Monday, July 27, 2020

Regulating Chaos

*sigh* Down the rabbit hole again...

I've been doing a lot of "work" on movement and encumbrance the last few days. Turns out, I'm just not satisfied with the rules as written.

Which rules, JB? Well, here I'm mainly considering OD&D, AD&D, and B/X. Holmes Basic has the fewest rules on encumbrance and movement, but may actually be closer to accurate.

Why does any of this matter, JB? Okay, it probably doesn't matter especially. Dungeons & Dragons is a game, and playability is as important...if not more so...than accuracy. "Playability" doesn't necessarily mean "easy," but it does have to promote a challenging, engaging experience for the players. We provide challenge so that the game does not become so easy as to become tedious. We provide engagement to spark interest so that players care and bring their "A" game to the table.

I wrote about the importance of encumbrance to the game a couple weeks ago. Encumbrance provides a third dimension to game play. Folks aren't just worried about choice of weapon and armor for how much it costs them (in imaginary gold coins), but about how it impacts their character's movement and ability to carry other gear/treasure. Without encumbrance, "cost" eventually fades (experienced adventurers have plenty of imaginary gold and often acquire magical equipment for "free" anyway), and "choice" is limited to a question of "effectiveness" (i.e. what weapon does the most damage, what armor gives the best protection)...which is too easy a challenge to provide engagement to a mature, seasoned player. Fine for kids, not so much for adults.

[yes, yes story gamers...y'all don't care about "accounting exercises." You play a different version of D&D from what I do. This post isn't for you]

So how do encumbrance rules, when used (they are OPTIONAL in the B/X system, probably because it was scaled for kids), impact the game?

  1. The rules restrict what gear can be carried by a player's character by placing a hard limit on carrying capacity. This requires players to make choices as to what is necessary for an adventure, especially as acquiring treasure is the objective, and treasure found will need to be carried as well.
  2. The rules restrict movement in two different ways: First,  it restricts the distance that can be covered over time, which creates more opportunity for wandering monsters to appear (wandering monsters being a drain on party resources while providing no great reward...they don't carry treasure!). Second, it reduces the distance one can move in encounter situations, impacting the ability to maneuver and, thus, succeed at tactical objectives (whether that means destroying one's opponents or fleeing to fight another day).

Note: there are some adventures where rule situation #1 doesn't apply: in many time-sensitive missions (say, rescue the hobbit captives from the orcs, deliver the message of the impending invasion, destroy an evil artifact before it falls into the wrong hands, etc.) acquiring treasure isn't a goal. As such, rule impact #2 (limiting movement) must still be important...or even more prominent! order to provide the appropriate degree of stress to the challenge.

Here's the thing, though: being encumbered doesn't have nearly the impact on an individual's movement as the rules state.

Let's be perfectly clear. I am, by my own admission, both overweight and not in fantastic shape...not even good shape, really. The rest of my family (especially my skinny, athlete son) is in far better shape...and none of them are carrying the extra belly and jowl fat I am. Even so, I can still outrun, out-hike, and out-bike them. On the soccer field, my kid can do all sorts of fancy moves and has a dead hard shot, but I can still outmaneuver him...and out-quick beat him in one-on-one games (and my victories are even more decisive when we play on a larger field, rather than our front yard). I'm bigger, stronger, and faster, despite being an old fat man with bad knees, a bad ankle, and back pain.

Unencumbered, I can advance in a straight line, weapon(s) in hand(s), and cover 40' of ground in approximately ten seconds. If I do a "controlled charge" (i.e. moving as quickly as I can to engage, while taking care not to trip over my own feet or impale myself on something), I can cover the same ground in half the time (approximately 5 seconds). Having actually worn armor a time or two in the past, I know that it would not affect my ability to walk hardly at all, and would only slightly impact my ability to charge...probably not enough to make a substantial difference, especially in an actual combat situation with adrenaline pumping through my veins.

How do I get these figures? I spent a couple day running simulations with my kids. Yes, folks, all sorts of Covid entertainment at the JB household. My boy, by the way (who's a foot and a half shorter than me), advances and charges at about the same rate, maybe slightly slower due to stride length.

But let's talk encumbrance, shall we? I had the kids fill their backpacks with all sorts of "adventuring equipment" in order to run tests on speed and movement. The original impetus for this was wanting to see how fast one could retrieve a specific item from a filled pack in a chaotic, stressful environment (like combat) because I'm tinkering with the combat turn ("round") structure of my game. However, my kids were "all in" on this experiment and insisted on outfitting themselves in full-on regalia, including armor, weapons, etc. The results were interesting.

[I took pictures, but my spouse does not want me posting photos of the kids on Ye Old Blog. Not that this stops her from putting their pix on Facebook, but whatever...]

Not my children...just
some kids on pinterest.
My boy's "kit" included multiple layers of padding and plastic "armor," a shield, a wooden sword (long sword equivalent), a bow (no quiver), helmet (plastic), and a 20# backpack. My daughter was wearing an ankle length wizard robe (over clothes), pointy wizard hat, along with a 15# backpack (contents included a thick hardcover to represent her "spell book"); in my daughter's hands she carried a (plastic) sword and an actual camp lantern (battery operated). Although the weight was only a small fraction of what a "real" adventurer would carry, the bulk was certainly equivalent. And the weight they were carrying was more than a third their actual body weight...closer to 40% for Sofia. If I had been proportionately geared, I would have been carrying closer to 70#. And, of course, actual mail weighs a lot more than my kids' thin plastic and padding.

However, even burdened as they were, the kids weren't especially slower. What they were was uncomfortable and in pain from shlepping so much weight on thin shoulders. They couldn't wait to shrug off their backpacks...which they were able to do fairly quickly given a "combat situation" (me shouting "go" and starting the stopwatch). Carrying a bunch of weight...especially weight they're unused to and untrained to carry...did NOT slow them substantially. But it DID tire them out...cue my typical rant about the lack of proper fatigue rules in D&D.

That's my takeaway from our "experiments:" Movement is far more affected by bulk and distribution of gear than from actual weight carried or an individual's strength. It's tough to move quickly when you're worried about tipping over from an unbalanced pack. Or (as my daughter told me) "I actually run faster with my backpack because it pushes me forward!"

[this appears to be a literal truth; walking WITH his pack (only), Diego shaved half a second off his time...same when he was running]

But fatigue IS real...despite being faster and stronger than my family members, the old man gets tired. My son can play soccer all day (comparatively), whereas I cash in my chips a lot sooner. Likewise, my wife doesn't run the 5Ks half-marathons she used to, but she can still go twice as many laps around Green Lake (at least!) as yours truly...though to be honest, I was never a fan of distance running. Ever. to model this in the D&D game? Well, what does the D&D game model anyway? Depends on which edition you're tweaking. Assuming a 10 second combat round (as in B/X), 40' per round (encounter speed for a 12" movement) seems plenty fair. The OTHER speeds, though (30', 20', 10' for 9", 6", and 3" movement, respectively), seem grossly inaccurate. Even for a fat adventurer.

Where do these movement rates come from? From OD&D originally...although the idea of a 10 second round is from Holmes Basic ("Each turn is ten minutes except during combat where there are ten melee rounds per turn, each round lasting ten seconds."). But as with many of the mechanical bits found in OD&D, these rates are adapted directly from the Chainmail wargame.

Chainmail provides rules for "medieval miniatures." It uses a time scale consisting of 1 minute turns (just like the combat turns of OD&D and the combat rounds of AD&D) and a distance scale of 1" being equal to 10 yards. Different movement rates are given for different troop types in Chainmail; for example, "heavy footmen" can move 9" (12" when charging), while "armored footmen" only move 6" (whether charging or not). All reports of Gygax state that he was a voracious reader that enjoyed researching old history books for information to add to his games (in an age where there was no internet), but games that attempt to regulate the chaos of war require a certain amount of abstraction to ensure is difficult to know, just from reading Chainmail, what was thought to be an accurate model and what was considered an expedient necessity.

Attempting to find field movement rates for medieval troops using the internet alone has been difficult. Most rates are given only in miles per day which, admittedly, is probably more than most people need for their history lessons (it's enough to know who fought whom and where and how many died). However, what IS clear is that with regard to troop movement (soldiers marching in groups), distance traveled over time comes down to a combination of organization, discipline, and baggage carried, coupled with the terrain traversed. Ancient troops could make 10-25 miles per day with decent (Roman) roads, while medieval foot troops (up through the 17th century) only moved 7-15 miles per day. A troop could be "forced marched" at double that rate, but risked being too fatigued to fight effectively upon reaching their destination.  Medieval soldiers generally marched in their armor and carried at least a hand weapon or two; gear (everything else a soldier might need) was "baggage," carried in carts or hauled by a soldier's wife or girlfriend (camp follower). But none of that tells me how far or fast the soldier could move on the battlefield...and anyway, battlefield movement would have been in formation, with a pace set by the force commander and the necessities of battle.

Gygax's Chainmail movements appear to be an estimation based in part on how one assumes these forces to behave as a troop/group. Light footmen include peasants, noted as being "unreliable" and "unwilling" warriors: they only move 9" (12" charging) despite probably having the lightest loads (in terms of arms and armor)...of course they would be an undisciplined mass to bring to a battle. Armored footmen with their 6" movement includes "dismounted knights;" Chainmail notes that "feudal knights were ill-disciplined and generally refused to take orders from anyone -- even their liege lord;" presumably by the time they were dismounted the battlefield mud would have already been churned up, making the footing even more difficult. Meanwhile, the fearsome Landsknechte troops are given a move of 12" (charge 15") apparently to model their superior discipline and training...this despite many of their troops (certainly the zweihander-armed frontliners) being dressed in plate armor!

Wives have advantages
over other henchmen.
A party of D&D adventurers...even one with a number of retainers and henchfolk...isn't the same as an unwieldy mass of hundreds or thousands of troops. Training and discipline should be assumed to be at least as good as elite mercenaries and house troops...this is, after all, what the PCs are supposed to be. In Chainmail, both heroes and superheroes (the basis for the 4th and 8th level fighters respectively) have movement of 12" (charge 15") regardless of armor wornWizards (of any level), likewise have a move of 12" (though no charge). When mounted, these fantasy fighters have the same movement as medium horseman...again, regardless of armor. To me, it's clear something other than encumbrance is being used in these calculations.

The D&D movement rates are even more strange when used in conjunction with dungeon or "exploration" ANY edition of the game. There are many subterranean caves and cavern trails available for hiking in the United States, most with surfaces and elevation changes far more difficult and treacherous than the smooth 10' by 10' corridors found in your average D&D adventure. Trail times seem to be pretty universal: individuals can expect to hike about 1.25 miles per hour in such environments. The most difficult "hike" I could find on the internet was the Wild Cave Tour at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. This physically grueling tour requires hikers to spend a lot of time crawling on their belly, wriggling through tight spaces, traversing sharp, uneven terrain, and dealing with water and subterranean canyons. It is guided by professionals and there are breaks (for rests, instruction, and lunch), but even so it's a six mile tour that requires six hours to complete.

Not a 10' x 10' corridor.
How fast is that in D&D terms? Well, one mile is 5,280 feet, so that would be our hourly "rate" of travel. Assuming the usual five (ten minute) turns of movement followed by one (ten minute) turn of rest, we can see the party making about 1,056 feet per turn; there is, presumably, no "running" during the tour, but no mapping necessary either (since the party has an experienced guide). With normal caution being exercised we can translate that to game movement as follows:

OD&D: 52" (two moves per turn)
AD&D: 21" (rate of travel divided by 5 for "following a known route")
B/X: 106" (158" if movement rate considered 2/3 for being "broken terrain")

Even presuming "unencumbered" movement (hikers aren't carrying any more than a hardhat, flashlight, and sack lunch), these rates far outstrip the 12" movement rate found in the D&D texts. The speed is more than double the rate given by Holmes for an "unarmored, unencumbered man" that is "moving normally" in a dungeon (480' per turn). An adventuring party moving this slowly and this cautiously should probably be discovering every trip wire and loose flagstone in the dungeon!

So, yeah. Movement rates as given are too slow, and carrying a bunch of weight doesn't make you all that slower if all you're doing is walking/marching. What encumbrance does is tire you out (fatigue) making rest more important.

I spent a lot of time yesterday watching videos of Medieval MMA and IMCF combat. Despite the limitations of sport combat, I find these to be instructional especially this M-1 championship bout in Moscow. Three minutes of fighting per round, followed by one minute of rest, and both these dudes are completely gassed after three rounds. And they are, presumably, wearing lighter gear than a true medieval warrior and have all the benefits of modern sport science (including nutrition and cross-training regimes). Turns out that Chainmail's fatigue rules seem a fairly close approximation of how melee (by itself or in combination with movement) can tire you out...even for lightly armored fighters (who would, I assume, need to work twice as hard as their heavier armored counterparts).

Beating on each other just plumb tuckers you.
Yes, yes, I know...everyone hates fatigue rules. And we already have an (imperfect) model of fatigue in the form of hit points. And, in the end, this discussion seems to be aimed in the direction of rebuilding the game from the ground up, which is really NOT what I want to do.

I just want something that won't bug me and be a constant source of irritation.

But let's go back to the premise here: the rules as written provide two different means of challenging/engaging the players of the D&D game: they add an extra consideration to choices made with regard to logistics (carrying these iron spikes and a crossbow are going to cut down on how much loot I can haul), and affect the character's ability to maneuver tactically (not only in combat, but in evasion/pursuit situations). Both become an issue of resource management, the particular resource being time...precious time that will necessitate additional wandering monster checks that carry the possibility of fatal attrition for little/zero reward. Game-wise, these are not rules to chuck with abandon, as they are fairly imperative to running the game in the manner intended!

Still, as mentioned, logistics become far less important when characters have a mission that promises reward after the adventure (return the captives and get paid! Bring me the head of the bugbear chieftain to the Duke for a chest of gold! Etc.)...and even less so as characters rise in level and acquire gear that offsets logistics (the sword +3 that is unbreakable, the flaming sword that takes the place of torches, the slippers of spider climbing that replace 10 pounds of rope, the decanter of endless water, etc.). When logistics fail to matter, only tactical issues need be considered...and time can continue to be a manageable resource with the use of fatigue and mandated rests. More so, it becomes an additional area of player engagement if parties can choose between RISK (pressing their luck, losing effectiveness by acquiring fatigue) in exchange for REWARD (making better time, rolling fewer encounter checks).

Sorry, folks, but this is a line of thought I want to continue following for now. I'll probably have at least one more post on the subject (in which I'll lay down some concrete rules for "testing"), but it's important to me to get this stuff right. NOT because it is so all important to be accurate or "realistic" in modeling this stuff...but because, well, hmm.

Because (I suppose) it's important to not be wrong. I say hit points are an abstract measure of staying power and that's fine and dandy; that's defining a game mechanic (we're not trying to model rules for broken bones and pints of blood in the body). I say 15 gold pieces buy a decently-made sword and that is fine, too...that's the fantasy economy in this particular region at this particular point in time.

But I say a human with a 40# sack of gear only moves a certain distance at a brisk pace, well, then it better be damn close to the laws of reality. Because time and distance and weight on a planet with Earth's gravity is something that can be measured. And because D&D isn't a board game, and it's not a wargame, and we're attempting to simulate an experience, there's SOME reason why carrying heavy stuff is detrimental, but it better be a real reason...and not a "wrong" reason, not just for the sake of adding options. The choices have to be valid, and valid choices do why not use them?

All right, that's enough. I've been writing this for four days, and it's time to get on to the next thing.


  1. Great stuff. I think a lot of game design could be improved by just going on a walk.

  2. Fully agree with the philosophy and sentiment underlying this post, from the need to make things believable if not exact through the desire to produce a more difficult, challenging game. Any contention I have is with approach, not purpose.

    While I love the notion of small D&D players running about the back yard testing the veracity of encumbrance rules, I’m always cautious about the legitimacy of these “tests.” D&D characters do not merely put on equipment and then fight within the next ten or twenty minutes. They haul this equipment for several days, and then they put the equipment on most likely a few hours before heading into a wandering monster or trucking their way up some slope to a dungeon. Put the gear on, leave it on while you walk 10 km., Then demonstrate how you can move in it at the same speed as you do now, as you cover 40 ft. in ten seconds. I’m quite sure that if you walk 10 K in your shorts and shirtsleeves, you’ll move faster than if you do the same distance with 70+ lbs. of equipment.

    Incidentally, 70 lbs. isn’t that much of a penalty. I use a system that adjusts the amount of movement (from 15", transl. to AD&D) based on character base weight and strength, and for a 190 lb. person with a strength of 12, 33 lbs. doesn’t reduce movement at all. Up to 67 only reduces it 1 pt. (to 12"). Serious slowing down doesn’t happen until more than half the player’s weight, and if the player is truly strong, they can carry a helluva lot before slowing down. The problem here with your encumbrance system is that there is no calculation, just general guessing, when this should obviously be a science.

    It sounds to me, when you say that bulkiness is more of a problem than weight, that you’re not really assigning enough weight. Canadian voyageurs would carry pack-weights of up to 200 lbs. up steep hillsides from portage to portage, for miles at a time. I’m afraid I’d have to consider your sampling is insufficient. Though the weight your children were carrying was a sincere proportion of their body weight, with regards to mass and inertia, this is much less extreme example of an ant carrying many times its own weight because what it is carrying doesn’t actually have much mass. The effects of mass are exponential, not arithmetic.


  3. Also, I’d like to address something you said in an earlier post and have repeated here. While the weight you carry as part of your own body is baggage, we are talking about baggage that is stored much closer to your center of balance and evolutionarily designed so that it is in the places around your body where you can best carry weight without severely undermining your capability of surviving. Carrying 70 extra pounds around your middle and balanced over your limbs is Not the same as carrying 70 lbs in one place extended outwards from your back, in a location your back did not evolve to support. The difference of these two things with relation to encumbrance deserves more consideration.

    I really, really hear you on problems associated with movement. It is really off, and I know I am really going to have to build something that will fix the problem, in the way you say you want such problems fixed, JB. But hey; the cave hike you mention is 6 hours spent in shirt sleeves and shorts; it is NOT spent with heavy gear, because the guides wouldn’t let you bring that stuff in even if you wanted to. So no, your time scale example just doesn’t work. But good try. I’m sure there is value in it, and I will certainly have it in mind when I am rebuilding my movement system (woe is me, the day that will come).

    We are much closer in our approaches to fatigue. In Robert O’Connell’s book, the Ghosts of Cannae, he posits that the most likely amount of time that combat in warm weather can continue would be about 90 to 120 seconds, for a host of reasons, some of which do fit with IMCF combat. It is thought that Hannibal’s Carthaginian’s likely won that battle because the Romans became too tired to fight after over-marching themselves to get there, then over-marching across the field to actually reach the Carthaginians (or something to that effect, it’s been some years since I read the book). Battle is attack, tire, retreat, reform, attack, tire, retreat. With 12 second rounds in my campaigns, I figure this is about 8 to 12 rounds, with most of the army starting to fall back after 7, and a few lone combatants with the constitution to go on while the main of both armies fall back. Carthage was able to reform faster than the Romans; probably, O’Connell reckons, the Romans were helpless in the end to stop the Carthaginians from just butchering them.


  4. On the whole, I just don’t feel that IMCF combat is a good example of D&D combat. Everyone knows they’re not going to get hurt, so there’s no serious fear for life and limb, and no examples of other people getting limbs hacked off and friends dying right next to you; morale and a will to overcome tiredness is an important part of fatigue and should not be overlooked. Additionally, the very fact that the body will heat up means that not only does the body become tired, it becomes dehydrated, so that there should also be the possibility of just dropping unconscious on the field, no matter how many hit points the character has.

    These many complex elements coming together are related to rules I’ve been slowly mastering relating to morale, encumbrance, CLO, dehydration rules and sage abilities. I don’t think that it is at all possible to rely upon the short-thinking of the old guard, who for one thing never had access to the kind of research that we have today, and equally were at the mercy of a historical and sociological time that was marked by its errored prejudices about both social sciences. We know so much more today than they did in the 1970s about the effects of stress and war on human bodies and consciousness; you’ve just got to let go of basing every rule idea you have on the less-informed content that OSR books were based on. At some point, you’ve got to throw out everything and build your own system that works according to All the Facts, not just what Holmes and Gygax thought they knew but didn’t, because the world they designed the game in didn’t.

    1. My admittedly small sample size of bulk cartage and fairly brief foray into ICMF bouts and spelunking times simply confirmed (as much as I care) that the numbers were off by a substantial amount. Even wearing nothing but a loin cloth and a headlamp, the novice spelunkers far outstrips the speed of a similarly UNequipped adventurer, despite spending a lot of time crawling. THAT is THE point.

      With regard to actual approach, yeah, we’ll probably end up differing. Probably differing a lot, as I tend to abstraction when it comes to game physics while you dive into the “nitty gritty” as deep as it goes. And I’m okay with that. As you say, I think the underlying philosophy here is a shared one.

      The “fit or fat” mechanics were certainly half-baked. Heck, not even half. But it’s one of the ingredients I’m assembling for this particular “loaf” and I had to start with SOMEthing regarding fitness.

      I have a feeling this is going to be a “long haul” type project, unfortunately. For right now, I’m tempted to ignore all RAW movement restrictions based on weight and simply add some draconian fatigue rules...try it out, see how it runs. I can always go back to the old rules later, right?
      ; )

    2. I don't argue the spelunkers outstripping the unequipped adventurer, but I don't think it makes any point about the effects of encumbrance on movement, which is Also your argument. Put 70 lbs. of equipment on those spelunkers and give them swords to push ahead of them, and there's no way they're still going to boot along as though, let's see, a quote here, a temptation "to ignore all RAW movement restrictions based on weight."

      Cruel of me to kick this puppy, but this last comment makes it seem that you're only interested in getting "stuff right" so long as you have a tenuous amount of survivorship bias to support your position:

      Are we getting stuff right, or "rightish"? Because if the latter, hell, you might just as well forgo the long haul and get on with the business of writing an adventure.

    3. “Rightish” is generally the best to be hoped for in my game design. Maybe I should change my publishing moniker to “Rightish Games.”
      ; )

      “Survivor bias” is a term I was unfamiliar with before today...thanks for that. Um...yeah, tenuous amount of survivor bias. Hmm: I’ll have to consider that. Thing is, in a way, I *want* a certain amount of survivor bias in my games...after all, I want the PCs to be favored souls, right? Or at least have some tools for success. Not even being facetious here...but I’ll try to take it into account.

      That is to say: I agree that a spelunkers hailing excessive weight will crawl slower...and climb slower...and run in a more ponderous fashion (if she can at all). But just walk slower? Slow enough to make a noticeable difference? Maybe...I guess.

      Let me see what I can come up with to “test” (and how that testing goes).