Don’t Use Encumbrance – Dungeons & Dragons

In our last article, we talked about a D&D rule we love. Now we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Want to know one of the most useless rules in most D&D games? Encumbrance. That’s right, just take those rules, and throw them right in the trash! Okay, okay, now in some games encumbrance might be a pillar of your campaign, which is fine. This would be something like a super survival RPG campaign, where you also need to track food, water, and other resources. Kind of like the Oregon Trail games. But let’s face it, these kinds of campaigns are not your average game.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret: the encumbrance rules are absolutely optional. Seriously! I have never tracked, or had my players track encumbrance in any campaign, Ever. Now 5e does a decent job of getting out of the way. From the 5e SRD: “Carrying Capacity. Your carrying capacity is your Strength score multiplied by 15. This is the weight (in pounds) that you can carry, which is high enough that most characters don’t usually have to worry about it.” But my question is: then why even track it at all?

Really it all comes down to bookkeeping.

What is Bookkeeping?

In essence, bookkeeping is anything you have to keep track of. Some of it makes sense, there are some things that you need to keep tabs on in order to manage your character. Depending on the system your using this could be hit points, spell slots, injuries, or wealth. In Dungeons and Dragons, one of the things that must be tracked is encumbrance.

Here’s the thing: There’s nothing wrong with bookkeeping. It is absolutely vital to most systems. But as a player and a DM, you should never do needless bookkeeping. It simply slows down the game. Even for the simplistic aspect that 5e uses, drastically overestimating carrying capacity, to use it you still need to keep track of the weight of all of your items, at all times. Get some new loot? Now the DM needs to determine the weight, relay that to the player, then they need to add that weight to their inventory and possibly make some tough decisions.

Encumbrance, Without Rules

Really, it comes down to this: Allow characters to carry any reasonable amount of weight. That’s it! Simple right? Is it reasonable that a character can find a cool new sword and shield in a dungeon and take it with them? Sure. Let them do it. A solid gold throne? Well, not so much without some sacrifices.

Now, I’m sure that some of you can see fights at the table coming from a mile away. Don’t worry, there’s an easy way around this, just be straightforward with your players. Right at the beginning of the campaign, in session 0, tell your players that you won’t be tracking encumbrance, when you say that they’re carrying too much they will need to make sacrifices. But more often than not, this will be more lenient and work out in their favor. In fact, I’d say take it one step further…

Everyone Gets a Bag of Holding

Okay, maybe a lesser bag of holding. I do this exact thing in many campaigns that I run. This is a great way to allow characters to carry things that would be awkward to carry in real life, while still working out in their favor. Typically, I’ll let this be my player’s backpacks, that are just slightly bigger on the inside than they are on the outside, and slightly reduce the weight.

Did your paladin with a tower shield, longsword and heavy armor find another sword and shield they want to sell? Have them put it in their pack. Did they find a mountain of swords? Tell them that they can choose 3. It’s all about what’s reasonable to you.

Now what’s the catch? When I give these out to my players, I let them know that this is a give and take. I’m doing this because I want to make their jobs as players easier, not harder. And I expect a bit of that in return. Each lesser bag of holding that’s given out has a plot-thread. If any player tries to abuse the power of the bag of holding, the plot thread breaks, and all their stuff falls to the ground.

Try to turn it inside out? Snap. Trying to trap a living creature inside of it? Snap. And so on. To date, I still have yet to have a player break the plot thread. As long as there’s that understanding between the players and the DM that everything must be reasonable, even if it’s overestimated, disagreements are pretty easy to avoid.

What’s the Best Encumbrance System?

In our opinion, the best encumbrance system is, well, none. But, that’s only at the Roll4 table. What’s great about tabletop RPG’s, is that each table can customize their games to exactly fit what they want! Do you use encumbrance in your games? Or even, variant encumbrance? Agree or disagree with us entirely? Let us know in the comments below!

This article was sponsored by Mitchell Wallace. Thank you Mitchell!
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