29 May 2021

The Burden of Adventuring

Encumbrance has been a thorn in my side since the dawn of my gaming experience, and with the exception of the Ghostbusters role-playing game (with its carrying limit of three pieces of equipment — that's pretty much the entirety of its encumbrance rules), I inevitably resort to that old hand-waving standby: whatever seems reasonable. There ought to be consequences for overburdening oneself, but if calculating the weight or encumbrance units of every item carried is the price, I'm not willing to pay it.

There is a solution. In Aeons & Augauries, JDJarvis introduces the idea of Save vs. Encumbrance. I have vowed to try it in the next session of DCC RPG I run, with a few additional rules. I have codified it thusly:

A character can carry up to 20 items, which are listed numerically on the character sheet. Backbacks, pouches, bags, and the like (and their contents) count as one item each. Armor worn counts as one item.

Whenever a character attempts an activity that would be hindered by a character's encumbrance, a d20 Encumbrance check must be made. The difficulty of the check is the total number of items carried. If the check is successful, things proceed normally. If the check is unsuccessful, then there is a complication.

Complications could take the form of outright failure, partial failure, a -1 fatigue penalty (that is cumulative and affects all d20 rolls until eliminated), or the loss of (or damage to) the item in a character's inventory corresponding to the number rolled for the Encumbrance check.

N.B. One carried item is always protected from loss or damage in an Encumbrance check: the last item on the list. Since a check succeeds when the roll is equal to or higher than the target number (i.e. the total number of items carried), the item corresponding to the target number is automatically safe.

Example: An adventurer is carrying eight items:

  1. sword
  2. backpack (containing food, cooking gear, a blanket, extra clothes, a waterskin, a tinderbox, a knife, and a mirror)
  3. shield
  4. pouch (containing coins)
  5. hand axe
  6. lantern
  7. flask of oil
  8. scroll case (containing maps)

The adventurer attempts to leap across a crevasse. Ordinarily, this would not require any kind of roll because the crevasse isn't that wide, but since the adventurer is being pursued and is carrying equipment, an Encumbrance check is deemed necessary. The player rolls 1d20 and gets a 4. The GM can rule that the character fails and falls into the crevasse; partially fails and is hanging on the edge (requiring a further roll or help from a comrade); succeeds, but now has a -1 fatigue penalty to further rolls; or succeeds, but drops the pouch of coins (item #4) into the crevasse. Had the player rolled 8 or higher, the adventurer would have made the leap with no complications.

Again, this was inspired by Save vs. Encumbrance by JDJarvis.


  1. This is a pretty cool line of thought. I think it could be refined a bit, but this is good grist for the mill.

    How does armor factor in?

    1. I like to keep things simple, so when I implement this, I'll just leave it at "Armor worn counts as one item." I'm not interested in simulating the minutiae of how restrictive one type of armor is compared to another. As far as I am concerned, the most important factor is that wearing armor - any kind of armor - will be a burden compared to wearing no armor. Unless you are wearing full plate Renaissance armor intended for fighting on foot (see Henry VIII), I'm assuming you can do what most combatants could ordinarily do regardless of the armor type. The one exception I might make would be swimming. Perhaps, based on the material, I might require a different number of Encumbrance checks. Maybe one check for leather or cloth, two checks for combined leather and metal or cloth and metal, three checks for full metal.

    2. That makes sense. Thanks!