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1/08/2018 2:25 am  #1


Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Timekeeping and encumbrance are cornerstones of dungeon exploration. In my experience, a lot of DMs handwave one or both of these because most systems involve too much bookkeeping for little gain. How do you guys handle timekeeping and encumbrance?

I like the timekeeping system proposed by Angry DM. Read the original article if you dare, that guy has great ideas but is a terrible writer and takes forever to make a point.  I've condensed it to a few bullet points. While it may seem complicated at first glance it is actually quite elegant and can easily be delegated to a player. I especially like how it breaks time into the ten-minute turns of old. The system assumes the players are moving carefully and quietly which matches how I imagine people exploring an ancient tomb filled with hungry dead who can see in the dark. 


  • Dice (typically d6) are used to represent the passage of time and collectively referred to as the time pool. When the characters perform a task of approximately ten minutes (moving from room to room, searching for traps, picking locks, gathering treasure, etc) a die is placed into the time pool where everyone can see it ("time advances"). Spells, conditions, and the like with a duration of ten minutes or less end. 
  • If there are already 6 dice in the pool when time advances, the time pool resets back to zero, we mark off an hour of time, and then roll for complication using 6 dice. 
  • If the players make a lot of noise or rush a task, time advances (if applicable) and then we roll for complication using the dice in the pool.
  • If a party takes a short rest, mark off an hour of time and roll for complication using 6 dice. The time pool is not touched.
  • During a roll for complication, we pick up every die in the time pool and roll. If any die shows a 1, a complication has occurred. 
  • A complication is an event connected to the plot and environment, often but not always a wandering monster.

As for encumbrance, Matt Rundle's anti-hammerspace tracker works wonderfully for episodic pulp-style games (like Conan's Hyborian Age) where characters aren't married to gear and often start adventures in media res. Classic dungeoncrawling places great emphasis on resource management so I needed something different for Hyperborea. I found a good encumbrance system on Reddit that was inspired by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It's abstract for easy bookkeeping during play but crunchy enough to ensure that hauling loot out of a dungeon involves meaningful decisions.  

  • You can carry items that fill a number of slots equal to your Strength score without penalty.
  • If you carry more than your Strength score, you are encumbered.
  • If you carry more than twice your Strength score, you are heavily encumbered.
  • Worn clothing and jewelry, soft containers, and items you can conceal in your palm do not count towards encumbrance.
  • Heavy items, such as armor and chests, fill 1 slot for every 5 pounds. Round up.
  • Items (and bundles of similar items) which you can hold in one hand fill 1 slot. (Up to 5 torches, flasks, or rations can usually be bundled together.)
  • Items that require two hands fill 2 slots.
  • Every 250 coins or gems fill 1 slot. Round up.

  

Last edited by Brock Savage (1/08/2018 4:07 am)

 

1/08/2018 12:06 pm  #2


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

In my AS&SH and Dwimmermount campaigns, we used time and encumbrance by the book. Most of my players have their character sheets in Excel to keep track of their equipment (they started doing it during our Vikings & Valkyries campaign a couple years ago to properly manage their ship's carrying capacity). Doing it on paper is definitely a cumbersome thing to do.

A lot of folks use Brendan's Hazard system, but I also like the time dice approach. I might actually adapt it to another megadungeon campaign idea I'm putting down notes for.

 

1/08/2018 1:07 pm  #3


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

I keep track of time in the dungeon on paper, using hash marks for turns. My players keep track of encumbrance on their record sheets, and I expect them to inform me when their encumbrance status changes. I've never felt that keeping track of either of these on paper was particularly burdensome.


Michael Sipe 1979-2018
Rest in peace, brother.
 

1/08/2018 2:34 pm  #4


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Blackadder23 wrote:

I've never felt that keeping track of either of these on paper was particularly burdensome.

Hey BA23, I totally understand that most DMs will use whatever system is in the book (or in my experience, handwave encumbrance altogether) but my target audience isn't grognards who know the weight of a shovel without cracking open the rulebook and can adjust for changing Strength values on the fly. From the perspective of someone new to the hobby, traditional encumbrance systems are fiddly. I also tend to delegate bookkeeping to players so I'm always on the lookout for elegant and succinct solutions.

Last edited by Brock Savage (1/08/2018 2:36 pm)

     Thread Starter
 

1/08/2018 4:14 pm  #5


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

We just finished a dungeon crawl (in Ghost Ship, converted for Hyborian Age), and I fully intended to count turns and track encumbrance by the book. However, it didn't seem too matter too much how much time was passing.
Encumbrance became hand wavy because trying to get the players to track it was time consuming.

I like the idea of the strength limit, perhaps combined with a page depicting the characters pouches and backpacks. So maybe 4 potions can be placed in a small pouch that then only counts as 1 item. Maybe a backpack counts as 2, but can hold the equivalent of 4, etc.

Oh, and I also agree about Angry DM. He had some really good ideas but presents them terribly. I just can't read his stuff.


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
 

1/08/2018 4:18 pm  #6


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Gotta admit I tend to hand-wave until the equipment and weapon hoarding feels like it's too much, then I step in and ask how and who is hauling crap. Often the players are swapping stuff and dropping packs to fight... The bookkeeping minutia is so tedious and isn't a thing that ever comes up in the fiction.


"Role-playing isn't storytelling. If the dungeon master is directing it, it's not a game."  ~ Gary Gygax
 

1/08/2018 4:23 pm  #7


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

@Jimm - I generally agree. I only enjoy it when it comes to something that you do see in the fiction, which is making a tough choice. Which treasure to take? Carry the wounded or the weapons? Which sack do you cut loose when trying to haul the party up a cliff?


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
 

1/08/2018 4:35 pm  #8


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Yes, exactly that. Especially for hauling coins; and arms/armor looted from corpses.
I make gold coinage exceedingly rare because it isn't too prevalent in a world where non-adventuring people mostly use bronze/copper pieces-- or silver at best. If a chest is found its probably overflowing with copper and silver. "Who's lugging it to the money-changer?" http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/lol.png


"Role-playing isn't storytelling. If the dungeon master is directing it, it's not a game."  ~ Gary Gygax
 

1/08/2018 8:49 pm  #9


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Jimm.Iblis wrote:

I make gold coinage exceedingly rare because it isn't too prevalent in a world where non-adventuring people mostly use bronze/copper pieces-- or silver at best. If a chest is found its probably overflowing with copper and silver. "Who's lugging it to the money-changer?" http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/lol.png

Yeah, in my vision of Hyperborea most people barter unless they live in a city. Even in Khromarium, most people deal in copper and silver. By my estimation, a gold piece is roughly analogous to a $100 bill; gold pieces draw a lot of attention in a city where 1/4 of the population is a homeless wretch and 20 pounds of flour costs 1 silver.

Grimmshade wrote:

We just finished a dungeon crawl (in Ghost Ship, converted for Hyborian Age), and I fully intended to count turns and track encumbrance by the book. However, it didn't seem too matter too much how much time was passing.

I don't think every style of game requires the DM to track each passing minute. When I ran Conan in 3.x and Savage Worlds, I didn't track time meticulously but frequently placed characters in situations where there was immense pressure to take swift, decisive action. My goal was to match the excellent pacing of the R.E.H. stories or films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy.

D&D is weird because given enough time, a lot of the challenge in dungeoncrawls is rendered trivial. Characters will meticulously search every square inch of a dungeon. Casters become immensely powerful with frequent rest ("the five minute workday"). Pickaxes, laborers, and time make a joke of many dungeon challenges. Players aren't stupid and will do whatever they can to mitigate risk; time pressure discourages cowardly and conservative tactics that lead to boring games. The growing risk of random attacks or complications gives players a sense of urgency. 

I like the die solution proposed by Angry DM because it gives everyone a clear idea of the risk involved with each action so the players can make informed decisions. I've played with way too many crap DMs who expect you to read their minds and give you nothing on which to base your decisions.

Grimmshade wrote:

 I like the idea of the strength limit, perhaps combined with a page depicting the characters pouches and backpacks. So maybe 4 potions can be placed in a small pouch that then only counts as 1 item. Maybe a backpack counts as 2, but can hold the equivalent of 4, etc. 

Hey Grimmshade, is this inventory sheet from Raging Owlbear closer to what you're looking for? 

Ynas Midgard wrote:

A lot of folks use Brendan's Hazard system, but I also like the time dice approach. I might actually adapt it to another megadungeon campaign idea I'm putting down notes for.

I missed this earlier, thanks for the link. I like it a lot- do you think it could be adapted to 1930's pulp?
 

Last edited by Brock Savage (1/08/2018 8:51 pm)

     Thread Starter
 

1/08/2018 9:42 pm  #10


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Another "grognard" idea: The Holmes Blue Book encumberance system (based on OD&D) was dirt simple:

From memory, so not guaranteed to be accurate: Carrying 300 coins above what you normally equip yourself with is encumbering. Sacks/backpacks/etc. hold 300 coins. Wearing armor is encumbering. Players track the location of items and treasures on their person. Use common sense (i.e. carrying more than two full sacks and a backpack would probably effectively immobilize a character).

I like the Strength/slot ideas though. Just have an equipment list on the character record that is "strength" lines long. Anything takes up one line. 300 coins takes up one slot.


"I, Satampra Zeiros of Uzuldaroum, shall write with my left hand, since I have no longer any other, the tale of everything that befell Tirouv Ompallios and myself in the shrine of the god Tsathoggua..."
 

1/08/2018 10:07 pm  #11


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Brock - yes, that sheet is pretty close to what I'm picturing.

As of now I'm roughly thinking:
STR # of items.
Pouches take 1 slot but can hold 3 or 4 smaller items.
Backpacks/satchels/sacks take 2 slots but can hold 3 or 4 medium items or 8-10 small items.
300 coins takes 1 slot or equals 1 medium item.
Shields maybe take 2 slots, especially medium ones?
Armor determines Move rate, but doesn't take any encumbrance slots.

I don't think I understand how the Angry DM time system works.


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
 

1/08/2018 11:13 pm  #12


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

foxroe wrote:

Another "grognard" idea:

Heh heh, I want to be clear that grognard isn't a disparaging term. It originally referred to Napoleon's Imperial Guard who were veteran soldiers ("grumblers"). Nowadays it's shorthand for veteran gamers who prefer older versions of games. It's not disrespectful in any way. 

Grimmshade wrote:

I don't think I understand how the Angry DM time system works.

Apologies if I wasn't being clear. Angry's system is an abstract timekeeper that gives the players a visual representation of mounting pressure and risk through a pool of d6's that grows larger as time passes. The baseline assumptions are 1) players are moving through the dungeon carefully and quietly and 2) common exploration actions take around ten minutes; these are things like searching an area, moving from room to room, picking a lock, loading treasure into packs, and recovery after a fight. Chunks of approximately ten minutes are represented by a d6. I recommend large, distinctive casino style dice for this purpose. Each time the players perform an exploration action a d6 is added to the pool which everyone can see; obviously players can take actions simultaneously to save time. If the party makes a loud noise, the dice are scooped up and rolled. If a '1' shows up on any of the dice, a complication occurs (usually some kind of setback or encounter) and a die is removed from the pool. If there are 6 dice in the pool and another is added, log an hour of time, roll for complication using 6 dice, and reset the pool to zero. 

Example: Ember the thief, Kay half-blooded, and Bron the slayer are exploring the Tomb of Seven Forbidden Wisdoms. Ember declares that she'll search a chest for traps, Kay says he'll search burial alcoves for treasure, and Bron says he'll stand watch. A d6 is added to the time pool and the actions are resolved. Ember's search revealed no traps and the chest is locked. Ember says she's going to pick the lock and while the others keep watch. A d6 is added to the pool and Ember rolls to pick locks; alas, she is only 3rd level and rolled an '8' on a d12. The DM rules that she managed to force the ancient lock open but made a great deal of noise in the process (success at a cost). The two d6 in the pool are rolled and a '1' comes up- a complication! The Cult of Oblivion dispatches some undead slaves to investigate the noise and the DM removes a die from the pool.      
 

Last edited by Brock Savage (1/08/2018 11:21 pm)

     Thread Starter
 

1/09/2018 12:27 am  #13


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Brock Savage wrote:

D&D is weird because given enough time, a lot of the challenge in dungeoncrawls is rendered trivial. Characters will meticulously search every square inch of a dungeon. Casters become immensely powerful with frequent rest ("the five minute workday"). Pickaxes, laborers, and time make a joke of many dungeon challenges. Players aren't stupid and will do whatever they can to mitigate risk; time pressure discourages cowardly and conservative tactics that lead to boring games. The growing risk of random attacks or complications gives players a sense of urgency.

Gary ran D&D for a fair while before the rules were published - certainly before 1e was published - and it's a good bet that he encountered all of these tactics. That's why the early iterations of the game included rules that discourage pretty much all of them. Wandering monsters impose a cost (potentially a lethal one) for dawdling in the dungeon. Monthly expenses (coupled with training costs for level gains) impose a financial cost for too much non-adventuring downtime. Retaining hirelings is supposed to be a process, not simply a matter of paying gold. Most noncombatant hirelings are intended to refuse to enter dungeons at any price. Dungeons are supposed to be restocked, providing lethal surprises for laborers idiotic enough to enter one. If PCs retain a lot of hirelings (especially ones who don't survive) the referee is meant to increase prices with a "supply and demand" justification. The same goes for equipment prices, and the list goes on.

One by one most of these pieces were yanked out, especially in later editions of D&D. Some of the changes were made by people who honestly believed they understood D&D better than Gary. Others were made mostly to pander to players*. The sum total of the changes was to drive the bad behavior you describe. People eventually recognized the problem, but the solution many choose is not to restore the old mechanisms that were actually created to address these issues. Rather, it's to slap a band-aid on the problem by tinkering at the margins. That just doesn't strike me as the most efficient solution.

* - It's worth noting that the vast majority of 1e products were published for DM's. That doesn't appear to be the case for later editions.

Last edited by Blackadder23 (1/09/2018 12:29 am)


Michael Sipe 1979-2018
Rest in peace, brother.
 

1/09/2018 6:13 am  #14


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Ah now I understand the Angry DM system.
It's cool, but a little newfangled  for me. I generally know what's around the area and give odds for things occurring when PC's dawdle or otherwise make a nuisance.

This morning I'm not thinking that armor should definitely take up encumbrance slots as well as set move rates. Armored knights don't general wear backpacks, though that's a hilarious image.


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
 

1/09/2018 6:53 am  #15


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Blackadder23 wrote:

Gary ran D&D for a fair while before the rules were published - certainly before 1e was published - and it's a good bet that he encountered all of these tactics. That's why the early iterations of the game included rules that discourage pretty much all of them. Wandering monsters impose a cost (potentially a lethal one) for dawdling in the dungeon. Monthly expenses (coupled with training costs for level gains) impose a financial cost for too much non-adventuring downtime. Retaining hirelings is supposed to be a process, not simply a matter of paying gold. Most noncombatant hirelings are intended to refuse to enter dungeons at any price. Dungeons are supposed to be restocked, providing lethal surprises for laborers idiotic enough to enter one. If PCs retain a lot of hirelings (especially ones who don't survive) the referee is meant to increase prices with a "supply and demand" justification. The same goes for equipment prices, and the list goes on.

One by one most of these pieces were yanked out, especially in later editions of D&D. Some of the changes were made by people who honestly believed they understood D&D better than Gary. Others were made mostly to pander to players*. The sum total of the changes was to drive the bad behavior you describe. People eventually recognized the problem, but the solution many choose is not to restore the old mechanisms that were actually created to address these issues. Rather, it's to slap a band-aid on the problem by tinkering at the margins. That just doesn't strike me as the most efficient solution.

* - It's worth noting that the vast majority of 1e products were published for DM's. That doesn't appear to be the case for later editions.

QFT (and only because there is no "like" option)
 


"I, Satampra Zeiros of Uzuldaroum, shall write with my left hand, since I have no longer any other, the tale of everything that befell Tirouv Ompallios and myself in the shrine of the god Tsathoggua..."
 

1/09/2018 6:57 am  #16


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Brock Savage wrote:

[Grognard] originally referred to Napoleon's Imperial Guard who were veteran soldiers ("grumblers"). Nowadays it's shorthand for veteran gamers who prefer older versions of games. It's not disrespectful in any way. 

I know, I was there you whippersnapper! http://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons/grin.png

(and there was no offense taken ;) )


"I, Satampra Zeiros of Uzuldaroum, shall write with my left hand, since I have no longer any other, the tale of everything that befell Tirouv Ompallios and myself in the shrine of the god Tsathoggua..."
 

1/09/2018 11:06 am  #17


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

I track time, both campaign and dungeon, quite meticulously.  I've got a campaign calendar in Google Drive that I update between sessions, marking important notes and rolling up the next week's weather.  In the dungeon, my players know their travel rate based on worst movement speed and I check for wandering monsters on set intervals, tell them when their light sources are running out, and so on.  I think careful time tracking is vital for maintaining tension in the dungeon, or else the players would spend an entire session searching every nook and cranny of every room.

Encumbrance is harder.  I kind of handwave it but check on the PCs regularly and will tell them if they're getting unreasonable (last night I realized one of the warriors, wearing banded mail, had a full suit of scale mail in his backpack, and told him that's a no go).  I have warned my players that as they acquire more stuff they need to start thinking of long term storage.  I'd like them to track weight and encumbrance better, but it's just not an element of the game that interests them, so I have to just police it as best as I can.

Last edited by under_score (1/09/2018 11:06 am)

 

1/09/2018 11:45 am  #18


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

Underscore - I think that's the main problem. Tracking time is fairly easy because we GM's can do it all. Tracking Encumbrance is mostly up to the players, and they don't find it fun or easy.

I'm now rethinking and probably going to use some sheet with bag pictures like the one posted above. I find that players find those types of things more interesting. It's fun to write what is in your backpack in a picture of a backpack.


"But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood" -REH
Rambling Conan Blog

 
 

1/09/2018 1:24 pm  #19


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

I typically have months pass between adventures to allow some gold depletion in the form of spell research, training, potion creation, and just conspicuous living.  I then find the closest estimate on the calendar and move on from there.

In a dungeon I enforce momentum with wandering monsters, noises, noxious fumes, screaming spirits etc.  "Hey we can sleep in this nice safe room" doesn't fly. There should be bunch of constant annoyances that keep people up and unrested.

Played for 5 years and never tracked encumbrance.  Haven't missed it.


“How can I wear the harness of toil
And sweat at the daily round,
While in my soul forever
The drums of Pictdom sound?” 
 

1/09/2018 5:32 pm  #20


Re: Timekeeping and Encumbrance

mabon5127 wrote:

I typically have months pass between adventures to allow some gold depletion in the form of spell research, training, potion creation, and just conspicuous living. 

Agreed. Meaningful downtime activities bring a lot to a game. 

Blackadder23 wrote:

Gary ran D&D for a fair while before the rules were published - certainly before 1e was published - and it's a good bet that he encountered all of these tactics.<SNIP>

Your post reminds me of when I worked in the classic car restoration industry for a spell. Some guys used 100% original-style parts with no exceptions and others incorporated modern brakes, steering, and suspension. Valid arguments can be made for either approach. Both you and I love classic D&D; you won't deviate from hallowed tradition and I won't discount 40 years of innovation in gaming. I don't see see the point in criticizing each other's preference.

Blackadder23 wrote:

Some of the changes were made by people who honestly believed they understood D&D better than Gary. Others were made mostly to pander to players*.

The evocative writing of Gary Gygax had a massive influence on my childhood but game design was not his forte. 

I am glad we both agree that player splatbooks are a terrible idea!

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