Evolution of the Gear Pack

Why I chose this lazy approach to equipment and ammo

The topic of encumbrance and equipment use has been languishing in my "future posts" list for a few months, but a couple of recent articles make it timely.

First, Jeff has some comments about dealing with encumbrance, lighting, and rations—basically reminding us all that encumbrance is important (though oft ignored) before challenging us to explain why characters never eat the rations they buy. Zak provides some creative approaches, whereby "maintenance" issues for equipment occur when the player does a certain thing; it's a good concept, but may not work well for all groups. Finally, Chgowiz shares some ideas about tracking players and includes a few notes about using rations in the wilderness.

I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring. While the guidelines below are baked into Chimera, you should be able to adapt them to your own system with ease.

Encumbrance

From a mechanical standpoint, the only function of encumbrance is to modify a character's movement rate. The more stuff you carry or wear, the slower you go. Encumbrance in Chimera does the same thing, but it's much easier to calculate and apply. You start with a character's Movement Rate (MR), or the number of scale inches (on the tabletop) the character can move in a round. Most characters start with a base MR 8".

Encumbrance is indicated as a negative value applied to a character's MR. Thus, a human PC with base MR 8" wearing chain mail (Enc –2), carrying a medium shield (Enc –1), and wielding a short sword (Enc +0) has an adjusted Movement Rate of 5". This cascades to anything involving the character's Movement Rate (e.g., climbing, swimming, running), so the effect of encumbrance is consistent and seamless.

Individual items (like Small weapons and light gear) can have Enc +0, and it's up to the GM to decide how many a character can reasonably carry. I equate 4 Small weapons to Enc –1. For other things (including coins), I base encumbrance on container size instead of item weight.

Container
Capacity (coins)
Encumbrance (full)
Belt pouch, small 50 +0
Belt pouch, medium 100 +0
Backpack, rucksack 400 –1
Backpack, frame 800 –2
Sack, small 200 +0
Sack, large 400 –1
Chest, small 800 –2
Chest, medium 1,200 –3
Chest, large 1,600 –4

For example, a full rucksack is Enc –1, regardless of what it's full of (coins, hair pins, nails, crocodile eggs, etc.). You can adjust for particularly heavy things (e.g., a rucksack of bricks is Enc –2), but the key is to abstract in a reasonable fashion without bogging down play.

Gear

Let me preface this by stating that I love equipment lists. There's a very old school attraction to pouring over gear rosters to outfit your PC.

That said, as they exist in most games, equipment lists are useful only when you're rolling up your character. Once you put "backpack, 10-foot pole, tinder box" on your character sheet, they're pretty much there forever, meaning that equipment never seems to get old, worn, or used up.

The other issue is that equipment lists tend to be very granular, which runs contrary to my "game-as-an-abstraction" leanings. For example, your character can buy all kinds of camping gear: backpack, bedroll, tent, tinder box, hunting knife, rope, rations, etc. But unless you're actually going to roleplay camping, or the GM has some encounter planned whose outcome hinges on whether you had the foresight to purchase a bale of twine, it's a lot of unnecessary detail that has no bearing on play.

My solution is the gear pack, essentially a parcel of unspecified items related to a specific purpose. For example, a camping pack contains any gear you use to go camping. A toolbox contains tools and handyman stuff. A first aid kit has first aid supplies: If you need bandages, they're in there; if you need aspirin, it's in there; if you need a snakebite kit, it's in there, too. While contents are never actually identified, you can assume that it contains whatever is needed to support its purpose: If you have a pack related to the task at hand, you have the equipment you need. It's not unlike the "thief's tools" on old D&D equipment lists—the exact tools were never really specified, but you knew that your thief had to buy them if he was going to pick locks, deal with traps, and do other sneaky things.

Each gear pack has a limited number of uses—when it's used up, you've worn out or consumed all the equipment it contained. But some items are more durable than others, and it's possible for a character to husband his gear carefully. To simulate this, every time you use the gear pack, you make a gear check (an Observe roll), modified by the gear's durability and your character's ability to conserve. If the check fails, the pack is depleted by one use. When a pack is empty, it must be replaced.

Finally, each gear pack has a set encumbrance value, which makes it easier to account for the weight of equipment carried. This eliminates the need to add up the weight of every item your PC has on hand. Or recalculate his encumbrance after he uses a flask of oil or leaves his 50' of rope behind during a chase. Here's how a couple of gear packs look (example contents are noted, but are by no means exhaustive):

  • Burglary Kit (TL 2): Required for most Burgle rolls; lock picks, glass cutter, shears, ear horn, twine, wax ($100, Dur +4, Enc +0)
  • Gun Kit (TL 5): Required to keep firearms in good condition; ammo mould, cleaning kit, oil, rags ($90, Dur +2, Enc +0)
  • Spelunking Pack (TL 2): Required for underground exploration; hammer, iron spikes, lantern, oil, pole (10’), rope (50’), torches ($50, Dur +2, Enc –1)

The benefit is that the GM doesn't have to spend hours creating equipment lists (especially attractive for a multi-genre game like Chimera), while the players benefit from the gear pack's generality: instead of buying every item they might conceivably need, they simply pick up appropriate gear packs and off they go. If, for example, the PCs need iron spikes, they simply reach inside their spelunking pack and pull them out. In fact, they can use the spelunking pack for just about anything related to underground exploring. No spelunking pack? Then the PCs will have to do a lot of things the hard way. Like see in the dark.

Ammunition

In a similar vein, ammunition quantities are measured in "loads" instead of individual rounds. I have no idea how many rounds are in a load, but it doesn't really matter. After a firefight, you make an ammo check (a Shoot roll). If the check fails, you've spent one load of ammo; when you have no more loads, you're out of ammo. This negates the need to buy (and track) individual arrows or bullets or bazooka shells. Ammo weight is based on weapon size, so it's also easy to standardise Encumbrance:

  • Small: Enc –1 per 8 loads
  • Medium: Enc –1 per 4 loads
  • Large: Enc –1 per 2 loads
  • Fixed: Enc –1 per load
  • Artillery: Enc –2 per load

A long bow is considered Large, so 2 loads of arrows are Enc –1. A Desert Eagle pistol is Small, meaning that you can carry 8 loads of ammo for Enc –1. A howitzer is Artillery, and a single load is Enc –2.

Final Words

Encumbrance and gear use are important factors to consider, because they do impact what characters can and cannot do in a given situation. Unfortunately, if they bog down play, they're useless. The guidelines above should address these issues in a single stroke by adequately representing gear weight and equipment use, while minimising bookkeeping to keep play flowing.

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