By Shamus Posted Monday Dec 5, 2005

Filed under: Tabletop Games 76 comments

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.


From The Archives:

76 thoughts on “Encumbrance

  1. DVS says:

    As a former SCA person, I really enjoyed this essay about realistic armor, encumberance, and combat:


  2. Ethan says:

    In the PCs defense, none of us make a living with our swords, tromping around the countryside bashing the heads of wildlife. Those of us who do anything of the sort are weekenders at best. I’m sure a marine or an army infantryman wouldn’t scoff as much at the things mentioned. I feel those are a bit better, comparing fantastical to modern equivalents.

  3. Jeff says:

    Ethan makes a great point.

    A standard US Army infantryman carries about 65 pounds of arms and ammo into combat – between web-gear, helmets, rifles, ammo, etc. (I believe this goes up when you look at SAW gunners, M-60 Machine gunners, etc)
    We’re not even into Chemical Suits, a MRE or two, etc. You’d be surprized how heavy that 65 can be in a dash-n-duck. (get up, run 20 feet, drop to the ground…get up, run 20 feet, drop to the ground… etc etc etc)

    However, they are also physically trained to carry that gear as well, through intense Physical Training (PT) and exercise. I think we could safely assume that our adventurers would be trained, or otherwise use to the weight of their gear, (just like SCA members!) over a normal peasant trying to do the same.


    1. Doc says:

      I can say, as a Marine medic, that when out on combat patrol the load out JUST ON YOUR BODY approaches 80 pounds what with flak vest, protective plates, helmet, 6-10 magazines, frag grenades, smoke grenades, knife, goggles, gloves, kneepads, elbow pads, rifle, (sometimes) sidearm, (sometimes) crew serve component, and camelback. Plus your patrol pack with food, extra water, tarp, signal flares, helo flags, extra ammo, first-aid supplies, and whatever “mission specific” gear is needed… Yes, it’s true we go on long, long hikes with heavy gear to get used to this, but let me tell ya it’s not something that’s fun to do every day.

  4. D. M. Depew says:

    Encumberance is something that has bothered me, both as a GM and a player, for some time now. You’re right. The encumberance system is just completely off. It doesn’t even mimic fantasy well.

    For starters, most of the weights of the weapons in the PHB is incorrect. In this regard you are not correct. A longsword should weight about 3 to 4 lbs. Real rapiers are actually a little heavier, being quite long. The heaviest 2-handed sword on record is about 8 lbs, and there is absolutely no such thing as a 12 lb mace. Ridiculous. No one could swing that – 12 lbs all at the end on a 2 foot haft? Sure, maybe a world’s strongest man finalist could swing it, but I’d like to see him stop his swing midway and change direction – without tearing shoulder muscles. Not bloody likely. A real mace weighs no more than 4 lbs, most less. Many of the weapon weights are much, much too large.

    The armor weights, on the other hand, aren’t that bad. Pretty good. But I don’t like how a movement rate / encumberance is tied specifically to a suit of armor. A suit of Full Plate armor is about 65 lbs on average. That weight is evenly distributed across your entire body with straps & buckles, etc. That’s heavy, sure, but *it’s made to be used in combat,* and fitted for its wearer. Now let’s apply that suit of armor to our heroic 3.5 Ed Fighter with that 18 Str and we have a logistical (and logical) nightmare. According to the rules, a light load for our hero, let’s call him Joe, is 100 lbs. Impressive. Joe is an incredibly strong human being (or dwarf, or whatever). And yet, in his plate armor, Joe’s base movement rate is 20, and his run is just x3 that. At first glance, that looks fine. But what happens when Joe is unarmored, but picks up his armor (in a large sack or something) and carries it over his back? Well, the answer is, according to 3.5 ed rules, is that Joe has no movement restrictions whatsoever. He can walk 30′ as a standard move action, and can run x4 that. Stunningly counter-intuitive. So much so I feel no need to explain it.

    As a GM, I’ve come up with the following rules to fix this problem:

    1) Ignore the Speed Rules listed under Table 7-6: Armor & Shields on page 123 of the PHB (3.5, naturally).

    2) Use Table 9-2: Carrying Loads for ALL ENCUMBERANCE instead. Just add up the weights and you’re done.

    3) Neither a MEDIUM LOAD *nor* a MEDIUM SUIT of ARMOR lower your BASE MOVEMENT RATE!

    4) INSTEAD, either a MEDIUM LOAD *or* a MEDIUM SUIT of ARMOR lowers your MAXIMUM RUN MOVEMENT to x3!!

    5) The rules for HEAVY LOADS or ARMORS remain unchanged. (You suffer both penalties.)

    Why 3, 4 & 5? Because carrying a *fairly* heavy weight, like I often do as a FedEx Courier, doesn’t slow down the rate you can walk at, only how long you can carry said weight. What you can’t do while carrying, say 45 lbs, is RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!! Think about it. Wearing a suit of chainmail isn’t going to affect how fast *you can walk!* Ridiculous. But, what it does affect is how fast you can run!

  5. DM Dan says:

    The longsword weight is correct. With the alloys we have these days they can be increadibly light. Goto any Comic Shop that has swords on display or for sale and pick one up. They will weigh in the 3 lbs area and are very quickly/cheaply made in China and Taiwan and not made of anything special. My neighbor did one of those real life RPG games and left his sword outside overnight, rained, you can imagine the rust.

    Check out one of those “Ninja” stores that pop up in a mall every so often an lift a katana. These things also weigh next to nothing.

    My big concern is the size and placement of gear. It’s nice to be able to carry a 10′ ladder, or with 18 STR 40 of them, but how do you place that on your back? Another one is the walking arsenal: Flameblade, Frost Brand, Vorpal Weapon, Eagle Bow +5, Hammer of Returning… This works great with a Bag of Holding, but try running with 3 swords and a hammer bouncing off your thigh. We made a ruling where you can store equipment at a keep, home, etc for use with possible theft, but only 1 weapon per hip, etc… much like many of the CRPG’s where you have placement.. All subjective, but DM rules… it is very fair through.

  6. Rufus Polson says:

    It’s been a long time since I played D20 rules. I remember in old AD&D, a gold coin weighed one tenth of a pound. As in, 1.6 ounces each coin!! People needed ridiculous encumbrance rules, not to mention bags of holding, portable holes and whatnot, just to carry a moderate amount of treasure. Copper coins probably weren’t worth their weight in leather. Seriously, if you found a huge hoard of copper coins in backpacks and could only carry some of it, you’d probably have been better off dumping out the copper and carrying home the backpacks. And for that matter, gold was in general ridiculously undervalued–although I suppose if you posit an “all adventurers, all the time, digging up the treasures of the past fifty thousand years to all be put in circulation right now” you could get a fair amount of inflation.
    Real ancient and medieval coinage tended to be small and flimsy. And modern-day coins certainly don’t go around weighing in at more than an ounce.

  7. Tola says:

    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.

    Bad example, perhaps-Only Sam actually did D&D style carrying. He also brought everything but the kitchen sink. At the first the hobbits only brought what was needed with them, and divided everything between them. It helped that they had horses with them. After that they had a pack animal, which they had to leave behind. They took what they needed, and left the rest. Then came the split-up…

    They never had the sort of gear that D&D has adventurers with.

  8. Speelyi says:

    US Marines in the 90’s would ‘hump’ pretty heavy loads up and down mountains under varying road conditions and in inclement weather.

    When I say pretty heavy we are talking about 15 pounds just in kevlar. 7 pounds in M-16. Add in a pair of Danner’s (some would wear jungles just because they were significantly lighter) and Cammies (7-10 pounds give or take), web (or as we called it ‘deuce’ gear) to include but not limited to magazines, 2: 1qt canteens (filled intially), “Buttpack” most commonly with: a green patrol sack, skivvies/socks/shirt/, medical kit, flashlight, boot polish and cammie paint. On top of that each Marine is issued a bayonet and some carry K-Bars as well. (Sidenote:the KA-BAR weighs .68 pounds). And that is just your kit…or on an adventurer the cool straps and pouches.

    Now you add in a ruck with:
    Shelter half (with stakes and rope), extra cammies, wet weather gear (rubber duckys), bold weather bag, bivvy sack, spare socks/skivvie/shirts, long underwear, and whatever else you were told to pack.

    I was with Weapons Co. Which means we carried M2 .50 cals out on our 25mi nature walks. We traded out amongst the unit and each carried a different piece (barrel/tripod/receiver) but it wasn’t pleasant while walking up soft soil hills, for miles on end in Southern California heat.

    Now how does this analogy effect our intrepid adventurers? There was quick release straps on the ALICE pack for a reason. Because you weren’t likely to survive an ambush with it on your back impeding your movement while you hug dirt. It would also float (if you used a Willy Peter bag properly) so the quick release straps kept you from going facedown, or drowning.

    So I think that the author here is right in their critique of encumbrance. Then again an effective illustration could get really messy.

  9. stuff says:

    While the author has a point, he is forgetting that str 18 is nearing worlds strongest man draging a subway train strong.

  10. DaveH says:

    Frankly Scarlet, ….

  11. Jeff says:

    On average…
    A Roman legionary under Marius, 1st century BC, carried 66lbs.
    An armored French knight at Agincourt, 1415, carried 80 lbs.
    A Union soldier at Gettysburg, 1863, carried 50lbs.
    A World War I American doughboy, 1917, carried 48lbs.
    An Allied infantryman on D-day, 1944, carried 80lbs.
    A Russian soldier during the advance on Berlin, 1945, carried 40lbs.
    A British Royal Marine in the Falklands, 1982, carried 120lbs.
    A US Army soldier on patrol in Afghanistan, 2002, carried 100lbs.

    Figures from Essential Militaria, compiled by Nicholas Hobbes.

    Medieval weapons weren’t that heavy. The mistake is associating weight with power. You may think a 4lb length of steel is easy to swing, but it’s not due inertia. You’re exerting force on one end of a long length of steel to move the other end, not tossing a ball.

  12. Kacky Snorgle says:

    I remember in old AD&D, a gold coin weighed one tenth of a pound. As in, 1.6 ounces each coin!! … Real ancient and medieval coinage tended to be small and flimsy. And modern-day coins certainly don't go around weighing in at more than an ounce.

    Modern-day coins don’t, but it hasn’t been too long since they did. An old U.S. $20 gold piece contained 0.96 (troy) ounces net gold, with a total weight around 1.1 ounces. And in the early years of the California gold rush, there was so much gold sloshing around out west that some private mints were making $50 gold pieces on the U.S. standard, weighing some 2.8 ounces. Extant specimens show heavy wear indicating that they actually circulated as money–these were used as coins for commerce, not merely as ingots for storage or transportation.

    In order for coins that size to be realistic, you need (a) an economic situation in which precious metals are relatively plentiful and (b) sufficently advanced minting machinery that the production of large coins is practical, e.g. a screw press rather than a simple hammer. The medieval era was distinctly lacking (b), and I’m not too sure about (a) either. The D&D environment could reasonably be considered to have both.

  13. Dave H. says:

    >>DaveH Says:
    >>February 28th, 2007 at 8:53 pm
    >>Frankly Scarlet, ….

    Huh? Different Dave H…. weird.

    We had a DM who was… creative… in dealing with encumbrance. Which really means he ignored it, and made up some silly (fun) reason that it made sense. We played for the fun and socializing, and although we were as willing as the next group to spend hours debating the details of the most insignifican rule, we had a sort of “off button.” If the discussion started to take too long, someone would invariably say, “OK, enough, command decision time!” We’d roll d20, and the highest roll made the call. That person’s ruling, no matter how silly, instantly became the house rule (until the next time, of course…)

  14. Ed says:

    Quick reality check — yes, swords weigh 4 lb. I’ve got an Irish replica sword that comes in at a little over two lbs. I’ve also got a replica 5 lb two-hander — and at 5 lb that that sword is too heavy for me to use. And I’m 6’2″, 250 lb, and hit the gym three times a week.

    Angular momentum, my friend. Even a few pounds of steel strung out over three feet has a buttload of angular momentum. The 5-lb two-hander is almost impossible for me to control. At 2 lb, I don’t have a lot of control over the Irish sword. Weirdly, my 3.5 lb basket-hilt is easy to control — the weight of the basket hilt brings the center of gravity far back and makes it much more manuverable.


  15. Eric O says:

    Well, it does depend on the sword itself, too. I mean, I have a pair of replica daggers, one is simple and weighs /maybe/ two pounds, the other us hugely ornate, long, and heavy, weighing around six or seven. I think tis reasonable to assume most adventurers had simple plain swords to start out with, maybe even just beaten plowshares, so that’s fairly light. But ancient weapons of power? I’m almost positive those would have gems and emblems and etchings and runes and the whole nine yards, adding extra poundage, ne?

  16. Korppis says:

    No offence but those hugely ornate daggers you got are most likely intented to be decorative items not supposed to be used in a real battle.
    It is reasonable to assume that no one uses things like those in a battle for his hife is he has any other options. Even there has been added some decorations like runes or gems, those won’t usually add much weight if craftsman making the sword knows his trade. (For example, biggest diamond ever found weights just about ~2,5 ounces… most likely place for gem like this would be pommel of the sword, and placing this gem in a pommel would mean that some metal should be removed to make room for the gem).

    And yes, most of the historical longswords or war swords (or even closely accurate replicas) didn’t weight more than 1,5 – 3kg (3 – 6 lbs).

    There have been some really huge and massive swords (~12+ lbs) but these have been seremonial items, symbols of power and hence never been used in a battle.

  17. Korppis says:

    Also, i have several times been wearing maille (chain mail) hauberk whole weekend, removing it only when going to sleep.
    Myself, i am IT-geek in quite average physical shape in modern-day standards (which means that i propably am terribly weak compared to medieval soldiers or roman legionares or your averagre RPG adventurer) and wearing that 30 lbs hauberk didn’t wear me down too bad… After a whole weekend my shoulders were quite sore and running in that armour was not too easy, but that’s all.

    Full plate armour is almost 2 times as heavy as my maille armour but it’s weight is more evenly shared over wearer’s whole body (in maille your waist and shoulders will take most of the weight)… You won’t propably be able to take whole day’s march wearing it but on the other hands guys wearing armour like this were usually riding.

  18. Lepeu says:

    “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.”

    Here’s an easy fix. Pick up a baseball bat. Pretty light. Less then 5 pounds. Hit someone with it. Still think it’s not ‘heavy’ enough to do any damage? Now add a sharp edge.

    As for ‘alloys and rusting swords’ Good carbon steel is ‘light’. It will rust. If you left a 14th Century sword in the rain over night and didn’t oil it it will rust very quickly. ‘Replica’ swords are made of stainless steel – an alloy. They don’t work very well as a combat item as they’re brittle. Having your sword rust on you has nothing to do with it being ‘cheap’ – carbon steel rusts very easily & needs constant care.

  19. Torchwood says:

    There is a large disconnect between the medieval technology D&D uses and how it’s used in D&D. People who actually used full plate would have also had retainers to carry their equipment. D&D battles tend to be skirmishes more than true battles. You have to wear armor all the time because you never know when a pack of kobolds is going to attack.

    As to the lethality of a light weapon: you don’t have to kill your opponent in battle. You just need to incapacitate them. You can always come back to kill them later.

  20. BR says:

    One of the US museums (I believe in Chicago, though I can’t remember which) with a decent weapons collection published a paper that compared a variety of swords in terms of length, weight, blade thickness, etc. It was long and dry, but I do remember taking away a rule of thumb that, on average, your generic medieval sword was about 1oz per inch of length. A little less for perhaps a rapier, a little more for the wide leaf bladed Roman spatha.

  21. Nate says:

    Yeah. We have a bag that can hold 500 pounds of items. I had about 400 pounds of wine, in bottles, in there, and my dire rat that I keep in my bag. I also threw a Kender in my bag at one point. Great fun.

  22. Jason says:

    This is a great article. Recently we had a game where a character actually carried a full-sized body mirror out of a dungeon so he could sell it! Mirrors are very hard to carry, let alone a full-sized body mirror. He then managed to strap it onto his horse and ride just fine with it. It’s silly little stuff like this that really throws my suspension of disbelief out the window. What gets me even more, however, is when the DM/GM says no and the player ends up in a whinning contest with the DM/GM about the whole thing. Totally kills the game for me.

    An idea that came to me while playing World of Warcraft was to have a person’s back be based on slots, and certain items took up a certain number of slots. Once your slots where full you couldn’t carry any more items. Still abstracted but better than the TARDIS-bag!

  23. little black dog says:

    Or else … An alternative method is to take your pen and roughly draw one’s PC with all the equipment she carries. I always thought it was easy to carry all the stuff noted on my character sheet, and one day I tried to make a (not too) quick drawing of my PC : it was amazing how much it was difficult to place the short sword, the longsword, the crossbow, the quiver full of arrows, the shield … and the bags.

    Frow this time on in medfan RPGs, I always draw my PC with her load on my sheet, travel light, secure all the stuff wich is dispensable during a fight in one or two bag I can quickly let fall behind my feet, an if possible try to find magical items who avoid the need to feed as soon as possible .. or hunt. Plus, Leomund’s Secret Chest is your friend …

  24. Andrew says:

    I always play with walking encumbrance, to determine overland travel rate, and combat encumbrance, after you’ve dropped your pack. That eliminates some issues about encumbrance versus restriction of movement, and could ease suspension of disbelief somewhat.

    My real-life movement speed is notably lessened when I’m moderately encumbered, unlike D. M. DePew.

    Regarding Tola’s comment on LOTR characters’ equipment … as Shamus points out so neatly elsewhere, it’s cuz they never got lewts. =)

  25. Jondera says:

    To expand on D. M. DePew’s comments on armor, I might point out that the 3.0/3.5 D&D rules vastly exaggerate armor’s limits on non-speed mobility – namely, the armor check penalty. Going back to the Full Plate analogy – somebody who is trained in the use of the armor (that is, has the armor proficiency feat) and is strong enough to reliably use it really shouldn’t be significantly limited in their movement. For example, modern day SCA members in full plate are known to preform somersaults and various other acrobatics while armored, and I know a story where a knight in full plate jumped off the side of his horse while riding at a gallop, jumped, and because of his momentum, was able to land back on top of the horse. And let’s not get started on chainmail – that stuff is so flexible that it’s almost disgusting.

    As for weapons finding homes on their wearers, it also depends on the size of the weapon. It is conceivable (and, actually, rather common in some parts of the world) to carry a short sword and a longsword on the same side of the body. The reason being that most people are not ambidextrous or double-wielders, so they have to be able to access their weapons with their primary hand, and if they drop their longsword or the space is to confined to swing it, then what? They’re not going to spend two rounds drawing a dagger with their off-hand and transferring it to their main hand, just so they can fight. I see most characters as having the ability to carry about five weapons at once (unless they’re all daggers – then you can carry dozens). One in the hand (a spear, bow, staff, or pole-arm), two on the left hip (primary and secondary melee weapons, assuming a right-handed person), one on the right hip (probably a dagger – they’re small enough that they can be drawn with the near hand easily), and a large something on the back (like a two-handed sword or a bow). Alternately, one of the hip slots could be used by a quiver of arrows or bolts.

    Also, on the issue of the bag of stuff for a week vs. a suit of armor – a suit of armor is spread out over the entire body and supported in several locations – the shoulders and belt, most notably. The luggage bag, however, is only being supported in one place (the shoulder) and is a large chunk of weight in one portion of the body – therefore it is encumbering beyond its actual weight.

  26. Pickle says:

    There’s actually a really great link from this that I got from a writer’s group I belong to:


    The page is entitled “What did historical swords weigh?” If you’re going for realism in your game or other historical writing, it’s an interesting read that I highly recommend.

    I have a couple of swords, one that weighs probably five pounds, but it is abnormally heavy and gaudy (it’s got a lot of extra stuff on it). I also have a more traditional English longsword, and while it is not an exact historical replica, it probably only weighs 3 or 4 lbs.

    Then again, I’m 6’2″, and while I don’t actively weight lift, let’s say things seem lighter to me than to some other people.

  27. Annon says:

    Something else that (strangely) noone has mentioned yet–the land speeds listed are not walking speed. If you check the rulebooks, it’s listed as more of a jog.

    That’s about reasonable. 30 feet/round (5 ft/s) is about 3.5 mi/hr. If I were jogging at that speed, I’d make a mil in little over 15 minutes. Multiply that by 4 and you have 14 mi/hr–less than a five minute mile. I don’t care how you distrbute the weight, tha’s pretty damn fast for being encumbered.

    Now I don’t know anything about armor or weapons (beyond personal experience wearing chainmail), I just wanted to point out a slight gap in the reasoning, there…

  28. wrg says:

    Shamus, in the update above I don’t think you’re accounting properly for angular momentum. I’m not speaking from experience, but if I understand my basic mechanics the same mass is going to feel more cumbersome when it’s longer. You’d need a fair bit of torque to swing a long weapon, as the centre of mass is at a fair distance from where you’re holding it.

  29. jonny says:

    this man has done his homework check out his break down of dnd ablities http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/d&d-calibrating.html

  30. John R says:

    WTF Anon? I walk 3.8 mph as my warm-up right before I jog. True, greasy nerds will often “jog” a 12+ minute mile, but most people do a good 8-9 minute mile when jogging.

  31. Goshen says:

    IMHO, When you are carrying anything, packaging matters a lot. In college I used to haul about 35 tons of books and stuff in a long line of backpacks. I discovered that a simple strap across the chest, connecting to the two shoulder straps, is invaluable. That, combined with a waist belt made the pack stable enough so that I could run for the bus at nearly full speed.

  32. lupis says:

    Two points:
    Weight matters less than distribution, until the weight is pretty crushing. Extreme example: ever try to carry in 30lbs worth of groceries without bags, the way you get them from a bulk store? I’ve humped a 45lb backpack 20 miles in a day, but I shudder to imagine carrying half that weight in unbalanced crap. Utility belts, backpacks, anything that distributes weight and bulk is your friend. Most modern bags are actually crap for this. Messenger bags and briefcases are designed to protect their contents, not help you carry heavy crap. Suitcases suck. Try a good backpack, plus smaller things like fanny packs and belt holsters. As for maille or plate, even 50lbs isn’t that much if it’s well made for you, because the weight spreads out. It’s sort of like having a beer gut. (I fight in maille, and I gre a beer gut, so I’m directly comparing here).

    Weapons: I own a wide range of battle ready swords, ranging from a 1.5lb longsword (hand and a half, not an arming sword) that is surprisingly strong, although I wouldn’t attack anyone in plate with it, all the way up to a 13lb greatsword that is only moderately too heavy for me to use. Granted, I put several hours a week into sword practice, but anyone who stays alive through swordfighting ability ought to be exceeding that considerably. Most weapons, however, are considerably lighter than D&D assumes. Figure 3lbs for an arming sword, 2lbs for a really nice one made of good steel. Worn on a good belt, you’d barely notice it after a few hours, and you’ll automatically avoid sitting on it.

  33. Cymond says:

    A note on D&D speeds:

    A character’s listed speed can be viewed as a full round of walking or a half-round of jogging. Check out the 3.5 Player’s Handbook pages 162-164. Here’s a good quote:

    “Hustle: A hustle is a jog at about 6 miles per hour for an
    unencumbered human. A character moving his or her
    speed twice in a single round, or moving that speed in
    the same round that he or she performs a standard
    action or another move action is hustling when he or
    she moves.”

    Really, a typical D&D character moving at a jog would take a double move: 60 feet. That would be 10 fps, fast enough to cover a mile in 8.8 minutes. A runner travels at 4x speed, but I would also assume that the runner always takes a double move. Putting these 2 factors together gives a total speed of 20 fps, fast enough for a 4.4 minute mile. Not bad. So you see John R, the D&D movement speeds have nothing to do with “greasy nerds” and everything to do with remembering that a character gets 2 actions per round.

  34. Zachary Pruckowski says:

    Just to weigh in on the sword thing – it’s not about weight, it’s about center of gravity and speed.

    Center of gravity – when filming, we use a device called a crane, which is essentially a one-armed see-saw. You push the short end to move the long end with the camera attached around. Now a camera weighs 5-8 pounds, but you need 40 pounds of counterweight, because apparent weight = distance_from_center * weight.

    As applied to the sword, if the center of gravity is forward of the hilt, then it’s a lot harder to lift than an equivalent weight – a mace would be an even more extreme example. With weight clustered forward of the hilt, the sword is harder to lift. A foil, with the CoG further back, is more manuverable regardless of weight or length as a result of this, while a claymore is heavy because so much of the weight is forward of the hilt.

    As others have mentioned, speed is a factor. You’re not just lifting a sword, you’re swinging it really fast, several times a minute, for long periods. It’s easy to lift a weight, but once you spend any amount of time swinging it around, or once it’s been in your hands for siz hours…

  35. Tildessmoo says:

    I like the one comment about running around in full military kit, but the rest are missing the point, or perhaps screwing with terms. A rapier is not a longsword. A foil is not a longsword. A longsword is a four foot long, three inch wide hunk of metal, and they weigh considerably more than four pounds. A typical broadsword is shorter, but wider, so that it winds up weighing about the same as a longsword. Ever read about real medieval combat? Your average knight could only swing his sword around for maybe two minutes before he had to fall back, exhausted.

    On the other hand, a lot of D&D rules don’t quite fit real physics or involve mislabeling of arcane weaponry. For example, a falchion looks like this in real life: > not a small scimitar.

    1. Robert says:

      Um, no, Longsword and Broadsword are D&D simplifications, not descriptions of actual weapons. If you looked at actual weapons you would find that there are a staggering array of types of swords, in many sizes but none that match your description. (BTW no one ever used a foil when actually fighting, they are practice/sport weapons.) A sword intended to be used on handed weighs around 2-4 pounds, and believe me, swinging it still gets you tired FAST! Do this, try and find a “four foot long, three inch wide hunk of metal” that actually purports to be a medieval sword intended to be swung one handed. Now, when you cant find one, find a four foot long, three inch wide hunk of steel and try to swing it one handed for more than 10-15 swings. All this being said, one thing that no one is mentioning in discussing how much various soldiers could and do carry in wartime, no-one mentions how much it sucks! I’ve humped over 100lbs of equipment and sundries as a light combat engineer (when you add a 40 lb satchell charge to your gear, it adds up quick) and getting up off the damned ground is near impossible, never-mind the brain dead zombie that you are by the end of a 7 klick hump with the occasional sprint in full kit when the arty simulators (or real arty) starts falling. The weights able to be carried may or may not have any bearing on reality, but no chart can truly express the misery of carrying those loads, no matter how well distributed, for long marches.

    2. Phasma Felis says:

      The one-handed knightly sword that the D&D “longsword” represents was more commonly calling an arming sword. They were typically around three feet long including the grip, with a cruciform hilt, and weighed three pounds or less.

      Broadswords were only “broad” in comparison to their contemporary rapiers. Actually the blade ran to about the same dimensions as an arming sword, but there was a bit less taper and they usually had a basket hilt, among other differences.

      Historically, a “longsword” would have meant “longer than the usual one-handed sword”, i.e. a bastard or two-handed sword.

      So…yeah. Check your facts.

      As for the “two minutes” thing, read accounts of historical battles and see how many of them had the lines of battle falling back every two minutes to rest their sword arms.

  36. Remus CD Lupin says:

    Sorry Tildessmoo but I have to back Lupis up on the sword weight thing. I am a female standing 5′ 10″ who is a member of the SCA and I fight what is called ‘heavy fighting’. What that means is that I strap on about 40 to 50 lbs worth of armor and I swing a rattan sword(which can weigh in from 5 to 8 lbs) while carrying a shield that weighs in at about 10 to 15 lbs. I have swung a ‘live’ steel sword while in my armor. I am not the best fighter out there by a long shot but I can most *certainly* swing it for longer than 2 minutes. At a tourney I might take my helmet off between bouts but I worn my armor for up to 8 hours before becoming fatigued. And this is with fighting several bouts, walking and jogging around and doing other tasks. And I am by no means a ‘strongman’. I’d say at most I’d be a STR 12 if not a STR 11. And before you say ‘but what about running’? I can’t run a marathon in my armor but I can most certainly run a short sprint. I might not be pulling a 10 sec 100 meter dash but I’m not going to be the last one to the finish line either. What makes a sword unwieldy is not the weight, as it has been proven repeatly that unless it was a cerimonial blade even the heaviest two handed sword weighed in at a max of 8 lbs, but the *balance* of the blade. Most replicas unless made by a true blacksmith are not balanced correctly and this is what makes them difficult to swing properly or for long periods of time. One of the reasons that katanas are considered one of the best weapons in history is the fact that a properly made katana could literally slice through a person like hot butter in the hands of someone that would be considered only Expert. And these *rarely* weigh in at more than 2lbs, most are only about 1.5lbs. To use your examples the difference between a foil and a rapier as compared to a longsword is not that massive. When these are properly made the longsword tops off at 4lbs(and these numbers come from museum collections of historical weapons) while the foil and rapier both top out at 2 lbs (weight double checked by consulting with a company that makes equipment for competition). Yes you are going to be tired if you swing it for a long time but if you are someone who trains everyday(as medival fighters did and D&D adventurers are assumed to) then you are not going to fall back to rest after two minutes worth of combat. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And if you look at the times for rounds and such in D&D most combat(unless you are fighting a horde of some sort) usually resolves itself in no more than 4 to 6 minutes. Not a whole lot of time swinging that sword. I also have to agree with lupis on the fact that when you place a sword on your hip after a while you don’t even notice it(I’ve worn peice tied longswords and katanas both with my garb at SCA events, sometimes all day long and have more than once not only not noticed it but forgotten about it so totally that when I lay down to sleep I go ‘crud’ and have to get back up to remove it).

  37. Remus CD Lupin says:

    Looking over my previous post I realized that in my katana example I forgot to mention that these weapons were also the most perfectly balanced weapons to be found as well.

  38. Robel says:

    Yeah, I`ve read on wiki that a longsword weighs an average of 1.4 kg. That`s almost 3lbs. I too always imagined they weight about 3 kilograms or more, but i`ve only held one when i was about 6 and of course it seemed very heavy to me then.

    And to Remus, about katanas, as far as I`ve read in Shogun, the sharpest, am I right?

  39. Jimmy says:

    I used to carry a 4 kg assault rifle on drill practice when i used to be in the military. Doesnt seem like much until you carry it at high port arms for a 5 km jog. Just remember that its all about weight distribution, and not just the weight itself. As Remus CD said.

  40. grassBlade says:

    What I find more amusing is the backpack itself. Do they all come with built-in sheaths of various sizes? Separate compartments for potion bottles, scrolls, gems, and the occasionally found tapestry and silverware?
    Does every PC automatically know how to pack his loot and gear so that it never jingles while in stealth mode or breaks in combat mode?

  41. anonymous says:

    Wow, look at the date on that update, Shamus is posting from the grim future. Is there only war?

  42. Senko says:

    Well since there are still posts I figured I’d toss in my 2 cents for the last question about backpacks and adventurers.

    The thing about backpacks today and backpacks back then is that they are two very different creatures. Backpacks today (laying aside things like materials and quick release straps) are mass produced by and large. You walk into store A and buy backpack X by company Y then walk into store B (in another country) and buy the same model backpack from the same company and the two will be virtually identical.

    Backpacks back then had to be handmade and since the average adventurer makes enough to retire on comfortably after their first adventure it seems pretty likely they’d have it handmade to their needs. That is adventurer A (a wizard) would have a padded compartment for their familiar while adventurer B (a fighter) wouldn’t however both would have things like straps (for lanturns), smaller easier to access sections (for potions, a large central area (for gear) etc etc. So in one sense yes they do all come with built in compartments for that stuff because its what the adventurer asked for when having it made.

    In regards to the second one packing for stealth I don’t think they would. First level adventurers in 3rd ed probably don’t know how to pack that well and are having clangs, clanks and the sword tripping them up occasionally. Once they get past about 3rd or 4th level I figure they would have learnt to pack/gotten uesd to it so that its not a major burden to travel all day and fight for a short time with packs on.

    Packing so that its quiet? well frankly a properly packed pack isn’t going to make a lot of noise and only a thief is really going to be worried about the lanturn clanging occasionally against their armour. Afterall if your sneaking up on someone your going to take the pack off anyway. Now if your sneaking around a hostile area that’s a different matter but I don’t have the knowledge to comment on that.

  43. Morambar says:

    It’s torque, man. A 4 lb. sword strapped to your back won’t weigh you down much (though if it’s overly long you could still be encumbered going through doorways or down narrow halls; “encumbrance” is more than “weight” after all. ) But held in your hand the weight distributed over the length of the blade is magnified. Hold a three foot four pound sword and you’re not just holding four pounds, you’re resisting twelve foot-pounds of force. I mean, after you do it for a while, which direction does it want to move? Not straight down; it tries to ground its point. A decent balance well help, but you can only go so far because, as a friend likes to note “Swords, clubs etc. are really nothing more than levers for applying force. ” Swords give the adding benefit of a nice little wedge the length of their edge, but you get the point.

  44. Isshou says:

    Another comment about backpacks. A closer representation of an adventurer’s basic backpack would be an external/internal frame hiking weekend or extended length pack. These are designed to distribute the weight and use a waist belt/strap for weight and shoulder straps for balance. An reasonably experienced hiker would know very well how to pack everything they needed (which would be water, sleeping bag, tent, food, etc) into the pack so that they can hike for most of the day. (example)

    It’s pretty much understood that weapons sold in stores came with a basic cloth/leather sheath and a loop for attaching it to a belt, pack, or other adornment. Hence why there isn’t a lot of options for sheaths in the equipment section (even arms and equipment only lists non-standard sheaths). Replica swords from actual weapon smiths using carbon-steel weigh in the 3-4 range for longsword ( battle ready replicas for many types of swords and weapons can be found: example ).

    Going through college and having not one carry on ( which would be below 35 pounds ). I routinely had 2 checked bags (50 lbs), 1 carry on (35 lbs), 1 “personal item” (backpack, about ~15 lbs) for a total of 150 lbs working with some dragging, with average strength you can lift and stagger around with that much strength, which is pretty much how I got out of the airports. I’m not in the best shape… round is a shape, right? However if I had to routinely carry even a modest fraction of that, say the 35 15 lbs from the carry on and personal items. I would be in good shape and know how to handle it well. Looking at your average non-fighter adventurer, that would be an medium load and workable. To your fighter double that would likely still be a light load, and the comparison would be military personnel. since they as stated carry 70 lb loads routinely, the comparison is rather accurate, isn’t it? This is even ignoring the regular people who go backpacking on multi-day trips, including those who intend to do climbing/caving/tree climbing who would be carrying rope, carabiners, lead lines, and other gear, their equipment is starting to sound pretty similar to an adventurer’s, just without weapon and armor. Not that I agree with every players choice of some items (portable ram, ladder, pittons, etc)

    Also it is pretty clear that the adventurers in the Lord of the Rings did not carry everything they needed but picked a lot of it up as they went, even so much as hunting for food. Also, Aragorn didn’t have a lot of herbs (maybe a few doses) which would be compact and light.

    It is pretty interesting that this debate has been kept alive for over two years. There’s a lot of views on both sides of the matter.

  45. Eric says:

    It’s a matter of leverage. A 4 lb. pole is many times harder to hold than a 4lb. ball.

    In fact, most dnd weapons are accused of being too heavy. IIRC this is a partial compromise from the old encumberance system, which attempted to account for item length and bulk.

    Also remember that the typical modern person is probably a coddled strength 8. A light load is then 26 lbs., which might be annoying but doesn’t really slow you down. Especially after you bump up the weight of bulky items to match d&d weight. Sounds fine to me.

    I plan an starting a game that uses, among other cards, store-bought (not home-made) item cards to make it easier to manage loot. From there it will be a small step to custom make “item envelopes” for backpacks, belt pouches, clothing (i.e., the pockets), etc. with total weight and individual length limits written on them. You want an item from your backpack? Shuffle and draw items one by one. “Too crazy for combat,” you say? Nah, you can store a few large items in more readily accessible places, and smaller things in the dozens of pockets, belt-pouches, etc. expressly allowed by the rules.

  46. Dangermike says:

    “In college I used to haul about 35 tons of books and stuff in a long line of backpacks”

    35 TONS? Wow, must be a graduate of Krypton University! ;)

  47. Tsuyoshi says:

    After several forays into hunting and backpacking in the Alaskan wilderness for the last two years, I’ve come to agree with most folks that when weight is well distributed, carrying even a heavy load is easy. The problem with fighting while encumbered is that people are not trained to fight with a backpack on, and the body can’t compensate for the weight inbalance. Thus, while 80 lbs may be okay to haul around on foot (although even 40 + a rifle sucks for hills), in no way would you want to engage someone while strapped into all that gear.

    Armor, however, covers the entire body evenly (or nearly so) and won’t pitch you into a ditch while you’re fighting.

    Also, from personal experience, two minutes is a good estimate for active melee fighting without breaking off. After two minutes of serious back-and-forth pounding, the body gets pretty tired, and the blood needs a few seconds to get oxygen back into the extremeties. With the frantic pace of medieval war, it make sense the the front lines of foot soldiers would switch out with the back every two minutes.

    Of course, both and are learned skills that increase abilities dramatically with use and practice. It’s so often overlooked by RPGs and the like that it makes me sad.

  48. Capnbiff says:

    Coinage was briefly mentioned some time ago, then apparently dropped. Since this is something most adventurers routinely amass in frightening quantities, it is an incredible csource of abuse. The sad fact is that ALL D&D books I’ve seen (and I’ve been playing since the original 3 white books) mess this up.

    Medieval coinage was rare. The vast majority of trade was conducted on a barter/credit system. Partly this was due to scarcity of bullion and hence coin, but also because there was a substantial amount of inequality, both between local regions with differing coin weights/composition, and within the coin of one region depending on debasement, clipping and normal wear. Moneychangers were a very necessary evil.

    Notwithstanding all that, medieval coins were SMALL, both in denomination and size. Using England during the Plantagenet period (@1150-1500AD) as an example, the theoretical unit of currency was the pound sterling (at one time supposedly equal to one pound of silver), divided into twenty shillings, each further divided into 12 pence, thus yielding 240 pence per pound. For several hundred years, the penny was the only coin minted, usually containing about a gram of silver against a total coin weight of 2-3 grams. Thus, it would take around 200 pennies to equal one avourdupois pound of actual bulk weight. Compare that to the standard D&D equivalent of 10 coins per pound of encumbrance!

    It is interesting to note that only the influx from the growing wool trade created the need for other denominations, resulting in the ha’penny (.5 penny), farthing (.25 penny), and the groat (4 pennies). No larger denominations were minted. All other transactions were done in trade or credit. It is also interesting to note that the standard unit of currency used in major trade and treaties (for example, the ransom of major nobles) was the English mark, equal to 2/3 of a pound – and the mark was never, ever minted!

    So, getting back on point, it IS realistically possible for characters to amass and carry large quantities of coinage in their backpacks – but not by using the Rules As Written.

  49. Shawn says:

    There are so many comments here that maybe somebody said this and I missed it, if so, apologies — but talking about the swords that you go into to ren store and pick up and play with or even SCA swords is foolery. These are NOT made for use. They are weak and would snap fairly easily (obviously the SCA ones are made to a higher standard, and heavier, but they are not made to real battle standards — there is no reason to).
    And as far as “new light weight materials” — nobody in the middle ages fought with Aluminum swords anyway!

    I have a 250 year old beduin broadsword sitting on the wall that was almost certainly used, and it is smaller than a some of one handed swords are, and it is WELL over 5 lbs.

  50. noxmagnus says:

    If I may say a few things- first of all, going into ren stores and stuff might be inacurate for wghts, ut I’m going to assume that the weights given by museums for their pieces is correct. Second, for any of you who doubt the difference between the weight of something depending on the center of gravity- go to the store and buy one of the toy star wars lightsabers that the blade locks into the handle. With the blade locked in, swing it aroud. Do you even really notice you’re holding anything based on weight? No put the blade out and swing it around. It still weighs the same, but it’s just a bit harder. Obviously the weight is to little to make a lot of difference either way, but it’s enough to exibite noticable effect, especially with the larger ones.

  51. Tom B says:

    Some of you are arguing from books, some from modern military or hiking backgrounds, and some from SCA or Ren Faire experience.

    Consider how your D&D characters are defined. Most of them will have higher strength (at least the warriors) than the vast majority of even in-shape moderns will have. They are heroic even in an age where war in heavy armour with hand weapons is the rule. They live in a world where monsters dine on them if they don’t win. So I’m betting only the top level SCA or Ren Faire fighters could even be compared to the average character.

    Also, as to how long you can fight: I’ve participated in black-belt gradings. Two minutes against multiple opponents when you are unarmed and unarmoured can leave you a wind-sucking heap on the ground. Five to ten minutes in an armoured melee can leave you about as tired from my experience. What’s the difference? YOU FIGHT DIFFERENTLY. The pace of a fight is partly dictated by its participants decisions on energy output, but also dictated by the type of fight.

    Unarmed fights against greater numbers and/or armed opponents means a much higher energy output – the single unarmed defender needs to move fast and continuously. The intensity involved is so high, the mental concentration alone can drain you.

    Contrast this with a fight in armour and shield – you know that a lot of your foes strikes will be blocked by your protection and concentrate on looking for an opportunity and on not exposing such an opportunity yourself, with many probing attacks and less than full commitments. Generally, this is energy consumptive, but at a far lesser rate.

    If two heavily armoured folks go at it as hard as they can, just whamming away on one another at the limit of their speed and violence, I’m pretty certain they’ll be winded in about two minutes too.

    The energy consumption of a fight is so much determined by how intense the combat is and how bad your situation is – if you’re going to die and you’re outnumbered or unarmoured, you’ll burn energy faster. But that’s because you have to do that to stay alive. Most fights in formation or even most duels don’t hit this level of intensity and most mock fights can’t compare because there is threat of injury, but not death.

    As to packs, as someone wisely remarked, everything has to do with distribution and padding. Get the weight well distributed, pad key areas, and armour works well and is reasonably manouverable (note, some types of armour *will* impede movement – full articulated plate or jousting plate for certain, just try swimming or rock climbing if you disagree).

    Same is true of packs. I have a WW2 Wermacht pack and with a load in it, it feels like it is trying to saw my shoulders off. I have a late 90’s rucksack with padded shoulder straps, a chest and waist strap and those make all the difference. And the modern load-bearing vests are even better.

    I saw some rules for advanced packs that let characters treat the weight they were carrying as reduced by a % (10, 20, 25). That seems about right, though maybe 40-50% might even be realistic from best pack system to worst way of carrying.

    Coins should be 50-200 per pound to be historically average, but as someone points out, there are examples of coins sometimes weighing up to 2 ounces. Depends what sort of game you want. But if you have to pay 16,000 gp for your +2 flaming sword, then they’d better be smaller and lighter…. or the +4 Defender will be worth thousands of pounds of gold… (get a gold mine!)

    Maybe there should be a stealth modifier for carrying sacks of coin, pans, pots, spare weapons, etc. Low level characters will probably pack poorly, their gear will make more noise, and they won’t have ideal weight distribution. By the time you get up a few levels (if you survive), you’ll be good at distributing weight and packing to minimize noise and maximize accessibility and movement. The low level character might have to take his pack off and dig to the bottom for an item, but the high level character probably knew what he’d need and packed accordingly.

    Lastly, look up some legitemate weights for weapons and kit. The baseline books are badly off in some respects. And some of the suggestions for changing how encumberance impacts movement rates are pretty good here.

  52. David says:

    Well with the packing of coins and weapons and metal objects and the resulting noise of movement…I would think that would be one side of the Move Silently skill. With experience in stealth you know how to separate, pad, and insulate as well as step lightly. Similarly, Hide allows you to correct fashion and clothing so that you do not stand out.

    As for the rest of the discussion, I find it very useful. I am a stickler for encumbrance when I game, at least in having a “basic” load that is not over the limit.

  53. jubuttib says:

    Sorry to bring up an old topic, but dragging around five days worth of food and a weapon (in my case an assault rifle + ammo) isn’t that big a deal. After only a few months I could easily manage it, even when engaged in melee combat using a bayonet, and I’m not in great shape. Take someone who’s been doing it for years and is a professional adventurer (and a hero, as the rules state, I think… Never played D&D), I don’t think it’s that far out.

    In my experience 5 days worth of food weighed less than a fully equiped battle vest (no idea what you call them in America). And usually our rations (meant to last two days) lasted three days in my use, so in reality you could drag around a weeks worth of food without much trouble.

    But I concede that you’d have to pack them well, a simple sack is horrible to lug around. On the other hand it’s also easy to drop quickly if you have to fight.

  54. NuklearAngel says:

    dunno if anyone’s made this point yet, but a 5lb sword does feel like it weighs more than a 5lb weight thanks to physics… it’s to do with moments and stuff like that (the mathematicians will know what i’m on about). in essence, a weight near the point of the pivot (in this case, your hand/wrist) exerts a smaller force on that pivot that the same weight at a larger distance (in this case, assuming the sword’s weight is evenly distributed, halfway along it). so a 2kg weight that’s 5 cm from you wrist exerts a force of about 1Nm (that’s the 20newtons of weight times the 0.05metres it is from your wrist). on the other hand, a 2kg sword that’s 1m long will exert a force of around 10Nm (that’s those same 20newtons times the 0.5metres the weight of sword balances out at). the weights and distances are probably wrong, but i’m just using them for examples.

  55. Leyomi the Parodier says:

    During seventh grade, my school was about a mile from my home, down a hill. My backpack weighed maybe thirty pounds. I would walk home from school(this was uphill). Although near the beginning, I once got muscular cramps so badly I had to stay home from school due to pain, by the third month in I would frequently run a block or so(it was about a six-block walk). On the other hand, I have something of a reputation for running up hills, so I guess it all balances out somewhere

    In the warmer months, I would walk home without shoes. This has become something of a joke with myself and my friends, as we are all somewhat obsessed with parodying LotR–“I walk up hills barefoot carrying heavy objects.”
    Why this is especially funny to us is a very long story on several levels, so I will refrain for the sake of your patience.

  56. charl says:

    I would just like to point out that last time I went to a museum they had an exhibit with old Viking artefacts. One was an almost complete sword blade about 50 cm in length (which makes it a longsword by DnD standards). It was extremely thin and weighed about 350 grams according to the museum curators. If the blade weighs only 450 grams, I have a hard time seeing the complete sword weighing more than about a kilogram when assembled (that is about 2 pounds I think. You yanks really need to convert to metric!)

    Granted I have no idea how typical this sword was, but the listed DnD weight sounds ridiculously heavy.

    EDIT: According to wikipedia, an almost meter long Viking sword weighs on average about 1 kg, while the medieval longsword that is around 110 cm long weighs about 1.5 kg. The arming sword, which seems to be the real type of sword that most corresponds to DnD longswords have an average weight of 1.1 kg, or about 2.5 pounds, and is about 90 cm long.

    In conclusion DnD really overdid their longswords. 4 pounds is way too heavy.

  57. lilith says:

    as a former SCA member a true long sword truly only weighs about 4 lbs. my friends Scottish claymore is 4&1/2 lbs. it is slightly bigger than a long sword.

  58. Zaydin says:

    I remember in the campaign I was in in the Eberron setting. Both the DM and us players were all too lazy to try to figure out our encumbrance levels, so he just said to write it off by all of us having bags of holding.

  59. Keratacon says:

    It’s also important to remember that a D&D combat round isn’t 6 seconds on a track. You have no facing, this means you’re assumed to be ducking, dodging, and spinning at all times. That 30 feet of movement isn’t 6 seconds of light jogging.

  60. dude, says:

    the thing is, a five pound weight is balanced.
    the average sword isnt.

  61. Jakub says:

    I liked the essay and I agree with Shamus. But I’m also terrified by what I read below. You people have really strange vision of weight of weapon and armor. And what a trained man is able to do.

    Here in Poland I’m average height (5,6 feet) and average build man. I’m not the strongest one in town, but I have nothing to be shame of. My bastard sword, made by a blacksmith with old good steel, weights about 9 lbs. I fight with it in one hand while I use a dagger in second. My wife who is shorter than me, prefers to use it as a two-handed weapon. But just prefers as it is not properly balanced.

    I’m a historian too. I know well, that there were armors, that weighted about 120 lbs. With similar encumbrance (armor + some equipment) I have run more than once 500-600 meters . It can be tiresome especially in hot summer, but it is really not a problem. After that you still should be able to fight if you had some practical training.

    I don't know, where you find swords so light and how you can fight with such toys. Of course, one can kill a man with a stick, but to pass through armor you must do better than that.

    1. Bobknight says:

      Consider the vast majority of ‘medieval’ long swords are between 2lb – 4lb, your 9 lb monster would be an abnormality.

      Not saying that you can’t use it, it simply isn’t the most optimal weapon available.

      I believe somebody else said it first: a sword is really just a lever.

      When you are fighting unarmoured, the goal is to simply accelerate the top third of your blade as fast as possible while retaining control. In general, by casually pushing down on a 3 lb blade is enough to cut to the bone. There really isn’t any NEED to have anything heavier.

      When you are fighting an armoured duel, the point is to use your sword(which is just a big sharpened pole) to throw your opponent off balance so you can wedge something dangerous through the cracks of his armour. If you look at the works of Fiore dei liberi and Fillipo Vadi(the two Italian weapon’s masters in the 14th and 15th century), the vast majority of their armoured work revolves around grappling. If you are trying to hammer through your opponent’s armour with sheer weight, you are doing it wrong.

      In the end, the amount of force you can generate with a given weapon is mostly dictated by your technique, not the weight of the weapon or your physical attributes. The bloke I’m training with is about 5’5-5’6 (around 170cm?) and weighs little over 100lbs and he can smash through determined defenses by someone twice his weight.

      On Armour: While it is true that 120lb armours did exist, this is not the norm. The idea that knights needed a winch to get them on their horses came from poorly researched victorian essays on ‘the olde arts’. Most full plate defenses weigh in between 40lb to 70lb (my own weighs in just shy of 65 lb). While it is certainly possible to use heavier equipment effectively, it is more or less unnecessary. (Depending on who you listen to)Plate armour of any adequate thickness will make you impervious to all bladed weapons and no plate armour can defend against impact weapons. This is the simple truth.

      It is INCREDIBLY difficult to break through a 16 ga suit of plate with a sword and the most you will usually do is dent it in odd spots. I’ve used my own armour in both SCA and WMA combat(one uses rattan clubs while the other uses rebated steel wasters) and the training sessions (usually) don’t even leave marks on it.

      The way to effectively ‘punch through’ plate defense is either by focusing your force in an area that is significantly smaller than the edge of a blade or by increasing said force in inverse proportions. (same reason pushing a sharp knife on your skin usually won’t puncture it but replacing it with a needle and it will go through cleanly.) The way most impact weapons work is a combination of the two: Polaxes have a relatively long haft, with a relatively small blade. The length of the stick increases whatever force you are capable of applying and concentrates it on its ax blade. A warhammer/mace works in a similar fashion, focus a bunch of weight at the end of a stick and have a itty bitty head to concentrate the blow to. most warhammers and polaxes also have a back-spike, which is even more effective than the blade/hammer in puncturing armour. Ultimately, your armour will only be able to protect you from glacing blows from said weapon(which is about equal in penetrating power as a determined sword stroke) and it will NOT be able to protect you from a fully powered hit.

      If you look at historical examples of armours, you will see that it supports this theory rather nicely. pre-14 century ‘transition’ into full plate defenses, most swords are designed for slashing(to deal the most damage to unprotected flesh). As plate defenses become more common, swords ‘morphed’ into a more spear-like entity, suitable for thrusting rather than slashing. However, the thickness of armour never become much more than 18-16 ga steel even after the widespread use of impact weapons(english bills, swiss halberds etc).

      It isn’t so much how much you CAN wear, but how much you SHOULD wear. Why wear 120lbs of armour that will slow you down(however much) when you can wear 65 lbs of armour that will achieve similar level of protection?

      P.S.: There is no such thing as chainmail. There is only Maille. Chain being ‘interlocked bits of metal’ and maille means ‘armour made from interlocked bits of metal’ adding chain to maille gets you ‘interlocked bits of metal armour made from interlocked bits of metal’. Similarly, there is no such thing as ‘plate-mail’ or ‘scale-mail’.

      P.P.S.: There is also no such thing as ‘broadsword’. There is only ‘arming sword’ which is an one handed blade, ‘longsword’ or ‘bastard sword’ which is a hand and a half blade or ‘two handed sword’. A sword is further categorized by its blade profile and intended use into 20 odd types (more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakeshott_typology ). Calling a weapon a ‘broadsword’ is as frivolous as calling 9 seater vans ‘long vans’

  62. EgregiousCharles says:

    Something else that’s interesting about this is that J.R.R. Tolkien knew extremely well about the problems of weight on walking trips; he used to take off alone on long walking tours around rural England for his vacations. That’s why Tolkien’s characters are always concerned with weight rather than having useful stuff along. Sam carries some cooking pots, and it’s an unusual point about his character; the others comment on him putting up with the weight. There are several instances in Tolkien of characters complaining about the weight of food they set out with. None of Tolkien’s characters have anything like the usual huge collection of weapons, tools and items that D&D adventurers have (I was always a particular offender in this respect).

    It’s also why Tolkien’s characters are concerned with maps and navigation.

  63. eLdritch says:

    hi folks.

    just wanted to drop a line about swords and weights…

    please, don’t EVER compare a replica sword to an actual one… replica swords are made of the cheapest steel in existence… sometimes even just iron which is then chrome plated, silver plated or otherwise given an artificial “shiny finish”… actual swords are made from spring steel or damascan (sry no idea how you english speaking folks write that ^^) steel. These types of Steel are very durable and hard but very flexible at the same time. They are definetely denser than the crap steel though – so they are a bit heavier.

    the weight of a sword always depends on where they were made… eastern swords (Katanas, Scimitars and the likes) were usually a bit lighter than the Middle and Western European Swords (Broadswords, Longswords, 1 1/2 handed swords, etc). A 1 1/2 handed sword, which is pretty much the standard fantasy sword of about 1.1 – 1.3 meters weighs in at around 5-6 pounds. This does not matter too much though, since all actual swords are balanced right above the hilt at the base of the blade. 3-4 pounds would be a longsword (about 70-90 cm or 2 1/2 feet long).

    1 1/2 handed swords btw. would actually be weilded 2 handed most of the time. They can be wielded with a Shield or Buckler but their full potential only comes to bear when wielding it with both hands.

    the heaviest actual 1 handed sword would be the scottish broadsword at around 4.5 lbs. only good on really strong blokes ;)

  64. Callum says:

    I have an actual (not replica) Fioretto, and it’s about 1m (3.2 feet) long and weighs only 350g (o.7 pounds). They are light as swords go though, but swords are all about edge and balance.

    ps. Medieval Movement, DVS got to mention his re-enactment group.

  65. spiralofhope says:

    Dude, where can I get a time machine like yours that lets me make updates from the year 20007?

  66. Oskamunda says:

    We must remember that the characters in tabletop games arguably represent the best of the best, the baddest of the bad, the biggest of the Biggorons. I doubt that a British SAS operative would have any trouble carrying the bag you describe, nor would a Navy SEAL find it wearisome to battle with the same…and these modern-day equivalents are mere pipsqueaks compared to Tarzan and Aragorn, who has 80+ years of experience in packing his bag JUST RIGHT. As far as noise and volume, those arguments are reasonable, though it makes things far easier for the campaign to agree that the items in your pack just float about in Hammerspace [it’s a trope. I didn’t make it up.].

    As for your light packing…don’t think your “I wore a few clothing items twice,” escaped our notice. You only brought one pair of underwear with you, you dirty, dirty gamer nerd.

  67. Chris says:

    Enough people have already mentioned that if you are in good shape that the weight limits in DnD aren’t actually that insane. So I’ll address a few extra things that don’t seem to have been mentioned.

    1. The reason the backpack bit into the shoulders is because the weight was put there (I know this sounds basic but bear with me) real backpacks meant for hiking and not quick jaunts around campus have waist straps. You would be shocked to find out how much “lighter” your backpack is when it’s around your waist and the shoulder straps are simply keeping it from swaying all over the place.

    2. Go to a outdoors website and take a look at how many pockets those things have. It’s not like your school pack that had maybe three separate compartments. I think the average has five, three across the front and one on each side. The stuff you’re going to use or might need to get to quickly goes in pockets for that exact reason. Now in reality you’re only getting into the side pockets without either help or taking the damned thing off but that’s why they have quick release tabs as several of the other military personell have pointed out.

    3. Of course your gold is quit. It’s in a sack presumably and one that you can cinch down so it’s only slightly larger than it’s contents. Any adventuer worth a damn would have it in the middle of his pack surrounded by clothing and other soft sound muffling stuff.

    4. There are LOTS of foods that effectively never go bad. I admit as gamers we tend to simply ignore this and assume an odd combination of the food we have doesn’t rot and these guys are perfectly capable of living off the land indefinitely but it’s not that impossible basically anything dried, seems to last for ever.

    So the short story is that the original comment was made by a civilian, presumably not in shape. In shape for the moment meaning an actual athlete not just I can run a emile. Using the wrong kind of equipment that was packed incorrectly.

    I’ve never played THAT loose with encumbrance either. You don’t get to have a 10 foot ladder without a cart when I play, same for 10 foot inflexible anything.

  68. Hebi says:

    Back to the coinage issue: many hoard of coins are supposed to be “ancient.” What that means may vary from campaign to campaign, but if you are talking coins 2,000 years old or more, back to the earliest coins, gold, silver, and copper coins were about the size of a fingernail (not the thumb), and not much thicker than a bottle-cap. A wealthy person/lucky looter could carry quite the stash without any major weight problems.

  69. Cohea says:

    I’m a US Marine, and I can say that a 90 pound pack isn’t a big deal. Sure, it’s a hefty thing to carry, but if you’re walking up and down hills (big hills, like in Southern California) every day for a few weeks, your legs get strong, and the weight gets really manageable. I’m not even infantry, I’m talking about training. This is something that any Marine can do, even a skinny guy can handle his weight. So by extension, you could consider him just a wiry magic user, who’s carrying a hefty pack. Grunts on patrol usually carry anywhere between 50 and 150 pounds, not including the hella mags they take, or their weapon (weighing anywhere between 17 and 30 pounds). Patrols, usually being a careful walk through enemy territory, are usually from 3 to 12 hours in length.

    Also, a packaged meal of the MRE variety, supplying about 1300 calories, weighs about a pound. If you’re hiking, you might take about two of those per day, but you can stretch one to last you two days if you want. You don’t have to eat every day.

  70. Gonzoso says:

    I read fairly far into this discussion after discovering Shamus’ hilarious “DM of the Ring” comic last night. It reminded me of a particular comic that I read in Dragon Magazine many ago that was on the same topic.


    I guess that there’s nothing new under the sun after all.

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