Cybernetic Augmentations in ORWA

Cybernetics in ORWAIn my On a Red World Alone campaign, there are two types of cybernetics. There are those which augment a function of the body, and those which replace a function of the body.

I’ve talked about replacements before. They’re used when some part of a character’s body has been damaged to the point that it stops functioning. (In other words, the character is dead). These cybernetics serve as the only means of resurrection in ORWA. However, the technology isn’t advanced far enough for these replacements to be as good as the home-grown originals. So while they do allow a dead character to return to life, they come with severe penalties.

Augmentations are different. They don’t actually replace anything, they add something extra. These extras help the body to do what it’s already doing, or do something new entirely.

But, the body can take only so many additions. Each character can have 1 cybernetic augmentation for every 3 points of Constitution they have. So, a character with 11 Con may have 3 cybernetic augmentations, while a character with 18 Con can have up to 6.

The number of mods is only checked against a character’s constitution when they want to install a new augmentation. So if a character’s constitution were reduced for whatever reason, that has no effect on augmentations they already have installed, just ones they may wish to install in the future.

So if a character with 18 Con has 5 augments installed, and their constitution is reduced by half, down to 9 (which would normally allow only 3 augmentations), they do not take any penalties for having more augments than they should. However, if they want to install another augmentation, they are now over their limit.

Characters who wish to continue augmenting themselves after they’ve maxed out may do so. However, it comes at a price. If a player installs an augmentation when they are already at or above their current maximum, both their Constitution, and their Charisma will be reduced by 2. Neither of these may ever go lower than 1, or the character will die.

While it may not be useful in your games, I should note that there’s some possible interaction here with the Training rules that I use. Specifically, I allow players to attend Charm School, or undertake some Endurance Training, to increase their Charisma and Constitution respectively. Each of these can be done as many times as desired, and each time will cost 4000cc, require 3 months of game time, and increase the associated stat by 1. In this way, it is theoretically possible that a character could modify themselves infinitely if they’re willing to spend massive amounts of time and money to keep their body in shape despite their over-modification. At the rate allowed, each new augment would require 1 year of in-game time for the character to earn the 2 Con and 2 Cha, which they would then lose upon installing their new augment.

Personally, I’m completely okay with this. It actually seems like an interesting possibility, that player would ever be so devoted to enhancing themselves that they’d invest such massive resources into doing it. But then, my game maintains some very strict time records. In 15 months of play, game time has progressed only 18 months. So your mileage may vary.

Possible Augmentations:

CyberLobe, (10,000cc) – A bit of computer hardware installed directly into the cyborg’s brain. Allows rapid mathematical calculation, and includes a port which the cyborg can use to directly transfer computer files to, or from their brain.

Reinforced Bones (25,000cc) – Roll hit points twice each level, and take the higher result. The character should retroactively reroll all their hit points from previous levels, and if the new total is higher, that’s they’re current HP.

MuscleTensos (Rank 1: 8,000cc)(Rank 2: 20,000cc)(Rank 3: 50,000cc) – Little electrodes embeded into your muscles. They detect whenever you’re trying to make a sudden, striking motion, and they shock your muscles at just the right time to intensify your intended movement. Adds +1 to melee attack rolls for each rank.

Head Tubes (6,000cc) – A sealed access which leads directly to the cyborg’s brain. They can pop the hatch open with a mental command, and pour up to 4 potions in with a single action. All of the potions have their full effect, starting simultaneously.

Roller Feet (20,000cc) – Little wheels pop out of the cyborg’s feet, and their movement increases by 60′ (20′). Comes with a complimentary pair of adaptive shoes, which have a little hatch for the wheels to pop out of.

Reinforced Back (50,000cc) – The cyborg’s carrying capacity is doubled.

Storage Compartment (4,000cc) – Some of your innards are squished, some of your organic redundancies are removed, and a nice little hidden compartment is installed right into your body. Anything you put in there can never be taken from you, because nobody will ever find it.

CyberEyes, (Rank 1: 2,500cc)(Rank 2: 5,000cc)(Rank 3: 10,000cc) – Gives the character perfect vision, and a HUD where they can see their own inventory, health, etc. Allows for the installation of eye modules. Characters with CyberEyes can have 1 eye module per rank of their eyes. Only the CyberEyes count against a character’s augmentation limit, don’t count.

Eye Modules

Night Vision (5,000cc) – Allows the cyborg to see in the dark. Their vision is black and white.

Recorders (5,000cc) – Allows the cyborg to record or photograph anything they can see, which can then be output via a small data port in their tear duct.

Lasers (20,000cc) – Requires the target to make a saving throw versus Devices, or take 2d6 damage.

Telescope (10,000cc) – Allows the cyborg to zoom their vision in crazy far. Anything within their line of sight can be zoomed in on. Even some celestial bodies can be observed with reasonable detail.

Microscope (10,000cc) – Enables the cyborg to see down to the microscopic scale.

X-Ray (20,000cc) – Not actually X-Rays. But it does allow the cyborg to see through 1 or 2 layers of pretty much anything that isn’t more than 2′ thick, or isn’t lined with lead.

Auto-Aimer (Rank 1: 8,000cc)(Rank 2: 20,000cc)(Rank 3: 50,000cc) – Allows you to automatically mark a target, which will cause geometric guidelines to appear in your vision, aiding you in hitting with ranged weapons. Provides a +1 bonus to attack rolls for each rank.

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The Haven Turn

Romans relaxing during their haven turnI don’t really follow D&D anymore.

I don’t see the point. “Dungeons & Dragons” is just a name. Intellectual property owned by Hasbro Incorporated. Fifth edition seems to have come out mostly fine, but why would I ever settle for ‘mostly fine’ when the OSR is putting out phenomenal work faster than I can keep up with?

As such, everything I know about D&D’s recently released downtime rules is from reading what Courtney wrote about them. And not even all of that. Some of the options are so boring that I couldn’t even read through a description of them written by an interesting writer. Why would anybody even bother writing something if it wasn’t going to be interesting to play?

In my games, players lust after their next opportunity to take downtime actions. I would even venture to say that time has become the most coveted reward in ORWA, more than money or magic items. So lets talk about the Haven Turn.

If you’re a regular reader of Papers & Pencils, the term should be familiar to you. I mention it pretty frequently, but have never actually taken the time to discuss the concept in depth. After all, it’s not really my idea. Most of my experience with it comes from being a player in Courtney Campbell‘s and John Bell‘s games, and the term was originated by Brendan Strejcek. But, as with many things, after using it for years I’ve tinkered with it to the point that seems worth expressing the idea in my own terms.

Haven turns are part of the action economy. There are:

  • 6 second Rounds for combat.
  • 10 minute Turns for exploration
  • 2 hour Watches for wilderness travel
  • 1 month Haven Turns for downtime actions.

Haven turns occur anytime the players return to some secure home-base after an adventure, usually a town, or player-owned citadel. The turns don’t actually last one month, they just sorta “round out” the month to some unspecified degree. So, if the players adventure in May, then return home for a haven turn, their next game will take place in June, regardless of whether the previous adventure lasted an hour, or a week.

Sometimes, if an adventure runs long, players may be able to take more than one haven turn at a time. Particularly trying expeditions, after all, will require more than the average amount of rest to recover from. For every 2 sessions that an adventure lasts, (rounded up), the players may take 1 haven turn without adverse consequences.

So, if the party takes 1 or 2 sessions to complete an adventure, they only get 1 haven turn–and that’s the median I usually aim for. But, if it takes 3 or 4 sessions, they get 2 haven turns. If it takes 5 or 6 they get 3, and so on. This allows me to occasionally throw big, epic, 10-session adventures at my players, without making them feel frustrated about all their delayed haven-turn plans.

Generally speaking, I’d prefer if players didn’t take more than the prescribed number of Haven Turns. After all, downtime action may be fun, but it’s not really the point of the game.

That being said, my players have agency. If they want to do a thing, they can do it, and as far as I’m concerned I have no right to try and stop them. However, taking more than the prescribed number of haven turns means that person is stepping back from the world for a bit. They’re focusing on their own stuff, and letting events pass them by. The world is going to move on without them.

If players take more than the prescribed number of haven turns, then when they get back, they’re going to discover that things have changed to their detriment. The referee has free reign in this, but the situation should be more severe the longer the players have been absent.

Perhaps some of the player’s contacts have died, or moved away. Maybe the players will discover that something they wanted to do has been done by someone else. In more severe cases, the whole campaign could be upset, with the player’s ultimate goals having become more difficult, or even impossible to achieve.

So that’s when haven turns happen, but what can you do with them? What is their purpose?

Like most other units of time in the action economy, two things happen each haven turn. First, the players choose how they want to use the time. Second, an encounter die is rolled.

Haven Turn Actions

Like any combat round, exploration turn, or watch, players can choose to do anything they want with a haven turn, and I will try to resolve it to the best of my ability. My players have used their haven turns to do things like build up their relationships with NPCs, or investigate mysteries they’re curious about.

In these cases, we assume the player spends the whole haven turn pursuing that goal. While planning for the next session, I come up with some appropriate results for their effort. When we meet to play again, I’ll tell the player what happened, and perhaps ask them to make any decisions or rolls I deemed appropriate. This is a helpful time for players to pursue any deeply personal goals that the rest of the party doesn’t want to deal with.

But, also similar to the other denominations of the action economy, there are codified actions which require a haven turn to complete. The most notable of these is Training, which by itself makes the haven turn one of the more beloved parts of my game. I’ve written a whole post on the concept, but I cannot overemphasize how useful training is.

It gives the players two disassociated tracks for advancement. On the one hand they have their class; a simple niche that they lock themselves into at first level. Class advances at a slow, steady pace, and requires a minimal amount of decision making, while also providing the lion’s share of the player’s options in play.

On the other hand, there’s training, a completely optional second track. Training has to be weighed against other uses of your money and your time. When players do pursue training, they make short term commitments in exchange for a little something extra, that their class might not normally get.

You’ve got the fun of character customization, and the satisfaction of earning something. But you free the player from a single advancement track, and in the process, avoid the nightmare of the over-complicated level up procedure. Plus, the choices to train is more interesting this way, because it is incomparable. You’re not choosing which skills to put skill points into; you’re choosing between raising a skill, raising an ability score, or saving that money for the next curio shop you randomly encounter.

Other codified haven turn actions include:

  • Carousing, where players can earn extra experience points by throwing their money down the drain.
  • Magic Users can create a new spell, or discovering a new magic word, using the Magic Words system.
  • Magic Users can seek out a new magic wand.
  • Clerics can pray for a new spell using the Glory from God system.
  • Fighters can spend time drilling with their armies.
  • Characters with the Alchemy skill can make potions.
  • Characters with the Technology skill can repair broken tech.
  • Characters with the Engineering skill can construct vehicles, siege equipment, etc,
  • Players can recover from debilitating injuries such as broken legs. (I always have players return to max HP over a Haven Turn, but if they had a particularly severe injury, like a broken leg, they must spend their whole turn convalescing.)
  • Come back from the dead as a cyborg.

Basically, haven turns are where the players can do anything they should be able to do, but which I don’t want them to do mid-session.

Haven Turn Encounters

As I’ve said before, D&D is a game about limited resources, and how the players choose to use them. Time is probably the single most important resource. Players must understand that whenever they use a unit of time, it’s possible for something bad to happen. And so, they will not become frivolous with the actions they choose to take.

For each Haven Turn, roll 1d6:

  1. Complication
  2. Complication & Petitioner
  3. Petitioner
  4. Alleviation
  5. Gun Auction
  6. Gun Auction

Gun Auctions are something for my ORWA game. Rolling this indicates that someone has put up a gun for sale, and the players have a chance to buy it. If they don’t, then it’ll be purchased by someone else, and probably be lost to them forever.

I’ve got a little table of gun ideas that I roll on whenever this comes up. Then I write up stats for the new gun, and present it (along with a price) at the start of the next game session.

Alleviation: Some complications are ongoing issues, which only end when an Alleviation is rolled.

If there are multiple issues requiring Alleviation, only one can be resolved at a time. Which one is taken care of should be randomly determined.

Of course, anything which calls for an Alleviation can also be ended by direct player action, if the players choose to pursue it.

Petitioners are something I recently added, since my players have established themselves as a regional power. It makes sense that people are going to start showing up to ask for help.

For each petitioner, I roll on a weighted table that determines which faction they’re from. Then I roll on the table below to get a general idea of why they approached the players. From there, I use my referee powers to whip up an NPC with more specific needs.

  1. An individual, seeking sanctuary from a bad situation.
  2. An individual, seeking aide in overcoming a bad situation.
  3. An individual, bringing the party information in hopes of a reward.
  4. An official of some small group, seeking sanctuary.
  5. An official of some small group, seeking the aide in overcoming a bad situation.
  6. An official of some large group, looking to hire the party

The petitioner will appear at the start of the next session, and the party is free to respond however they choose. Many times the issue can be solved trivially: “sure, you can live here.” In other cases, the petitioner may spark the party’s interest, and they may become deeply involved.

Complications are shifts in the world around the players, and may include threats to the player’s holdings or interests.

The first 10 of these are all localized issues. For each, I would roll on my weighted table of factions to determine where the issue occurred.

The specifics of each complication are left intentionally vague. A natural disaster may be a minor thing, or it may be a cataclysmic event. It all depends on what the referee thinks would be interesting.

  1. A natural disaster strikes. Randomly determine, or choose a disaster as appropriate: Fire, Earthquake, Tornado, Flood, Landslide, Sinkhole, Volcano, Blizzard, Tsunami, Hurricane, Meteor.
  2. A famine or drought begins. It lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  3. A plague breaks out, the particulars of which are left to the referee. It lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  4. A major figure is assassinated.
  5. A whole series of murders take place. They last until an alleviation is rolled.
  6. War breaks out between a faction, and one of its neighbors. Each month until an alleviation is rolled, both sides roll a d6. Whichever side rolls higher took some of their neighbor’s territory, commensurate with the difference in the size of the rolls. (So if a 1 and a 6 are rolled, the gains would be large. If a 1 and a 2 are rolled, the gains would be small).
  7. An insurrection erupts, making a territory unstable, and threatening to overthrow the existing power structure. This lasts until an alleviation is rolled. If it is not alleviated within 1 year, the insurrection will be successful.
  8. A monster begins to terrorize the area, and cannot be stopped. This lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  9. Two factions announce an alliance with one another.
  10. News of a major scandal breaks.
  11. Reroll, using a d10. That complication is so widespread, it affects every territory in the dome.
  12. A major religious event occurs for a randomly determined religion.
  13. A new faction emerges, and carves out a small space for itself on the map. It may be a group the players have interacted with before, something entirely new, or even something which has technically existed for awhile but which was secret up until now.
  14. A major discovery is made, and becomes widely known: perhaps a new technology is developed, perhaps a new race is encountered, or a conspiracy is uncovered.
  15. A prophecy begins making its way around around. Nobody is quite sure how to interpret it, but everyone is certain that it’s important.
  16. Reroll, using a d10. That complication occurs within the player’s own domain. (Which is too small to be included on the general list)
  17. Randomly determine one of the player’s investments. It suffers a major setback, requiring it either to be abandoned, or rescued with an influx of funds.
  18. Legal claims are brought against the player characters.
  19. The player characters are publicly slandered.
  20. An ally of player characters dies.

Was that totally the best post about D&D you’ve ever read? Probably. If so, maybe you should drop a dollar in my Patreon box! That would be an appropriate way to pay me deference for _totally blowing your mind_ the way I just did.

Adding Smartphones to your Game World

Wizard Using a Smartphone

Huzzah! It’s the monthly midweek bonus post! You’re seeing this post today because my Patreon backers have shown me such phenomenal support over these past few months. If you’d like to see even more frequent posts from me, you can help make that happen by supporting my Patreon campaign.

The basic conceit of John Bell‘s Necrocarserous is that a mysterious force is siphoning off the dead from other campaigns. Everyone in the setting  once lived in some other game world, then they died, and while they were on their way to their proper afterlife, they got snatched up by the Necrocarserous Progragm, had all of their memories erased, and were dropped into the world of Necrocarserous. There, these countless kidnapped dead people spend their afterlives serving as unwitting cogs in an unfathomable machine.

Because the world theoretically drew from every other game in existence, you had knights in full plate wielding long swords, living alongside soldiers in Kevlar with guns. In other words, the game was technologically anachronistic, which was a big influence on ORWA’s “Swords, Cyborgs, and Floppy Disks” style. One of the most notable bits of technology in the game were the various phone plans. NecroTel offered a few choices, but once you had a treasure haul or two under your belt, everyone just went for the best one: smart phones. They were friggin awesome, so obviously, I included them in ORWA.

So, how does adding smartphones to your game change it? The most obvious thing is that long-distance communication becomes trivial. In some ways this might be considered a bad thing; for example, splitting the party is much less of a risk if the two groups can stay in communication with one another. But, the benefits to trivializing communication far outweigh the drawbacks, in my experience. (Plus, it was always a pain trying to force players sitting at the same table not to talk to one another).

In Necrocarserous, the existence of phones meant that NPCs basically never left the game. If we met people we liked, we could call them later for information or advice. This fundamentally changed the way we approached relationships as players. NPCs stopped being transient game elements that came and went with each new adventure. Each new person we met was a potential potential ally. It gave us grounding in the game world.

In ORWA, where only a small subset of the population have phones, this effect is less pronounced, but none the less present. If there’s one thing I would change about ORWA, it’s that I would like phones to be more universal. Fortunately, my players have recently set out to bring phone service to the masses (though, the masses only get Nokia NGage phones. No fancy smartphones for them). But, even before my players set out to do this, I could see the greater level of connection the phones gave them to the NPCs who had phones. In particular their boss, The Hangman, became someone they regularly consulted. Sometimes they called to ask her questions about what she wanted them to do. Other times, they just sent her selfies of themselves having killed a big scary monster. It’s gratifying to see my players make my NPCs a greater part of their experience.

I should note somewhere in here that I don’t personally think phone damage or phone battery life are interesting problems for the players to be thinking about. In ORWA, phones are made of futuristic materials which do not easily break, and use cold-fusion batteries which will hold a charge for 1000 years before they need to be plugged in. You may want to be a bit more stingy about this kind of thing, and I could see that being interesting. For my purposes, though, it’s not part of the system.

In its basic form, long distance talking is the only thing phones can do. If players want their phone to be more versatile, they’ll need to make purchases from the Appstore.

Each app improves the phone by adding software, or by unlocking the phone’s own existing hardware. Each app also takes up a certain amount of memory, and each phone can fit a total of 50 memory worth of apps before it’s full, and can’t take any more. (Rare phones with more memory may exist, and could be provided as treasure).

Players may own as many apps as they want, but switching out the apps on your phone takes a Haven turn. That’s purely for game reasons, but in ORWA I guess you could say that download rates are shit in the post apocalypse.

Apps:

Text Messaging (500cc, 1 Memory): Allows silent, more casual communication. As long as a character has one hand free, they can text as a free action.

Camera (300cc, 1 Memory): Unlocks the camera hardware built into your phone, which can take high quality photos and videos. Thanks to HyperRawr compression technology, photos and videos functionally take up no memory on the phone. You can have as many as you want. Camera can also be used for facetime, or even just to peek around corners.

Zoom (1000cc, 1 Memory): Unlocks the Zoom Lens built into your camera, allowing it to function as a telescope. The zoom on these futuristic cameras is powerful enough to read the text on a book up to a mile away, if there’s sufficient line-of-sight.

Facial Recognition (5,000cc, 5 Memory): With facial recognition software, the phone can be set to flag certain people based on a photograph, or a detailed list of features. The phone will notify the user if anyone is flagged within the camera’s field of view.

GIMP++ (20,000cc, 5 Memory): A successful Tech skill check allows photos and videos to be modified to believably depict pretty much anything the user wants, so long as the key elements of the photo area real. (You can’t show a person being dead on the ground unless you’ve got a photo of that person, and a photo of someone being dead on the ground. Etc.)

Infrared Camera (15,000cc, 5 Memory): Allows the camera to capture infrared light. This functionally allows characters to see in the dark, as they can hold up their phones and look at the screens while the camera is open. It doesn’t attract as much attention as illuminating the environment would–though the light from the screen will still cause a small penalty to stealth in some situations.

Dragon Warrior Monsters GO (Free, 1 Memory): An augmented reality game which depicts monsters in the real world, which you have to fight with your own arms and legs. If you defeat a monster, it becomes your pet. The game is all the rage among Internet Operatives, and they may be willing to trade rare monsters for services.

LiveJournalMini (Free, 1 Memory): A microblogging platform, where each post is restricted to a maximum length of 200 characters. It’s used actively by members of The Internet as a means of releasing random thoughts out into the ether. Can be a good way to socialize with other Internet members, if one was inclined to do so.

Immediagram (Free, 1 Memory): A place for sharing photos, or short videos.

Hulu+ (Free, 1 Memory): The best way to keep in touch with cool people who make and do cool things.

Fantasy Calvinball (Free, 1 Memory): A game where players build teams, selecting real Calvinball players, then competing with one another based on the game-to-game performance of the players they chose. Obviously, Calvinball hasn’t been played since the apocalypse, but an archive with full data from hundreds of seasons was discovered a few years ago, and an enterprising member of The Internet set up a script to lock off all the data, only spitting out individual game results periodically. It costs 500cc to buy in to the Internet’s pool.

Light (1000cc, 5 memory): Serves as a lantern, with no chance to go out.

Peepl (3,000cc 5 memory): A site where people review other people. For each NPC encountered, there’s a 4-in-6 chance that the app contains some useful information about them.

Mars-O-Pedia(500cc Per Use, 1 memory): Various skills in ORWA (Bushcraft, Technology, etc.) are sometimes used as knowledge checks. If the check fails, players may pay to consult Mars-O-Pedia, which has a 5-in-6 chance of having whatever information they’re looking for. Whether the checks succeeds of fails, the player looking must spend 1d6 – 1 exploration turns looking.

Encounter Maps (Free, 5 Memory): The designer of this app has secretly tagged thousands of people within the dome, who are always passively passing data about the locations of potentially dangerous creatures and situations. This allows the app to calculate safe(ish) paths through the dome. For the price of 500cc, the next 5 encounter checks the players roll will have a reduced chance of resulting in an encounter. (a 1-in-6, instead of the usual 2-in-6).

Megaphone (2,000cc, 5 Memory): Sounds directed into the phone’s microphone will be broadcast by the phone’s speaker at a louder volume. Can be set anywhere from x1, to x10.

Voice Modulator (500, 5 Memory): Sounds directed into the phone’s microphone will be broadcast by the phone’s speaker in a different voice. The phone also produces a sound inverted to user’s actual voice, effectively muffling them, so that the only sound which can be heard is the modulated one.

By default, the voice is a robotic, “Microsoft Sam” style voice. However, additional voices can be purchased for 1,000cc each. There is a wide selection of voices, including specific accents, and famous people.

Soundboards (1,000cc Each, 5 Memory Each): A soundboard is a collection of pre-recorded audio samples, which can be played quickly in any order. Some common packs might be Movie Quotes, Fight Sounds, or Animal Noises.

Waterproofing (10,000cc, 5 Memory): Unlocks the waterproofing features on your phone. The phone can now be operated normally while underwater.

Encumbrance in Online Games

Metal Gear EncumbranceEncumbrance is a pain in the ass.

Tracking it requires a referee-level attention to detail, from a player.

Which isn’t a slam against players; it’s just the reality of how I expect those two roles to be approached. When I sit down to referee, I know that I need to keep a ton of information straight in my head. But when I sit down to play, I’m looking for a more casual experience. Tracking encumbrance requires more effort than I want to invest.

Encumbrance is also necessary.

In many ways, D&D is a game about limited resources and how the players choose to spend them. Hit points are a resource that determines how much combat the players can endure. Time is a resource that requires players to be selective about their actions. And in a game about dungeon crawling, encumbrance determines both how much equipment you can take into the dungeon (which serve as a kind of arsenal of potential solutions to problems), and it determines how much treasure you can carry out of the dungeon.

While discussing this issue with the erudite Frotz Self the other day, he struck upon a solution: we should just use a Google Docs spreadsheet. It seemed like such an elegant idea that I immediately set one up for my ORWA campaign. We’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and I’m pleased to report that it’s working phenomenally.  Here’s what ours looks like:Before moving on, I should explain what you’re seeing a bit. ORWA’s got an odd encumbrance system, which is currently undergoing some tinkering. At the core, we’re using LotFP encumbrance, where each item goes on a line, and each group of lines makes up one “encumbrance point.” We’re also using the LotFP playtest variant where each character’s Strength score determines how many lines make up one group. Furthermore, I’m experimenting with an armor system where players can wear up to 3 pieces of armor, with each one being only a single encumbering item.

Also, Lugud’s encumbrance looks weird because he recently died, and the players took all his good stuff.

Like I said, my system is a little disorganized at the moment. But, the shared spreadsheet method has helped clear things up immensely, and should work regardless of what specific rules you’re using.

Previously, the encumbrance system was a set of abstract rules that the players had to understand and apply themselves. Here, I’ve basically done all the heavy rules lifting for them, and all they have to do is plug their items into the slots provided.

You could say that a character sheet would accomplish the same thing, but in an online game, character sheets can be a real hassle. Not every player will have easy access to a printer, and even if they do, a printed sheet can only be used by them. If they have a question, they can’t show the referee what they’re looking at unless they’ve got a fairly high quality webcam. Plus, even in meatspace games, the constant need to write & erase every time an item is picked up or consumed can be frustrating in the extreme.

Allowing a character’s current inventory to be easily shared is another huge benefit of this method. It helps not only me, but every member of the party.

I hadn’t anticipated this, but since we started using this system players are much more likely to ask me questions. It makes sense though, right? When I’m a player, and I’m wondering “is each torch encumbering, or should I bundle them? How big is a bundle?” I may feel like it would be an imposition on the game for me to ask about such a trivial thing. Often, I’ll just make a judgement call as a player, and go with that.

But, if we’re all looking at the same document, there’s more pressure to be accurate and consistent. The first session we used this method, there was a good 30 minute discussion about basic encumbrance stuff that hasn’t changed since we first started playing. Obviously it wasn’t the most riveting 30 minutes of play we’ve ever had, but once we did that, everyone was on the same page, and we were able to move forward with, I think, a more meaningful campaign.

It also helps the rest of the party, because now everyone knows what equipment is ‘in play.’ If player X comes up with an idea that would require a certain tool they don’t have, they can just look at the sheet to see if player Y has the tool. My players have started coordinating their inventories because of this, which has cut down on pointless redundancies (“We don’t need 3 crowbars!”).

The spreadsheet also makes the task of separating a character’s inventory from their possessions feel like less of a nuisance. If a player has collected 30 different potions, which are all written down on a list, it may seem kinda bothersome to re-write a smaller list which contains only the potions currently being carried. Yeah it’s cheating, but it’s cheating out of boredom, rather than cheating out of an attempt to gain advantage.

Using a shared spreadsheet forces players to put in that ounce of extra effort that all of us are guilty of avoiding from time to time.

Lastly, now that encumbrance is running so smoothly, I’m excited to introduce some new complexities.

Which may sound counter-intuitive: I just succeeded in making something simple, why would I want to mess that up? Well, the issue with encumbrance before was that it was unpleasant to interact with it. I had my players track it to the best of their ability, but I knew it wasn’t really working properly, so I avoided poking at it.

But now, I can poke to my heart’s content. I could attack the players with monsters that steal a random item, or introduce a vendor who sells expensive backpacks that allow characters to carry more than they normally could. The more firmly established structure that the spreadsheet provides makes it easier, and even fun, to tinker.

Honestly, my only problem at this point is that I don’t have a method of running encumbrance this effectively around a real table.

Was this helpful to you? Then you should probably put a dollar in my Patreon before I starve to death and die and can’t write useful things for you anymore. =D

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