Dungeons & Dragons: Encumbrance Explained

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  • How To Calculate Carrying Capacity
  • What Is Encumbrance?
  • How To Subvert Encumbrance

Dungeons & Dragons is a game filled to the brim with gameplay mechanics to reflect various elements of adventuring. Only enforced by some Dungeon Masters due to its status as optional, Encumbrance is a rule in D&D that's used to determine if a character is capable of reliably traveling with their inventory without being weighed down or hampered in some way.

Though this rule is optional, it is frequently used by DMs aiming to emulate realism within their campaign, putting an emphasis on inventory management. So for DMs considering utilizing this rule in a campaign and for players within campaigns in which this rule is applicable, we're going to explore everything you need to know about encumbrance in Dungeons & Dragons:

How To Calculate Carrying Capacity

Before we tackle exactly how Encumbrance functions, it's important to know how carrying capacity functions in D&D. Carrying capacity simply dictates how much a character is capable of lifting and it's rather easy to calculate. By default, a character's carrying capacity is equal to 15 times a character's Strength ability score.

Additionally, some races such as Bugbears, Centuars, and Goliaths are capable of lifting twice their carrying capacity, allowing them to reliably lug around the heaviest of objects. If a player knows that their campaign is going to include Encumbrance and is worried that their character may not be able to carry as much as they'd hope, races with doubled carrying capacity may be a solid choice.

What Is Encumbrance?

Encumbrance is a means of determining if a character is capable of easily maneuvering while carrying the contents of their inventory. In campaigns using this rule, there are two types of encumbrance to keep track of, encumbrance and heavy encumbrance.

Encumbrance is experienced when a character is carrying an amount of weight that exceeds five times a character's strength score. This means that if a character with a Strength ability score of ten was carrying fifty-five pounds worth of gear, they would be considered encumbered. When encumbered, a character isn't capable of maneuvering optimally, and their movement speed is reduced by ten.

On the more extreme end of encumbrance, a character is carrying an amount of weight between ten times a character's strength score and that character's maximum carrying capacity, not only is their movement speed reduced by 20, but that character makes all ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws that use Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution at disadvantage. This can be incredibly punishing and applies significant pressure to players to not carry an excessively heavy inventory.

While Strength is often considered to be one of the less integral ability scores for many classes, in campaigns using encumbrance, this ability score is notably more important. As some players believe that classes like Barbarian and Fighter lack utility outside of combat, this additional use for Strength provides these classes with an additional advantage.

How To Subvert Encumbrance

Due to the punishing penalties that come along with being encumbered and the often unpopular views of this mechanic, many players seek out means of subverting it. As spellcasters often feel the impacts of encumbrance the most due to their often low strength scores, there are various spells and magical items that at the least can help mitigate the mechanic and at the most, make it look like a joke.

Exclusive to the Wizard class, Tenser's Floating Disk is a first-level ritual spell capable of creating a floating platform that automatically follows its caster for one hour. As this platform is capable of supporting up to 500 pounds, it can easily contain anything a frailer wizard would otherwise want to carry. This allows a wizard to simply put the contents of their inventory on this disk as they travel rather than carrying heavy items on their immediate person.

Additionally, as this spell may be cast as a ritual, it can be repeatedly cast at the end of each hour without requiring the caster to expend a spell slot. Furthermore, this spell's status as a ritual makes it accessible to a character of any class as long as they take the Ritual Caster feat.

Alternatively, there are several magic items capable of helping a character get around Encumbrance. While the Gauntlets of Ogre Power and the Belt of Gaint Strength are both items that can set an attuned creature's Strength score to a higher value, no item allows a character to laugh at encumbrance quite like a Bag of Holding.

A bag capable of storing up to five hundred pounds worth of content through an extradimensional space, regardless of how full this bag is, it never increases in size and always weighs 15 pounds. This means that not only can a character with a Bag of Holding carry around five hundred pounds worth of inventory, but they are capable of doing so in a compact and subtle manner.

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