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Simplified Encumbrance Rule for 5E

Rating: 4 votes, 3.75 average.
Like a lot of GMs, I like to tinker with house rules – especially when they can replace a mechanic that I don’t particularly care for. I’ve been playing a lot of D&D 5E lately, and that has brought two of these failed mechanics into focus – encumbrance and alignment. I think it’s safe to say these are two of the most ignored, unused and disliked sub-systems in the D&D universe, at least in my own experience. I have plans for alignment that I will share another day, but in this post I wanted to share my experience with developing a new encumbrance system for 5E.

I’m a pretty methodical guy, so I’ll walk through my process with you as I went on my quest to create the ideal encumbrance system for my games. If you aren't interested in that and just want to see the rule - skip down to the section in quotes below. However, if you are a fellow GM then seeing how another GM thinks through the process might be useful. More importantly, if you want to create your own house rule for encumbrance instead of using mine, going over the things I discovered should save you a lot of time and give you some ideas.

Why Bother?

My first consideration was just making sure it was really worth the time – why do I want to replace the encumbrance rules, what is it that I don’t like about them and what are my goals for a new system? I came up with 3 primary goals for my ideal encumbrance system:

1.) It has to be simple with very little bookkeeping,
2.) Players have to occasionally make tough, interesting decisions on what they carry, and
3.) The PC’s strength should impact their encumbrance.

Since I play almost exclusively on Fantasy Grounds, the next important question was to ask myself how the software could help. It turns out Fantasy Grounds helps out significantly with the standard 5E encumbrance system because it takes away the most painful part – the bookkeeping. Dragging and dropping equipment and having all of the weight calculated for you automatically is great. For that reason alone, most GMs probably won’t feel the need to mess with encumbrance. But in my games we were still ignoring it, and I realized the 5E system doesn’t meet my second goal of giving PCs meaningful choices on what they carry. It's easy to abuse (accidentally or on purpose) and it's uninspiring. I still wanted to develop my own system.

What have others done?

When I say develop my own system, what I really mean is steal all the best ideas from people who are more creative than me and see if I can mash them together into something I like. Because encumbrance is so unpopular, there are a lot of people who have put thought into this and you can find it all online, from blogs with house rules to new ideas for encumbrance from other RPG systems. I spent a lot of time tracking these down, reading them and talking to people on forums about them. There was a lot of variation, but through this research two overwhelmingly popular patterns emerged:

1.) Simplifying the math by using smaller numbers, and
2.) Focusing on only the most important equipment adventurer’s carry.

Things were starting to crystallize! Simplifying the math is something everyone can get behind, and it makes a lot of sense that most players really only care about the big decisions when it comes to inventory. One of the popular ways to simplify the math was to convert measurements to “stones”. For those unfamiliar, a stone is an English unit of measurement equal to 14 lbs. Plus it sounds more medieval and thematic – a good starting point.

A couple other topics were common as well, with less consensus. How do you determine how much a PC can carry? Should armor count towards encumbrance? If you are only focusing on the most important equipment, what do you do with all the unimportant, small stuff PCs carry?

Determining how much a PC can carry had two popular choices:

1.) Using a character’s strength to determine the number of items they can carry, and
2.) Using a slot inventory system (like a computer RPG) to determine what they could carry and where.

I like both of those, and there are some really cool ideas for #2 where people have a visual representation of their gear and do things like draw what is in each slot or slide note cards representing gear into pouches representing storage slots. Those would be harder to replicate online, however, and because of my goals I chose to go with Option #1 for my system. I also decided that in my system armor would count towards encumbrance, which was probably the more popular choice - although there are good arguments to be made on why it shouldn’t. With the small, unimportant equipment there was even more variation. How these were handled can be boiled down to a few common ideas:

1.) Just ignore the small stuff and assume players have what they need,
2.) Group like items together in sets or kits so that together they count as one important item, and
3.) Don’t track small items individually, but give the players a point pool or a percentage chance to “pull an item” out of their gear.

These are all good options with pros and cons, and Option #2 was probably the most common. This was the toughest decision I had to make, but by keeping focused on my original goals I decided to stick with Option #1 for my system since it was the simplest. This may also be because I am comfortable winging things and don't feel a strong need to have extra rules spelling out ambiguous areas.

Finally, the last thing to consider was the negative effects of being encumbered. This is where there was the most variation, but if you ignored the mechanics there was a consensus – being encumbered slows you down, is awkward and can make you tired. I felt this was an area where 5E makes things especially easy, with the Disadvantage and Exhaustion mechanics being natural fits.

So, that was the whole process! With all of that in mind, I developed the following system. I haven’t thoroughly play-tested it yet, but I received lot of feedback from people who have been using similar ideas successfully. More importantly, the research I did gives me a good degree of confidence that it is solid system that meets my goals.


PCs have a carrying capacity of half their Strength in stones (rounded up). A stone is a generic unit of measurement that considers the weight, bulk and area needed to wield an object. Only important items are tracked.

GM discretion will ultimately determine what is ‘important’ and how much things weigh, but here are the basics:

• Light, Medium and Heavy armor weighs 1, 2 and 3 stones respectively.
• Most weapons weigh 1 stone unless they have the Heavy property (2-handed weapons, large bows), then they weigh 2 stones.
• Medium-sized, important items weigh 1 stone. (50ft of rope, a loaded backpack, a spellbook)
• Heavy or bulky items weigh 2 stones (carrying a chest, a rolled up tapestry slung over the shoulder).
• Small items and weapons (daggers, knives, slings) are not tracked and PCs can assume they have them within reason (and GM’s discretion).

PCs carrying over their limit are encumbered and move at half speed. You can assume they are able to set gear down temporarily when needed, but in situations where they are unable or unwilling to (a surprise attack round, carrying the gear up a rope ladder) they receive disadvantage on all die rolls while encumbered. Each hour they remain encumbered, they must make an easy (DC 10) Constitution saving throw or gain a level of Exhaustion.
That’s it! In Fantasy Grounds, it's easy enough to just drag and drop the "important items" and change their weight to stones.

Here are a few examples of what encumbrance looks like in practice:

A Warrior (16 Str) with plate, shield and a long sword is at 5 out of 8 stones.
A Wizard (8 Str) with a quarterstaff and spellbook is at 2 out 4 stones.
A Rogue (9 Str) with leather armor, scimitar, shortbow, a loaded backpack and 50ft of rope is at 5 out of 5 stones.
A Cleric (14 Str) with scale mail, shield, mace, heavy crossbow, a loaded backpack and carrying a bag of gold is at 8 out of 7 stones and encumbered.

Because this system is very simple, the GM will have to make judgment calls. Daggers aren't tracked, but if that 1st level wizard wants a bandolier of 6 daggers across his chest, that's probably an important item that takes up one stone. What about two characters carrying the carcass of a dead elk an hour back to camp? Is that two stones each? You will have to wing it sometimes.

It's also an easy system to interact with when it comes to things like abilities or magic items. Maybe dwarves or PCs with the Soldier background can carry an extra stone. Elven or magic armor weighs one less stone than normal. A Bag of Holding weighs one stone but can carry four stone. That kind of thing.

Hopefully this system will serve you well if you have similar tastes, or provide you with ideas on developing your own house rule for encumbrance.

Let me know what you think and if you try it out in your own games, be sure and let me know how it goes!


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Updated December 25th, 2016 at 06:01 by Answulf



  1. Answulf's Avatar
    Other Options

    Here are a few easy tweaks you can make to adjust the system to your tastes:

    If you want a little more detail and want to track the smaller stuff, the Equipment Packs are a good place to start. Those weigh 1 or 2 stone each. You can also group items in smaller kits that weigh 1 stone, such as a Rations kit that includes a waterskin, food, and cooking and eating utensils, or a Wizard's kit that includes a spellbook, scrollcase, parchment, ink and a component pouch.

    If you are going to track extra items and find the carrying capacity of half-strength too restrictive, it is very easy to adjust the numbers. Set a base carrying capacity at a higher number, like 6 or 8, and then adjust it by the PC's strength bonus.

    If you want an even simpler system and don't care about using weight or strength, the inventory slot system is a great choice. Each PC can carry two important items on their back, two on their belt and one in each hand. That's it. It might get restrictive, but it's very simple and requires tough choices.

    The last consideration is an optional rule for things you still want to track, like light sources or rations. Making sure PCs have enough light when going into a dungeon can be an interesting element, so if you want that to be a part of your game you may want to have your PCs track things like lanterns, oil and torches separately. No need to assign them weight – in this case you just want to track the time these resources will last. You may also want to track rations on a long journey where running out of food and having to hunt is important, or track water across a desert.
    Updated December 22nd, 2016 at 18:49 by Answulf
  2. MarianDz's Avatar
    Especially part "PCs carrying over their limit are encumbered and move at half speed. You can assume they are able to set gear down temporarily when needed, but in situations where they are unable or unwilling to (a surprise attack round, carrying the gear up a rope ladder) they receive disadvantage on all die rolls while encumbered. Each hour they remain encumbered, they must make an easy (DC 10) Constitution saving throw or gain a level of Exhaustion.".
    Updated December 22nd, 2016 at 20:40 by MarianDz
  3. damned's Avatar
    And the big one... how much do coins weigh?
    A variation of what you have done above is what I use as a rough guide.
  4. Answulf's Avatar
    That's easy - if a bag of coins weighs a stone, then a coin weighs a pebble!

    I also wanted to link to the blog discussing the visual encumbrance systems even though I'm not using it, just because it's so cool:

    The original idea:

    Owlbear's refined idea:

    Updated December 23rd, 2016 at 06:19 by Answulf
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