Around this time last year, I started collecting links when people posted about resource management on their own blogs. Aaaaand, then I kind of forgot to post any of them. Aaand then there were kind of too many to fit into a single post. So here's the first post of what will become an irregular series, resource management links from the roleplaying blogs I read.
Ten Foot Polemic - Three Ways to Solve Resource Tracking
This is the one that got me collecting links, because James Young referenced something I wrote at the beginning of his post. Anyway, James makes an interesting distinction between what he calls "drain" and what he calls "use". These are two ways that resources get depleted. "Drain is when they tick down over time. Use is when you make an active decision to use them up." In James's view, and I agree, use is usually going to be more interesting than drain. Drain is something being taken away from you, use is voluntarily giving something up ... to get something else you want even more.
He looks into three resources he wants to manage in his game - food, ammo, and light. For food, he decides on a use mechanic. He makes rations the primary source of healing, and adds a special new cooking rule as an extra incentive. For ammunition, he decides to ignore it. For his game, he decides that tracking ammo uses up too much mental bandwidth for too little payoff to be worth it. For light, he decides on drain. With two of his three resources NOT being drained, he feels able to treat one that way, and uses the overloaded encounter dice mechanic to simplify the rate of torch consumption as much as possible.
In addition to appreciating the drain / use distinction, I also like James's point that you can use different mechanics to deal with different resources. You're not required to treat them all the same way. Also, choosing to ignore one resource might free up the time, attention, and mental energy you need to be able to track another one that you care about more.
Goblin Punch - Triple X Depletion: A Unified Depletion System
Arnold K actually does recommend using the same mechanic for tracking all your resources, but the one he suggests is pretty simple. And you still could, like James does above, adopt the triple X mechanic for just one resource in your game.
In this system, when you initially buy a resource, you get a bundle with 3 check-boxes worth. Each time you use the resource, mark off one of the boxes with an X to indicate that it's partially depleted. When you mark three Xs, the resource is gone. You can also replenish a partially used resource. I'm not totally clear on the costs of replenishment vs buying another resource, but replenishment has the benefit of not adding another line to your inventory.
Magic items can't be replenished, but they get six Xs instead of three (or they get three, but accumulate them a half-X at a time). Using an item for a special purpose means using it up completely.
While the mechanic for tracking resource consumption is the same for every resource, the specific condition that triggers drawing that X varies, which gives each one its own specific feeling. Food and drink deplete twice a day during rests, torches and lamps deplete based on the encounter dice, ammunition has a 50% chance of depleting after every combat where you fire it.
Arnold also recommends having weapons and armor deplete exactly the same way. Armor gets an X when you roll a critical fumble on a defense roll (equivalent to a monster rolling a critical hit in other rules) and weapons can get Xs from critical fumbles on attack rolls. There are a few other complications to both of those, but that's the basic system.
The triple X system seems like it might be a a nice middle ground between each item taking up its own inventory slot and carrying bundles of 10 or 20 that basically never run out. These bundles are just small enough to make depletion meaningful, they're also small enough to remember. "Three strikes and you're out (of the thing you were using)" is an intuitively simple rule, and three items in each bundle probably allows the bundles to fit neatly inside your working memory.
The Manse - Stow & Load Encumbrance System
Cacklecharm is just looking at encumbrance here, but he does a couple things that are interesting. The first is to make a distinction between the total load a character is carrying, and the items they can stow within easy reach.
You can stow 4 + Dex modifier items where you can reach them immediately during combat. Anything not on that list takes multiple combat rounds to reach. Stars Without Number has a similar detail in its encumbrance system. Troika! adds the interesting touch of numbering your items in order, then needing to roll higher than an item's number to get it out during combat.
You can also load up 8 + Str modifier items for each level of encumbrance, of which there are four. My initial thought is that this feels like a lot of items, with the average character able to carry 36 before running out of room.
However, Cacklecharm also adds the detail that many items take up extra slots based on their weight and size. If I understand correctly, small items like daggers take up 1 spot, medium items take up 2 spots, and large items take up 3. So this system is still more generous than most, but the average character can only carry 18 average items, or 12 heavy ones.
There's another detail that encumbrance interacts with Cacklecharm's encounter system. Becoming encumbered reduces your stealth and adds an extra 1-in-6 chance of an encounter every time you roll. Carry enough weight, and you're guaranteed an encounter every time. Worse, once you slip into the "heavily encumbered" range, you can't act during the first round of combat. So while you can carry a lot of items in this system, there are some serious incentives not to. The increased encounter chance also kind of mimics the effect of finding more wandering monsters while moving slowly, while bypassing Gygax's (tedious) ever-changing movement speeds, which is a nice trick!
Pfaff - Encumbrance in OD&D: The Isle of Ys Campaign
Michael Pfaff has also written an encumbrance system. Characters get between 3 and 7 slots to fill based on their Strength score. The average character gets 5. Adding additional slot's worth of equipment drops you down one movement rate each, so 3 extra slots over your initial limit leaves you crawling along at 30'.
Slots are pretty abstract though, and don't directly correspond to the number of items carried. Armor is heavy, and weighs between 1-3 slots depending on type. You can carry a "short" weapon for free; "long" weapons take up more room, but you can carry a couple weapons for only 1 slot.
Every character also has a pack that holds their other equipment. A pouch holding 1 item is free, a rucksack that holds 9 items takes up 3 slots. This all sounds a little complex to explain, but he makes it sound not too difficult. This is also more or less how Torchbearer handles packs. You can spend 1 or 2 body slots to wear a pack, if you do, you get an additional 3 or 6 pack slots to fill.
It seems possible that you could get the same effect he achieves here by increasing the "slot" limit and allowing "slots" to represent items in a more direct and less abstract way, although the trade-off would be slightly more difficult math. The benefit of Michael Pfaff's system, I think, is that you're dealing entirely with single digit numbers. If you did away with the slot-item distinction, I think you' be left with something closer to what Cacklecharm wrote.
Roll 1d100 - The Sunfall Cycle Playtesting Rules: Equipment and Encumbrance
The first thing to know about Steven Lumpkin's encumbrance system is that it only applies to things you're carrying but not using. The armor you're wearing, along with any magic clothing, is separate from this encumbrance system. So is anything in your hands, such as a weapon, a lantern, or your shield. This feels a bit the "stow" space from earlier, except that instead of quantifying it, Steven chooses to ignore it.
Beyond what you're immediately using, you have 3 regular encumbrance slots, 1 "belt slot" that can only hold a small item, and 1 "class slot" that can only hold a class-specific item (such as a bard's musical instrument or a cleric's holy symbol), and a "back slot" which can either hold one item strapped to your back or a backpack with slots of its own, a bit like the Pfaff packs. A backpack holds 2-6 items, depending on your Strength modifier.
Most items are going to take up one slot. Smaller items are three-to-a-slot, however, for consumable resources like torches or arrows, Steven has a different rule that involves rolling dice after each use. If you roll too low, the item only has one use left, after which it will run out. If you fill two slots with the same consumable, however, you no longer need to make these tests. (Which will almost certainly encourage each character in a party to specialize in a single type of consumable equipment.)
Equipment kits work a lot like consumables. Each kit has a list of possible items. Each time you use the kit, you can pull out any item from that list, then roll to determine if the kit is down to only one use left. You can also pay extra for expensive kits that have more uses.
Sheep and Sorcery - Supply Die: An Alternative to Counting Pennies
Michael Kennedy adopts the Usage Dice from The Black Hack and Macchiato Monsters as a kind of catch-all supply. What he's describing here actually reminds me most of The Scones Alone's expedition resources. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this one, although it is a slightly more abstract version of a mechanic I already like, so it has that working in its favor.
Anyway, the Sheep and Sorcery supply dice is a catch-all for rations, torches, ropes, and ammunition. Each time you pull supplies from your pack, roll the dice, and if you roll a 1 or 2, it shrinks from d10 to d8 to d6 to d4 to gone. If every character in the party gives up one inventory slot for supplies, the party gets a d6 supply dice; if everyone gives up two slots, they get a d10 dice. The daily meal for the entire party takes a roll. A roll also produces one rope, or 1d4+1 torches. The idea is to make using any supply a little risky, and presumably to run out of all vital dungeoneering supplies simultaneously.
Buildings are People - Conditions
What Valzi offers us here is not so much an inventory system as it is an option rule that could be added on to any encumbrance system that uses slots.
Valzi suggests that whenever you character has a "condition", that takes up 1 inventory slot, in addition to any other effects it has. He lists additional option effects for fatigue, hunger, thirst, being wet, being cold, and being too hot. Having each condition take up a slot is a simple model for the wearing down of an injured character, it gives you a definite place to write any current conditions on your character sheet (is there another place you're supposed to write them? it's weird that there's not, right?), and it adds a benefit besides hit point healing to taking a good long rest.
You could very easily add poison and disease to this list, and the injuries that characters get from monsters scoring critical hits are another possibility. I think this one's a winner, and I know I've seen one or two people using it in the wild already.
Lithyscaphe - Dungeon Logistics & Supply Bundles
David Perry also uses Usage Dice, but in a markedly less abstract way than we've seen before. To start off with, every item in a character's inventory is labeled as "combat", "pack", or "travel".
"Combat" items are things the character ALWAYS has on their person, even while exploring and during combat. Every single combat item beyond your weapons, armor, and shields imposes an across-the-board penalty to all your combat stats!
"Pack" items then are all the things the character carries with them in the dungeon, but these "packs" are just sacks, just bags with no straps, closures, or handles. The assumption is that you're leaving these in a pile while you explore (with only your "combat" items on-hand), and then making multiple trips back and forth to build a new pile once you've secured a route through some part of the dungeon.
He doesn't go into specifics, but he says that this assumption of backtracking to retrieve your stuff helps explain why characters with more items move slower. I'm assuming that the slower movement rates are an abstraction which lets him track time the way he wants to without forcing his players to actually describe making several back-and-forth trips every time they advance, but I can't say that for certain. He does mention that there's a risk of becoming separated from your packs, which could only happen if there's a problem on the first trip out away from the pile, or if you consciously decide to forgo moving the pile along with you.
I'm also not certain how much you can carry in a pack, or how many packs you can carry. David says that each sack can hold "9 to 30 'faces' in any combination" but I'm not familiar with that terminology. Whatever doesn't get counted as a "pack" item goes into the final category. "Travel" items are left with the horses and carts outside the dungeon. They're available during overland travel, but not while you're inside. It's not clear to me how much characters can bring in with them, and ho much they need to leave outside, but it is an idea that lets you not carry something right now without having to erase it off your character sheet for good.
Now, what's going into those over-the-shoulder sacks are "supply bundles" each of which gets its own Usage Dice. (And, presumably, normal non-consumable equipment.) David makes each dice represent a different supply, in contrast to Michael Kennedy's unified supply dice. So at a minimum, the party needs to carry rations, fuel for their lights, and ammunition. Medicine and nick-knacks get their own dice as well, if you want them. Instead of each character setting aside space for an equal share of generic equipment, the players get to decide how many supply bundles to bring, and how to divvy up the dice across their packs.
This is a full system with a couple different interlocking parts, and you could probably adopt part of it without taking on the other. With his insistence on assigning a physical location to each object, this is one of the most concrete treatments of equipment, and denying his medieval player characters modern backpacks probably also makes this the most "realistic" ... but at the same time, he still uses an abstraction rather than raw counts to handle the supply of consumable items.
David Perry also includes an interesting link to David Black's post The Usage Die and Why it isn't That Great. David Black makes the point that the Usage Dice is most interesting when it's used for a specific purpose in tracking the supply of consumable resources, and that its effectiveness is diluted if it starts being applied to other situations. I've thought before about the fact that you could use the Usage Dice to determine if tools break when you try to use them. But I think that you'd need to make a decision to either have the Usage Dice track the supply of consumables or have it track the condition of breakables, but not both in the same game. David Perry also includes several links to my blog, which I promise is not a criteria for showing up on one of these lists.
Looking through these, I think my personal inclination is that, as much as possible, one "slot" should correspond to one item. Some items will be too small to bother with, some will come in (hopefully predictably-sized) bundles, and some will be large enough to need two (or more) spaces, but "one item, one slot" seems like an ideal I would prefer to strive toward. Admittedly, this prevents the kind of "spend a slot to add a storage space with several slots" solutions that Torchbearer and Pfaff blog and Roll 1d100 all use.
I very much like the idea that wounds and injuries take up encumbrance slots, and I would be very tempted to expand this to allow mental scars to take up "mind slots" if I could figure out a good way to make skills and class abilities and weapon proficiencies and spells all interchangeable.
I also kind of like the technology of modifying encumbrance using the Strength BONUS, rather than pegging it directly to the Strength score itself. I've said before that I don't think character's encumbrance slots should vary from 3 to 18. Varying from 7 to 13 seems like a compromise that's easier to live with. The first place I remember seeing this idea was on Roles Rules and Rolls, although there's every reason to think that Cacklecharm and Michael Pfaff both re-discovered the technology independently of Roger G-S, and of each other.
Finally, in any encumbrance system, complexity adds up fast. If you do plan to use different systems for different resources (the way I praised Ten Foot Polemic for doing) you want to make sure that each system is as simple as it can be. If you want different kinds of items to take up different numbers of "slots" then you also want to limit the number of possibilities and to apply them as clearly and consistently as possible. Each feature you add, however elegant in its own right, adds to the complexity of the whole.
I dunno, looking at all these has got me thinking that to evaluate an encumbrance system, you might need to take a step back and ask a more basic question about what design goal the rule is intended to accomplish? It's hard to judge how well a thing is fulfilling its function if you don't know for sure what that function is intended to be. Like, the "spend a slot to add a storage space" thing strikes me as being a roundabout way of increasing the number of slots, it's not a tradeoff if you would never not choose it, and I can't see that that extra complexity serves any purpose. But maybe I just don't what that purpose is supposed to be?
My FINAL final thought is that "encumbrance" and "slots" are both terrible words that feel uncomfortable to say. I don't know if there's a solution to this problem since they are both clearly THE terms of art but I would love it if some other words could catch on.