I firmly believe what Batey says in today’s fourth panel, that when it comes to packmules there’s basically two types of gamers: those that do and those that don’t. If you ask me, it’s not just about the mule, either. In my case, that also applies to companions, minions, mounts and pretty much any other living being that isn’t the character you’re role-playing.
It’s not a matter of encumbrance, because I like to use what I call “artistic encumbrance” rules at our gaming table. What this means is that I imagine what your character would look like if I were to draw him or her with all their equipment. If it still looks like the character could function, then we’re good to go. The rules basically just ends up as “carry anything you want as long as it’s not blatantly absurd” and it works well for us. Want to carry two huge swords with some extra daggers and throw-axes tied up here and there? Yeah, sure. That’s kind of badass. Want to carry ten greatswords? Erm… no.Well, at least not if you’re playing an average humanoid.
There’s plenty of exceptions to this rule, of course. Like, if the weight of the object is actually important, or if the inconvenience of carrying the object is relevant to the story I’m trying to build. But beyond that, I’ve found that whenever encumbrance rules are enforced in a strict manner sessions become something akin to math games, always checking to see how much I can add and what in my inventory I can subtract in order to not go over my max.
When I played a wheezy mage with no stamina in Skyrim, I’d spend half my time doing exactly that. Eventually my game became something like electrocute everything in sight, loot by balancing value and weight, use my companion as a packmule, fast-travel to every store in Skyrim and sell until they run out of money, fast-travel home and stash whatever I can use later, then fast-travel to stores where 2 days have passed since I started fast-traveling to sell a bit more, then get back to adventuring. A couple of kills later, start the traveling merchant thing all over again. If the good people of Skyrim were waiting for the new and mysterious Dovahkiin hero to save them from Alduin, in my case they probably had to wait decades for it to happen. It’s no wonder almost everybody in that place looks so old. I’m glad I played my mage as an elf, too, because otherwise I would’ve died of old age long before I even got around to learning Dragonrend.
Since mages are a bit over-powered in the game, I eventually had to abandon my companion because I got tired of her dying every time I shocked my enemies with chain lightning. It didn’t matter much in any case, because at that point I felt like Palpatine yelling ULTIMATE POWER!. The game ended up being a lot shorter than I thought it would be and I barely used the shouts at all, since my magic could pretty much disintegrate anything that crossed my path with my electrical powers.
When I was done, I found myself reflecting upon my game and thinking that perhaps that wasn’t the way the game was meant to be played. So I started over, made a Nord, and decided that I’d specialize in dual-wielding. In the first town I went to I talked for a while with the blacksmith and eventually embarked on a quest to be the best Blacksmith in Skyrim. As for carrying loot, I push a lot of my level-gains into stamina, so I don’t worry about weight that much anymore. Fighting is a lot more fun and I have barely even touched the main quest. I’m already at a higher level than I was during my first play-through with the mage, and Alduin can rape the entire population of Skyrim for all I care.
I believe something along the lines of “but I digress” applies here.
So what I’m trying to say is, I find that our gaming sessions are a lot more fun when we worry about adventuring, combat and Michael-Baying the crap out of the game. There’s explosions, incredible stunts, awesome magic and lots of laughs. My players have ridden dragons, battled demons on a bridge that was just a couple of feet wide high above a river of lava, murdered celestials at the top of a tower so high it connected two separate planes and even run across the rooftops of Sygil, escaping from a giant razor vine monster. None of these things is possible with a mule. And none of these things is fun if you’re worried about how much your swords will keep you from being able to perform your next Dex check.
So yeah, in conclusion: screw encumbrance.