Saturday, November 16, 2019

Oft Ignored Encumbrance

It's time for me to start paying better attention to encumbrance rules. Ever since the beginnings of my D&D play with the Basic Set, I've more often than not eyeballed or flat out ignored encumbrance rules.

Time for that to change. Yes, keeping track of the weight of every arrow carried is tedious. But there is a purpose.

Several sessions ago, the party discovered another magic shield. Now, in my TSR house rules, I have small and large shields (+1 and +2 to AC, respectively, and yes, if you don't remember I use ascending AC). The shield was in the Caves of Chaos, written with Basic D&D rules, where a shield is a shield is a shield. The players asked if it was large or small, and since the rules assumed a +1 shield bonus, I said a small one.

The players discussed. If a magical small shield +1 has the same mechanical benefit of a non-magical large shield, what's the point?

And at the time, I didn't think of the fact that magic armor is MUCH lighter. That allows you to move faster or carry more treasure. I really just remembered that rule this morning.

But the magic armor being lighter only makes a difference if the DM is enforcing movement rates based on encumbrance. Something I've NEVER been in the habit of doing. I've almost always gone with the simple abstraction presented in the Basic Book of basing it by the armor type worn. And I'm also not always the best at making sure the characters are hindered by carrying capacity limits.

It's one of those areas of the game which is "not fun" but the logistical challenges of extracting wealth from subterranean ruins is worth the hassle. In one play-by-post game I'm running, I do have the players worry about encumbrance and logistics, and it's worth the effort. Pool of Radiance is also forcing me to deal with encumbrance.

Time for me to step up my game.


  1. Encumbrance matters for only two things. Movement speed and how much loot can be carried. Abstract everything else. Just track how treasure each character is carrying, assume fixed amount for "gear". Cross index with armor worn to get speed.

    From my rules. (Won't format well). Have only three armors; light, med, heavy AC7,5,3 weighing 10,20,40.

    Lbs of Treasure Carried per Character†
    Move Porter Leather∗ Chain∗ Plate∗
    40" 40 - - -
    30" 60 10 - -
    20" 80 30 20 -
    10" 160 110 100 80

    ∗ Magical armor encumbers one category less.
    † It’s abstracted that adventuring characters carry 40 lbs. of gear. Characters may gain 20 lbs. carrying capacity by ditching (or leaving at base camp) their food, extra water, and camping gear. And another 20 lbs. by ditching everything else; rope, oil, tools, etc.

    1. I've been doing something like that. Start with the armor worn. If they have a normal amount of gear, just use the armor as a factor. If they are carrying treasure, drop everyone down a notch. It works, but sometimes I think a bit more granularity might be a good thing.

  2. I really like the system I've come across in some rules light games of "you can carry items equal to your strength" - usually with various little precisions around things like armor, arrows, etc. But... it's really not at all hard to track pounds of weight in AD&D style. When players need to carry 2 pounds of food a day - not to mention say a litre of water, which is a kilo or 2.2 pounds... that's 4 lbs of stuff a day and suddenly you need a muletrain and teamsters. I like that kind of hilarity but I get that people see it as bean counting.