Sandboxing... There Must be and Easier Way?

Ok, so my players just recently bought (stole) a bunch of animals and supplies to go out into the scary desert. Now, because food, water, and weight are at such a premium, I made them track the weight on their animals, their own weight, all the gear, etc.

It took a long time and made us easily see why this stuff gets handwaved so often.

So, seriously, how could I have done it better? How could I have made it easier, or is the sort of book-keeping normal and par for the course for sandboxing?

Ha, ha, almost literal sandboxing there, amirite? Seriously, though, there isn’t a much better way to do it. When the conditions are a part of the adventure (or even an obstacle) then one has to track resources like you did.

for encumbrance on animals, I assume that a person is like a “worn” item the same way players can ignore worn clothing. that way nobody has to be concerned with how much they weigh.

it’s somewhat painful, but i think the reduction to measurement by stone turns it into easy enough chunks to manage. if you don’t like fiddling each day, you might try (assuming they can safely reach their destination) just trying to come up with a ballpark given the distance traveled.

I like to use coins and index cards. Mark each card with a ten boxes, mark the break points for light vs. medium or heavy load, then put coins on and take them off the boxes to represent how much each is carrying. Some notes on this approach:

- For individuals, one coin can equal one stone. However you may find it easier to make a card that represents everyone with a similar equipment package, so that one might be "Fighter Sam and twelve mercenaries in chainmail". Here you'd cross out the first six boxes (which is accounted for by their armor and gear), and note that each coin put onto this card actually equals 13 stone worth of food, water, treasure (since it represents 13 people).

- For animals, carts, and wagons, even if you track each invidually, you might want to make each coin represent more than one stone. For example, a large cart pulled by one cart can carry 80 stone at 60' or 160 stone at 120'. Here I might make the card have 16 boxes, and note that each coin on here represents 10 stone. (Having these coins be dimes makes this easier to make sense of!)

I think it is worth, at the beginning of the wilderness travel, calculating and talking about how many days of food the players are bringing and what encumbrance load that puts them at. You might also calculate if there is a point where using up some amount of this will cause them to move faster. Then you can not worry about it again until they either lose some animals/wagons/henchmen and need to redistribute, or find some treasure and want to add to their loads. In my experience no wilderness travel does not involve one or both of these things, so the pain of making up the little cards will be redeemed.


Here's where I stole the idea from - thanks to the G+ OSR community for reminding me!

The problem that I immediately saw with that was that the party ranged from 90lbs wizards in cloth all the way up to 220lbs lizardmen in plate armor. That’s really a weight discrepency that you cannot easily ignore…

I like the idea, but my group has about 23+ members, and 40 animals. That’s a heck of a lot of table space to lay out coins and cards and what not.

Or am I missing something simple about this?

Hmm… I’d say split it up into 3 categories:

  1. PCs + henchmen

  2. Hirelings

  3. Pack Animals

  4. PCs’ and henchmen’s gear is tracked normally

  5. Hirelings - assume they’ll each carry their armor and weapons only (if there are truly several pack animals, then I think it’s fair to tell the players for the purpose of sanity, the hirelings won’t carry any unnecessary extra burdens).

  6. Pack Animals - break them up into like groups (Ex: horse x4, camels x 10). Count each group as 1 “NPC” with a collective total carrying capacity.

Assign all gear not carried by the PCs/henchmen to one of the animal groups and assume that it is distributed between the respective animals as evenly as possible.

I would also calculate the overall water & food consumption of the entire group per day ahead of time (i.e. not during the session), including 1 day’s worth of food/water in stone. Then, instead of listing each ration, skin of water, etc, just lump it into its own “item” called “daily food” or something. My players did this once when I ran an overland journey adventure a while back and it worked quite well.

For example, I had 4 players with 2 henchmen all of which had horses. They wanted to bring enough food for a 14-day journey, and so assumed 1 ration x 6 characters = 1 day of food. Instead of each player tracking food individually, one player listed the food on a scrap piece of paper as 14 days of food, and just ticked one off for each day of travel. We assumed that the food was kept on/with the horses, so they would not have to track it on their PCs.

Hope that all makes sense. Good luck.

“However you may find it easier to make a card that represents everyone with a similar equipment package”

Basically, you need to “zoom out” and start tracking things perhaps in units of 10 or 100 stone with similar humans and animals. Of course, if all 23 of your members are unique snowflakes, your players are inflicting this difficulty upon themselves. Even then, you could, for example, figure out how many stone of food and water the party consumes per day and turn that into your base “unit” and then measure all of your other stuff relative to that unit.

you would count their gear, which includes armor, among the animal’s weight, so a plate-wearer would have added 6 stone to the mount’s load. As for the rider themselves, the problem I see with measuring cosmetic, arbitrary things like personal weight is the same problem as if you were tracking “worn” clothes. If the weight of your clothes mattered, everyone would say they’re naked except for their armor. If you say weight matters for horses everyone will be as thin and guant as you’ll let them be. Meanwhile, things like armor, weapons, and supplies all have a tradeoff where the extra weight provides you with some potential benefit.

Assuming the lizardman is 220lbs before putting on his armor, stone is a general weight that covers 10 to 14 lbs. best case scenario, the wizard is 9 stone and the lizard is 15 stone, a difference of 6 stone which is a little less than 1/3rd the light load of a light horse. if those are your two extremes, then just allow for between 1 and 6 stone to cover especially heavy riders.

What I have done when dealing with large groups in the past is to use the following system:

1. Calculate the group's total load from their adventuring equipment plus travel supplies.

2. Assume that the group is evenly distributing load in a smart and efficient way and divide total load by number of party members to work out average encumbrance.  Use this to determine the group's wilderness movement rate. 

3. Use the average value to know how much weight they can pick up or shed before changing movement rate.

This does create the possibility that a particularly laden fighter (say, in Plate Armor + Shield + Spear + Longbow) may have an average encumbrance that's lower than his actual total encumbrance. In most cases you can assume he's not wearing/carrying his cuirass all the time, sometimes riding on his horse, etc. If they have a surprise wilderness encounter, you can worry about it then, otherwise it won't come up. 

EXAMPLE: A party of 10 characters goes on a wilderness expedition. Their adventuring gear works out to 60 stone total, for an average of 6 stone per PC. They have 1 weeks' food and drink each (7 stone each), bringing them up to 13 stone per PC. They will move at 30' per turn, or 6 miles per day. After 3 days, they've consumed 3 stone each, putting them at 10 stone each, increasing speed to 60' per turn, 12 miles per day.

If mounts are used:

1. Calculate the group's total load from their adventuring equipment plus travel supplies, including the mounts' supplies. Mounts use 4 stone per day in supplies in the desert.

2. Load up the mounts to half encumbrance first

3. Then divide the remaining weight among the adventurers up to 10 stone

4. Then divide the remaining weight among the mounts up to max encumbrance.

5. Then divide the remaining weight among the party.

6. The party's movement rate is the lesser of the mount's or the party's. It will usually be 60'.

EXAMPLE: The party of 10, above, brings 5 mules with them. Mounts use 4 stone of food and drink per day. 1 week of food and drink for adventurers and mount will weigh (1st/day x 7 days x 10 adventurers)+(4st/day x 7 days x 5 mules) = 70 + 140 = 210 stone. Add 60 stone for adventuring gear to get 270 stone.  

Each mule can carry 20 stone or 40 stone loaded. So the 5 mules are initially assigned (20 x 5) 100 stone at light encumbrance. That leaves 170 stone. Therefore each adventurer is assigned to carry 10 stone. That leaves (170 - 10x10) 70 stone. The 5 mules each carry (70/5=14) 14 more stone, for a total of 34 each.

The party's movement rate is 60' per turn, or 12 miles per day, e.g. twice as fast as the party that didn't bring mules.


Interesting. Thanks for that Alex. How much food does a camel need (4*human I assume). Also how do you deal with riding animals? They got mounts in part to move faster than their tanking would normally allow. Would you count rider’s weight against them?

Yes. In honor of Car Wars (each human weighs 150lbs), I've always treated each rider as weighing 15 stone!

Note that historically, infantry and cavalry move at about the same rate across long distances in cases where the cavalry can't forage from the land, because the weight of supplies for the cavalry ends up being so heavy.