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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How Do You Handle Encumbrance, Especially Coinage?

I know that D&D as written was intended to be as much about resource management as anything else. Really, when you think about it, 10 coins to a pound might make for easy math, but the ability to move with your loot was practically nil. You needed 40 pounds of gold just to buy a suit of plate mail.

So, of course, encumbrance was one of the first parts of the game we houseruled in high school. Not intentionally, we never discussed it, but the sheer weight of coinage made it something we just stopped counting towards weight. Heresy, I know.

Later, bags of holding and portable holes gave us an in game reason to no longer fret about coins. Drop them into an inter-dimensional space and be done with it.

Later still, we changed it to 100 coins per pound, but even that didn't satisfy.

These days, my groups trade in coins for gems, but really, who else but a gem merchant or jeweler is ever going to cash them out?

How do you handle the heavy coins of classic D&D?


  1. I've dabbled in things like banks and trade houses and letters of credit, but not consistently from campaign to campaign. Generally do the 100 coins to a pound, convert to gems or jewelry as a default.

  2. I just use common sense about how much can be carried based on its size, weight, and shape. Also: who are these fools carrying sacks of huge gold coins? When you want to transport wealth you use gems.

  3. Chests. Lots of large, heavy chests, and porters to carry them. All the time.

  4. Thees days I feel slot based management seems to work the best with 200 coins filling a slot (characters have as many equipment slots as they have points of Strength, past that they are encumbered). 1/10th of a pound coins are and have always been bonkers and tracking encumbrance by 1/10th of a pound units just darned silly in the nitpick-ingest fashion imaginable.

  5. Your post allows me to digress a bit into two topics:
    1) encumbrance, yes
    2) fantasy economics and the gold piece standard.

    #1. This weekend I'm about to try an encumbrance system inspired by LOTFP. I hope it is the right balance of math and hand waving. Basically, PCs have 25 slots to fill with 1 piece of regular sized loot (or 200 coin-sized loot) plus or minus for strength. Every 5 slots filled decreases movement rate. Armour is not doubly recorded but instead reduces maximum movement rate based on armour type. For example, a human wearing chainmail would have the following movement rates based on slots filled: 0-5 slots = MV 10*, 6-10 slots = MV 9, 11-15 slots = MV 6, 16-20 slots = MV 3, and 21-25 slots = MV 0. An unarmoured human on the other hand would have movement rates of 12/9/6/3/0. Note that the reduction due to armour only hit the maximum movement rate of 10 vs 12.

    #2. For a number of reasons I've moved from a gold piece economy to silver. At the very least, silver is lighter and more reasonable to carry. Many other people have written better on this than I - just google medieval fantasy economics. Associated with this is some head scratching about banking and gem cutting, neither of which really existed in comparable medieval economies/ societies. The large number of coins and gems that exist in fantasy RPGs presume the existence of such services at an appropriate scale. Converting down to silver makes the endeavor a bit more logically consistent but still requires magical thinking about economics.

    It's a game, right? So no big deal.

  6. Depends on the game I'm running. Most of the time I handwave the weight unless it is significant. I put a chest in game that was filled with silver, never put a amount, but we did the math and it came out that there were something like 1.2 million coins in there. The weight counted then. It was fun watching them try to figure it out.

  7. We use a slot system as well - 250 coins per slot. The slot represents both an amount of weight and an amount of bulk. How much? An abstract amount :)

  8. I playing Torchbearer right now and the way they handle carrying items and managing supplies, including the all important management of light sources and food/water sources is the best I've experienced. (Of course if you are running regular high fantasy D&D light sources don't matter because seemingly everyone can see in the dark) They make actually having supplies matter and, in fact, increase the tension and storytelling aspects of the game without it being difficult to track. In torchbearer you are assumed to have the most basic necessities for using your skills, i.e. if you have are a weaver, you are assumed to have the very basics for making a weaving check when repairing something, etc., thread and needle don't have to be written on your sheet. But everything else, including weapons, rations, armor, water, rope, etc. must fit within a number of slots, the same for every race/class, and that's it. If you run out of room, you cannot carry it. Everything takes up 1, 2, or 3 slots. If you really need more slots you better hire someone to help you. I'm considering porting a Torchbearer like system into everything else I play.

  9. That sounds ridiculous! Hold ten coins in your hand. Do ten pennies weigh a pound? Do ten dimes? Ten quarters?

    Its simplification to say 100 coins equal 1 pound but that's pretty much how I rule it. I spend more time wondering how long it takes the characters to count the coins because I've timed multiple players and it averages out to about 75 to 100 coins per minute and if they find, say, 2000 copper coins well that's 20 minutes for one person to count, which is 2 potential wandering monsters spilling into the room while they're wasting time counting all those coins!

  10. Hey, I have a specific post on this issue! (http://d20to3d6.blogspot.com/2015/06/jdims-joint-dungeon-inventory.html)

    In brief, instead of trying to track weight, I split items into 'small' and 'large' items and then call characters encumbered based on how many they're carrying. 100 coins is a small item; five small items are a large item.

    I like this balance, because it means a character can carry 500 gp before having to deal with negative effects from encumbrance. That's enough to have some real worth, especially at low levels, but it's also little enough that smart dungeoneers will prioritize other forms of treasure according to the old chant, "Gems Jewels Magick! Gems Jewels Magick!"

  11. Great discussion. I'm a day late because I got drunk yesterday while working on a riding mower, sorry. The blade won. The spindle lost.

    I agree with several posters above. First: the silver standard is entirely applicable and realistic in my view. Second: adventurers learn to estimate everything, quickly, or they die. No one counts 2,000 coins down in a deep dark cave-warren. You estimate, bind wounds and stagger the (expletive) out and count later, like a purse thief.

    And I was away from the game for so long my new crop of pc's hasn't had to confront anything weighty yet. Of course I forgot to pack an extra bowstring . . .