Encumbrance & Backpacks

I want to take a break from the reforging of Pathfinder skills to write about something else.  First, I have been doing a lot of traveling across the blogoverse, especially taking time to study other people’s house rules.  I’ve been loving a lot of what I’ve seen.  But since I’ve mostly been scribbling my thoughts in a notebook and not bookmarking pages I don’t have many links to share with the original ideas.  So I hope that saying what’s written here is inspired and not solely the child of my own creativity will suffice in place of the sources.

(EDIT: Found the source of this inspiration. The Post and the Character Sheet)

Encumbrance through slots instead of weight.

The current system of keeping track of encumbrance is cumbersome. Keeping track of weight down to the pound to figure out what you current penalties are is tedious and takes away from the joy of the game. And as far as I can tell not too many people, aside from large items, bother with this. That tells me (at least for my group) it doesn’t work. By now you’ve noticed the image to the left. That represents my backpack (the common 2gp version). It’s divided into three sections: small pockets, big pockets and weapon straps. So let’s break em down.

Small Pockets (green) are meant to hold stackable items, but the items don’t actually have to be small per say. Stackable items are any item that players naturally stack in their inventory without much thought, such as ammo, potions and trail rations. It will ultimately be a DM’s call what can be stacked. The great thing about small pockets is the items they hold don’t add to a player’s encumbrance, but only stackable items can be put in them. As a DM you should decide how big stacks are allowed to be. For me: Ammo is 20, potions are 5 and rations are a weeks worth.

Big Pockets (blue) represent the main compartment of a backpack. This main compartment is divided into three separate big pockets and like small pockets each can only hold five items. Each pocket, starting from the top and working down, adds different encumbrance effects to the character. As you can see placing an item in the first pocket gives a character a -1 AC penalty. All it takes is one item in a particular pocket to incur the full effect, i.e., additional items in the same pocket don’t penalize a character further. However, once items spill over into the next pocket additional penalties are applied. Big pockets can hold any item, but there are special rules that I will go over below.

Weapon Straps (red) are located on the outside of the backpack and provide a convenient way to carry additional weapons without taking up backpack space. Each weapon strapped onto the backpack applies a -1 AC penalty, but movement is only hindered by quarter speed regardless of how many weapons. Only weapons can go in these slots.

Now what do we do about strength and carrying capacity rules? As far as LOH, LOG, P&D go we leave them as are. But light through heavy loads we ignore. Don’t worry though, super strong characters aren’t forgotten… and neither are the super weak ones.

For strong characters, every +1 to your STR mod turns one big pocket slot into a free slot. (Note: these are individual slots, not an entire pocket – which is 5 slots – additionally start the free slots from the top and work down). Every positive even number modifier (2, 4, 6, etc.) also turns one weapon slot into a free slot. So using our backpack as the example, a character with a +2 STR mod wouldn’t take penalties for the torches, rope or dwarven waraxe. So this character would have a -2 AC penalty and a 1/4 speed reductions applied to him because of the bedroll and shield.

For weak characters every -1 to your STR mod removes a slot from your backpack starting with your small pocket slots working down from the top. Additionally every even negative number (-2, -4, -6, etc.) removes a weapon slot. So a character with a -3 STR mod in this example would lose the first three free slots and a weapon slots. Their penalty would be -3 AC and -1/2 speed. This is because, assuming they carried all the same items, the bedroll would be into the second big pocket.

Additional Rules

I said earlier that any item can be put into a big pocket slot but that there were special rules. The first and simplest is that stackable items act as regular items in these slots meaning they’ll incur the penalties like any other item. The second rule is that weapons can be placed in the big pockets too, but a weapon (or shield – excluding tower) takes up 5 slots. And the last is about armor in a backpack. Light armor takes up 5 slots, medium 10 and heavy 15. Pretty simple.

Masterwork backpacks push the penalties for the big pockets down one set. That is, if this were a masterwork backpack the first big pocket wouldn’t have any penalties applied to it and the penalties would start at the second big pocket (that pocket would only be a -1 AC).

This system also allows you to create your own backpacks. But I would suggest that anything bigger than the common backpack I’ve presented have a strength requirement in order to carry it at all. And get creative with it, you could use this system to create belt pouches that increase the number of small pockets a player has on them or have cloaks with hidden pockets. I haven’t had a chance to take this system for a spin yet, but on paper I like it. Let me know if you use it.

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