Encumbrance in OD&D: The Isle of Ys Campaign


Encumbrance is an oft discussed topic for reform in the OSR and there have been numerous house rulings and proposed systems. I prefer the simplicity of a Strength-based system like the one Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Stars Without Numbers uses. But, I also like the idea of using a container-based system. The encumbrance system outlined below is one I’m planning to use for my upcoming OD&D campaign, The Isle of Ys. 

In the Isle of Ys campaign, I’m using the framework of OD&D as the base. But, the mantra I’m trying to adhere to is to simplify as much as possible. The first iteration of my simplified encumbrance rules is sort of two-tiered. First, you determine the number of Encumbrance Slots you have. This is determined by Strength. Consult the following table:

Strength# of Encumbrance Slots

Once the number of encumbrance slots are determined, the player knows how much weight can be carried without being overburdened. For each slot over their maximum, the character’s movement is reduced by one step from 120′ to 90′ to 60′ and finally to 30′. A character with 5 slots above their maximum is overloaded and cannot move. 

You may fill a number of encumbrance slots permitted by your Strength score before becoming overburdened. The following table outlines how many slots each bit costs. The steps should be as follows: 

  1. Choose armor. 
  2. Choose weapons. 
  3. Choose a pack.

Then, add up the number of slots required. If it exceeds your Strength allowance for encumbrance slots, you are overburdened. 


ArmorSlots Taken

Armor is fairly straight-forward. Helms do not count against encumbrance (but have other penalties). 


WeaponsSlots Taken
Long and short; or two Short1
Two Long; or Long and two Short; or three Short2
Two Long and a Short; or Long and three Short; or four Short3

Long weapons are all those with long in the name (longsword, longbow, etc.) and larger or similar size. Short weapons are those that have short in the name (shortsword, shortbow, etc.) and smaller, like daggers.

A shield counts as a Long weapon. If your game uses bucklers and small shields, count it as Short. So, using a Longsword and Shield would count as 2 Encumbrance slots. If you wanted to also have a dagger handy (and not stowed; see below), you’d bump that up to 3 slots. Not terrible if just on a battlefield, but quite the majority of your gear if you’re exploring a dungeon or wilderness.

These are assumed to be readied weapons. Stowed weapons count as items, outlined below. 


PackSlots Taken
Knapsack 1

For packs:

  • Pouches hold 1 item
  • Knapsacks hold 3 items
  • Haversacks hold 6 items
  • Rucksacks hold 9 items

Items are bunched or individual dependent upon how they are sold. Thus, an item would be: 6 torches, a week of rations, 100′ of rope, a sleeping bag, a tent, 6 iron spikes, and so on. For treasures, 100 coins equals an item and any single piece of treasure equals an item (such as a crown, necklace, etc.) though the DM may decide small treasure items like rings might be bundled. 

Some Examples

Leon with STR 13 has a movement of 120′ up to 5 slots. Leon elects to go with Plate (3), a mace [short] and shield [long] (1), and a knapsack (1). The knapsack can hold 3 items, so Leon brings rope, a week of rations, and a waterskin. If Leon were willing to be reduced to a 90′ movement rate, he could increase his knapsack to a haversack or mace to a longsword. 

Anagol with STR of 7 has a movement of 120′ up to 3 slots. Anagol elects to go with no armor (0), a longbow and a shortsword (1), and a haversack (2). The haversack can hold 6 items, so Anagol brings a week of rations, 6 torches, a mirror, a waterskin, a bag of ball bearings, and a compass. Realizing that with no armor Anagol is vulnerable, he reduces his movement by two steps to 60′ to increase armor to Mail (2). 

About the author

Michael Pfaff

It's pronounced P-aff -- the first 'f' is silent. I live in Louisville. I like games and reading about games. I hope to write about gaming stuff here.

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By Michael Pfaff

Michael Pfaff

It's pronounced P-aff -- the first 'f' is silent. I live in Louisville. I like games and reading about games. I hope to write about gaming stuff here.


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