A natural desire is to have your character own one of everything. Thus equipped, your character could just reach into his pack and pull out any item he wants whenever he needs it. Sadly, there are limits to how much your character, his horse, his mule, his elephant, or his whatever can carry. These limits are determined by encumbrance.
Encumbrance is measured in pounds. To calculate encumbrance, simply total the pounds of gear carried by the creature or character. Add five pounds for clothing, if any is worn. This total is then compared to the carrying capacity of the creature to determine the effects. In general, the more weight carried, the slower the movement and the worse the character is at fighting.
Encumbrance is divided into five categories: Unencumbered, Light, Moderate, Heavy, and Severe Encumbrance. To calculate your character's encumbrance category, first figure out the total weight he is carrying (including five pounds for clothing). Then look across the row corresponding to your character's Strength on Table 47 until you come to the column that includes your character's carried weight. The heading at the top of that column shows his level of encumbrance.
Use Table 49 to figure out the encumbrance category of your character's mount or beast of burden. The Max. Carried Wgt. column lists the most weight (in pounds) your character can carry and still move. But movement is limited to 10 feet per round, as your character staggers under the heavy load.
The maximum total weight your character can carry is determined by his Strength, as listed on Table 47.
The basic encumbrance rule gives general categories of encumbrance but does not allow for fine distinctions. Some players and DMs may take exception to the idea that adding one more pound to a character suddenly shifts that character to the next (and drastically worse) encumbrance category. They may want to use the following optional table; Table 48 reduces a character's movement rating 1 factor at a time.
To determine your character's movement rate (see “Movement” in Chapter 14: Time and Movement) for a given load, find the row on Table 48 with his Strength score. Read across it until you find the first column in which the number of pounds listed is greater than your character's current load. At the top of that column are two rows for base movement rates. Characters with a base movement rate of 12 use the top row; those with a base movement rate of 6 use the bottom row. The number in the appropriate upper row is your character's modified movement rate.
- Tarus (a human with a base movement of 12) has a Strength of 17 and is carrying a 140-pound load. Looking across on the 17 rows shows that 140 falls between 133 and 145 on the table. Looking at the top of the 145 column shows that Tarus has a modified movement rate of 7. He can carry five more pounds of gear (total 145 pounds) and maintain his speed, or drop seven pounds of equipment (to 133 pounds) and increase his speed to 8.
The “Base Move” column in Table 49 lists the maximum amount an animal can carry and maintain its normal movement rate. Animals can be loaded greater than this, up to a maximum of twice their normal load. However, this causes a drop in the animal's movement rate (as indicated by the column headings). When calculating a mount's load, be sure to include the weight of the rider!
The values listed in Table 50 for standard-sized items. It is certainly possible for sacks, chests, and backpacks to be larger or smaller than the sizes listed. The weight capacity, however, lists the maximum weight the item can carry, regardless of size. Beyond this point, the material used to construct the item will fail, sooner or later. The volume gives the length, width, and height or depth of the item. Items that exceed the capacity of a container cannot be stored in it.
Since all player characters are adventurers, it is assumed they know the best methods for packing and stowing equipment. Blankets are rolled into bedrolls, small items are carefully arranged, rope is properly coiled, weapons are slung in the most comfortable manner, etc. While small items can be easily stuffed into a pack, large bulky things may encumber more than their actual weight would indicate. The DM has the right to rule that an object is more encumbering than it actually appears.
- Tarus Bloodheart finds a 5 ft. × 9 ft. flying carpet. He carefully rolls it into a thick cylinder and wisely ties it closed. Even though he has taken this sensible precaution, the carpet is still a large and awkward thing. The DM rules that although the carpet weighs only 20 pounds, its encumbrance is equal to that of an item weighing 50 pounds. Tarus must increase his current encumbrance level by 50 pounds, adding the awkwardness of the rolled carpet slung over his shoulder to his already carefully packed backpack.
One of the special properties of magical armor is its effect on encumbrance. Although magical armor appears to weigh as much as normal armor, the weight of magical armor applies only toward the weight limit of the character. It does not apply when determining the effects of encumbrance on movement and combat. In essence, the armor appears to weigh as much as normal armor but does not restrict or hamper the character.
- Cwell the bard finds a suit of chain mail +1. Lifting it up, he finds it weighs 60 pounds. Cwell is already carrying 50 pounds of gear. Donning the chain mail, he is now carrying 110 lbs. of gear. Cwell's Strength is 12, which means that he can carry only 30 more pounds of equipment. However, when calculating the effect of all this weight on his movement, Cwell is considered to only be carrying 50 pounds of gear--the magical armor doesn't count. Furthermore, he does not suffer any combat penalties for the chain mail's weight.
Encumbrance has two basic effects. First, it reduces your character's movement rate. If encumbrance categories are used, Unencumbered has no effect on movement, Light reduces the movement rate by 1/3 (round fractions down), Moderate reduces it by ½, Heavy reduces it by 2/3, and Severe lowers the movement rate to 1. If the optional system is used, the character's movement rate is reduced to the amount found by using Table 48. The movement rate determines how far your character can move in a round, turn, hour, and day. As his movement rate gets lower, your character moves slower and slower. See “Movement” in Chapter 14: Time and Movement for more details.
Encumbrance also reduces your character's combat abilities. If encumbrance reduces your character to ½ of his normal movement rate, he suffers a -1 penalty to his attack roll. If he is reduced to 1/3 or less of his normal movement rate, the attack penalty is -2 and there is an additional AC penalty of +1. If your character's movement is reduced to 1, the attack roll penalty is -4 and the AC penalty is +3. Clearly, the wise thing for a heavily encumbered character to do is to quickly drop most of his gear before entering battle.