGs!

One thing I will say about RPGs: they make moving and packing look easy. Sure you can ransack that ancient castle with 100 rooms - let's just say you make off with 10,000gp and all the loot. In reality, a two bedroom apartment takes 16 hours and the weather gods decide that - despite the fall month - you will also have to deal with a temperature of 106F. Isn't that great? Obviously my sacrifices and prayers were in vain.

Le sigh!

But let's talk for a minute about encumbrance. As that's what I've been spending the past few weeks thinking about!

Encumbrance and Transportation

This is very much an optional set of rules, and one that is often not focused on in the game - which is a shame, because this is the kind of rule that would address those concerns of fighters and thieves that magic users are overpowered. Even if you are playing a high magic game with tons of magical options to transport things, you do hit a cap - and nothing helps clear out a dungeon like the follower table for the fighter. But that will be addressed later.

For now, let's focus on encumbrance itself. I would say that out of every ten readers, only one will have used encumbrance (Please feel free to comment below if you are that one person - I'd love to know your experience with the rules). Encumbrance adds an additional layer of complexity to the rules that many players and DMs do not like. They don't want to record gold coin weights, nor do they want to stop being able to seed the dungeon with useful items.

And that's fair. There is nothing wrong with saying "we're going to hand wave our way around this." This is a game after all, and though I couldn't hand wave myself through my wife's closet (seriously: four hours in and of itself), I can understand the desire to do so.

So why do I do it?

Because it is fun to go back to old adventures with new rules becoming the focus of the fun! When I include these rules, the goal is to make the characters think about their equipment and about their environment. If you find a room with two full treasure chests, how are you going to get them out? Say you have a fighter (Str: 15) and a thief (Str: 12). Between the two of them they can carry 100 lbs unencumbered. But the fighter has chain mail and the thief has leather armor: 55 lbs of their weight is taken just in their armor. This is unencumbered of course, If they are carrying weapons and some gear we might get from encumbered to lightly encumbered. 

So the large chest weighs 100 lbs (maxed out capacity based on Table 50 in the PHB, page 105). So let's just say that our characters are sharing the load and we'll assume the chest is evenly packed. That means each character is lifting 50 lbs. So for our fighter, we'll say that puts him at moderate encumbrance, and our thief is now at heavy encumbrance. Both are humans, and now the fighter has a movement rate of 6, but the thief has a movement rate of 4. When moving did you ever hear someone say: "You're going to fast!"

Well due to the shared load, the fighter is now at the same speed as the thief - four. If the fighter tries to go faster, then the thief is going to fall down, or lose his hold, etc etc. Now you're party is moving this chest through a dungeon at a movement rate of 4. How many random encounters will they have? Did they clear the dungeon first? Are they sure? How long will it take to get it outside? Is outside even safe? There is another chest too - so now you have to repeat this!

Now you've added an additional layer onto the dungeon for the PCs. Not only do they have to concern themselves with the monsters, but they also have to think strategically. This leads to four major areas for additional role playing opportunities:

1. Making Camp

The first is the base camp. Many adventures start in an inn, jump to the dungeon, and end with the players partying it up back in town. Again, there is nothing wrong with this style of play. However, encumbrance means you have to have a place to leave your gear and it needs to be secured. Making camp then, requires actually working through the outside of the dungeon area. The players need to think about:

  • Concealment - is it hard to see where they want to make camp?
  • Accessibility - can it be easily accessed when carrying a heavy load?
  • Safety - can it be easily defended if necessary?
As a DM you can either have the players talk through this: "I look for a small cave, more a crack in the rock which we can conceal with freshly cut branches." Or you can have the players use non-weapon proficiency, such as survival or camping:

Camping (General/Fighter)
 # of Slots: 1 | Relevant Ability: Intelligence | Check Modifier:
You know the basics of setting up a camp in the wilderness, such as creating a safe fire pit, and the best location for a refuse pit. Most people know that you can pitch a tent and set up a fire, but when they make camp randomly, they might end up sick if they put their refuse pit to close to the spring or they might start a forest fire if they didn't properly set up a place for cooking. You can avoid those mishaps easily. Without an ability check and with proper equipment such as tents, a shovel, flint and steel, and tinder, you can set up a camp for 4 people for each hour you spend working.  
With an ability check, you are able to set up shelters if you have none, for the same time frame. Each hour requires an ability check, and you gain a bonus of +2 to your ability role if you have the survival skill. You are able to scour the local site for what you need. This assumes ideal conditions, and problems such as inclement weather could impose penalties.
When taken by a fighter as a fighter skill, the fighter can make additional skill checks to conceal the camp, or set up a camp as a siege camp. When concealing a camp, the character imposes a penalty equal to difference between their target, and what they rolled. For example, Arwin the Halfling Fighter is attempting to conceal a camp in the mountains. His intelligence is an 11. He has chosen a good site, and had all the necessary gear to get the camp set up. He begins the process of concealment and rolls a 9. The orcs that have been tracking them end up having to take an additional -2 penalty to their tracking score or they lose the party and move on.
If you use additional skill points on this skill, you are mastering camping skills in specific terrains, such as mountains or temperate forests. You gain that additional skill point bonus when in that specific terrain, and that terrain only. You can use more then one additional skill point for one terrain type, for example, a fighter with three skill points spent on camping would have general, and then could either declare a +2 bonus for camping in mountains, or a +1 bonus for camping in mountains and a +1 bonus for camping in temperate forests. Non-fighters can spend a skill point to gain the fighter abilities above.
The DM might allow you to also purchase specially designed camouflage supplies. These would add an additional bonus to the concealment check. Of course, if you have animals in your camp concealing it could be difficult. You might need to hire guards. Especially when you start carting out treasure.

2. Carting Equipment Around

So the party wants to make their way into the mountains. They know of a good camping site near the ancient tomb of Xylocan the Terrible, but they want to be absolutely sure they are ready for what they encounter. They want to bring tents, supplies for a few days, and some spare weapons. They also know that the last time they went exploring, that they had found some items that were to large to carry out easily, so they want to bring block and tackle and some hand carts.. wait! Hand carts? What?

First, making an expedition out into the wilderness requires bringing along everything you are going to need - or making it as you go. Hunting and fishing, for example, can maintain food supplies, as does foraging. However, having ready made food is easier as you do not have to spend all your time just focused on survival. The same is true for weapons - you're better off with prepared weapons versus making your own. So you decide you need:
  • Tents
  • Bedrolls
  • Rope (lots and lots of rope)
  • Poles
  • Lanterns/Torches (and oil for lanterns)
  • Block and tackle
  • Grappling hooks
  • Extra ammo and weapons
  • Food and water (jugs or barrels are probably the best approach)
How do you get all of this up into the mountains? A wagon makes the most sense, pulled by a mule or ox. I've always ruled that a horse, mule, ox, or other pack animal with a cart harness is able to pull 150% of their stated weight on the encumbrance table. They can pull more then moderate encumbrance if the character passes an animal handling check with a -2 penalty for each level above moderate (or for each movement penalty point if using the optional encumbrance rules). However, wagons don't fit into most dungeons easily (there are obviously exceptions!).

So what about inside a dungeon? Well, the characters can use a block and tackle to load up a small cart. There are three types: Hand Carts, Miners Carts, and Wheel Carts. When using a cart to transport, the weight is considered to be 50% of the total weight if pulled, and 80% of the total weight if pushed.

Hand Cart (10 gp): A handcart is essentially a chest on wheels. It can carry up to 100 lbs, and is 3' long by 2' wide by 2' deep. A cart might come with an optional closure on the top which can be locked and secured (+2 gp), or it could just be open. If open, ignore depth - though putting a tall statue in the cart could cause it to tip over. 
Miner's Cart (30gp): A miner's cart is larger then a hand cart, being 5' long, by 3' wide, and 4' in depth. Miners carts can carry 200 lbs. Miners carts sit on two axles and four wheels. They are often pulled by mules or pushed by the miners and are well constructed for that purpose. As they are designed for use underground, most make sure to include a place to hang a lantern, torch or candle from the front. Fancier carts will include a small mirror of highly polished silver to help improve the visibility of a miner's candle (+10 gp, miner's candles burn even in poor air quality, and brightly - they cast light out in a 10' radius and last for 20 minutes per inch. The polished silver mirror extends the light out to a 20' cone, which is 10' wide at the end. Miner's candles cost 5cp each).  
Wheel Cart (5gp): A wheel cart is usually nothing more then a single axle with a small base that is 2' wide and 0.5' long. A single rope is included that can be tied around objects laid on the platform, allowing them to be pulled along. Wheel carts are most frequently used by foresters who down a tree and put one end on the cart, and the other end of the tree is harnessed to a mule or pony to be carried back to their mill. Wheel carts cannot carry a large number of items, but can only carry one item that is secured via the rope. 
With these options the players are able to cart more equipment, and now have an additional reason to set up a camp. Remember, if they're using mules or ponies to pull their gear they will also need feed for them as well!

3. Making Shields and Armor Actually Worthwhile

Additionally, I have made shields and armor more worthwhile. I allow fighters to gain a bonus of -1 to their AC in any kind of armor (i.e. leather armor goes from -2 to -3) by using a weapon proficiency. Further, for all classes shields are better:

Buckler/Target: Improves AC by 2 against one attack, or 3 if used against a missile attack.
Small: Improves AC by 2 against two frontal melee attacks. or 4 against missile attacks.
Medium: Improves AC by 3 against all melee frontal and flank attacks, or 6 against missile attacks.
Body: Improves AC by 4 against melee frontal and flank attacks, or 8 against missile attacks.

Halflings and gnomes cannot use body shields, however they, and other Small sized creatures, treat their shield as one size larger. For example, Arwin the Halfling Fighter has come back to town. During his latest foray into a dungeon, he was attacked from behind and had to drop his short bow and fight with his short sword. He got hurt badly, and has decided he needs a shield. He goes to the shop, and finds a human armorer who has created a small round shield with a bronze leaf pattern. He loves it and purchases it. In his next encounter, he will have an AC bonus of 3 against all frontal and flank attacks: 2 for the shield, and 1 for using a weapon proficiency.

This allows weight to be saved on armor, and also is slightly more in line with history - where shields were key to a soldier's defense. 

4. Hirelings as more then Torch Bearers

Porters, carters, and camp guards all become necessary if encumbrance is going to be a serious concern. The players will need to balance, however, the cost of a team against the potential reward. And this also means that they have to think long term: should we quickly scout a place out and determine what we'll need ahead of time? If we have to leave and come back, what could happen? 

Perhaps the main treasure of the adventure isn't even monetary. An ancient evil has overtaken a temple far in the mountains. The church wishes the PCs to go into the temple and recover important relics: statues of their goddess. These statues are made of marble and are fragile, each double the size of a regular human. In exchange, the PCs will be well rewarded - but not with gold, but access to restoration and healing spells. To recover those statues the PCs will need to clear the dungeon, evaluate the safety of the route, and then bring in a team to get each statue safely out of the dungeon and into wagons or onto wheel carts, and then back to the temple. All of those people will need to be paid, and all that equipment secured or rented. A team of teamsters going all that way will be a handsome sum. Add in laborers and you have a large team of people heading into the mountains. What will that attract? Is the route truly safe? The PCs will have a very difficult time... and that's what makes it so much fun!

And also note: you aren't going to double up here. Guards aren't going to do the job of porters and porters make terrible guards. Maybe if the guards are getting some of the action they'll help load - after all, the more treasure that comes out, the larger their share - but do the players want to share?

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