Handling Minutia in D&D

Posted on : 10-28-2010 | By : Brian | In : D&D, House Rules



There are a number of things in D&D that I hand-wave because they’re too fiddly for their own good, and because they don’t add much to the fun of the game except in very specific circumstances. There are ways to handle these elements, though, that stay somewhat truer to their intent than ignoring them, but still allow for enough abstraction at the table that you aren’t bogged down accounting for every arrow, pound, or ration.

Encumbrance was really the first thing to go when I started playing D&D. Adding up the total weight that you’re carrying every time you make a change to your inventory just isn’t that much fun, and I’m not convinced that it adds all that much to the game. Occasionally weight will become important, such as when the party is schlepping a giant, solid-gold statue, or when they’re crossing a rickety rope bridge, or when the party’s rogue is trying to haul the clumsy fighter up over the lip of a cliff that he just failed to climb over; in those cases, I do a sort of quick-and-dirty weight assessment, looking mainly at the big things that a player has in his inventory and guesstimating weight based on that.

If you want space limitations to be an issue, there’s a quick fix that you can use. Note that the kernel of this idea is borrowed from Mouse Guard, which in turn probably borrowed the idea from games like Diablo. The idea is that you have a certain number of lines for inventory on your character sheet, you can write one item on each line, and once you’re out of lines you can’t carry any more.

There are ways to modify this system and make it a little bit more robust for D&D. For example, I’d probably expand it to say that magic items in your item slots (head, neck, rings, etc.) don’t take up space in your inventory area. I might also limit you to a certain number of “big” items (like suits of armor) equal to your Strength bonus (again, not including worn items). I might also allow for a “stacking” mechanic, whereby small items of the same or similar types (like potions or ammunition) can occupy the same line in your inventory, provided you don’t go over a certain cap. Finally, I’d allow for items like a bag of holding or a handy haversack to add additional lines to your inventory, making those items considerably more useful.

Ammunition is another rule that I mostly ignore. There’s an archer ranger in my group, and we don’t worry too much about how many arrows he has; arrows are so cheap that I have no problem assuming that he’s replenishing his supply in town whenever he’s there, or making his own for that matter, and tracking individual arrows doesn’t make the game any more fun for anyone. When it comes to the fighter’s throwing hammers, I’m a little more inclined to keep track, but that’s a slightly different case.

If you’re keen on the idea of the ranger running out of arrows at a dramatic moment, but you don’t want to force him to track his ammo, there’s a way you can do that fairly easily. This is a combination of the ammo rules from Gamma World (which I haven’t yet read) and the weapon breakage rules from Dark Sun (which I also haven’t yet read).

The idea is that, if you use a ranged weapon (not a thrown weapon, which I’d be more inclined to track normally), such as a bow, crossbow, or sling, you have an item called “arrows”, “bolts”, or “bullets”, depending on what you’re using. You either have this item or you don’t, and as long as you have it you can use your ranged weapon as much as you want to. Whenever you roll a natural 1, though, you have a choice: keep the result, or re-roll it and run out of ammo. This has the benefit of allowing the ranger to run out of arrows, but putting the decision largely in that player’s hands.

Because arrows, bolts, and bullets are so cheap, and because it’s reasonable to assume that someone who relies heavily on such a weapon would know how to fashion his or her own ammunition, I’d probably allow a player to replenish his ammunition during a short rest, provided he had reasonable access to materials (including expended but salvageable ammunition strewn about the battlefield, and ammunition taken from enemies’ corpses).

Rations and Overland Travel
I generally don’t worry about whether or not the PCs have enough food and supplies to get them from point A to point B. Similarly, I also usually just improvise a time frame for travel; often the destination is the point, and the journey is just flavor text between story points. However, sometimes it’s useful to track these things. I’m going to be starting a segment of my campaign soon that allows for a more “open world” approach to the game, and the PCs are going to be somewhat stranded in an environment that is somewhat hostile. It increases the drama to threaten them with things like starvation and exposure, but I don’t necessarily want them to track how much water they have, how much food they have, and whether or not they have firewood or flint and steel.

Instead, I’m using a mechanic that borrows from both Dark Sun and from Gabriel’s campaign notes over at Penny Arcade. I’ve taken the overland map of the area that this part of the campaign takes place in, and overlayed a hex map on top of it. I’ve decided that, in a given day, the party has three movement points, each of which will take them through one hex on the map. Challenging or rough terrain, such as mountains, requires an additional hex of travel to enter, while a road allows them to move one additional hex for free.

In order to replenish their movement points, the party has to take an extended rest; when they take an extended rest, they use up one day of survival gear per person. Now, survival gear can be replenished in a couple of ways. First, they can buy it in town; typically a day of survival gear will cost about 5 gold pieces, though this price may go up in smaller towns or towns that are hostile to the PCs. They can also hunt for survival gear. Doing so requires a Nature check (or a similar skill, if justification can be made) with a DC depending on the surrounding area. Success gets one day of survival gear per person participating in the foraging (multiple people can participate using the Aid Another rules), plus one additional day (total, not per person) for every 5 points by which the check exceeded the DC. Hunting has a cost, though; it costs time, represented by the fact that hunting and foraging reduces the party’s movement points for that day by one. If the party fails the check, they can try again, at the cost of another movement point.

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