[Runequest] Meditating on Encumberance

David Cake dave at difference.com.au
Tue Jun 25 14:40:01 EST 2013


It is a pretty complicated issue, really, that gets right to the heart of a lot of game design. 
First, there is the issue of what is the right amount of detail and abstraction. Long term fatigue is a very different issue to how much you are impeded in action, and neither are based simply on weight, and so on. So there is no right answer, and mostly designers are guessing (or assuming) what people want the rules for - do they just want a way to keep carried loads feeling reasonable, or do they want to play scenarios in which tracking long term fatigue is an important factor (ie long wilderness treks, forced marches, etc)? Or do they just want to be able to use fatigue as a tactical impediment to make some fights more interesting? You'd track encumbrance in slightly different ways for all these scenarios. 
And then there is the issue of detail when and for what. RQ appeals to relatively detail oriented simulationist style gamers, for sure, but there is still a wide range of preferences as to how much detail we want. And sometimes we might want more detail, sometimes less. 
And there there is the issue of whether the maths and bookkeeping can be streamlined. For example, RQ3 fatigue points was a very book keeping heavy solution.
And then there is the level of realism, as well as the level of detail - some games like detail, but are happy for it to highlight the abilities of superhuman characters, others want a level of realism always. 
Sometimes this all ties into what is relevant to the story we are trying to tell - worrying about the long term fatigue from what we are carrying might seem a sensible thing to care about to a group full of re-enactors and military historians, but might seem simply tedious to a group who want to play a high fantasy game with romance and drama. Or it might even be different by story - a GM might want to ignore fatigue entirely for that story about military and political connivance, and then highlight it for that story about a dangerous trek across the desert, even if both are part of the same campaign (Lawrence of Arabia anyone?). 

There is no perfect answer. 'Best practice' in current game design seems to be optional rules to suit different styles of gaming. Optional rules that you can use or not for an individual session would seem to be an even better idea, though I've found it problematic, because many gaming groups are not used to the idea that rules should be tailored to the encounter (I once was involved in the design of some rules for Hero Wars that were carefully crafted so that they could be easily ignored most of the time and only applied if they were relevant to the narrative - and then later books in the line were written such that they became non-optional for very many encounters, adding a big maths load and making a very narrative system take a strong turn to the simulationist. Those rules got rightly canned in later editions, and I consider it a failed experiment in game design). My own preference is very much for rules that I can feel happy ignoring the 90% of the time when I don't care about encumbrance much. 

Cheers

David

On 25/06/2013, at 12:12 PM, Asher Royce Yaffee <ashersensei at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi, All,
>    I find it interesting that so many intelligent, reasonable, and experienced game designers have come up with so many inconsistent ways of describing how encumbering stuff is.
>    For me, the topic is never one I can experience first hand.  Specifically, though I've donned chain mail, and dabbled in the SCA and college fencing, I never practiced fighting in armor.
>   Generally, I don't know how it really FEELS for a 6-foot-tall guy to be encumbered.  I'm a very small fellow, only 5 feet tall, and have found myself dangerously top-heavy with backpacks that a 6-footer would proceed to take hiking without difficulty.
>    So I never really know what to make of numbers that different game designers offer for gear and armor and limitations.  But the inconsistencies nag at me, and make me curious.
>    Then I'll go read about what the ancient Athenians did at Marathon, or how long the hardy Spartans fought at Thermopylae, and say to myself, "Who are we [moderns] to tell a player that his warrior character is too weary?"
>    I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but if anyone has some insight, it would be a weight off my shoulders.  :-)
>    Sincerely,
> Asher
> 
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