In my last post about Derived Attributes, I off-handedly mentioned Endurance & said I'd talk more about it later. Well, here we are; let's talk about encumbrance. To the crux of the matter; armor rules have always bugged me. I realize, yes, there is a tension between a good rule & a realistic rule, & that trying to "balance" armor is always tricky, but I've never actually been entirely happy with how it plays out. Being a balance between a number of things, really; partially a facet of the whole "plate armor cartwheels"-- in which people in period equivalent armor show case that it is more maneuverable than popularly believed-- & partially because the real penalty of armor is that is it tiresome, heavy, annoying & just sort of unwieldy. Which is also the argument for a short sword over a long sword, really; not this "weapon proficiency" idea, not really. The Battle for Helm's Deep in the Two Towers movie has a gag where they're all putting on chain mail, but I really liked that moment. I mean, hiking across Middle-Earth sounds exhausting, so you might want to go without armor; you'll be climbing mountains, in the freezing cold, better skip it. When you are in a fortress about to be besieged by mutant orcs, though, do like Barney says & suit up. Anyhow, I'm rambling. I think about armor & equipment a lot is my point.
There are certain elements of Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition that I liked, when it came to armor. Notably, that they divided it into light, medium & heavy. If that wanted that to stick, though, I don't think that "proficiency" is the best mechanic. I think that the monk's bonus to AC when un-armored is how to work it. Legolas doesn't want to where armor? Of course not! He either has levels in Elf or in Archer, depending on your game, & both of those classes have an AC bonus when un-armored. Denethor always has that chain mail on? Well he's got abilities that let him, maybe even reward him. Still, 3e fell down on the specific armor types. There are so many different kinds but...there are best kinds, which make the rest rather irrelevant. Splint mail is +6 to Armor Class, has a maximum Dexterity bonus of +0 & an armor check penalty of -7...while full plate has a +8 to Armor Class, has a maximum Dexterity bonus of +1 & an armor check penalty of -6. It is just better. Sure it costs 1,300 gold pieces more, but at most that means you have to slog in splint mail for a couple of levels before your absurd wealth makes it redundant. Personally, I'm going to use a generic armor system-- light, medium, heavy, & you can decide if your heavy armor is ō-yoroi or jousting plate or a defunct piece of power armor or whatever-- but if you've got a list of things like AC bonus, maximum Dex bonus & an armor check penalty...why not balance things to provide choices rather than a linear progression?
I'm ranging far afield; I just want to explain that I'm moved by both arguments of verisimilitude & of game balance. If you want a juggernaut in black steel armor, & another Player wants to play a scoundrel in little more than warpaint, I both to be able to do so, but I want both cases to make some kind of sense. To click, satisfyingly. & so I think about armor mechanics...not infrequently. As I mentioned, I've decided on rough categories of Light, Medium & Heavy-- Ultra-Light & Ultra-Heavy might be special categories for unique armors-- so that is one thing checked off. The next big question-- do I just add to Defense, or do I have the armor soak up damage? That is, should I just knock a point of damage off every attack if you have Light armor on, or should I just give you a plus one to your Defense? I decided to go with adding it to Defense; I think it makes more sense to keep things as abstract as possible, since that degree of abstraction allows the mental gymnastics of suspension of disbelief to find a range of options. I also thought about downgrading damage-- turning 2 points of lethal into bashing, for instance-- but that seems like a huge headache. Better save it for exceptional cases, like an exoskeleton or something. But...I've thought about all this before.
My first thought was to have armor have a Willpower cost-- that is, putting up with how heavy & distracting it is without just chucking it-- but no one really thought that was the right answer besides me, so I decided on creating an Endurance statistic. Helped me out with Derived Attributes, & gave me a neat little Exhaustion mechanic, to boot. So here is how it works. You get your Endurance by adding your Stamina to five, & fill it in much the same way you fill in Health or Willpower; fill in the dots, & block out the extra boxes. So let's say your above-average tough gal, with a Stamina of three, would look like this:
With her Endurance of eight, she's sitting pretty! Add in -1, -2 & -3 in the last few boxes; again, like how Health works. To Defense & to...whatever, applicable rolls, which is to say, pretty much everything. Plenty of room to throw in ten foot poles, kitchen sinks, & full plate armor, right? Well, let's say that she is more frugal than that. She is a warrior, but she's an uhlan, a light lancer. Her Player puts her in studded leather armor-- Light armor, +1 to Defense, +2 Encumbrance-- & arms her with a lance-- +2 to attack, +2 Encumbrance & a +1 to Defense for Reach-- & then for good measure she gives her a small library of history books, giving her a +1 on politics & socialize, with all the heraldry cheat sheets she has, but an additional +1 Encumbrance. She'd fill her sheet out like this:
So she's safely under her Endurance. She could throw on a pack or whatever, if she was feeling inclined, which would put her in the penalty zone, but she could always then drop it before a fight. You'll note that I gave her a +2 to her Encumbrance (sorry, I use the terms interchangeably; hope that isn't confusing in context) for her lance. Encumbrance isn't just a matter of being heavy; unwieldiness is the defining attribute, of which weight is a main contributor. Weapons, though, are unwieldy, but not because of their heaviness alone. A long sword is a length of three & a half feet of steel flopping around at your waist; not the most convenient of things. Encumbrance is about, in part, how much of a pain in the neck things are. So here is how it will look in the final analysis. Keeping track is easy, & again, sort of like how Health works. For your "permanent" gear-- you know, your usual kit-- go ahead & mark it with an X. Temporary penalties-- whether you are carrying something heavy like desert survival supplies-- can be marked with a /. More to the point, Exhaustion can be marked with a /.
Whenever the Narrator is feeling like there should be some kind of concrete reflection of grueling labor, whether it is climbing the stairs of a Watchtower for miles & miles or whether it is sleeping without a fire in a post-apocalyptic Ice Age, he can give you a point of Exhaustion. Slash it in there! Once you start getting into that territory, penalties start accruing. Our uhlan is taking a -2 penalty from exhaustion (or because she's lugging treasure or whatever). & if you are feeling particularly brutal-- & I know you are-- you can have those /'s of exhaustion spill over as bashing damage. See, this is a pretty simple, low-muss, low-fuss solution to the concept of armor "balance" paired with a nice abstraction of equipment & encumbrance. You get a fatigue mechanic in the bargin! So I think this works out; it is a mix between a somewhat "static" mechanic-- that is, things that you can change but during a session you typically won't-- & a resource management mechanic, without being overwhelmingly either.