Item-Based Encumbrance Play Test

Gavin Norman oldschoolessentials

Encumbrance is one of those parts of the game that different groups tend to handle in a lot different ways. Some groups simply ignore encumbrance altogether (it is, after all, an optional rule), some use one of the standard systems presented in Old-School Essentials, and others implement their own tweaks or alternative systems.

To provide more options to players of Old-School Essentials, we're developing an alternative encumbrance system which is now ready for play testing!

Standard Encumbrance Systems

Old-School Essentials presents two systems for tracking encumbrance:

  1. Basic encumbrance: A character's movement rate is determined by the armour they wear and whether they are carrying a significant amount of treasure or not.
  2. Detailed encumbrance: A character's movement rate is determined by the total weight of equipment and treasure carried.

These two systems are derived from the classic Basic/Expert rules, of course, as Old-School Essentials is designed for compatibility with that game.

Play Test: Item-Based Encumbrance

In recent years, item- (or slot-) based encumbrance has become one of the most popular alternative systems for tracking encumbrance: instead of tracking the weight of items carried, players track the number of significant items carried.

Necrotic Gnome is currently developing an item-based encumbrance system for Old-School Essentials (to be featured in Carcass Crawler issue 2) and would like to offer the draft version of the rules for play testing. You can download the draft files here:

Changes from v0.1 to v0.2:

  • Unified wording around tiny items and jewellery.
  • Clarified that a character's movement rate is determined by looking up equipped and packed items in the table and using the slower rate.
  • Added a section on calculating item-based load limits for mounts and vehicles.


We hope you enjoy the new system! If you have any feedback on these rules, please post in our Discord server or email

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  • Troy on

    Agree with hemp rope at 2 slots. It’s heavy and it’s also really bulky.

  • TW on

    @John Justice Historically there was much, much less freedom of choice than there is in an RPG. Medieval warriors absolutely without question wore the most protective armor they could find. The problem was finding it. The only real instance where warriors exchanged protection for mobility was in the Crusades, when 120-degree heat made wearing metal armor difficult. Even so, most held onto it, since it was the equivalent in modern terms of a top-of-the-line luxury SUV. Nor did they ever concern themselves with carrying tents, rope, torches, hundreds of gold coins, a 10’ pole, etc. I think the question here is not whether RPG encumbrance is “gamey”, it’s a question of how gamey it can be before it gets too ridiculous. You’ll note 5e solved this problem by ignoring it. Which I think is a lazy design decision, but it’s really not a simple problem.

  • John Justice on

    At first glance, I think the penalty for wearing armor is a bit steep. Warriors in historical times were not stupid and wouldn’t use armor that prevented them from being mobile in combat. (Queue up picture of knight in plate armor being hoisted onto his horse with a winch.) I would treat worn armor as “packed” instead of “equipped” to allow a fully gear-up warrior to have armor, shield, primary weapon, and a smaller backup weapon or two without getting totally screwed.

  • Jiri Petru on

    Yay! This is something that I want (or would otherwise do myself).

    Random first sight comments:
    - 50 feet of rope per 1 slot is very benevolent. Hemp rope is heavy. Make it 2 slots per 50 feet.
    - I would suggest making torches take up 1 slot each. A torch is a big stick of wood, comparable to a, say, short sword or a club (!!!). Yes, this limits the number of torches one can carry. This is a good thing.

    Overall, it feels like characters can carry quite a lot, and the pack may become non-issue. The limiting factor will be armor and weapons. I’ll try to test it, though, and let you know.

    Also, can you please add the extra fields for bonus Strength to the tracker? It seems inconvenient, having to draw the boxes myself. I would simply add two extra boxes (one for +1, the other for +2) above the standard pack boxes, and be done with it. No need to have extra slots for each encumbrance category.

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