I have a confession to make. I have a strange obsession with fixing the rules that people seem to completely ignore when playing Dungeons & Dragons. Stuff like Ammunition, Rations, and the subject of today’s post: Encumbrance.
Encumbrance is one of those rules that sounds important for a game about adventurers exploring ancient ruins to collect massive amounts of treasure, but is unfortunately ignored by so many groups because the rules associated with it tend to be complicated and tedious to use while in play.
The variant rules for Encumbrance presented upon pg. 176 of the Player’s Handbook (5e) are headed in the right direction, creating penalties that are both easy to remember and apply during the game. The part where I feel they stumbled is still attempting to go the simulationist route of tracking actual weight. Trying to calculate actual weight off the cuff during the game is a hassle, causing you to have to look of the weight of various items, juggle some rather large numbers in your head, and do this in a timely manner so the pacing of the game will not be disrupted too much.
I think the key to making Encumbrance work is to make the rules more abstract, thereby making them much easier to utilize at the table. Keeping that in mind, I’d like to present my solution to the issue.
Characters have a Carrying Capacity equal to 1/2 their Strength Score, rounded down. They may carry a number of major items below or equal to their Carrying Capacity without incurring any penalty.
Characters carrying a number of major items in excess of this amount, but below double their Carrying Capacity, are Encumbered. Characters who are Encumbered decrease their speed by 10 feet.
Characters carrying a number of major items in excess of double their Carrying Capacity are Heavily Encumbered. Characters who are Heavily Encumbered decrease their speed by 20 feet and have disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution.
When using this rule, ignore the Strength column of the Armor Table in Chapter 5 of the Player’s Handbook (5e).
In this version of the Encumbrance rules, you do not track every single item you’re carrying. Instead, you will focus on “major items”, which are listed below. This is the basic list. DMs can add to it as they see fit.
- Armor, Weapons, and Shields.
- Magic Items
- Bundled Items (20 Ammunition, 10 Rations, 200 Coins, etc.)
- Containers (Backpacks, Quivers, etc.)
I’ll also add an example for what this would look like in play. Lauren’s character Althea has a Strength of 16. This means she would have a Carrying Capacity of 8 (1/2 of 16). She is currently carrying a longsword, a shield, a suit of full plate, 200 coins, a shortbow, a quiver with 20 arrows, and a backpack.
This is equal to her Carrying Capacity, but does not exceed it, so she suffers no penalty. However, Althea would become Encumbered if she were to get one more major item, reducing her speed by 10 feet.
Like I mentioned previously, these rules abstract the idea of Encumbrance in order to make it more functional at the table. Instead of dealing with actual weight, you’re working with much smaller numbers and only worrying about a small handful of items. I admit these rules do hurt those characters who tend to have low Strength scores, like Sorcerers or Wizards. If that becomes an issue in your game, try changing the Carrying Capacity to be equal to the character’s Strength score instead of half of it.
((NOTE ~ This is a revised post, based upon a previous one I made last year on the old blog)).