Monday, July 20, 2020

Fit or Fat

For me, a steaming hot cup of (black) coffee in the early morning sunshine is just about my favorite vice to indulge, especially if I can savor it alone (i.e. before my family awakens). It beats even an ice cold (dry) gin martini or frosty pint glass of beer on a warm summer evening. In fact, just about the only way I can think to make the experience better (other than sitting on some outdoor veranda on Orcas Island with a view of the ocean and San Juans in all their splendor) is by adding a slice of apple pie, as I am doing this morning: home-baked (though not by me) with a buttery, flaky crust, and picked up at the local (Ballard) farmer's market yesterday. It was totally worth waiting in line the ten minutes (in mask) for a chance to buy one; Deborah (of Deborah's Pies) is only showing up every other week these days.

Unfortunately, I know that it's doing nothing good for my waist line (nor did the two pieces I had last night after dinner). Even before the pandemic hit, I was about 20 pounds overweight (floating around the 170s); in the last five months, I've added around 10 pounds to that figure (I'm somewhere between 185-188). For a 5'9" guy with a skinny frame (even at the height of my my early was tough for me to get my weight much higher than 150), the extra pounds are noticeable. And it doesn't help that one of the "running beagles" tore his ACL a couple weeks back (though in a dog, it's called a CCL) so I'm not even getting the minimal daily walking exercise I was getting. I've tried limiting my caloric intake (cutting out the nightly booze for example) the last ten+ days just to stem the bleeding. But who can say no to fresh apple pie?

In working with encumbrance the last week or so (oh, you didn't see where I was going with this? Here are the prior posts, in case you missed them), I've been giving a lot of thought to how I want the system to run in my own game. And one of the things so many RPGs fail to take into account is how our own body weight encumbers us...carrying an extra 20-30 pounds of unnecessary body mass is the equivalent of strapping a couple bags of flour to your waist: if you add normal adventuring equipment and loot found on top of that, you're going to move slower and tire faster than someone who's fit and (relatively) svelte.

But "most RPGs" doesn't mean all RPGs: Jacob Norwood's fantasy RPG The Riddle of Steel was the first game (the only game? Maybe) to hip me to the concept. TROS's claim to fame is its ultra-realistic simulation of medieval combat, and so the ability to maneuver needs to take into account whether your character is slender swashbuckler with a case of rapiers or an obese bruiser ponderously swinging a cudgel. Crunchy as the system is, encumbrance in TROS is still more abstract than D&D (you base your encumbrance level on how well your character matches an illustration!) even as it divides characters into five categories: unencumbered, mildly encumbered, moderately encumbered, heavily encumbered, and overburdened. As far as tactical movement goes, these map fairly well to D&D's standard 12"/9"/6"/3" levels of encumbrance/movement, though making a distinction at the low end that D&D doesn't.

[what do I mean by that? Well, in D&D, so long as you're not wearing bulky armor, a lightly encumbered person moves 12" regardless of whether she's carrying minimal equipment or no gear at all. In TROS, "unencumbered" means nothing more than a single scabbarded weapon or a light bag/satchel; if you're carrying both (light bag AND satchel)...or a small backpack, or robes (which restrict movement), or a few extra pounds (ditto)...then you move into the "mildly encumbered" category. This would be the (D&D) equivalent of an 11" movement. In TROS it also subtracts one die from your combat pool, but the D&D rules do not provide combat adjustments for encumbrance]

[hmm...should D&D provide combat adjustments for encumbrance? A post for another time, perhaps]

When determining a character's encumbrance in TROS, you're not only looking at load and bulk, but also your character's body weight (relative to frame), i.e. how fat are you. An overweight character starts at moderately encumbered (D&D equivalent of 9" movement); an obese individual starts at heavily encumbered (D&D equivalent of 6" movement). Thus, while a trim "fit" warrior would only be overburdened (3")with an excessive amount of gear (a heavy and fully loaded back pack, multiple weapons, quivers and scabbards, both back-strapped and carried) an obese individual would count the same just by adding some light armor (say, a breastplate), a single hand weapon, and a large belt pouch.

But D&D doesn't take into account body type or fitness level. Heck, only AD&D has charts for (randomly) determining a character's height and weight, if you use the NPC tables found in the DMG (we always did, back in the day). I think most players (not all) probably think of their characters as reasonably fit with chiseled features and (in the case of fighters especially) washboard abs and rock hard biceps...a mental image drawn from adventure movies and comic books and supported by the illustrations found in modern day RPG texts.

Found the most ridiculous
image I could. There
were a lot of choices.
Consider, for a moment, that your campaign setting is some sort of pseudo-medieval one...or ancient bronze age one...or post-apocalyptic fantasy wasteland one. Consider for a moment that maybe there aren't 24 hour gyms, or pilates studios, or hot yoga classes to attend. Consider that maybe...maybe...the adventuring character isn't so much concerned with body sculpting, but rather with day-to-day survival, earning (or looting) gold coins, and using her skills in those pursuits. Maybe she doesn't have a battalion of hair and make-up artists to get her ready for her photo shoot; maybe she gets into a lot fights (fights that do damage), and spends a lot of time in dark underground caverns, going days (if not weeks) without bathing.

Maybe, in such a scenario, your character's ability scores are a reflection of her native ability and strength is simply a combination of genetics and raw "beef," not something carefully honed with nutritional experts, cross-training, and hours spent in the weight room. You have a high Strength score? You're big. And in OD&D, that's only really helpful if you're a fighter.

[here, again, is a good reason to play with the stripped raw OD&D rules. A high strength can help build a better fighter (bonus to XP earned as a prime requisite) but it provides no other (or minimal) bonuses. I actually really like Gygax's house rule (STR>14 gives a +1 attack/damage for fighters only) in this regard..the higher QUANTITY of muscle mass does not equal a lot of extra QUALITY]

Country strong, if you will. All those hours spent swinging a sword, riding a war horse, and trotting around in armor builds up certain muscle groups, endurance, and skill but this is all modeled with hit points, class, and level abilities (higher attacks and saves, etc.).  Your character isn't "cut" but she is harder...and she knows the proper way to use her size and weight to her advantage. And she probably has eating habits to match (and the metabolism to maintain it).

The fact is, being bigger and heavier puts a greater strain on your body regardless of whether it's muscle or fat. Large humans (even...and especially...professional athletes) tend to have far shorter life expectancies. More weight is more stress on muscles (including the heart), tendons/ligaments, and fragile joints.

You just don't see
enough portly wizards
(well, I don't).
SO, assuming you want to take this into account (and why else would I be writing this if I didn't?), is there a way to model a character with extra bulk in the D&D game? Sure, lots of ways. I could use random height/weight charts from the DMG, cross-reference them with the Adult Body Mass Index provided by the CDC and base my encumbrance calculations on that. But I prefer something simpler and a bit more abstract...especially as I'm using a rather abstract system of encumbrance and movement.

In OD&D, the Strength score represents (for me) size and mass, with muscle being a component of these (larger persons have larger muscles to move larger bodies). Constitution, on the other hand, represents a combination of health and fitness, and it is the intersection of these two things that determine how fat (or not) a character is.

[manual Dexterity isn't taken into account because, for me, it represents hand-eye coordination rather than agility. DEX does not provide a bonus to armor class in my game]

STR is thus compared to CON to determine how "svelte" a character is, relative to her size. If a character's strength exceeds constitution by more than three points, then the character is overweight ("husky," if you prefer). If a character's strength exceeds constitution by more than six points, then the character is obese ("fat," in other words).

What are the ramifications of this? A reduced movement rate in D&D. Since D&D uses a four-tier system (unlike TROS), being overweight would reduce you to three-quarter speed (9" movement) while being obese would reduce you to half speed (6" movement) with a reduced carrying capacity (for encumbrance purposes) in both're already carrying an extra load, buddy!

Is it realistic to consider this aspect of human life in your game? I think so. Do these rules suck? Sure...but I allow PCs to arrange their ability scores to taste, so I'm not forcing them to be a high strength character with a low constitution. It's your choice if you want your PC to be "big boned."

But can't my character go on a diet? You heard the part about no gyms and pilates classes, right? There's no Weight Watchers, or Atkins, or Jenny Craig, either! I have some starvation rules (for characters who lose their rations) that will result in a gradual loss of Strength points over time, so a fat character could eventually have her weight balance as her mass comes more in synch with Constitution...but a character regains Strength after resuming regular meals (ah, the bounce back! It's why starvation diets don't work), so that's a short-term "solution" at best. Maybe a magical tome or manual of healthful eating? Oh, wait: that already exists in AD&D (the manual of bodily health: raises your Constitution by 1 point after following "a regimen of special dietary intake;" good enough).

All right, all right...I can see some players will still hate these rules. Sorry. Personally I like the variation they add (at least, I'm intrigued enough to try them out). However, to help mitigate complaints, I'll throw folks a bone: the extra "padding" your character has is worth a few extra hit points:

Overweight characters: add +1d4 hit points
Obese characters: add +1d6 hit points

This is a one-time bonus, received at 1st level only, unlike the bonus for a high Constitution which is added every level as long as a character gains hit dice. Note that because OD&D doesn't award a HP bonus for anything less than CON 15, it's impossible to receive both a bonus for "fitness" and for being overweight: the two are mutually exclusive.

Cheers, folks. Stay safe (and sane).

This jolly soul only moves 6".


  1. I'd say not "fit or fat" but far rather (and especially for the medieval setting) "feast or fast!" Good article!

  2. We have a jovial, portly magic-user in my about-to-start OSE game.

    Meanwhile, I'm shopping for elliptical trainers to get rid of my quarantine pounds.

  3. While it's an interesting idea, I'm not sure the idea has "legs" in the real world. I think what you feel is the change, not the weight. I used to work with a guy doing overland surveying for the national forests in the Rockies of northern Idaho and Montana. He was 6'3, 375 pounds, definitely pear shaped (or possibly potato)...and he could outhike ANYONE...all day long. Why? Because he'd always been big and he'd been doing it for years.

    1. Mmm. I might give an overland move bonus to rangers, regardless of weight...but I get your point.

    2. Based on observation, as someone who has watched a number strongman competitions on TV, and on experience as someone who is personally rather fat:

      Strongman competitors typically fall into the range I would call husky, being generally barrel-shaped and without defined abs. But these are also guys who can maintain a walking pace while carrying a hollowed-out car frame for short distances. Defensive players in the NFL are also typically husky dudes, but still put out impressive sprints and jumps and certainly don't walk noticeably more slowly than other people.

      As for the truly fat, I do admit that I struggle to keep up with some of my faster-walking friends, though it only becomes noticeable if we're visiting the city and walking multiple blocks to get to a specific place. Which also brings me to the fact that comfortable walking pace varies by individual even among those who are otherwise approximately equally fit, but in D&D we ignore that for the sake of simplicity. As an aside, organized studies have found very weak correlation between height and gait speed, bucking the traditional wisdom that talk people walk faster than short people - and I've long held that, even if we take 'tall people are faster' at face value, that the lower base speeds for dwarfs and hobbits are excessively harsh - but that's neither here nor there. But back to the point, even if I didn't make any effort to keep up and each of us walked at our own pace, my speed certainly isn't half of theirs. Frankly, even three-quarters might be a little low, but it's a much more reasonable approximation.

      Possibly assess greater penalties for running distances greater than a single sprint or charge, but I would say that in terms of base speed for purposes of walking and short runs or jogs should be unmodified for husky strongman types, and only reduced to 9" for the truly obese.

    3. @ Dan:

      These are good points, man, and I appreciate the feedback. The movement rates in D&D for both dungeon exploration and overland/wilderness are abstract and make certain assumptions: like normal caution, a perilous environment, rest breaks, etc. Over *time* (whether you're talking a day or a ten minute turn) I think fitness and weight carried will result in lesser progress over distance...though I might be wrong.

      Here's the thing: I'm comparing size of an individual (based on STR) to fitness (based on CON). By my reckoning, a person with a low body fat percentage (which, more than anything, is what leads to the appearance of muscular definition...we all have "six pack abs" but most hide it under layers of fat) and defined muscles and "cut" physique would be a character whose CON score *exceeds* her STR. Guys who do Strongman competitions, NFL linemen, beefy guys and gals participating in the Titan Games...these people have high CON values relative to their STR. Their fitness level is enough to offset their size and body mass.

      That's why I don't use a simple BMI calculator. Emmitt Smith was shorter than me (5'8") and had a playing weight of 200#. That's obese, based on BMI. But he was one of the fastest running backs in the NFL. D&D isn't a game that cares who has a faster 40-time, but a certain amount of accounting (in line with the general abstraction of movement), I feel, is both interesting and appropriate.

      Should a "husky" strongman be able to maneuver as fast as a skinny martial artist in melee? I don't think so. Does that affect his ability to do combat with the martial artist? Only so much as movement becomes a factor (like evading or running away)...if both were characters modeled by the "fighter" class, their ability to hit would still be modeled by their respective levels of experience, etc. Both have developed their own particular fighting styles that work for them, and this is abstracted using the D&D combat system.

      In this system above, a person would only be of the "truly obese" category if her CON was 7 or more points below STR. For a character of 15 STR (the minimum needed for a fighter to gain a +1 bonus in melee) that would mean a CON of 8 or less (below average by OD&D standards). For an 18 STR Strongman, it would be an 11...but 18 STR in my book is a truly immense individual (we're talking Hafthor Bjornsson big). Even Schwarzenegger at his peak probably only rates a 17 by that standard.

    4. Certainly part of the trouble is that it's much harder to try and evaluate Constitution scores than Strength scores. Also, in my head I was a little bit off in my estimation of where the cut-offs were; I had read quickly and thought your proposed rule was "three or more" and "six or more" rather than "more than three" and "more than six." Which is only a difference of one, but that's still significant on a scale with only 16 possible values.

      That aside, I think your sample illustrations also had an impact on what I was thinking about. In particular, the one at the very end with your example of the jolly soul whose movement is restricted to 6" - a quick search on Google images of Hafthor, and even more strikingly his sometimes-rival Eddie Hall, you'll find some pictures where they're pretty cut, but others where they have a significant gut and look very much like the dude in the artwork.

      Also, I'll admit I wasn't thinking much about maneuvering within melee, since D&D typically abstracts that away - even in the latter-days 3E and up versions that focus on more detailed combat, once combatants are in melee range it typically becomes pretty static with most movement being one square at a time, unless someone flees or tries something crazy. So I was much more focused on either a quick burst of speed, or else a slow exploration pace. And while I have no personal experience exploring dungeons, probably what I consider closest to the experience would be my younger days working at a chain pizza place on a busy summer day - hot as hell, bustling around, having to shift attention among taking orders on the phones, working the prep line, cleaning, and dishes. Unencumbered, granted, though occasionally moving around 10 to 20 pound boxes, and two or three times a day lifting a 50 pound mixerful of pizza dough. Hard to measure distances because the movement is basically back and forth rather than making some kind of linear 'progress' but still between six and nine hours spent on your feet and moving around at a slow but deliberate pace - and actually with less break time than the D&D standard of 10 minutes out of every hour. And I was personally thinner back then, but I had coworkers who were bigger even than I am now.

    5. @ Dan:

      I’ve worked in more than a couple fast food kitchens myself, but I’d guess that even the stress of an understaffed lunchtime rush isn’t nearly as high as exploring a dark and subterranean environment, fearing a crazy-ass monster or ancient trap is going to spring on you at any moment. That stress is going to take as much a toll on a person as the physical acts of exertion such exploring involves.

      I get what you’re saying about the illo. Stomach muscles on Uber-fit folks can definitely look like a guy when not flexed (they’re still big muscles!) but, again, visible definition is generally about percentage body fat. And come on, man...the bursting buttons on the overhanging gut? It’s pretty cartoon comical.

      One more thing to consider: advanced D&D generally provides an encumbrance bonus to characters with a high strength. Having an overweight character (who starts at a lower speed) might not prevent a character from lifting/carrying stuff, but it puts a cap on “top speed.” Now, maybe it SHOULDN’T provide a bonus (seeing as how the rules don’t account for differences in equipment SIZES for different characters: the armor of large characters should weigh more, as should the amount of rations a large person needs to consume to maintain size and strength), but I think it adds another dimension to play with on a character...just as does fitness/fatness.

      I don’t know. I just think it’s an interesting idea to mess around with. ; )

    6. It absolutely is an interesting idea to mess around with. That's why I'm putting so much thought and discussion into it. :)

      And I agree the kitchen is an imperfect analogy, but in modern life it's not easy to come up with something closer unless you belong to one of a few professions like coal miners that are increasingly rare in this country. As one final remark on the analogy, though, I will note that you actually have more space to move around in a 'classic' D&D dungeon with its spacious corridors fit for ogres and gelatinous cubes.

      As for the illo, I was actually assuming that guy would, in fact, have strong muscles under that gut, based on his big beefy arm muscles. And while you'll probably never catch one of the professional dudes we've talked about wearing such a comically ill-fitting shirt, it might not look so different if you forced one of them to try wearing an off-the-rack size XXL rather than a properly tailored shirt or a loose-fitting tank top.

      It's a good point about bigger equipment being heavier, one that I've considered before. More often in terms of smaller characters than in terms of big ones, though, since I have one player who really like gnomes. I've never actually bit the bullet and changed anything, though, sticking with the simplicity of the core rules and just ignoring the discrepancies.

    7. Your points are well taken, Dan...and I appreciate the discussion.

      Re different size equipment

      In general, I don't worry too much about varying sizes for different species of characters: a gnome's chainmail is going to weigh less than a human's (large or not), but should affect them PROPORTIONATELY the same. This does becomes a problem, however if a spell or party member wants to carry a downed party member (how much does the gnome's plate mail REALLY weigh? Can that telekinesis spell move the ogre-sized human? Etc.).

      Just to summarize: I think the idea gives an interesting, additional choice to players creating characters AND (perhaps) will help cut down on the sheer number of high strength/low constitution characters throwing their weight around in my campaign. ALSO, I like it as a simple method for providing some distinct visuals using a character's ability scores as guidelines. I intend to give it a shot.
      ; )

    8. I'm totally with you on the gnome's chainmail, but there are two things that bother me. First, weapons and a lot of miscellaneous equipment wouldn't scale like that. Re: weapon, the fact that small characters have restrictions based on weapon size, and that weapons can be passed/traded around freely unlike armor, implies that weapons are "one size fits all." Similarly, a lot of miscellaneous equipment like ropes, iron spikes, and ten-foot poles must be assumed not to vary in size; if a gnome's coil of rope was only half as long then it would clearly be deficient, and if it had half the cross-sectional area instead then it would be weaker and possibly snap if larger folk tried climbing with it. Building on this, the second point that bugs me is that treasure most definitely isn't scaled in proportion to the bearer - a coin is a coin is a coin. Like I said, I don't do anything to change it, because it's a lot of modification to solve it in a way that I'm fully satisfied with, for something that would rarely have a noticeable effect. But it still bugs me.

    9. Hmm. Maybe you'll dig my next post on the subject. Working it now.
      ; )