Matt Rundle's Anti-Hammerspace Item Tracker


In Jack Vance's pulp fantasy Cugel's Saga, keeping track of your items is a big deal. Cugel the clever loses his items almost as soon as he gets them - stolen, smashed, misplaced, or most often, abandoned as Cugel flees from an angry mob. Cugel doesn't track encumbrance, but placement; because his items occupy a definite space in the world, everything in the world can effect them.

By contrast, items in DnD occupy a vague hammerspace somewhere around your character, where they can be teleported into your hands at any time. Traditional encumbrance systems work to weigh you down, but not to define where your items actually are. It's almost impossible for a DM to fuck with items in this hammer-space - you have to ask where the player's keeping them, they have to make something up, and you have to shrug and say "Well, they're gone now." It feels like cheating.

No more! I present Matt Rundle's Anti-Hammerspace Item Tracker (I helped).  This item-tracking sheet is designed to ground your items in the world without wasting a second of time at the table. Each character can carry 6 containers, and each container has 3 slots. The player defines what each one is - a sack, a utility belt, a backpack, whatever. Wearing Leather armour or better takes 1 container, Chain or better takes 2, Scale or better takes 3. The player just writes down or draws each item in a slot as they get it.

Examples:

Stoner the Warrior

Cray the Thief


Some guidelines: A dagger is 1 slot, a short-sword is 2 slots, a longsword is 3 slots. 1 weeks food for one person is one slot. In my campaign you can get a +1 AC shield that takes up 1 slot, or a +2 AC shield that takes up 2 slots. Misc is for anything you're wearing, your animals, tiny objects, and anything else that  wouldn't take up a slot. If you really want to add encumbrance, give them -5 feet of speed a turn per container. For mounts, use this same sheet and cross off containers based on the armour of their rider. 

This is a harsh system that will see fully-clad warriors carry little more than food, weapons and gold. Personally, I love that - Conan never had much more than a loincloth and a sword. You can still own as many items as you like - it's just that you'll have to write them under "Left it at home", rather than hulking all your worldly possessions around on your back as you fight.

I have never seen anything but a game show the protagonists worried about their items weighing them down. Worrying about where your items are, though, is a staple of Pulp. Your arrows fall out, your money-pouch is stolen, your food gets wet, a dinosaur eats your back-pack and your bedroll is set on fire. That's a pulp encumbrance system. A few items that matter, constantly under threat. 

I've been trying to capture that feel for a while now. One of my PC's was suspended by vine-tentacles over a carnivorous tree, and decided to throw lighted lamp-oil down into it's maw. Instead of teleporting it into his hand, I had him fumble with his backpack, holding flint and tinder in one hand and oil in the other, precious food-packs falling out into the maw as he tried to light the oil.

Encumbrance systems have always tried to tie your items into the world. They fail, not just because no-one can be bothered to do the math, but because they track weight instead of where the items areThis system solves that problem, and it feels like the only thing I could ever use. I'm going to try it in my next session, so I'll tell you how it goes.



13 comments:

  1. This is another great idea(which I will be stealing). How I am going to do encumbrance is that you can carry a number of full containers equal to your strength modifier without reducing speed. So the really buff fighter may be able to wear his heavy armor without being slowed down. And characters with low strength scores count reduce the number of items it costs for a container to count as full. So a wizard with a -1 strength can carry a full 3 items in his backpack, but he is encumbered as soon as he puts 2 in there.

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  2. @sparrowwithmachineguns

    you might consider instead that the penalty counts as abs(penalty) full containers. The wizard with a -1 Strength modifier therefore counts as slightly encumbered already and can carry one fewer container.

    Turn it around, the brute with a +3 Strength modifier can carry four full containers before being encumbered. This is the tanky guy with the bandoliers and extra-big backpack (counts as two containers).

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  3. Glad you guys like it.

    We ignored strength encumbrance because I knew if it got too complicated I would just forget it. But using your strength mod's perfect, even I can remember that.

    Your average character should get 3 containers without encumbrance, add/subtract 1 per point of strength modifier. Beef Patrol Barry can carry a full 6 with no encumbrance, Weedy Warren can't carry anything without slowing down. Average Joe slows down to 15 feet per round when full-up.

    That sounds pretty easy-going, but containers are tiny: get leather armour, a bow and a sword and you're already up to three.

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  4. 3 containers as the base seems quite fair. I am really enjoying the blog so far, keep up the great work.

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  5. Must. Steal.

    If you don't mind, that is :)

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  6. It's an awesome solution, I want to go find some good problems to use it on.

    I think it's worth noting that the "hammerspace" problem isn't inherent to D&D. 4e is more than a little fast and loose with it, but earlier editions (I'm thinking of my time in 2e) were rather specific about how much stuff you can put into each backpack, pouch, and sack you were carrying.It was largely by weight, moderated by the GM telling people to not be silly, but it largely worked. When you got hit with acid or a breath weapon, every exposed item had to make a saving throw, and if outer containers were destroyed, everything inside now had to make a saving throw (and if it survived ended up on the ground). You damn well knew where your stuff was. My old character sheets from those days have carefully indented inventories tracking exactly where every little thing was. In its own, highly
    "realistic" simulation way, it was a lot of fun. On the down side, it was frequently tedious. For more a heroic, rough and tumble game, something like what you propose seems a better fit.

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    1. I like the idea of tracking how well-protected every item is. It can probably be decided just by DM fiat most of the time, but you could have a little checkbox for "Protected". Tick it, and your containers won't be ripped open by swords or lava or whatever.

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  7. I've used this in my group alongside my D&D 4E/13th Age hybrid campaign, and it is COOL! :)

    Giving a weight/size range for each slot should be simple enough to convert items from hammerspace to anti-hammerspace, allowing for both abstract and precise forms of play with the anti-hammerspace to work :) I mean, like how you have 0.02 lb per coin and 1000gp per slot (see http://www.d20source.com/2008/04/how-much-is-a-gold-piece-worth ), that means one slot could carry a maximum of 20 lbs. Then you could adjust the whole thing as necessary.

    To even it out in terms of versimilitude, you could have 10 STR = 2 containers (instead of 3 as earlier suggested), and size still takes up a significant amount of space -- perhaps tiny or smaller takes negligible space and all tiny items of the same type occupy the same space so long as the total weight is 20 lbs. or less, then a couple of small items (maybe 7 max) take up 1 slot, medium items take up 2 slots, and large or larger items take up 3 slots [maybe more if you have multiple containers of the same type] -- even if the item itself is less than 20 lbs.

    In spite of this suggestion though, I still use everything in abstract form, starting with 3 containers baseline as mentioned earlier :) It's more fun that way :p

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  8. kirin robinson's cleaned up rappan athhuk item tracker:
    https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-aKzgM3OCpBQ/UQ1piqpZRJI/AAAAAAAADwQ/8Nr0KgyEhNc/s991/RA_EquipmentSheet_v01.jpg

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  9. Do you mind if I use this in a game I'm working on? I've made a few changes, mainly the number of slots (basing it partially on Strength and other factors) and including two-slot items (like one-handed weapons, since two-handed are 3 slots in my version).

    The armor system is also different since the system offers piecemeal armor, but translates to roughly the same thing if you wear a full set of light/medium/heavy armor.

    I'd really appreciate it.

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    1. Sure, just give us credit for the initial idea. Send me a link when you release it, too, I'd love to see it.

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