House Rule: Dungeon Logistics & Supply Bundles


Encumbrance, Dungeon Exploration Logistics, and Combat

When exploring a dungeon, unless you have enough porter hirelings to carry them, you are assumed to put most of your most encumbering items (including Supply Bundles) into a pile while you explore carefully, returning to move them forward after scouting ahead. Encumbering items carried during exploration may reduce your movement rate and possibly impact your ability to react to surprises such as traps.

In combat, each encumbering item you carry (other than Armor, Shields, and a Weapon being used) imposes a cumulative -1 penalty to AC, and Attack and Damage rolls. You may use the first round that you are not Surprised to carefully drop all carried encumbering items, but may not move or attack while doing so.

For easy reference on your character sheet, mark items that you only carry during overland travel and leave outside of dungeons with a "T", items that you leave in the supply pile with a "P", and items you always have on you even during combat with a "C".

Supply Bundles

A Supply Bundle can contain 9 to 30 “faces” in any combination of Supply Usage Dice. Track the composition of your Supply Bundle with one of these cards. These bundles usually take the form of an over-shoulder sack or bag distinct from your Pack (which carries more specific items and is not encumbering unless "full"). Each bundle counts as an Encumbering Item. 8 or fewer total faces can simply fit into a Pack among other items. A D4 can fit on a belt in a pouch or small bundle.

Supplies & Usage Dice

Common supplies are tracked with Usage Dice. These are dice from D4 to D20 which correspond to the approximate amount of that supply you have. The Usage Die for a type of Supply is rolled when a normal amount of it is used. On a result of 1 or 2, the Usage Die steps down one size, or, when on a D4, you are out of that supply.

Supply Types

Fuel: Roll when any portable light source gutters out to replace it (approximately once an hour).
Rations: Roll before a long rest and/or after a phase of travel (~8 hours), and during short rests (only once for the whole party).
Ammunition: Roll after firing a missile weapon.
Medicants: Roll when First Aid or other medical treatment is performed.
Miscellany: Roll for materials for simple repairs, or other incidentals such as an iron spike, a short length of cord, a small pot of grease, or other items as the GM deems reasonable. If there is disagreement, perhaps allow an Intelligence or Wisdom check to have a specific item on hand.

Man with Bag (aka Market Wallet or Martebo Sack) - Duparc Fran├žoise

Conceptual Status: Seems To Works In My Game

Commentary

By default, most games assume all of the party's possessions are carried on their person at all times, with the occasional exception of pack animals during overland travel. For campaigns that emphasize resource management, separating the party from the bulk of their supplies adds a bit of verismilitude, and a gameplay dynamic I haven't really seen before in RPGs.

In addition to the advantages of Usage Dice (which I won't detail here since you're probably already familiar, but can be summed up as highlighting the tension of running out of materials earlier than expected while simultaneously reducing the tedious accounting required), I think tracking a pile of supplies separate from the party while exploring has these benefits & effects:
  • It naturally creates difficult choices, and the risk of getting separated from your supplies. 
    • Do you cling tightly to your supplies, but compromise your ability to avoid traps and fight?
    • When descending on a rope, do you keep the Bundle on you, perhaps imposing a penalty to climbing checks, or do you leave it at the top and risk getting separated from it?
    • If you need to flee, do pick up your pack on the way to save precious supplies, or stay unladen to hasten your retreat?
  • It helps clear up the dissonance between having enough supplies for a dungeon expedition, but not being awkwardly encumbered by a heavy backpack when combat begins.
  • It helps justify the traditionally slow pace of dungeon exploration, since it adds the necessity of returning to the pile and move it forward.
  • Leaving the pile behind makes it vulnerable to inhabitants of the dungeon, giving you an additional way to threaten them and cause resource attrition. They might learn to carry a bit of Fuel on their person at all times.
  • It creates additional incentive to pay non-combatant porters to follow you, another reason to engage in the dynamic of hirelings.

This house rule assumes an encumbrance system similar to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, where only "significant items" count towards encumbrance. I think the concept may still be suitable for a system which takes an even more "lightweight" approach to encumbrance, by making the supply bundles explicitly encumbering in a way that other items and containers are not. In fact this may be even more impactful than in an LotFP style encumbrance system...

In My Campaign

In Tolmenwode Tales, my ongoing campaign of ~25 sessions so far, the first third of which were dungeon delving, there have been a few situations where the separation between the party and their supplies came into play. They usually involved tension around whether the party could retrieve their supplies if they needed to retreat from a charged situation. And there was at least one instance of a PC wanting to produce an item that would be in their Supplies during combat, which they could not access since it was in the pile a room back. We haven't done a huge amount of dungeon delving, but I look forward to more of these interesting situations in the future.

As GM, it was somewhat easy to forget this regime during play, but it wasn't that big a deal to suddenly remember it was a factor in the current situation; it's something the players should be accounting for anyhow. Describing returning to the pile to move it forward can be elided after the first few times. I think the dynamic it adds is worth the occasional hiccup.

Supply Bundles using Usage Dice pairs well with a Hazard Die type system, where every one or two Turns, it may indicate light sources gutter out, or the party needs to rest and consume a ration. I use a version of this in Tolmenwode Tales.

Related Resources

There are a bunch of recent posts and hacks for inventory management recently. Here's a partial compilation:

Usage Dice were popularized by their inclusion in The Black Hack. David Black also has some good reflections on what makes them good and when not to use them.

Brendan at Necropraxis covers some good inventory management/bookkeeping alternatives in his State of the Art post.

Anne Hunter at DIY & Dragons made a few great posts on resource management in her consistently great analytical style.


I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!

2 comments:

  1. Hey there! Where is your "upstream" reference articles for the concept of usage dice? I searched your site and only found this mention.

    I was also wondering if the article is on the Links to Wisdom Wiki and I just missed it in searching:

    https://campaignwiki.org/wiki/LinksToWisdom/All_In_One

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    1. I think they were first used with house rules long ago, but the first time I came across them myself used in a game's core rules, and I think what spurred their popularity, was in The Black Hack (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/178359/The-Black-Hack Open Game Content reproduced here: https://the-black-hack.jehaisleprintemps.net/english/).

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