Encumbrance from OD&D to B/X (OSE)

Encumbrance — how much a character can carry — is a pretty vital aspect of Dungeons & Dragons (Old School!), because it is, at heart, a resource game: How much can I carry in as equipment to use, and how much can I carry out as treasure: That is the main point of the game, because that is where the chances to survive and the XP to level up come from. (in Old School)

To make it easy for the referee, the earlier editions, Original and Basic both, don’t fuck around with pounds and ounces, but go directly to the weight that matters for treasure: coins.

Given this basic axiom that stays with Dungeons & Dragons through the editions, it is fascinating that while the general hand-wavey weight of the backpack full of miscellaneous mumbo-jumbo weighs 80 coins in Original 1974 edition just as in Moldvay/Cook,
Plate Armor weighs 750 coins in OD&D and 500 in B/X.
Chain Armor weighs 500 in OD&D and 400 in B/X.
So armor gets more light-weight, but, much more meaningful:

Characters cannot carry as much overall.

In both editions the individual STR value of a character is ignored for encumbrance purposes – that sounds crazy at first, especially if you are a player who has rolled 17 or 18 strength and feel as if you can uproot trees and lift the world out of its orbit. But it preserves your sanity if you are the referee and have 10 players at the table, and three quarters of them struggle with calculating their encumbrance.

In such a scenario you are either a math-nerd, or a highly motivated accountant, and love juggling numbers for an hour, or, more likely for a wannabe-author who runs games and invents multiple worlds, scenarios and evil machinations every week, you are happy to just announce the standardized numbers across the board and be done in 5 minutes.

Original D&D characters from 1974 are stronger.

They can carry 750 coins without trouble, and 1500 coins for half-movement.

B/X characters from 1981 are weaker.

They can carry 400 coins without breaking a sweat. Half movement comes at 800 coins! Only a trifle more than what an OD&D character shouldered without thinking twice.

In both cases, people argue back and forth about the actual weight of a coin and how realistic or crazy that is, how big these coins must be, if they are actually fully gold or some amalgam of various metals, etc. A debate I will happily skip, because it fits precisely NOT fast and easy Basic D&D, but accounting-heavy Advanced D&D.

1e, that is the edition with the tables, exact definition of what kind of hooker you meet in the streets, combat round segments to further split up initiative, extra d100 to differentiate 18 strength in multiple sub-strengths, and percentage values of pummeling in unarmed combat.

So, but what about this strength difference?
Was Moldvay a pencil-pushing magic-user next to the muscular barbarian Gygax?

The answer, I have learned from someone much wiser in the ways of AD&D than I could ever be, can be found in a younger edition, 2e.

According to this helpful table,
(yes, yes, I know I dissed tables earlier, but I admit I was exaggerating. Tables can be helpful. Like this one is.)

So, according to this helpful table,
the encumbrance of Original D&D is modeled after a character of STR 16-17; a beast with wide shoulders, who goes the 120″ with 70-85 and the 60″ with 15.7.
The encumbrance of B/X follows the STR track for 10-11: the actual average. 40 for 120″, and 76 (almost 80) for 60″.

We learn: Moldvay took the strength and weight average for everyone,
while Gygax/Arneson went with high tier numbers.

Photo by John Arano on Unsplash

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