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In the Player Starting Guide (a summary of the PHB) it says that characters can carry an amount of Strength Value × 15 = weight limit in pounds. But later, in the gear section, there is a table about Container Capacity (usually cubic feets) of backpacks, chests, barrels, vials, etc, even about backpacks it says:

You can also strap items, such as a bedroll or a coil of rope, to the outside of a backpack.

So... are PCs limited by carry weight and by volume?

If that is true, how much initial volume can a character carry?

Is volume tracked per storage item or all as a whole (I mean, if I have an item which size 2 ft3 and two bags with 1 ft3 each one, can I carry that item or not?)?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "572. Even if the rules say otherwise, I cannot carry 100lbs of Styrofoam without encumbrance penalties." --Things Mr. Welch can no longer do in an RPG. \$\endgroup\$ – Exal May 28 '19 at 6:50
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No. The game doesn't get that fiddly

Characters and their carrying capacity, and lifting capacity, is as granular1 and simulationist as the game gets. The Encumbrance rules are a variant/optional rule. (The campaigns I am in use them, but not all tables do).

Adding the problem of volume/cube for characters creates a significant bookkeeping and administrative burden that the rules' design intent wasn't trying to achieve. It would be a best practice to proceed thusly: if a particularly awkward situation arises in terms of the geometry of something to be carried, and how to carry it, it should be addressed by a GM ruling and/or player problem solving.

A baseline axiom for D&D 5e is Rulings over Rules.

Now that you edited your question with more detail ...

Is volume tracked per storage item or all as a whole (I mean, if I have an item which size 2 ft3 and two bags with 1 ft3 each one, can I carry that item or not?)?

How important is this to game play?

  1. If you are a player: consult with your DM.

  2. If you are the DM: does this item, and how it is carried, matter enough that you want the players to have to solve that particular problem? If so, pose that problem to them for them to solve. They may surprise you.


1 by "granular" I mean "does not go to that level of detail, or leaves it as an abstraction."


Why you might not want to add that fiddly bit: a PC can be as small as a halfling or as large as a goliath. The designers chose not to make that variance in size and mass have many effects, beyond small creatures having disadvantage in using heavy weapons. That's about as far into versimilitude as they went, although halflings can hide behind creatures one size larger. Note that both of those design decisions don't add extra bookkeeping or additional arithmetic.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Two Questions: 1) What you mean with granular? I can't find a proper translation for that word in your phrase. 2) So, in a normal campaing, backpacks and other similar items aren't used? \$\endgroup\$ – Ender Look Mar 7 '18 at 20:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Granular means detailed or having to do with very specific things. In this case, it means that the rules do not intend to cover such small issues as what volume the items you are carrying have. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 7 '18 at 20:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just because the rules say you aren't encumbered carrying 200 lbs of styrofoam doesn't mean you aren't. Great question, solid answer. DM ruling for sure on whether or not the sheer volume of what you're carrying is encumbering. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 7 '18 at 20:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ There isn't widespread agreement over whether "more granular" means more fine-grained or more coarse-grained. Everyone agrees that sand is granular, but there isn't widespread agreement about whether we're comparing sand to pebbles or to powder. I'm not sure which meaning KorvinStarmast was going for, but I think it works either way: the game has exactly this level of granularity. \$\endgroup\$ – Jetpack Jun 14 '18 at 21:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ The volume is in place to stop you carrying very large and light objects, although the DM still has control, it is usually a guide. Eg. If you want to carry a bean bag, that is larger than your pack, your DM may allow you to carry it strapped to the too of your pack, but in exchange for a negative modifier on dexterity checks. \$\endgroup\$ – Bob Kerman May 29 '19 at 1:33
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Yes

The rules give you a way of monitoring how much mass a PC can carry. They give you a way of deciding if something is small enough to fit inside a particular standard container. What if you have a situation where these rules are not applicable?

Fortunately the rules deal with that too, it's on page 6 of the Player's Handbook:

1. The DM describes the environment.

2. The players describe whet they want to do. ... Sometimes, resolving a task is easy. ... But ...some other circumstance might make it challenging for an adventurer to complete a task. In those cases, the DM decides what happens, ...

3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions.

It goes like this:

DM: There is 30 cubic feet of fairy floss in the room.

Player: I would like to pick it up and carry it to feed the sugar dragon.

DM: Try as you might, you can only manage to gather about a cubic foot in your arms at a time. Do you want to make 30 trips?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ And what's in the sugar dragon's hoard? The world wonders :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 8 '18 at 3:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast You’ve seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? That. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Mar 8 '18 at 5:50
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Rules as written, no. Realistically, kind of. Rules as fun, no

Rules as written, no

There is no restriction by the rules as written (RAW) on a cubic carrying capacity. There are some restrictions stated in the DMG, p. 141, on wearing multiple sets of the same kind of item (although the following quote is only explicitly applied to magic items, it is applicable to this conversation) which suggests that you "use common sense", further stating that:

A character can't normally wear more than one pair of footwear, one pair of gloves or gauntlets, one pair of bracers, one suit of armor, one item of headwear, and one cloak. You can make exceptions; a character might be able to wear a circlet under a helmet, for example, or be able to layer two cloaks.

Realistically, kind of

Note that all of the examples above limit you less by volume (cubic space) than by the area (square space) they take up on your body. Ålthough there is no written restriction to how much area a person has to spare, there is are realistic restrictions to how much space a person has on their body to carry objects. (A calculator for a human body's surface area can be found here).

Rules as fun, no

That being said, there are three reasons to ignore such area/volume restrictions.

  1. As you mentioned, some items give you extra area to strap extra items to. It is hard to calculate the total area gained/lost when you consider the structure of various backpacks, sacks, harnesses, or other carrying equipment which take up space on your body, but give you space on themselves to attach further equipment.
  2. It is difficult from an item's given volume to calculate how much area it occupies on your body, or even to calculate it's total surface area given a volume. Without knowing an item's exact shape, this cannot be done accurately.
  3. It's no fun. Weight is already a viable means of keeping track of how much your character is carrying. Like hit points, it is an abstraction that inaccurately but succinctly and simply measures your character's limits. To add a second system of carrying capacity on top of it would add complication without improving the experience of playing the game.

As a DM, feel free to institute such a limit on your characters if you wish. But keep in mind the warnings laid out above. (Or just tell them to buy a couple of donkeys to carry their gear).

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's no fun? We have a dwarf who has 35 weapons, including halberds and lances, strapped to his body. Rules say he can, so our new DM has agreed to it since it's a "thematic" thing. This guy also sleeps in his armor with all this crap strapped to him. How he even gets through doors is unreal and frankly immersion breaking. Just because a rule says yes, doesn't mean it's RAF to say that the player is acting ridiculous. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 7 '18 at 20:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ The Rules As Written provide limits. They do not say that a character can carry an arbitrary number, or size, of things if it falls within this limit. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Aidley Mar 8 '18 at 12:22
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No

It would make a lot of mess for weight calculations if you consider how complicated volume limitations could make things like consideration of Goliath or Orc weight capacity (which can carry the double of standard weight but still being medium sized) especially if being a bear totem barbarian.

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There are no rules in the PHB to rule volume encumbrance. I've ruled that at the start of each session players must go through their character's 'stuff' and calculate encumbrance based on the variant rules in the PHB. I gave them a donkey to store stuff. Once the session starts we go back to the max lift and push, pull, drag. This way I don't have any characters running around with 35 weapons or three chests full of gold strapped to them. I also haven't restricted the flow of the game.

I'm reading this because I would like to house rule a volume encumbrance in my games and I'm looking for ways to do it. I would not enforce the house rules though until a situation came up where they would be needed. For me the starting point will probably be a volume (cube) that has side length equal to the character's height / 2. Anything above that I would consider encumbered (-10 to movement) and if it were half again larger than that then it'd be heavily encumbered (-20 to movement and disadvantage on atk, save, checks).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 28 '19 at 6:31

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