Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Mausritter and a Resource Management Link Retrospective

Last year, I wrote the first post of what I hoped would be a series, where I kept up with what other roleplaying bloggers are writing about resource management in their games. That initial post didn't have a planned theme, although most of the posts I looked at were talking about encumbrance, and thinking about how to assign encumbrance slots.

At the time, I made a few recommendations. I suggested that encumbrance rules should be kept as simple as possible because different kinds of complexity add up very quickly. I suggested that encumbrance should be fairly consistent from character to character - although tying carrying capacity to Strength is popular, I think that allowing it to vary from 3 to 18 is too much. I noted that using the Strength bonus instead of the Strength score is one compromise solution; another would just be to make carrying capacity the same for everybody.

I praised Goblin Punch's "triple X depletion" rule. The idea here is that if you're using a supply that gets used up over time, you track the rate of it getting used up by marking three Xs next to the item name, and the third X means you've run out. If you combine that with a rule that says small items come in bundles of 3, suddenly you've got a fairly simple, fairly consistent rule for tracking supplies.

At the time, I came down against "backpack" rules that let you trade 1 or 2 encumbrance slots for a "backpack" that has extra slots inside. My reasoning was that this trade doesn't really feel like a trade-off to me. If there's no downside and only benefit to carrying a backpack, why not assume that every character has one, and just increase the base carrying capacity by whatever amount the backpack was going to add?

I've thought about this a little since then, and I think there is a purpose that "pack" rules can serve. If you want to have a second type of encumbrance with a second and smaller carrying capacity, then envisioning this as a "pack" seems like as good a mental image as any (although maybe it would be better to think of the primary encumbrance as a "backpack" and the secondary encumbrance as a "side-bag"?) I've mentioned this idea before - Stars Without Number has special encumbrance slots for items you can access instantly in combat, Numenera has special slots for magic items, Shadows of Brimstone has special slots for single-use items, etc.

I wouldn't recommend that you try to use more than one of these systems at a time, but clearly, some rules systems see a benefit to having a second, more restrictive carrying capacity for a special class of important items. I have a few suggestions. First, if "side-bag" capacity can potentially increase, I say let it grow based on character level, rather making a better bag something you can just find or buy. A more experienced character becomes a better packer! Second, don't insist that characters "give up" any of their primary encumbrance slots in order to carry a "side-bag". Just assume that everyone has one, and set your numbers accordingly.

If you really want to create a trade-off, then say that wearing heavy armor means you can't carry a side-bag (and wearing extra-heavy armor means you can't carry a backpack or side-bag!) But otherwise, accept that you've created a system where everyone has two types of encumbrance, and don't add complication by pretending that the players have a meaningful choice to trade a couple of one type of slot for a handful of the other. The only reason to allow such a trade would be if certain character classes (like alchemists, maybe?) had a unique and special option to give up a regular slot or two in exchange for their class-specific ability to carry special materials. (Or, you know, just let them have their special class-defining feature without punishing them for it, whichever.)
On Discord, KingPenta of the Dice Blade blog asked me if I would consider looking back on my last post about this and reflecting on what I think works. My long answer to that question is above.

My short answer is just three words: Mausritter is lit.
Okay, so maybe there's also a long version of my short answer, but it's basically just me singing Mausritter's praises. If you were to take every good idea people in the OSR scene had about encumbrance, edited those down to their simplest and purest versions, and combined them into a single ruleset, you would have the resource management rules from Mausritter.

I think I've said before that I consider Into the Odd to be something like the Platonic ideal of simple Dungeons & Dragons. Both the rules and the writing have been distilled down to their very essence and presented in the tersest, most compact possible way, without sacrificing the elements that are most essential to play. I'm not saying that no one else can write something better than I2TO, but I am saying that you'd be hard pressed to write something shorter. Chris McDowell has seemingly cut out everything but the most necessary elements of D&D, and edited his own writing to be as terse as possible. Trying to compete on either of those fronts is likely to leave you with something that either no longer really feels like D&D or is no longer really legible.

Well, in the same way, Mausritter, which is built off the bones of I2TO, feels like the Platonic idea of simple resource management for D&D. You might be able to write something better, but you probably can't write something simpler or shorter without making sacrifices that change the feel of the game so much that it becomes something else.
And part of how Isaac Williams does it is by taking advantage of an underutilized solution for resource management - illustrated inventories.
Paper Elemental giving some very good advice here

Mausritter putting theory into action

Almost the entirety of Mausritter's inventory rules fit on that two-page spread. ("Inventory" is also a MUCH better word than "encumbrance", which always feels like it should be accompanied by sad trombones.) You have exactly 10 slots of carrying capacity. Armor and heavy weapons take up two slots apiece, most other items take up only one. Every item has little boxes to mark off their "usage" - torches after an hour of burning, rations after eating, weapons and armor after combat, other items after they get used in a serious way. Most items have 3 boxes, fancy electric lanterns - and by implication, any other really expensive, high-quality goods - have 6. Spells are represented as sigils or runes that you carry. Conditions such as injury and exhaustion take up an inventory slot until you take care of them.

And ... that's pretty much it. Like I said, it's like every good idea for inventory management, everything Torchbearer tries to do in its own more-complex way, edited down to just about the simplest imaginable version of itself. The art both helps you recognize the item and communicates volumes about the setting. Because you can print off and cut out your own little inventory tokens, you can quite literally organize your inventory by moving them around, and you can write-on and erase the individual tokens until they need to be replaced, without wrecking your main character sheet.

The larger size of certain items creates simple but interesting packing dilemmas - for example, light armor needs a shield, which means you can't wield large weapons at the same time. The different situations for checking usage give each item a slightly different feel, and some add an element of unpredictable risk. Improvised weapons get used up a little each combat, but for the others, there's only a 50% chance it'll be depleted. The same is true of the spell runes. Pick how many charges you're willing to risk using up and roll that many GLOG-style Magic Dice; each charge has a 50% chance of being expended by casting the spell. Although the chances are the same, to me this feels like for weapons, you're checking to see if they are surprisingly damaged, while for spells, you're finding out if they're miraculously not used up (perhaps simply by comparison to other rule systems, where weapons are always fine, and spells are always expended in casting).
Having slightly gotten back into the swing of this, and realized I'll enjoy it more if I organize these posts thematically rather than chronologically, you can probably expect to see more posts like this in the future, hopefully at a faster rate than once per year.

I should also note, in looking at the Mausritter website to write this, I realized that it's getting a fancy boxed-set edition from Games Omnivorous next month. The same charming art as ever, now printed on very heavy paper.


  1. The thing that keeps me away from illustrated inventories is the prepwork: everyone has to be at the same table, and you need to have a bunch of heavy cardstock pre-cut and ready to go. Obviously if you're playing digitally, the advantages all but vanish.
    Having a bunch of loose paper resting on your character sheet also seems like a recipe for catastrophe when an errant swipe of your sleeve mixes everything up, but maybe that's just my clumsy ass.
    BTW, first time commenter, and I absolutely loved your series on inventory! I'm working on a GLOGhack for my table, and your posts have been a beacon for good ideas throughout the process :)

    1. You raise some good points about cards as inventory, there certainly are some logistical hurdles to be cleared, especially if you have to print your own.

      I don't think it's necessarily any harder to use than, say, the player boards in worker-placement board game - although depending on your feelings about those games, I might be damning Mausritter with faint praise by saying that!

      (Also, thank you! I'm glad you've been enjoying the blog.)

    2. I like worker placement games, but I have the same reservations about the cards as Chris M-S raises.
      Also they seem to go against the DIY spirit of Pen and Paper games in the same way that Fantasy Flights "special dice" do. Everyone can write down "Sword" on a piece of paper, not everyone has the skill or the tools to create (good looking) card board cards.

      But I have to agree that the idea has a certain elegance.

    3. I think I see the nature of your concern. The special dice, for example, you need them to play, and there's only a single company you have to buy them from.

      Mausritter comes with some equipment already illustrated. But I guess to add new items to your game, you'd either need to drawn them yourself, or find someone else's art and shrink it to fit within the blank card template. Which admittedly, is significantly more work than just writing "sword" on your inventory list.

    4. What I notice is that the cutouts and the art of the items is very attractive, and I think that's what gets people excited. But printing, using, and storing all these bits of paper turns me off completely - the actual logistics, I guess. My problem is much the same as what has already been mentioned. I'm a huge Knave fan, and that inventory just works for me so well that I'm hard-pressed to use a different method.

    5. Knave does seem to be quite popular! It also seems there's a fair number of people who don't really care for the idea of using cards to track inventory.

  2. I've been running an adventure with my kids and nieces (12-15 y.o.), and have already had a couple of sessions. Most of them like drawing, and took to the inventory system pretty well. In the first session they're mice picked up some unique items and at the table drew them on a blank item slot. There was only one instance of an inventory card getting knocked about, but putting the items back in place was trivial. The hardest thing for me is after running ItO/Electric Bastionland I have to keep reminding myself to have them check and see if their hands are free or if they are checking off their torches over time. The other problem was we had to stop mid-combat and I wasn't sure how to keep the inventory sheets until next session, but all of the kids to pics with their phones so they wouldn't have to remember what their characters were carrying and where on the inventory sheet they placed it.

    1. When I played Mausritter with my Friday night group, I also found that keeping the torches in mind was a little stressful for me. (Usually I don't bother with that sort of thing.)

      It did make me think that you could use a Hazard Dice (aka, an Overloaded Encounter Dice) instead of counting turns. Since torches last an hour, they'd get ticked off on a 6. You check for wandering encounters once every half-hour, so that'd be 1 and 2. (And I guess nothing much happens on a 3-5. If you had Hero Quest's special combat dice, you could use those!)

  3. Hi. Long time no talk.

    Here is a video I found interesting regarding the kit a Roman soldier was responsible for on the march.

    I'm using a 1, 2, 3 Encumbrance Slot system which incorporates bulk and accessibility in one number: 1s are 'Handy', 2s are 'Sheathed, etc.', 3s are Stowed.
    It is still STR based, but STR is derived, and I plan on adding my Frame score into the formula.

    Packs & Pouches in this system have their own cost, but then open up additional slots, but the total number of slots still weighs in the Encumbrance tot, meaning packs permit more than could otherwise be put on the person, but the mass is not entirely negated.

    Bearers would have Traits which would benefit them in their task, but if an NPC class, they would simply level-up to greater and greater burden limits.

    1. True, the amount of STUFF soldiers in any era have been expected to schlep about is truly staggering! I think for me at least, I want a game mechanic that I feel like is easy to remember an use even more than I want one that's realistic.

      (Also, soldiers are rarely sent out in numbers as small as a typical adventuring party, which I think is a factor in the degree of logistical support they carry with themselves.)

      Thanks for sharing some details on your system! Having "bearers" as NPCs who can carry more and more stuff over time is a nice detail. It's certainly an incentive to find an experienced guide!

      And it's nice to hear from you. I imagine that things down in American Doggerland have been rather eventful this year...

    2. We only need to wait a day or two to see how much more interesting things will get in many places.

      I can understand your play-style focus determining your rules choices; best to you in that.

      Looks like blogging has really started again, since the demise of G+.

    3. I'm certainly able to understand why "may you live in interesting times" is considered a curse rather than a blessing, in a way that perhaps I didn't when I was younger and more bored.

      There have been a few surprising blog revivals recently - especially Grognardia and Telecanter. I don't necessarily have a theory about "why now" though.

      It would be cool to see more of you! Urutsk is an interesting setting, and I think people enjoy seeing "how I made X decision while designing my own ruleset" posts.

    4. Thanks, and also for the encouragement to return to blogging. Let's say I start fresh for '21.
      I'm working on another setting, too.


  4. I love all your work in this series of post. It is a really thorough look at not only the systems, but what makes them work or not at the table. SEACAT, Luka's RPG that is part of the UVG uses a similar system with ten slots for items and spells.

    1. I definitely want to talk about Ultra Violet Grasslands and the SEACAT system. Luka does a number of really interesting things to make resources matter and to make management easy to do at the table.

  5. Greetings Anne!

    I read through all your resource management posts and found them really informative and inspiring! I was hoping I could get some advice from you.

    I'm currently running ToTSK for a group of 5E players and trying to experience the old school playstyle, however I ran into the problem of tedium you mentioned in your first post (Ignore me!) where tracking movement speed, torch time (players liked to split up and light at different times), and weight categories felt very clunky.

    It also felt that running out of food or light was highly unlikely and easily solved by Money or Magic, even with Darkvision and Light cantrip nerfed.

    And the situation for running out of food or light would either have to be punishing, but kinda hand waved through (like your post on Light as a terminal resource and tedium of describing groping through the dark), or an inconvenient stop to the adventure that caused back tracking and resupply.

    I decided to port over Mausritters' theme of slot inventory and conditions taking slots. I nerfed Exhaustion to just take a slot, and slots = 8 + str mod, with an extra Encumbered capacity of 1 + str, and only tracking significant, creative items like tools, scrolls, potions, extra weapons/armor, and treasure as all taking 1 slot each, with small items being Bundles with 10 uses.

    My main question here is, since I'm not bothering with fiddly movement speed and weight categories, do you think it would work to tie Encumbrance to Wandering Monster Chance? Encumbrance would be -10 speed during combat, and +1/6 chance of Wandering Monster during checks (which I roll every 2 turns) for every Encumbered character. Do you think this system would work in accomplishing the same experience of movement speed/weight categories?

  6. Also, a separate question, what is your opinion on Mausritters' Usage Dice system as applying to all items(a kind of durability mechanic) and conditions such as Injured/Drained requiring a Full Rest (1 week) to recover from? What kind of game experience does this promote and do you think it works?