Friday, July 10, 2020

Pack Weight

A slight "addendum" to my post on encumbrance:

There are a lot of different ways to account for encumbrance, some more exacting than others. I think the only "cardinal sin" when it comes to encumbrance is ignoring it altogether...however, more detail provides for a richer experience. Of course, the trade-off with detail is more time spent accounting, whether you're talking the tallying of ounces, the tracking of cubic inches in one's rucksack, or some combination of both.

Sadly, I think my own beloved B/X (and the OD&D I'm currently running) is too abstract with regard to encumbrance. It's simply not good enough to say "all miscellaneous equipment weighs 8 pounds." A 300' coil of Manila rope (5/8 inch) weighs 35 pounds...that works out to about 6 pounds per 50' length. I emailed a guy in Latvia who handmakes medieval torches (burn time 40 minutes to an hour each); he hasn't gotten back to me yet, but they look to be a couple pounds each.

Different editions of D&D abstract encumbrance and movement rates at different levels. In OD&D a character could move her full speed (12" per turn) with a load that didn't exceed 75 pounds. AD&D revised this to 35 pounds "and no great bulk." B/X doesn't deal with "bulk" in the abstract, but keeps a similar weight allowance of 40 pounds, though it does NOT make use of bonuses for high strength (in AD&D, even a strength of 12 grants a 10# bonus...and a 16 strength would double the unencumbered carrying capacity to 70#).  Of all the rule sets, I think I consider 1st edition's rules to be the closest to my taste...certainly, I think the armor weights (at least with regard to the historical armors) to be calculated with more accuracy.

Funnily enough, after writing my post on encumbrance, I found a recent Wandering DMs podcast on encumbrance that I'd missed. I haven't been listening to them as often as I was for [reasons] but this wasn't a bad listen, considering my recent thoughts on the subject, and I was interested in what they had to say about 5E's system for encumbrance...specifically that calculated encumbrance was an "optional variant" and that actually making use of it resulted in starting characters being weighted down by their own equipment lists.

SO being the silly miscreant I am, I decided to check this out myself and did up a few spreadsheets.

The main issue has to do with the "starting packs" that 5E characters receive at the beginning of their careers. Each character class receives a menu list of items and (for all except barbarians) a choice between one of two "equipment packs" that contain a variety of rations, torches, etc. I went through and did an item by item calc of all the packs; here are the totals:

Burglar Pack: 47.5 pounds
Diplomat Pack: 37 pounds
Dungeoneer Pack: 61.5 pounds
Entertainer Pack: 38 pounds
Explorer Pack: 59 pounds
Priest Pack: 26 pounds
Scholar Pack: 12 pounds

I then did a calc of what would be the total weight of each class of character would be carrying based on what I'd guess to be the "usual" equipment selection. In all cases, I chose the pack that seemed most useful for "normal adventuring" (so no diplomat, priest, or scholar packs). Here's how the loads break down for each, not counting additional equipment based on "background:"

Barbarian: 78 pounds
Bard: 53 pounds
Cleric: 115.5 pounds
Druid: 79 pounds
Fighter: 134 pounds
Monk: 67 pounds
Paladin: 128 pounds
Ranger (leather armor): 77 pounds
Rogue: 66.5 pounds
Sorcerer: 73 pounds
Warlock: 86 pounds
Wizard: 70 pounds

Using the point buy system of assigning ability scores and going with the suggested placements for Strength, we'd find most of these characters count as "encumbered" under the 5E variant rules. The unarmored barbarian is okay with a strength of 16+, but this is only possible with a racial selection of dwarf, half-orc, dragonborn, or human. A bard would be okay with a strength of at least 11 thanks to the comparative lightness of the "entertainer's pack" and the relatively low weight of her instrument (a lute in 5E is only 2 pounds as opposed to the 350 coin bulk of the same instrument in AD&D which, presumably considers packing and such). The warlock, on the other hand, would be considered "heavily encumbered" unless given a strength score of at least 9 (I'd assume that any of the "arcane" spell-caster's would put their lowest strength, but a racial bonus could boost the warlock to where she is simply "encumbered").

Ready for adventure!
All of which is to say, yeah, 5E loads are pretty darn heavy for starting characters...unless I've missed some rule that allows them to each start with a horse or pack animal of some sort. 'Course, even 5E DMs that make use of the encumbrance rules won't find PCs too heavily penalized...there doesn't seem to be any reduction in movement over time, only a reduction in tactical (combat) speed. Exploration and overland movement rates are not explicitly reduced for a reduced speed (dwarves don't move any slower per day, for example), though such could be extrapolated based on a throwaway line for flying mounts found in the 5E DMG (I'm not going to bother looking up the page right now...spent too long doing that the other day).

But I'd guess most 5E games aren't making much use of the optional encumbrance rules anyway. I'd guess that most players, when they think of their character, are simply picturing them in "cinematic mode," reaching for an extra weapon tied to the belt, rather than wondering how that barbarian is carrying four javelins, two hand axes, and a 60 pound backpack, in addition to her greataxe.

[what is a "greataxe" supposed to be anyway? A Dane axe clocks in at about 4.5 pounds and a bit under 5' in length and is about the limit of what I consider the typical battle axe; I suppose this thing is some sort of exaggerated anime style monstrosity, since "battle axe" is a separate entry]

The weights given in 5E are actually pretty generous (with the exception of heavier armors...) the same gear to AD&D characters results in much heavier loads. The barbarian's 78 pounds becomes 151.7 in AD&D (using the bardiche as a substitute for "greataxe"). Both the cleric and fighter kits top over 180 pounds, while the "light-weight" ranger in leather armor hits 160.  All the spell caster's are over 140 (163.2 for the warlock) and even the bard and rogue exceed 116 pounds of weight. Fully half of these equipment lists would result in immobility for an AD&D character without some sort of strength bonus; fighters and clerics would need a strength of 16+ just to stagger around under the weight of their loads. And that's using the weight for "iron" rations, as opposed to "standard."

The main issue are these packs, which are excessive in the amount of adventuring gear they give each character to carry. Food, as one would expect, takes up the bulk of the space (I did not use any pack that failed to include rations), but the sheer amount of equipment each character is expected to lug is too much. Must every individual carry 25 pounds of torches, 8 pounds of rope, 10 pounds of iron spikes? Sure some redundancy is good for an adventuring party ("Oh, no! We lost Sally in the chasm and she had all the lantern oil!"), but probably not that much. Better to roll up starting funds randomly and outfit your expedition as a team, using extra monies to hire porters and link-boys, and perhaps a donkey or mule to carry provisions.

I mean...if that's your style of Dungeons & Dragons. I suppose there are people who think that kind of thing is a needless waste of time when we can get to the slam-bang action. Or caravan guard job (get ready for goblin ambush!) and, you know, ignore the grit and granularity of boring encumbrance systems.

Hmmm...all of a sudden, I just got an interesting idea in my head. However, it's going to take a bit of work on my part, and I've got kids in need of provisioning. More later.


  1. This whole series of posts is just emphasizing how important magic is for convenient travel. Aside from obvious stuff like Bags of Holding and their ilk, Create Food and Water trades a single 3rd level spell slot to completely eliminate all that food and water from your load every day, and even at 1st level you've eliminated most water needs. Continual Light eliminates torches and lanterns. Leomund's Hut solves many camping woes. Mending (and in some editions, Prestidigitation) covers all the minor repairs real travelers need, and some versions even do the laundry for you. D&D caravans should always have clerics (no doubt of some god of travel or roads or trade) along, and maybe wizards as well. Figuring your loads should always be taking your available magic assets into account, and "realistic encumbrance" makes it much easier to decide to trade out combat spells for utility ones.

    1. Or, at least, acquire the servants needed to shlep your equipment. Another good sink for all that treasure your PCs find.
      ; )

    2. Servants (at least living ones) have the problem of needing their own supplies, camping gear, etc. They still add to net carrying capacity, but not as much as the party might like. And unlike a pack horse or mule train, they're not immune to temptations like slipping off in the middle of the night with some of your loot, or even getting ambitious and trying to kill a badly weakened party in their sleep to make off with everything. So that's something to think about, unless you have access to constructs or undead porters or something else unusual. Keeping your lackeys happy is a good job for those high-charisma types, or spamming charm person spells. :)

    3. ...and then the cleric gets laid up or killed, and the whole party starves to death.

    4. Yeah, there are some inherent problems with relying on magic to solve logistics issues.

      Human servants of the "porter" variety aren't going to be doing much fighting, so they need not be burdened with armor and weapons and whatnot. And being so "unburdened" they're less likely to ambush their employers who are heavily armed and dangerous. Even "slipping off in the middle of the night" would be pretty unhealthy in the middle of a hostile wilderness, unprotected by the hardened adventurers that hired them.

      Assuming, of course, that the dungeon isn't smack dab in the middle of their village or whatnot...

  2. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the matter. Since I don't play the 5th edition, I found this especially helpful in understanding potential player expectations if I start enforcing 1st ed encumbrance rules. Which I've been mulling over for about six years now.