Initiative Alternative + Knave’s Encumbrance

The Hireling from Steve Jackson’s Munchkin

I’ve been dorking with Initiative Alternatives for a while now. The Angry GM also has a great post on encumbrance and what it’s for.

To summarize (Angry’s words, not mine):

  • You want encumbrance to make players choose what to leave behind and what to bring on an adventure.
  • You want it to restrict how many supplies they can carry.
  • You want it to keep players from carrying ridiculous amounts of weapons and armor.
  • You don’t want it to stop players from getting rewards (under normal conditions).
  • You don’t want it to keep players from carrying their gear or equipment central to their character’s role.
  • You don’t want it to require so much bookkeeping that everyone just stops doing it because it’s a pain.

That’s Knave’s encumbrance to me.

(Here’s my ridiculous hack of that game, hehe. I have little shame.)


Encumbrance always seems so tacked-on to me. The litmus test for this is simple: can the game just *waves hands* work without it? If you removed the encumbrance paragraph or two, would anyone (not OSR-obsessed) notice?

So, encumbrance needs to be tied to some other system (if you want it to matter, that is). And the title gives it away. Initiative. I picked initiative instead of the often-used Movement Speed because I think movement penalties are lame. And, there’s never an incentive to carry below your limit. And yet we as people do it all the time. I move faster without carrying a 500 page textbook on campus design. I’m going to react faster in leather armor than friggin’ plate.

So that’s the goal: make encumbrance matter (especially during combat when EVERYONE is paying attention), make the penalties obvious, and codify reasons to not carry the absolute maximum. So here’s the change:

If one side has surprised the other, they take their turns first. Otherwise, all player characters roll a save and add the number of empty item slots they have. Those that succeed (roll over 15) take their turns first. Then the enemies take their turn. Then alternate sides between all the players, then the enemies.

With this, there’s more interesting choices between how much you carry around, if you should drop some items when you intuit a fight coming soon, and how much armor you should wear. If you don’t carry all your items because you use a pack mule or hireling (but I repeat myself) that’s still an interesting choice, because they become something you have to protect. If it generates interesting choices, that’s good enough for me.

(Also, this change doesn’t tie initiative to DEX, which Knave and Maze Rats never did, but I don’t ever want to give the DEX stat any more power. Speed kills, kids.)

The only question I haven’t answered is which stat to tie carry capacity to: STR or CON? Knave uses CON, Dungeon World, STR.

Strength, to me, has more of an active use to it, so it makes more sense for athleticism than pain tolerance to be tied to initiative. Also, there’s more variance in STR scores. No one makes CON their dump stat. But STR?

Making all the six core stats important obviously matters to me…

4 thoughts on “Initiative Alternative + Knave’s Encumbrance

  1. This is exactly what Vagabonds of Dyfed does.

    You don’t have an equipment limit, but your Speed (starts at 0, goes either to -7 or +7) goes or up down depending on how many items you are carrying. Speed is used almost exclusively for initiative.

  2. Any thoughts on how to blend this with Side Based combat? I really like both ideas but counting up slots for an entire side seems a bit much.

    1. It goes:
      -Players who roll over 15 (d20+number of empty slots)
      -All enemies
      -All players

      Repeat steps 2 and 3 until one side is defeated, retreats, or surrenders.

      I talk more about side-based here:

      If you don’t grok with that and prefer DnD-style initiative, have each player roll d20+number of empty slots. Have each monster roll d20+level. Go from highest to lowest. But I ask that you read that article before you do and try side-based initiative. It makes things run so much smoother. And there are more reasons, which I get to in the article.

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