Simplified Encumbrance

Last Updated:  181101,200704

Most groups find using Encumbrance … encumbering. Tracking encumbrance adds a lot of details to calculate and keep track of. While some players love that level of detail, other players find encumbrance a lot of fiddly tracking. Yet encumbrance becomes particularly relevant when there’s a large quantity of loot to haul off!

Encumbrance integrates with a lot of other rules. The Dexterity Reaction/Attacking bonus negates segments of surprise. Any physical restriction or heavy encumbrance prevents casting Somatic spells (10% failure if only bulky clothing). Thief-Acrobats can’t function when encumbered. Encumbrance limits movement.

Yet for something so integrated, it’s defined poorly. Carrying capacities aren’t well defined. The encumbrance tables don’t include many standard items. Encumbrance isn’t helped by the DMG and the PHB using different and confusing Gygaxian vocabulary: “not encumbered” vs. “not Encumbered” vs. “unencumbered” vs . “Encumbered”.

What I wanted was an easy-to-use, adaptable, streamlined solution—one that suits both types of player. Below is a generic encumbrance system, permitting a rapid assessment of encumbrance for everyone. The generic system ends up slightly heavier than standard encumbrance calculations, so the players who wish to go the extra mile gain a minor benefit.

First, let’s define the various encumbered states (modified by STRENGTH bonus):

Swimming <=20 lbs, and/or leather armor.
≤ 8# (+STR modifier) Unencumbered.
>= 9#-35# (+STR modifier) Normal/Light Encumbrance: As gear weight with no great bulk. Leather. No limit on movement.
≥ 35-70#  (+STR modifier) Moderate Encumbrance: As gear weight and/or fairly bulky. Other armors. 9” max movement.
≥ 70-105# (+STR modifier) Heavy Encumbrance:  As gear weight and/or bulky. Scale, splint, plate mail. 6” max movement.
>105-150# (+STR modifier) Severe / Encumbered: As gear weight  and/or very bulky, or swimming in magic armor (dog paddle only). 3” max movement. No DEX bonus and +2 AC. Cannot charge.


Both gear weight and the bulk— whichever is more limiting—defines encumbrance, e.g.  regardless of the Strength of a PC wearing non-magical plate mail, they are heavily encumbered, and have their movement restricted.

At a simple level, the capacity for various storage devices: Pouch (5 lbs), Backpack (40 lbs), Small Sack (20 lbs), Large Sack(60 lbs). Individual weights thus aren’t necessary, simply decide what could fit in a pouch, backpack, or sack, using the encumbrance values as guidelines.

Generic encumbrance values:

  • 0#: clothes, normal spell components, thieves picks and tools, helmet (considered part of armor)
  • 5#: full pouch, weapon (2 daggers=1 weapon, bow + arrows=2 weapons, grapnel=1 weapon, 2-handed=2 weapons)
  • 5#: Shield: Small or normal(non-)
  • 10#: large (bulky) shield (magical has no bulk but is not lighter)
  • 15/30/45# : Leather/chain mail/plate (weight halved if magical, and one better on bulk)
  • 35#: Backpack with spell book or “standard” adventuring gear (includes dagger, ¾ full)

PCs by DMG definition are capable of carrying 150 lbs, adjusted by Strength.   Example stats for the character sheet of a PC with 16 STR (+35 lbs), carrying 45 lbs:

U<=35/L<70/M<105/H<140/E<185: 45 lbs.

providing a handy reference when the data is needed. A quick review of the few weapons and the default weight of each of the storage capacities carried by a character defines current encumbrance.


Author: Rick

A DM for *mumble* years, I've been playing AD&D since junior high. I've currently got two separate campaigns running, both in Mystara. I've been told when they handed out hobbies, I stood in the short lines. I actively cycle tour, kayak, play board games, read, develop home automation software, play Stars!, volunteer with the International and National American Red Cross, and work on a never-ending stream of home repairs. In my wake I've left paintball, medieval full-contact combat (SCA), computer gaming, Heroclix, and kite construction.

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