A post on Facebook brought up a question about encumbrance in B/X D&D. The poster was confused about how the optional system on page B20 worked. His confusion stemmed from the fact that, though it isn’t really very clear, B/X has two separate optional encumbrance systems. The first (simpler) system merely uses the armor a character wears to determine movement rate, with leather reducing movement to 90′ from an unarmored person’s 120′ and metal armor reducing it to 60′. An added restriction is that carrying treasure reduces movement one more step.
While this system is very easy to use in play and is better than no encumbrance system at all, it leaves a lot to be desired. Because of this, I would guess that most games which use encumbrance use the second (more complex) system.
This is the add-up-everything’s-weight-in-coins that we are all familiar with. It weighs only armor, weapons, and treasure, with an additional 80 coins used to represent miscellaneous equipment and provisions. This is a good simplification to avoid the tedious math adding up every last piece of gear that probably eventually convinces a lot of games to hand-wave encumbrance.
I do tweak the system slightly, adding in an adjustment for high or low strength scores. Each plus or minus 1 due to strength provides an adjustment of 100 coins to the weight allowance of that character. For example, a dwarf with a strength score of 15 has a +2 modifier and can carry an extra 200cn. This adjustment is relatively small, but consider that 400 coins is the most a character can carry without a movement reduction. A character with a strength score of 13 can carry 500 coins while maintaining his or her 120′ movement, a 25% increase.
In play, I have players do an “encumbrance check” each time the PCs are leaving town. It takes just a few seconds to add up armor, weapons, treasure, and the 80cn miscellaneous, then adjust for strength if necessary. Note the new movement rate AND note the number of coins the character can add before hitting the limit for the current move rate. As they adventure, they add or subtract from this number–usually on some scratch paper–to see if their move rate changes.
The example character Morgan Irownwolf carries 670 coins weight. If she was in my game, this would be reduced by 200 to 470 coins due to her 16 strength, giving her movement of 90′ instead of 60′. Her player would note 130 more coins until Morgan’s move was reduced to 60′.