Tuesday, May 8, 2018

D&D/OSR: Encumbrance Made Easy Redux

Ridiculously Encumbered PC
OK, but do you come with a cork screw?
Encumbrance is a bit of a pain in the rear, and has always been a tug of war between players and DMs, which is why most DMs hand-wave it. Players rarely track their weight, and PCs end up carrying all kinds of ridiculous equipment that apparently takes a single object interaction to get out of who knows which hole on the PC’s body.

In a previous article, I attempted to come up with a solution to the Swiss Army PC, but my players pretty quickly found the holes in the system, and I did not enforce its restrictions as I should have. Working on my BX-5 home brew rules, I’ve attempted to come up with a simpler, improved solution which can be more easily enforced.
Here’s the premise. While weight is critically important, it’s a pain to track, and an “old school” encumbrance system is really more about making combat more realistic. It’s resource management in that, some things can be carried on your body, while other things need to be in your pack or with the hirelings. Things on your body can be accessed quickly during combat. Things in your pack, take a bit longer. Even if some items don’t weigh very much, their bulk makes them awkward to carry in large numbers (such as spears, javelins, other long or large items).

So here is my newest work-in-progress solution.

Body - A PC can carry a certain number of small items (represented by “equipment slots”) attached to their armor or body. These are limited by body location and number, not weight.

Pack - A PC can carry a larger assortment of items in a pack, but this is limited by the pack’s carrying capacity. Even if a pack isn’t completely full, it’s encumbrance value adds to the PC’s total encumbrance while traveling. If a PC doed not drop their pack as an action when entering combat, all physical actions (such as attack rolls, spell attacks, physical skill checks) are performed with Disadvantage.

Body Equipment Locations

I've created an Equipment Sheet that demarks the various equipment "slots" (carrying locations) so that the PC is limited by what they can have on their body during a combat. I am also defining "bag slots" which limits how much junk you can carry in your pack.

Primary -  The PC’s primary melee or ranged weapon usually worn on the hip.
Secondary - A shield, secondary melee weapon, or ranged weapon worn on the opposite hip or with a strap.
Ammunition - A single quiver, ammo pouch, component belt, or utilized as non-ammunition bag if no ammunition is carried.
Consumables - 2 protective cases for a potions or scrolls worn on the torso for easy access.
Worn Items - Armor, Helm, Cloak, Pendant/Brooch, Bracers, Left Ring, Right Ring. Belt, Legs, and Footwear.

B/X-5 Equipment Sheet
Download the equipment sheet
This allows the PC to carry a melee and ranged weapon, or two melee weapons into combat. There is also carrying limit for ranged weapons depending upon the relative size (such as 1 spear, 2 javelins, 2 throwing hammers, 2 throwing axes, 6 daggers, or 20 arrows [quiver]).

Attempting to carry more than the base equipment into a combat scenario may impart Disadvantage and/or a movement penalty as determined by the DM. Keep in mind, this also impacts out of combat scenarios. If the PCs need to scale a cliff face or leap a chasm, they will need a plan of action for getting their gear past the obstacle as well.

Different packs or bags will have different encumbrance values depending upon size and carrying capacities (still a work in progress). Magical items like a Bag of Holding or Heward’s Handy Haversack will add their base encumbrance value to a PC (which would be lower than a standard pack of its size) but allow some additional flexibility. Unarmored spell casters may have equipment options that allow for more consumables on their person.

Final Thoughts

I believe this creates a more realistic combat situation while still giving the PCs options. The PCs have to make hard decisions about what is on their body and what gets left on the floor or on the mule when combat begins. If the players complain that they can no longer carry an RV on their backs anymore, tell them that’s why there are Hirelings and pack mules.


  1. Very nice! I see it's basically the same as the previous encumbrance method but with better and more organized wearable and body equipment.

    I like that you separated the 2 backpack straps into 1 strap and the bedroll (I'd allow the players to abdicate the bedroll for another strap at their own resting risk).

    I see you removed the bootstrap and I don't know what to think of it yet.

    What does SM, LG and BP stand for in the backpack section?

    I'm curious why you reduced the previous method for weapons (with primary/scabbard, secondary/strap and bandolier/shield) for only primary and secondary/shield choices. Do you consider three weapons or two weapons and a shield to be too much?

  2. Small sack (2 slot), Large sack (4 slot), backpack (6 slot) - I was basically trying to use a single graphic for 2, 4, or 6 spaces.

    In playing with it, the 3 weapon option seemed to give too much weight to the PCs to carry around. I was trying to streamline a bit.

    In terms of potions in the backpack, even though they are small, they need to be packed carefully, so wrapped in cloth, etc making them bulky. No more than 3 or 4 per slot. Judgement call.


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