Friday, February 12, 2010

encumbrance and magic items

Today I want to start out by unilaterally declaring that all known encumbrance rules are a pain in the ass. When running a game I positively ignore such rules. I might make in play decisions like "that chest is so big two of you will have to carry it" but no one in my game is ever asked to tally how much stuff they are carrying in order to determine their correct movement rate. I just can't be bothered. In a chase scene I will take factors like amount of gear and armor worn into consideration, but I never enforce encumbrance as a rule the way I insist that door opening rolls must be made, for instance.

I've recently been considering a sort of ecumbrance limit, but for magic items only. The idea was inspired by this quote from Rob Kuntz, talking about the time that he and Gary Gygax went and played in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign:
Dave Arneson was (and still is, for that matter) a grand DM. His toughness started at the onset of the adventure--Gary and myself were allowed to choose only three magical items each. Dave thought our item lists were over burgeoned with goodies. Robilar: +3 sword, Girdle of Storm Giant Strength, Boots of Flying; Mordenkainen: Staff of Power, Bracers of Protection AC2, Ring of Wizardry (doubled 4th and 5th level spells). We were each allowed to bring one curative potion in addition.
A while back I mentioned on the OD&D boards that I've long thought that Arneson's on-the-fly decision would make a good rule of thumb for characters visiting from another campaign. But lately I've given serious consideration to using this concept as a strict rule for my next World of Cinder campaign.

Each PC can carry three magic items plus a single disposable item like a potion or scroll. That's all. If you have more magic items than that you have to leave the rest back home. When you find an item on an adventure you can temporarily go over the limit only until such time as an opportunity to drop an item becomes available.

But here's the flipside of this new limit: no more wimpy, boring magic items. No one in the setting owns a sword+1. We're talking Mjolnir and Excalibur level kickass, using the weirdest stuff in the 1st edition DMG and the gods' own gear in Gods, Demigods & Heroes and the artifacts in Eldritch Wizardry as the baseline for magic items. Only the most clever, lucky and/or mighty of NPCs would own magic items under this set-up. Back in June I blogged a bit about this approach to magic items. I talked up the concept a bit at Wednesday night's game and most of the players seemed willing to swap out the Christmas tree effect of many crappy magic toys for one or two awesome items of power.