Encumbrance is the foundation of all movement and time based aspects of the game session. It lets the GM and player know how much the character is carrying which in turn determines that character's movement rate which in turn determines distance traveled during a round or turn or day which determines when an encounter may happen or a resource or spell effect is used up. Remember, a party only moves as fast as it's slowest character, which can cause all sorts of trouble during a dungeon delve or wilderness journey
As you can see, there is a lot tied into encumbrance but it is often something that is glossed over and estimated throughout a session by both players and GM. There's nothing wrong with that. Players and GMs have plenty to keep track of during a session; treasures, hit points, equipment resources, NPCs, quest clues, etc., and making encumbrance just one more thing to keep track of ends up being at at the bottom of the priority list, kind of like a dump stat. But I believe that every stat or ability is important and can and should be used in a game as well as encumbrance.
Encumbrance is a dynamic resource and fluctuates often; weapons picked up, dropped or armor exchanged and treasure gathered. It changes more than most other 'managed resources' such as provisions or money spent or spells used. Usually there is no place to recalculate a character's encumbrance and therefore movement rate on a character sheet which has always caused a problem with this very important rule.
I came up with an encumbrance tracking sheet for my Swords & Wizardry campaign and used it this past session. It seemed to work out well and got all the players to constantly manage who was carrying what and how much coins one was carrying and what to drop in case of retreat and who wanted to stay spry and who didn't mind being bogged down. It brought a whole different aspect of resource management that was missing from the game. It didn't slow the game down a bit and added much more party cooperation at the table as they always thought about how weight would be divided up and ditching those 1,000 copper pieces.
No more unlimited weapons! No more chests of thousands of gold pieces, accurate wandering monster checks!
I liked it and the players didn't seem to mind.
I used the Swords & Wizardry weight and STR/movement breakdowns which you should be able to use in almost any classic style game or feel free to use this format and come up with your own with what ever game you are playing.
- Circle the armor that is being carried and used and figure the total weight in the black box.
- Circle the type of weapon(s) being carried and multiply the weight by the number of item being carried.
- General pack weight is considered to be 10 pounds which include rations, ropes flasks of oil etc. GMs and players should make exceptions to extreme items being packed and add weight accordingly using judgement call.
- Figure amount of coins being carried and divide by 10 to determine weight.
- Add Total weight and compare to character's STRENGTH in chart to determine base movement.
- Adjust weights and base movement throughout session as needed.