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?
- 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.
- 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!...in 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 him...to 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.
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.
SO...how 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 playability...it 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.
The D&D movement rates are even more strange when used in conjunction with dungeon or "exploration" movement...in 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.|
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.|
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 exist...so 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.