4 min read

Adventures in Encumbrance

If this post’s title doesn’t excite you, I’m not sure what will.

If this post’s title doesn’t excite you, I’m not sure what will.

I love the resource-tracking elements of a good dungeon delve (or, indeed, a good wilderness exploration). I know I’m not fashionable, but resource tracking adds an extra dimension of realism to D&D and its siblings, and I like that aspect of the game. It rewards planning and superior play.

At my table, I strive to establish a sense of verisimilitude and realism (as far as you can in games that feature fire-breathing dragons and the like). Ignoring the basics of dungeon exploration doesn’t help with that.

Rucking and Encumbrance

I took up rucking a couple of months ago in my endless quest to cling to a vestige of health and fitness. 

Rucking Rocks!
Blimey, does rucking give you a workout, and it’s good for inspiration as well!

I started with a 20 lb (9 kg) plate and have been slowly increasing my distance and speed. This weekend, I tried a 30 lb. (13.6 kg) plate on the spiffingly marvellous nearby Bishop’s Walk. Blimey. The ruck itself was fine, but I could feel it the next day. The experience highlighted to me the challenge of moving for a long period of time while carrying a decent amount of weight.

Moving through an extensive dungeon or swath of wilderness must be exhausting. As I recall, in 1st edition AD&D the characters were assumed to take a ten-minute rest every hour. I’m not surprised! My first ruck with a 30 lb plate took about an hour and I was delighted to take the pack off afterwards.

I carried the backpack (a GR 1), the 30 lb plate and sundry other items. The total weight of the bag was 39.75 lb. Let’s go wild and round that up to 40 lb.

So what was my load equivalent to? 

What’s 40 lb.?

As I’m currently playing 5th edition D&D, I’ll use the equipment lists in the Player’s Handbook as a guide for item weights. 

  • Backpack: 5 lb.(carrying capacity of 30 lb.[that’s handy])
  • Bedroll: 7 lb. (strapped to the top of the backpack)
  • Hemp Rope (50 ft.): 10 lb. (strapped to the side of the backpack)
  • Waterskin (full): 5 lb.
  • Healer’s Kit: 3 lb.
  • Mess Kit: 1 lb.
  • Rations (2 days): 2 lb. each/4 lb. total
  • Dagger: 1 lb.
  • Sack: 1/2 lb.
  • Iron Spikes (2): 1 lb.
  • Tinderbox: 1 lb.
  • Torches (2): 1 lb. each/2 lb. total
  • Map/Scroll case: 1 lb. 
  • Spare Clothes: 3 lb.
  • Ink: 0 lb.
  • Ink pen: 0 lb.
  • Parchment (5 sheets): 0 lb.
  • Chalk (1 piece): 0 lb.

Total Weight: 45.5 lb.

To get the pack to 40 lb. I’d need to cut my rope in half and only take a 25 ft. coil. I’m also limited to a couple of days of rations. Beyond weapons, armour, decent weather-appropriate clothes and so on, the equipment list above comprises the bare essentials an adventurer needs to survive in a dungeon or wilderness for a couple of days.

In context, the British Army trains its (fit and young) soldiers to carry about 88 lb. packs into battle. These packs are massive, and the soldiers are jolly fit and strong. I’m 51 and fit, but I’m not that fit or strong. I doubt I’d get very far with such a heavy pack, and I’m exceptionally confident I would feel it the next day.

5e Encumbrance

Sadly, 5e’s encumbrance rules are somewhat rudimentary. 

Apparently, my carry capacity is my Strength score x 15. An average person with a Strength of 10 can, therefore, carry in the region of 150 lb. (I suspect the average game designer has not wandered about the wilderness for an extended period of time carrying that much weight.) While I absolutely could carry more than 40 lb. of weight I would not want to do it all day and I wouldn’t want to do anything energetic while carrying it! 

Pathfinder 1st Edition Encumbrance

Pathfinder 1st edition has much more (agreeably) detailed encumbrance rules. 

If I have a Strength score of 10, my pack (without other armour, weapons, clothes and the like) equates to a medium load. This reduces my speed—although I can still run as normal. If, however, my Strength score was 12 (at the very upper limit of average), I would only be lightly encumbered (without other armour, weapons, clothes and the like). 

To me, this seems much more reasonable and, dare I say it, realistic. With my pack on, I average about 11-minute kilometres over rough ground; without it, I’m down at about a nine-minute pace over the same kilometre. 

So What?

If verisimilitude and resource management don’t excite you beyond all reason, you probably don’t care about all of the above. Fair enough. Thank you for reading this far. I look forward to your comments.

If, however, you care about such matters, it’s worth giving encumbrance a second look. It adds another interesting dimension to the game.

It’s clear to me that adventuring is a young (fit) person’s game. I feel sorry for all the wizards and rogues out there with average or lower Strengths. While they may be able to stagger about the dungeon with their packs and other gear, they might not be strong enough to actually carry away any loot they find in the dungeon!