Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Carrying capacity and item conditions

Having tried (and kinda failed) at running a West Marches type game the last few years, I've been looking at ways to improve wilderness travel over the almost non-existent framework in 5e. One important dynamic that never worked well in the game was the idea of gradual attrition of resources. Using the standard pound-by-pound encumbrance rules in D&D was just a huge hassle, for the players and for me. The problem is just that it's too granular, and that it lets the characters carry so many items that they lose track of them, even with the encumbrance variant rule. Instead of using realistic weight, however, many modern systems have switched over to slot-based systems. DYI & Dragons has a great overview of different resource management systems and why resource management should be part of the game.

I've cobbled together a few of these different rules in attempt to bring that simplicity to 5e. I'll present the rules first with some notes at the bottom.

Carrying capacity

Each character has a carrying capacity equal to:

5 + their Strength bonus + their proficiency bonus.

Most items, such as a longsword, a potion, or a spellbook, have a weight of 1. Heavy or bulky items, such as a chest, a greatsword, or heavy armor, have a weight of 2. No item weighs less than 1, and items do not stack. Backpacks and clothing have a weight of 0.

Anyone carrying over their limit is encumbered, moving at half speed with disadvantage to all rolls. Carrying more than twice the carrying capacity reduces that character's speed to 0 instead.

Expedition Resources

This idea is directly borrowed from The Scones Alone, only slightly modified.

Certain items are considered Expedition Resources. They have the following qualities:
  • If even one character is carrying a single quantity of the resource, there is enough for the entire group to use
  • If no one has the resource, the party suffers some negative effect
  • Creative uses of the resource trigger a skill check that may deplete the resource
Examples: Food, Water, Torches, Oil lantern, Healer’s kit, Climbing kit, Camping gear, Dry firewood.

Consumables and item conditions

This idea originally comes from Goblin Punch's Triple X depletion system.


Every time a depletable resource is used, put an X next to it. After three Xs, it's gone. For arrrows, bolts, or spell components, there's a 50% chance after each encounter that the resource is depleted.

Looting and foraging can replenish a resource. Most of the time, that will mean removing an X, but the DM may determine that there is enough to remove two Xs.

Item condition

When a character rolls a natural one, their weapon is damaged. If a critical hit is scored on the character, their armor is damaged, or a random item they are carrying if they are not wearing armor.

If an item is damaged, put an X next to it. After three Xs, the item is destroyed.

Damaged items have the following penalties:

X: -1 to all checks using this item
XX: disadvantage to all checks using this item

Damaged armor has the following penalties:

X: AC reduced by 1, to a minimum of 11
XX: AC reduced by 5, to a minimum of 11

Characters wielding a shield can choose to cross an X off their shield instead on a crit. The shield's AC bonus is reduced by 1 per X.

Items with one X can be repaired by a character using the appropriate tools, such as smith's tool or leatherworker's tool, with a DC 15 check. If the check fail, the item is still repaired, but an X is put next to the tool, as materials and tools are spent on the repair. The repair takes four hours. Alternatively, an item with one X can be repaired by an artisan for 1/3 of the item's price.

Items with two Xs have to be repaired by an artisan for 2/3 of the item's price.


I'm going for rules that can be bolted on 5e as is, as much as possible. So you could potentially mix and match here, but they also synergize well. 

Carrying capacity

  • 5 + Str + prof. After looking at many different item slot systems, it struck me that many were in the range of 7 ± 2, also known as Miller's Law. So this roughly reflects that at level 1, at least for characters with Str in the range of 6 - 14. I put it in a familiar formula, similar to the formula for DC calculation, to make it easier to remember, and to help it scale by level to make space for magic items.
  • Backpack and clothing. In the brief playtesting I've done so far this was the first thing to come up. I decided it's better to just say these items are "free" slots, rather than risk some weird meta decisions.
  • Expedition resources. I love this system. It's an elegant way to reduce the overhead of marking rations, as one character can take care of it, while also making it more likely that food will come into play, if something happens to character The original rules have no depletion outside of unusual uses of the resources, but it has good synergy with triple X
  • Tough choices. The limited slots really force players to make some tough choices, but I don't think it's draconic. Of course you can play with the base numbers. Also, some items should be bundled, such as lanterns, oil, and tinderbox. The starting packs might also need to be changed a little bit. I might do a follow-up post with a simplified item list.

Consumables and item condition

  • Unified mechanic. I think using the same mechanic for all depletion will make it easier to remember, and make each resource "tick" more meaningful.
  • Arrows and spells. If there's a 50% chance of depletion after each encounter, that should last roughly six encounters. Of course, archers might have bad luck, and have to change their tactics. I included depletion for spell components included as well, for balance. Spellcasters have less equipment to spend money on anyway. This will probably require changing how spell foci work.
  • Item condition. This might be the most controversial for many. I think it can add some dynamism to combat by forcing some occasional changes in tactics. It also adds more weight to crits and fumbles, and adds an additional benefit of wearing armor.
  • Repair. I chose four hours because the daily cycle leaves time for a downtime action, and it also fits well into using a system of six watches in a day.
  • Penalties. Not 100% sure about the penalties for weapons and armor, need playtesting. Wearing broken armor should be preferable to wearing no armor, however. And I like the fact that disadvantage to using item = greater chance of breaking completely. Are you gonna push your luck and keep attacking with the greatsword, or change to another weapon?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Into the void

Mandatory first post: 

I've been an on-and-off D&D player for about 15 years now, both as a DM and as a player. Which means I got my start with 3.5, played it, loved it for a long time, slowly realizing how obtuse and dense many of the rules were. Then along came 4e, which promised to fix everything but ended up feeling more like you were playing a Pokemon game ("Tordek uses Reaping strike!") than an RPG. And then of course Pathfinder, which tried to fix 3.5 by making it even more like 3.5. Fifth edition was really a fresh breeze when it came out, with simpler, bounded mechanics and a less videogame-y aesthetic. It definitely inspired me to start DMing and playing more.

Of course, as I've realized in the last few years: in terms of innovation and creativity, the DIY/OSR scene is miles ahead of WotC. There's an incredible amount of awesome ideas for mechanics and content out there in the blogosphere (see the sidebar for some suggestions). And one of the coolest things about this hobby is that you can whatever the hell you want with the game. I've always loved tinkering with the rules, even if it never makes it to the table. So, instead of leaving the results in a drawer or on a hard drive somewhere, I'm gonna try shouting it into the Internet void instead. It's mainly going to be OSR-inspired stuff for 5e, but I might post about other game systems as well. Let's see how it goes.