View Full Version : [3.5/PF] Sorting out the value of carrying capacity in the system

2009-11-22, 05:27 PM
I'm trying to figure out the overall value of carrying capacity in the game. This post is kind of just me talking out loud for those who might comment on my thoughts...


Carrying capacity is something that can have a tendency to be overlooked. It requires a lot of book keeping on the players part to keep track of weight, and I'd assume DM's aren't eagerly looking forward to auditing character sheets. So in a broad context it is probably one of the rules in the game that is not as closely observed as other rules.

Carrying capacity, when it is an issue, seems to fall into two categories. The first is the concern a player has to remain in the light load category. If you remain within the light load then no penalties are incurred. If however a character is wearing medium or heavy armor, then these concerns tend to be thrown out since the penalties kick into effect, regardless of it either being armor usage or extra weight being carried. So to a certain extent, this first concern is whether or not you are a “tank” character or not.

The second situation where carrying capacity comes into effect due to an emergency situation. Suddenly a character is down and either needs to be dragged or carried to safety is the iconic reason for this. In years and years of playing RPGs I'm hard pressed to think of other situations where heavy loads needed to be carried about in a stressful situation. Not that they couldn't happen, but normally it is just to move an ally to safety.

Next, in your typical D&D game the issue of carrying capacity only seems to be an issue in the lower levels of play. By mid levels players will often have available to them Bags of Holding, Handy Haversacks, magical quivers, and gloves of storying to radically reduce the weight load of the items they carry. Further, mithral becomes affordable for the heavier armors, cutting their weight in half. Since armor is normally the heaviest item a character has to be encumbered with, this tends to lighten a load significantly.

So for a general recap, carrying capacity can have a tendency to be easily overlooked in games, it is normally only scrutinized by players who have characters that are not wearing medium or heavy armor, by mid levels it can easily be solved by magic items, and it tends to be a rare encounter where characters are called upon to move heavy objects in the middle of a battle.

The end result is that carrying capacity doesn't seem to be a frequently important feature of the game.


Now to go to the nitty gritty, looking at how carrying capacity and how it relates to item weight:

Despite the fact that encumbrance and carrying capacity isn't a very important part of the game, nonetheless there is a great amount of detail baked into the system. Size affects both carrying capacity and the weight of objects that are tailored for specific sizes. Here is a breakout of typical sizes:

Large Biped - x2 carrying capacity/x2 item weight
Large Quadruped - x3 carrying capacity/x2 item weight
Medium Biped – x1 carrying capacity/x1 item weight
Medium Quadruped - x1.5 carrying capacity/x1 item weight
Small Biped - x.75 carrying capacity/x.5 item weight
Small Quadruped - x1 carrying capacity/x.5 item weight
Tiny Biped - x.5 carrying capacity/x.1 item weight
Tiny Quadruped - x.75 carrying capacity/x.1 item weight

Now lets look at a scenario. You have a character who falls into the one category that really cares about encumbrance, the martial character who wants to remain mobile. They want as much AC as possible while still moving at full speed, and they are low level and can't afford something fancy like a mithral breastplate. So they look to a chain shirt as their best option.

For simplicity of proportions we'll assume (somehow) that all of these creatures have a Strength of 10.

Putting that through a spreadsheet and the percentage that the chain shirt takes up of the overall light load carrying capacity is:

Large Biped - 75.76%
Large Quadruped - 50.51%
Medium Biped - 75.76%
Medium Quadruped - 50.51%
Small Biped - 50.51%
Small Quadruped - 37.88%
Tiny Biped - 15.15%
Tiny Quadruped – 10.1%

As you can see, aside from the Medium and Large Bipeds, everyone is a winner when combining carrying capacity and weight ratios when they are using items fit to their size.

Now lets look at it if we scale strength to size. We'll assume Large is 18, Medium 10, Small 8, and Tiny 4:

Large Biped - 25%
Large Quadruped - 16.67%
Medium Biped - 75.76%
Medium Quadruped - 50.51%
Small Biped - 64.1%
Small Quadruped - 48.08%
Tiny Biped - 38.46%
Tiny Quadruped – 25.64%

What's interesting here is that despite the shifts in strength values everyone is still coming out better than the Medium Biped. On the large side of things the sheer increase in strength pushes the weight ratio down further, and on the tiny end the 1/10th weight of items still compensates greatly even for a large drop in overall strength score.

For the last scenario, lets look at the emergency situation, where the character needs to drag the tank character out of the way after being dropped by the BBEG. We'll assume a weight of 250 lbs and the strengths adjusted to size:

Large Biped – 125% or can carry as a medium load
Large Quadruped – 83.33% or can carry as a light load
Medium Biped – 757.58% or needs to drag away
Medium Quadruped – 505.05% or lift and stagger away
Small Biped – 1282.05% or needs to drag
Small Quadruped – 961.54% or needs to drag
Tiny Biped – 3846.15% or can't even drag!
Tiny Quadruped – 2564.1% or can't even drag!

Note, the above percentages are in relation to the creatures light load.

So from the above, if the tank has a centaur friend then he'll easily get scooped up and trotted off to saftey. However if its only the Wizard's pseudodragon familiar who is left to try and drag the tank out of the way then he's probably toast.


Looking at the whole picture, it looks like if a character can easily equip themselves with items that are fitted to their size then unless you are a medium biped you are actually winning out in the encumbrance ratio. Not that this is a huge deal, as in the opening observations encumbrance isn't a major factor in the game.

Tiny creatures that don't have access to items designed with their 1/10th weight ratio would have a lot more problems and would really need to bulk up if they want to pick up and use items that the party stumbles across.

When it comes to the emergency situations, raw strength plays a far greater role than encumbrance multipliers.

2009-11-22, 05:36 PM
Next, in your typical D&D game the issue of carrying capacity only seems to be an issue in the lower levels of play. By mid levels players will often have available to them Bags of Holding, Handy Haversacks, magical quivers, and gloves of storying to radically reduce the weight load of the items they carry. Further, mithral becomes affordable for the heavier armors, cutting their weight in half. Since armor is normally the heaviest item a character has to be encumbered with, this tends to lighten a load significantly.

Note, though, that this doesn't necessarily help in the aforementioned emergency situations. Most low-Strength characters at mid to high levels keep a Handy Haversack, but you can't fit a human in one. So encumbrance can suddenly become an issue again if you need to move a possibly-dead party member.

I usually find that encumbrance is irrelevant 99% of the time, and suddenly quite important for the other 1%. I've gotten one TPK and several good stories out of it.

Kurald Galain
2009-11-22, 05:47 PM
I had this paladin once, who was attacked by a bunch of wraiths (iirc) and was strength-drained to the point where he couldn't carry his armor any more.

I also had this DM once that was giving out so much treasure in silver pieces that we couldn't carry it any more, at which point he decided to grossly devaluate his global economy.

Overall I think it's something worth tracking in D&D. You only have to add it up once, as your pack doesn't change all that often.

2009-11-22, 06:07 PM
Would probably have been Shadows rather than Wraiths, unless the DM was using some homebrewed variant. Shadows damage Strength, Wraiths drain Con. I've had a lot of experience with both. :)

2009-11-22, 06:12 PM
I try to keep track of encumbrance, and encourage my players to do so. When that Shadow or Strength-draining poison comes into play, it's useful to know whether or not your heavily armored character can still move.

At low levels, mules and donkeys can be a useful way of keeping extra gear, and even if your character carries a medium load, very little is stopping them from simply dropping their pack as a move action to free up some weight. Rogues who need to be mobile or stealthy can leave their packs with the louder, slower characters, after all.

I've also discovered that warforged make excellent packmules. Their built-in armor usually frees up a lot of weight, and their often high Strength scores allow them to carry just about anything the party needs them to.

Other useful encumbrance tips: trail rations weight 1 pound each, but trail bars (from Complete Scoundrel? Dungeonscape?) weigh nothing. They cost twice as much, and taste awful, but for a low level, low-strength character, they can free up a decent amount of weight. Silk rope only weighs half as much as hemp rope, candles weigh nothing (though not nearly as bright as a torch or sunrod), and if you need to, try to condense your free-floating coin into a more portable, weightless form of wealth (gems, for instance, or powdered silver/gold). If you're playing in Eberron, make regular deposits at a House Kundarak bank to lighten your coin load.

Typically, in most games, I don't bother counting the weight of ammunition or coins, unless the numbers are getting ridiculous. If you are carrying around 1000's of coins, or 100's of bolts or arrows, then it might be time to calculate their weight. However, if you've got less than 100 coins on your person, or less than say 50 rounds of ammunition, it's usually not worth the effort to keep track of their weight. Plus, once Handy Haversacks, Efficient Quivers, and Bags of Holding/Portable Holes come into play, you can forget them entirely.

Kurald Galain
2009-11-22, 06:30 PM
Would probably have been Shadows rather than Wraiths,
Yeah, that would be it. Unfortunately those terms appear to be synonyms in certain other languages :smallbiggrin:

2009-11-22, 06:55 PM
I surprised my group when I told them I was keeping track of coin weight on my character. The DM got this look like I'd poured cold water down his pants.

No the subject, Dwarves make great pack mules and Planar Handbook has a feat that helps with carrying stuff.