Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Encumbrance Consequences

I've been thinking about ENC. On one hand, encumbrance must have consequences if its to be worth tracking. On the other hand, if the consequences are crippling then it will basically preclude a choice -- carrying too much stuff is so painful that nobody will ever carry too much.

I wanted to look at ENC consequences in various systems and see how they are applied. For now I'm looking at D&D based games. It would be of value to check out other systems but for now this will suffice.


Load in Gold Pieces Equal to Light Foot Movement (12") -- 750
Load in Gold Pieces Equal to Heavy Foot Movement (9") -- 1000
Load in Gold Pieces Equal to Armd. Foot Movement (6") -- 1500

From what I can see, its just a speed penalty.


The rules are a bit complicated and spread across several sections. However, this is what I run with.


Weight (GP)*

Armor Type*


Game Mechanics

Normal Gear


12” – Subject can run quickly



Fairly Bulky (Chain mail, studded leather, Field Plate, etc.)

9” – Subject can make a lumbering run

No bonuses to reaction in surprise situations or to initiative
(ex. from high dexterity)

Very Heavy


Bulky (Plate Mail, Splint Mail, etc.)

6” – Subject can trot for short distances

-3 penalty on initiative rolls



3” – No trotting possible

No charging possible;

Automatically lose initiative vs. non-encumbered foes;

-3 penalty on surprise reaction rolls;
-2 penalty to AC



0” – No movement possible

Considered to be “held”

*Use the least favorable category. A character in the normal gear category for carried equipment wearing plate mail is considered to be in the Very Heavy load category.


S&W has a section on page 11 labeled ENC, but there don't seem to be more defined rules.

Microlite 74

Encumbrance (Optional)
"Characters can carry twelve (plus STR bonus) items in addition to armour, primary weapon, and possibly a shield; six items can be readily available dangling from a belt or slung over the shoulders, but everything else goes into the backpack. Small collections of things (10 flasks, 20 arrows, 50 gems, 100 gold pieces) count as a single item."

Labyrinth Lord

Carrying Capacity and Encumbrance
This is an optional rule, and is used if the Labyrinth Lord wants to make sure characters carry more realistic weights. It is important to keep track of how much weight characters are carrying, because they can only haul so much treasure from a labyrinth, and if they are heavily weighed down they cannot move as fast. Encumbrance is measured in pounds, and is calculated based on adding the weights of all significant items carried, including weapons and armor. The maximum any character can carry is 160 pounds. Character speed will be affected based on encumbrance. Refer to the Movement and Encumbrance Table.

There is then a table that compares weights to movement rates with no other effects.


In 3.5, encumbrance is based on a table related to STR. There are three categories, light/medium/heavy load. Per the SRD: "maximum Dexterity bonus to AC, armor check penalty, speed, and running speed."


Medium and Heavy armor has speed limitations built in. It also tends to impose reasonable penalties on agility skill checks. Carrying a heavy load makes you slowed, which lets you move 2 squares/round -- fairly crippling.


The most common penalty is a limitation to speed. AD&D has the most complicated rules, which also affects surprise and initiative.

I'd say that the penalties are crippling in 4E (Slowed = sucks), AD&D (worst categories only -- AC penalty is bad news), and microlite 74 (its just banned to carry more).

Otherwise, the limits have consequences that are generally livable. 3.5 and 4E are somewhat bad with penalties to skills, but many characters won't care. Otherwise its generally just a speed limitation, except for 1E, where high-DEX characters start to lose benefits.

This leads me to conclude that the OD&D model is a good one for a game. Later versions may be more realistic -- yes, its harder to jump a pit or dodge a blow if heavily laden -- but if the consequences get too bad then its rare for adventurers to push the limits, so why have the rule at all? You might as well just go the Microlite version then and say, "You can't bust enc, just because." AD&D rules work well but they are very complicated.

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