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I'm in a campaign where it's just me and my boyfriend, my boyfriend being the DM. He's very literal with D&D rules and has argued that a rat can carry 15lbs. Rats have a strength score of 2. Carrying capacity is Strength Score times 15, halved if Tiny.

This is a Shapechanged Ancient Copper Dragon (as a rat) attempting to steal a large recipe book from a closed bag. This dragon is known to the character it is stealing from. So it's partly realism, seeing as how a rat couldn't realistically pull a large book out of a full bag. Even I have trouble getting a book out of a bag!

I think this is completely ridiculous that a rat can carry 15 times its weight. Can someone help me out? Is he right? Am I right?

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According to the rules, yes, a rat can carry 15 pounds.

The Basic Rules section for Using Ability Scores describes how Strength and size affect carry capacity.

Carrying Capacity. Your carrying capacity is your Strength score multiplied by 15.

Push, Drag, or Lift. You can push, drag, or lift a weight in pounds up to twice your carrying capacity (or 30 times your Strength score).

Size and Strength. Larger creatures can bear more weight, whereas Tiny creatures can carry less. [...] For a Tiny creature, halve these weights.

A typical rat is Tiny-sized and has 2 Strength, meaning that it can carry up to 15 pounds. It can also push, drag, or lift up to 30 pounds.

Is that realistic? No, but D&D isn't a physics simulator, and isn't very realistic in the first place. The 5e rules for carry capacity were likely designed to accommodate humanoid adventurers carrying armor and loot, hence the relatively high carry capacity.

You could discuss with your DM about using Encumbrance, an optional rule that imposes incremental encumbrance penalties on creatures who carry too much. Note that these restrictions would apply to all characters, in addition to rats. Details can also be found in the Basic Rules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've never looked up 5e carry capacity in detail, doesn't the rat still get a multiplier for being quadrupedal? \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Jul 6 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 The multiplier for being quadrupedal was in D&D 3.5e. It's not in 5e. The details are in the links in my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Jul 6 at 20:48
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Yep, those are the rules

Now the rules for carrying things aren't really made to make sense, they're made to build good stories focused around mostly Medium sized people doing heroic stuff. So a lot of the rules aren't really focussed on realism.

Pretty much everyone in the D&D world has a level strength that would be unreasonable in the real world, and it gets worse for smaller creatures because of the flat modifier.

For example, by the normal rules, an average strength human can lift a weight of a whopping 300 pounds. (10 × 15 × 2 for lifting a heavy load). I happen to know that one of my colleagues in office who is a weight lifter complains about not being able to do that. He is definitely no weakling, but would score no more than an 8 Str in a D&D world. I, myself, not being into heavy lifting, would be lucky to have a 4 Str, even though I look like an average (but large) human in build.

On the other hand, a D&D human with excellent (20) Strength would be able to lift as much as 600 pounds. That's beyond modern world records. And these aren't dedicated weight lifters, they're just strong heroes and breaking every world record in the book is just another thing they do in addition to beating up dragons.

So yeah, your friend is absolutely right that in the D&D world an average human can lift things that would make your jaw drop, and it scales down so that all creatures can (by the rules) lift what sounds like unreasonable amounts. Including, if you just follow the rules, rats.

So yeah he's right, and if he wants to play that way, a rat can lift 15lbs.

Must be a big rat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with everything you’ve said but the real world record is much higher than 600 pounds: ”The world record for equipped deadlift (with a deadlift suit and straps) is 501 kg (1,105 lb) held by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson.” \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Jul 6 at 7:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Michael Hm, that's a different record than what I used. I don't think deadlift requires being able to stagger around long-term with the weight though, like a D&D character could. I used the olympic records for lifting above the head for my own comparison. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 6 at 7:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that small muscles are much stronger for their weight, so comparison to human is probably not useful at all. I mean, ants can lift something like 5000x their weight... \$\endgroup\$ – WakiNadiVellir Jul 6 at 7:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik: Yeah, it depends on what we consider “Push, Drag or Lift”. The furthest distance 400 kg farmer's walk is 20.67 m. World record weight lifters are amazingly strong, but of course none of those athletes could haul 200kg around all day long (carrying capacity). \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Jul 6 at 7:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WakiNadiVellir: I think that’s more because of the square cube law. Some numbers would really be interesting. Could someone who keeps rats or other small rodents please do some experiments? :D \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Jul 6 at 7:59

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