There is 3 way of dealing with weight in D&D5 (open the “Using Each Ability” and read from “Lifting and Carrying”):

  1. Not caring
  2. Using the normal rule, a character can carry its strength score time 15 in pound
  3. Use the variant encumbrance rule
    • A character can carry up to 5 times its strength score with no problem
    • Between 5 and 10 times its strength score (it is encumbered) with a 10ft penalty to movement
    • Between 10 and 15 times its strength score (it is heavily encumbered) with a 20ft penalty to movement and you have disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution.

The thing is, unless you are using something that always compute the total weight of the stuff you are carrying it’s a hassle. What I don’t want in a weight system:

  1. Carrying 100s of arrows, or darts
  2. Carrying 4 different heavy armors
  3. Carrying a carriage and 3 barrels on your back
  4. Carrying a dozens of weapons like great club, pike, heavy crossbow, great axe, swords …
  5. Having to look for the weight of every object in a table

We define the notion of Lower Bound Carrying Capacity (LBCC) so that when you are over your LBCC you are also over your carrying capacity. Basically we are going to have two kind of items:

  • Bulky items that we count towards encumbrance
  • Small items that don’t count towards encumbrance but are limited in number

Let’s start with the normal rule (“a character can carry its strength score time 15 in pound”). If our strength score is S we can carry no more than S items of 15 pound. or 2×S items of 7.5 pounds, or 3×S items of 5 pound, … you get the idea.

First let’s look at the minimum, maximum and median weight of items by category:

Category MIN of Weight (lb) MEDIAN of Weight (lb) MAX of Weight (lb) # of items
Adventuring Gear 0 2 70 99
Gaming Set 0 1.25 5 8
Mounts and Vehicles 0 40 600 12
Simple Ranged Weapons 0 1.1 5 4
Martial Ranged Weapons 1 3 18 5
Musical instrument 1 2 10 10
Simple Melee Weapons 1 2 10 10
Tools 1 5 10 19
Currency (100 or 1000 coins) 2 11 20 2
Martial Melee Weapons 2 4 18 18
Shield 6 6 6 1
Light Armor 8 10 13 3
Medium Armor 12 20 45 5
Heavy Armor 40 57.5 65 4
Grand Total 0 3 600 200

You can see that some of those things weight 600lb, we are going to remove everything 70lb or above from the dataset because they are obviously bulky and you don’t really need a rule for them.

Category Name Weight (lb)
Adventuring Gear Barrel 70
Mounts and Vehicles Chariot 100
Mounts and Vehicles Cart 200
Mounts and Vehicles Sled 300
Mounts and Vehicles Wagon 400
Mounts and Vehicles Carriage 600

Let’s see all that in a bubble graph with a log scale (btw, I couldn’t directly add a text label to the horizontal axes on google sheet, anybody knows if it’s possible?):

weapon weight frequency by categories

A few things that you can deduce from this chart to help you read it:

  • All gaming sets weight 5lb or less
  • All mounts and vehicles weight weight 8lb or more

Very Easy Weight System aka VEWS

We can see that a lot of categories are either over or under 5lb, so that may be a good tipping point to declare something bulky ou our LBCC weight system:

  • Small, less than 5lb:
    • Simple melee weapons (except 1 in 10 at)
    • Simple ranged weapons
    • Martial ranged weapons (except 1 in 4 at 18lb)
    • Gaming sets
  • Bulky, 5lb or more:
    • Tools
    • Armors
      • Shield
      • Light armor
      • Medium armor
      • Heavy armor
    • Mounts and vehicles
    • What is obviously heavy (Barrel, Chariot, Cart, Sled, Wagon, Carriage)
  • Undecided (will be categorized as small, read the next paragraph):
    • Martial melee weapons
    • Musical instruments
    • Adventuring gear
    • Currency (I would use a separate rule for that anyway)

We have 4 undecided categories:

  • I would use a separate weight system for currency (coins) anyway so it’s not a problem that this is undecided
  • Lets’s put Martial melee weapons with other weapons in the small category, they are a little heavier but it’s more simple that way
  • Adventuring gear is very diverse and most of it is light sot let’s put it in the small category
  • Nobody cares how many musical instruments a character is carrying so let’s put it in the small category, and if a character want to have fun carrying multiple instruments I have no problem allowing it anyway

There is one thing that I don’t like at this point: weapons are small and that’s typically the kind of thing that my players will carry a lot of. That is why we are going to introduce one exception to the rule: groups of any 4 weapons are bulky.

So this system, that we’ll call Very Easy Weight System (VEWS), has 4 simple rules:

  • Everything is small (which means it does count in the LBCC weight of the character) except that:
  • Tools, armors, mounts and vehicles and items that are obviously heavy are bulky
  • Groups of any 4 weapons are bulky
  • Any group of 20 identical items is bulky (rations, arrows, bolts, …)

The normal rule (a character can carry its strength score time 15 in pound) becomes a character can carry a number of bulky things equals to 3 times its strength score, so a wizard with 10 strength could carry 30 bulks:

  • 30 armors (30 bulks)
  • or 10 armors (10 bulks) and 80 weapons (20 groups of 4 weapons for 20 bulky groups)

… which is ridiculous. And useless! So we’re going to have to rethink it.

Moderately Easy Weight System aka MEWS

Let’s start with the easiest thing, armors:

  • Heavy armors weight at least 40lb so they now weight 8 bulk
  • Medium armor weight at least 12lb so they weight 4 bulk, it should be 2 bulk but medium armor can weight up to 45lb (half-plate) so it’s probably better to go with 4 to avoid under estimate their weight
  • Light armors weight at least 10lb so they now weight 2 bulks

Which gives us a nice geometrical 2, 4, 8 progression.

Also to avoid carrying character carrying an absurd number of of weapon let’s say that groups of any 2 (previously it was 4) weapons makes a bulk.

And finally, let change the rule for adventuring gear. There is not adventuring gear weighting between 6lb (pole, manacles, fine clothes, note that a shovel weight 5lb) and 10lb (chain, sledge hammer, hempen rope) which gives us a nice mental divide to divide the gear between bulky adventuring gear and light adventuring gear. At a glance we should be able to judge if an adventuring gear is lighter than a sledge hammer of close in weight to a shovel or heavier than a sledge hammer.

The updated rules for our Moderately Easy Weight System (MEWS) are:

  1. Everything is small (which means it does count in the LBCC weight of the character) except that:
  2. Tools, mounts and vehicles and items that are obviously heavy are bulky
  3. Light armors are bulky, medium armors are twice that (= 4 bulks) and heavy armors are twice that (= 8 bulks)
  4. Groups of any 2 weapons are bulky
  5. Any group of 10 identical items is bulky (rations, arrows, bolts, … and yeah 9 arrows weight nothing)
  6. Adventuring gear weight nothing if it like a pole or lighter, or be bulky if it’s heavier

With 30 bulks our 10 strength wizard can now carry:

  • 15 light armors, and many light items
  • or 3 heavy armors (24 bulks) and 12 weapons (6 groups of 2)
  • or a more realist example, for a total of 23 bulks:
    • 1 heavy armor (8 bulk) looted on a bad guy that she’s bringing back to her friend the paladin
    • 1 medium armors (4 bulk) that is magical, she’s bringing it back to town to sell it
    • 4 weapons (2 bulks), two daggers, one quarter staff, one magical thingy
    • 2 tools (2 bulks), tinkerer and alchemist
    • 18 rations (1 bulks)
    • 25 arrows (2 bulks)
    • Bedroll and tent (2 bulks)
    • Rope (1 bulk)
    • Climber’s Kit (1 bulk)

Which is much more reasonable. The last example is ok for a wizards that is coming back from exploring a dungeon with some loot.

With the MEWS variant encumbrance rule:

  • A character can carry up to its strength score in bulk with no problem
  • Between once and twice its strength score in bulk an be encumbered: 10ft penalty to movement
  • Between twice and 3 times its strength score in bulk and be heavily encumbered: 20ft penalty to movement and disadvantage on ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution.

These rules are more complicated than I would like but they have the advantage of using simple numbers and being possible to learn. Which mean that, with time, the GM and the players should be able to use them without thinking about it too much.

What I would like to do now is building an inventory sheet that makes counting weight easier, maybe a sheet with the 6 rules on top and a table with blocks of 4 bulks with dashed lines every two bulk and dotted lines for the remaining lines.

inventory sheet screenshot

Inventory sheet in odt format.

I didn’t test this system so all of this is entirely speculative.

As usual, the data I computed in this post are available in ods format.