Sunday, April 15, 2007


Encumbrance is one of those fiddly bits in D&D that no one really enjoys (and lots of people just ignore once the game is in progress). It's not something that really needs to be "fixed" in OD&D (it's as simple there as in any published ruleset), but nontheless, while falling asleep last night, a somewhat better way of handling things occured to me. In short, you should just use a coarser unit, one which makes the numbers easier to count mentally, and only have to deal with them when it makes a direct difference on gameplay.

Calculating encumbrance can alternatively be done using the old English unit of the "stone" (that is, 14 pounds). For D&D, let's say that 1 "stone" = 150 coins weight. For example, a grown man weighs about 12 stone. Conversions for gear are as follows:

Plate -- 5 stone
Chain -- 3
Leather -- 2
Shield -- 1
Weapon, heavy -- 1
Weapon, light -- 1 per 3 carried
Misc. Equipment -- 1 (total)

Heavy weapons include the pole arm, halberd, pike, two-handed sword, morning star, flail, and battle axe. Light weapons include the sword, mace, hand axe, and bow -- or items like a helmet, small sack of coins, large chalice, etc. Tiny items are counted only if a character carries a large number of them; such gear as a dagger, potion, scroll, jewelry, etc. can be counted at 1 stone per 6 items, if so desired. Obviously, every 150 coins of treasure adds 1 stone (a backpack or large sack can carry 2 stone worth). Conversions for movement categories follow:

12" Move -- up to 5 stone weight
9" Move -- up to 7
6" Move -- up to 10
3" Move -- up to 20

It should be fairly easy to remember the 5-10-20 stone weight maximum categories (for movement rates of 12", 6", and 3").

Design Notes: Encumbrance
This alternative system feeds off of a particular thesis of mine regarding measurement systems. Sometimes I hear proponents of the Metric system complain about old-style Imperial units with comments like: "They don't make any sense; they're not based on units of 10". I claim that these are two separate considerations. Yes, the Metric system is ideally suited for making simple translations, and excellent for use in the sciences when your scales may need frequent conversions.

But the Imperial units "make sense" to a greater degree in that they're intrinsically scaled to people, and are more intuitive if you need to quickly and roughly estimate things on the fly. For example: a "foot" is about the length your foot. A "hand" is the size of your hand. A "league" is about how far you can walk in an hour. Temperature of 0 degrees fahrenheit is very cold (about where blood can freeze), 50 degrees temperate, 100 degress very hot (about where blood is in a living person). And, one "stone" is about the amount of weight that will get your attention when you try to carry it.

Of course, we have the additional benefit in D&D that Imperial units serve to further conjure the flavor of a medieval and "old-timey" campaign setting. They're very human-scaled and specifically pre-scientific. And most importantly, they highlight that the statistics used in any game should be scaled to the actual play of that game.

(One final note for 3E players -- using the "per stone" encumbrance system, you could simply use the total stone-weight carried as the character's skill Check Penalty, and it comes out just the same as the load categories the d20 System! Now, this is for average-Str PC's; perhaps you can let the Str bonus ignore the first number of stone weight units.)


  1. This is a great idea. Having fixed numbers does make it easier to remember the categories. Maybe I missed something (I don't have the OD&D books) but I wonder if there is any way you can make a direct link between the Strength value of a given character and the number of stones of encumbrance they can carry.

    A Strength 12 man can carry 12 stones of encumbrance and still move 6".

    You could make the categories
    12" = 1/2 Strength in stones
    9" = 3/4 Strength in stones
    6" = Strength in stones
    3" = 2 x Strength in stones (this seems a little high, but 150% of Strength is lower than the top of your current scale).

    I'm not certain if Strength in D&D is considered to be a linear scale or not, so it might not make perfect sense. But it seems like this might work as a good rule of thumb that still incorporates the effect of ability score.

    Alternately, just add the Strength ability modifier to each of those categories (so that a Strength 12 adds +1 stone to each of the categories).

  2. Hey, thanks for the kudos, Adam! What I've found in the days since writing that is I can now instantly remember the entire system... weights go 5-3-2-1, and encumbrance is basically 5-10-20. I think I can instantly scan a PC sheet can tell someone what their load is. Who'da thunk that for encumbrance?

    In OD&D as written out of the box, there isn't any encumbrance modifier for Strength. Surprising fact: there isn't any modifier of any sort for Strength except fighter experience bonus. (No attack or damage bonus, etc.: same for most Od&D abilities.) Supplement I: Greyhawk introduces those modifiers (basically same as 1E PHB).

    Your correction for that seems like a pretty good idea (kind of like in Star Frontiers where max load in kilograms is equal to prercent Strength score). I might personally forego it, stick with OD&D restriction, just for less to remember -- but a good idea nontheless!

  3. Hey Delta, the problem with your system is it breaks down for coin loads < 150 coins. I mean, I am damn sure my players would just cart around 149 coins in protest. Using a weight system based on coins ensures that every little bit counts. Gems = 1 coin, etc. That's why they did it that way, I think, and not with pounds. Although they do stipulate (I believe) 10 coins roughly equals 1 pound.

    So an absolute max load for someone is 300 pounds (3000 coins). Probably excessive, especially for someone who only weighed 130 pounds. But that's the general gist.

  4. Bret, the system is meant to be course and approximate and easy for the DM to calculate. If my players picked up 100 coins, I'd call that "approximately 1 stone". (100/150 = 0.67, closer to 1 than 0). If they carry 50 coins or so, that's one "light" object (at the 3:1 rule).

  5. Nod ... that's the cool thing about OD&D I suppose - it is supposed to be customized!

  6. I'll try to convince my players to use something simple like this. I've written it up on my blog. Let's see whether they like it or not.

  7. If you used a ~2 kg/~5 lb unit you would

    (a) be more accurate about weapon weights being equal to 1, and

    (b) simply saying you can carry 1 unit per point of Str would be about right.

    Plus, everyone can multiply by 2 or 5, so they'd be able to easily visualize how much they're carrying.

  8. Hey Brock, thanks for the comments. In the released version of my "Diminutive d20" rules, I do in fact set the limit of Str = units carried, that's a solid idea.

    But I think you'll find that the "stone" unit of 14 lb. (in addition to being more evocative) is also closer to the d20 System established weight levels. Compare particular to Strength level 10-20 in the core rules, on average the 14 lb. is very, very close. And in general I'm trying to stick as close to the core rules as possible, so there's a double-advantage there.

  9. Late to the party here, but I sure like this. I may adopt it for my Swords & Wizardry White Box campaign.

  10. Delta, what about this?

    AC X 100 = coins or their equivalent before encumbered

    This seems to yield, roughly, the same results as yours and the LBBs.

    How far off am I?

    1. Hey, that's an interesting shortcut! Although I do want to have explicit encumbrance values for armor in cases like being carried by horses or mules, etc.

    2. Sure, so AC directly translates to movement:
      9-7 (or 6?) = light ft = 12"
      6 (or 5?) - 4 = medium ft = 9"
      3-2 = heavy ft = 6"

      What do you think?

    3. Oh, one more quick note: so standard gear is assumed as part of the abstraction. Ref checks every now and then for absurdities, etc.

    4. Oh yeah, that was absolutely the origin of it starting in Chainmail. The Holmes Basic D&D system was basically to take that and bump the category one worse if "carrying heavy load [of treasure]", based on DM judgement.

    5. Which is to say basically light foot (leather) was 12", heavy foot (chain) 9", armored foot (plate) 6". [Chainmail p. 10, OD&D Vol-1 p. 15, etc.]

    6. And yes: in places like Chainmail and Holmes D&D standard gear was abstracted out. In Original D&D Vol-1 there's a basic 80 coins (8 pounds) for "Miscellaneous Equipment (rope, spikes, bags, etc.)", and this was copied forward into places like Moldvay B/X D&D, etc.

  11. Cool, thanks for the interaction.

    How far off, then, would my short-cuts take me?

    Would it still give the basic "feel"?

    My concern is the balance of authenticity (to 0e) with playability for middle aged folks with jobs who don't get to play very often!

    1. Definitely, I think that's fine for a lot of people. For what it's worth, in my games I never require people to add their own encumbrance, I do that as DM, which is why I want my reduced "stone" units so I can do it instantly in my head. (But then most of my players do it on their own anyway.) In some sense what you need are just official fallback rules for when they carry 5,000 coins or 25 looted swords or wine barrels or something.

    2. Very cool, Delta, I like that you shoulder the burden as the ref.

      In all fairness, I think asking a math Ph.D. to manage a party's encumbrance is one thing, while asking a poor liberal arts / humanities type like me to do so would be another!

      My eyes glaze over if my formula or shear number count starts to get more than two or three layers deep.

      (I think as a math teacher you've talked about that kind of stuff [how poor liberal arts types process numbers] elsewhere, right?)

      Anyway, rad, and thanks for the interaction.

    3. Dirty secret is that I don't have a PhD, just an M.A. :-) But I certainly agree that all of us are better served by some small integers to add up. For what it's worth, my current system is a bit altered from this one blog post (link).

      Consider this: just go 4 stone for plate mail, 2 stone for chain mail, and 1 stone for any leather, shield, two-handed items, or 1000 coins (cut out all the other stuff unless duplicates taken?) Max load is equal to Strength score. If encumbrance does get tracked, I think that should have been the core of the system (and equivalent to the book, just rescaled numbers).