Thursday, 4 June 2015

Why Should an RPG Have an Encumbrance System?

Hello World,

One of the major joys unique to tabletop roleplaying games is the act of getting into character and losing oneself in an imagined world. This is such a major aspect of the hobby that simulation has become one of the 3 main pinnacles of RPG design. The innate purpose for an RPG system in terms of simulation is to add structure and consistency to the game that is being played. That being said, rules constructed innately for promoting simulation are often the most tedious and annoying.  In most games, the purely simulationist rules are dropped and ignored by players. Things like counting rations, encumbrances, and travel fatigue are all simulation rules that rarely add anything meaningful the Gamist or Narrativist aspects of a game. This got me thinking, if these rules are so commonly dropped and disliked by players, why are they even in the game to start with?

After doing a lot of research into simulation games like HarnMaster I think I have good idea of why these seemingly extraneous rules are so important. They firstly act to add a sense of grit and weight to the world being played in. Before reading through some gameplay scripts for HarnMaster, I had never seen players so scared of a wound getting infected, or running out of rations.  So immersed in feeling the weight of every choice and action they make. These are all down to earth feelings not normally seen in other games.


These simulation rules secondarily act as an anchor for new players and Game Masters, giving them a mechanical way to understand the world their characters are in them. If a player jumps down a 30 ft drop with the mentality that they are a game character and fall damage shouldn’t hurt them, they will be in for a rude awakening. Same goes for a player trying to loot everything in sight so they can sell them when they return to town. There are clear in game rules that state how many finally crafted chairs and statuettes the player can carry without being weighed down. And as players begin to understand that real world physics and laws of nature apply to the game world, they are more readily able to connect to the game world. It is much easier to imagine a world when we can use the knowledge of our own world to paint it in. When it comes to being a GM anchor, these rules apply a spelled out, mechanical way to translate commonly understood laws of nature into the game space. Removing the extra work of the game master determining consequences on their own.

Most veteran players drop these rules because they no longer need that sort of anchor to understand the world around them. They are able to get a good enough picture of how much their barbarian can lift and won’t try to lift more than that. The other major reason is that the game they are interested in playing isn’t as rooted in simulation, instead focusing more on Gamist or Narativist play. In this case, these extraneous simulationist rules just seem like pointless tedium.

However it all depends on what type of game you are playing and the people you are enjoying it with.


-Patrick Lapeinis