While on my trip a few weeks ago I spent more than my share of time lugging my heavy-ass baggage from one end of the airport to the other. This experince got me to thinking about how much insane stuff D&D characters drag through the wilderness.
Now, I like to travel light: I don’t check baggage unless I really need to. For my five-day trip I managed to get everything into a single reasonably-sized carry-on bag. It was just the bare minimum of items for five days: I wore a few clothing items twice to save space, and only carried a couple of books and a laptop for entertainment. Nevertheless, the strap of this bag bit into my shoulder as I walked, and the weight threatened to pull me off balance. A full-out run was nearly impossible, and a light jog caused the weight to bounce all over the place, slam me in the leg, and generally make the simple task of walking a bit more tricky than it normally is. It wasn’t just the weight that was a problem: the volume made the stuff difficult to manage as well.
Note that I was not wearing any metal armor. I wasn’t carrying enough food for five days in the wild. I didn’t have a sword, rope, grapple hook, spare dagger, or any other items D&D characters seem to keep handy. Try lugging five days of food and a few metal weapons a half-mile or so and you’ll quickly see that the D&D rules for carrying capacity are pure comedy.
The system is even more messed up than it seems. A quick glance at the item weights in the player handbook will reveal gems like the following: A longsword weighs 4lbs. Even using lightweight modern metal alloys, I think you’d have a very, very hard time getting an adult-sized longsword that weighs only 4lbs. Even if you did somehow have a sword that light, it would feel like a toy in your hand.
I know why the rules are like this. It isn’t any fun managing objects at realisitc weights anymore than it was fun to get winded carrying mundane stuff through the airport. We never see Gandalf staggering under a heavy load of food. Aragon was never overcome by all the herbs, food, and winter clothing on his back and fell over backwards like a flipped turtle. In fact, the only character from the books who was ever burdened was Samwise, and he was less than four feet tall.
Next time you play D&D or some computer-driven RPG, take a peek at your inventory and try to imagine all that stuff in one big pile. Try to imagine the size and weight of that pile on your back.
Now imagine having all that on your back while you swordfight.
UPDATE (March 16 2007): A lot of people who have some experience with this sort of thing have pointed out that 4lbs really is about right for a sword. That’s hard to imagine, because I have a 5lb hand weight here and it really does feel like a toy. It’s hard to picture how that much weight, spread out over the length of a sword, can have any heft to it. Still, I’m not going to argue with people who know what they are talking about. In fact, someone made the case that 4lbs is actually a little heavy, and that one replica sword they have is only 3.3lbs. Amazing.
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