Dungeons & Delvers: Abstract Encumbrance System (Also Armored Wizards)

I remember 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons tried justifying wizards not being able to even wear armor at all, by claiming that armor would prevent them from performing various gestures, and they wouldn't know how to wear it properly or use it effectively.

That's pretty silly given that you can just not wear gauntlets if hand-and-finger gestures would be a problem, someone else can just suit you up, and even if you didn't know how to use it effectively surely being encased in plate would provide some benefit, right?

3rd Edition was a bit more reasonable about it, allowing you to wear armor but suffering a spell failure chance based on the armor worn, albeit only for spells with gestures, though again if that's an issue you could just not wear the gloves/gauntlets.

4th Edition imposed no arcane-magic specific penalty at all, and often it was a good idea to pick up proficiencies in the lighter armors because you could use your full Intelligence modifier for Armor Class. 5th Edition only prohibits you from casting spells when wearing armor you aren't proficient with, which I guess applies even to divine spells, but it's still odd given that some spells only have verbal components.

In Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book wizards can wear armor, it's just that the penalties can get so absurd that there's basically no reason to bother. But I want to move away from that, and make it so that if wizards want to, they can, and it can even be a good idea (especially if you don't pick up Abjurer talents). The main factors would be proficiency and Strength.

What we've decided on is that anyone can gain proficiency in light armor by spending a skill point, and each skill point grants proficiency in the next rank up: reinforced light, medium, reinforced medium, etc. This means a wizard would need to spend six skill points to hit reinforced heavy, which would include plate and similar types of armor.

The next thing you gotta keep in mind is weight.

We've been working on an abstracted weight system, something like Dungeon World except the weights make more sense. The current guideline is that roughly every 10 pounds equals a "stone". Typical characters can carry 5 + Strength stones, no problem. You can carry up to twice that amount, but your Speed gets reduced and you suffer a penalty to Armor Class, checks, saves that require movement, etc.

If you go over double, but not over triple, the Speed reduction and penalties are increased again, and you can't go over triple unless you're dragging things about (made easier by using a cart).

The good news is that the effective weight of armor is reduced by 1 stone when worn, because the weight is distributed across your body. The bad news is that even then plate weighs 5 stones, which for a low-Strength wizard could put them into being encumbered right then and there before we start factoring in the rest of your gear.

But if you got the stats and spend the skill points you can do it, and there aren't any other restrictions or penalties to your magic. Instead, fighters, paladins, and similar classes get a bonus to Armor Class when wearing armor. They can also choose a talent that reduces the overall skill check penalty and weight, so they can have an easier time of it.

Doing the math a typical 1st-level fighter will be lightly encumbered in full armor and gear: the presumption is that during combat they'll ditch their packs, or even leave their packs somewhere near the dungeon entrance. Or hire someone to carry their stuff, giving some extra reasons to have hirelings on call.

So to sum up: wizards will be able to wear armor without getting hammered by penalties (at least no more than anyone else), and it'll be very useful (so long as they aren't going down the Abjurer tree), but fighters and similar classes will get a bit more out of it, which will hopefully satisfy anyone concerned about "game balance" and the like.

What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Got a tweak that will make it better? An entirely better set of mechanics for abstract encumbrance we should be taking a look at? What sort of stuff do you dislike about abstract encumbrance systems?

You can now get a physical copy of Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book in whatever format you want (the PDF is also on sale on DriveThru)! We've also released the first big supplement for it, Appendix D, so pick that up if you want more of everything.

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  2. In White Wolf's Scarred Lands setting for 3e / 3.5, they had an interesting justification for the armor thing. Arcane magic produced waste heat. If you were wearing armor, you'd cook. Robes had the advantage of being warm but were easy to whip off when you needed to cast. It also justified the "sorceress in a bikini" trope, for better or worse. Divine magic didn't have this issue, so clerics could wear armor.

    The setting further justified this by linking it to a plot involving the dead titan of magic, that bit isn't necessary to use the justification above. (Basically the titan, which was the source of arcane magic, had been dissipated when killed, and arcane magic itself was trying to bring him back. Every time someone cast a spell, a little bit of energy from the spell was being stolen to do that, and that generated the waste heat. So before the titan of magic had been killed, magic users *could* wear armor, but that was centuries ago.)

    1. @Kirt,

      That was from Savage Worlds? I remember hearing about that years ago and for some reason kept thinking it was from Wheel of Time.

      I guess I'm not trying to figure out ways to keep wizards out of armor, but to make it so that there's a logical cost, and if they really want to there's an upside. I don't expect to see many wizards wearing heavy armor though due to the Abjurer tree.

      But with the heat thing, how would that work against things resistant/immune to heat?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I haven't read the Wheel of Time series, so the Scarred Lands could have stolen it from them for all I know.

      Your goals are different than theirs; they were trying to make a world that made the then-current rules make sense. I just thought it was an interesting "solution." You seem happy to let wizards wear armor if it's not OP, which is also a perfectly good way to go.

    4. @Kirt,

      I don't THINK it's OP. At least right now. Maybe someone will point out some math where the wizards are just too damned good with plate. I'm trying to avoid that by not allowing most Abjurer talents stack with armor, and giving fighters a bit of a buff with armor. But so far in our games no one has even bothered to try the armored wizard.

      Maybe I'll have to give it a shot next time I play. :-P

  3. Also, regarding gestures: I always imagined that gestures could and did include full body gestures. Certainly ritual magic in real life involves more than just wiggling fingers. If one's entire body is needed, the armor restriction makes more sense, gauntlets or no.

    1. @Kirt,

      Now for THIS one what I've seen/read is that even plate armor doesn't restrict you all that much. I've been strongly considering changing it so that you get full (or at lest most) Dex to all armor, as it was in 2nd Edition. But with the numbers we have so far it could make you just insanely hard to hit.

    2. Yeah, people I know who wear plate armor (actual plate) to do LARP fighting don't seem to be less able to do gestures, even full body ones. They walk slower and it gets hot and uncomfortable as fuck, which goes back to weight and some other elements of wearing armor often abstracted into "encumbrance". Wearing X pounds of metal is different than carrying X pounds of metal in a sack; easier in some ways, harder in others.

      In the same LARP where I saw this, their rule was touching metal of any kind "grounded" magic and that's why mages didn't do it, but that led to stupidity like mages only being able to use bone cutlery. And again, your goal isn't necessarily to keep mages out of armor.

    3. @Kirt,

      That's something I've been wondering, but haven't been able to find any numbers on: about how long CAN you wear plate before it's just do much, on average? I would love to incorporate a mechanic for wearing heavier armor that forces you to take periodic rests, or penalizes you in some ways if you wear it longer than x turns at a time (x being 10 minute increments, so it's easier to track).

      I TRIED to handle the "carrying versus wearing" thing by reducing the weight when worn: carrying 50-60 pounds on your back is likely harder than wearing it across your body, but then there's a heat concern. That make sense? Am I doing it wrong? Some items will weight x, but are harder to carry (like 10-foot poles) than if you put them in a cart, for example. Trying to make things a bit more logical, without being too complicated.

      The metal thing, another thing I could see causing a conflict, is using metal implements like bracers and some wands and staves. One of the guys in our playtest campaigns actually has an iron wand that lets him use Wall of Fire.

      And yeah, not trying to. Ideally I want it to be good, but not make them tankier than fighters and such. I think we've got it in a good place, though I wouldn't mind tweaking armor numbers a bit more. I think plate might strictly speaking not be durable enough, but I don't want fighters in plate to be basically indestructible unless fighting really big monsters.

      I also don't want plate to be too much of a hassle to be useful though. Part of me just wants to say screw it, it's probably good enough! And move on to something else, like monk talents. :-P


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