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I am just DMing "Shadowdale - The Scouring of the Land" and would like to incorporate a caravan delivering arms to the dalesfolk. I figured 500 suits of leather armor, 500 large wooden shields, 500 shortspears and 2000 javelins would do. This amounts to roughly 20,000 lb. of weight. A heavy horse can drag 3,000 lb. Under favorable conditions (say: wheels) this is doubled (PHB p. 162), so 1 heavy horse drags 6,000 lb. So, if you reckon 2 horses in front of a wagon you would need only 2 wagons to transport arms for 500 light troops. That does not seem right. Is there a limit to the carrying capacity of a wagon?

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    \$\begingroup\$ It does not seem right because you are not considering the size (volume capacity) of the wagons, only the weight capacity. I doubt 1 wagon can hold 12,000 lbs of leather armor just as a matter of available space... that's the weight of about 4 Honda Civics, for scale. How big are your wagon dimensions (length, width, and depth of wagon walls)? Are they covered (e.g. Conestoga) or open top? \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Nov 3 '20 at 14:16
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A standard wagon can carry 2 tons (4,000 lbs)

The Arms & Equipment Guide has considerably more detailed rules for representing vehicles than can be found in the core books - though it's a 3e resource, there isn't a 3.5e update for this book so it's still valid for 3.5e games (and other 3.5e books specifically refer to its rules for vehicles). Amongst other things it suggests that the common wagon has a cargo capacity of 2 tons, or 4,000 pounds, so you'd need 5 wagons to carry 20,000 lbs of equipment.

Wagon: Huge vehicle; Handle Animal –2; Spd drawn (poor); Overall hp 60 (hardness 5); Overall AC3; Ram 4d6; Face 15 ft. by 10 ft.; Height 5 ft.; Crew 1; Weight 400 lb., Cargo 2 tons; Cost 35 gp.

This book also has rules for specifically figuring out the effective "pull weight" of drawn vehicles to determine how burdened the beasts that pull it are; jot up the combined weight of the vehicle and all its contents, and then for a wheeled vehicle, divide by 4. Compare that weight to the beast's normal carrying capacity. This gives somewhat lesser values than you'd arrive at by using the PHB's guidance about dragging weight, but we assume that max drag weight applies only over a short distance/time - here, we're figuring out how much weight the horses can reasonably pull for extended periods.

A wagon fully loaded with 2 tons of gear weighs in at 4,400 lbs (not including the driver) so has a pull weight of 1100 lbs. Divided between two heavy horses, that's 550 lbs each, which just about fits inside the limit of their 600 lb carrying capacity - though it's a heavy load, so they can't run while pulling it and their speed is somewhat reduced, as per the normal rules for carrying capacity. The horses can handle the load so long as the driver doesn't themselves weigh more than about 400 lbs.

Concerning the volume of goods that can be transported by any given vehicle, the wagon is described here as an open-topped vehicle that's about 10 feet by 15 feet in size, not including the space occupied by the draft animals at the front. The description also mentions that the wagon can mount a heavy catapult, which requires a 10x10ft. area of flat roof or deck, so the cargo bed must be at least 10x10ft. in size. Additionally, the driver and any passengers in the wagon are granted half-cover by the wagon's frame, so it must have side walls 2-3 feet high. That easily offers at least a couple hundred cubic feet of cargo volume, considerably more if your goods can be stacked up and lashed down under a canvas cover or similar (for comparison, 4000lbs of solid oak planking at ~45lbs/ft3 would fill a mere ~90 cubic feet). Unless your goods are extremely lightweight or must be packed sparsely, you'll most likely fall afoul of the wagon's weight limit before you have to worry about volume.

Then, as Danny Santoro's answer notes, there are other logistical concerns you also have to factor in, such as how many people are in the caravan, supplies and food for them and the horses, tools, etc. So, probably, you should throw in another wagon which is specifically dedicated to supplies for the journey, if this convoy is travelling any significant distance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't suppose the AEG goes into any details on what the maximum volume you can fit on a cart is? \$\endgroup\$
    – eirikdaude
    Nov 3 '20 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @eirikdaude not directly, but some inference can be made from the description that is provided. I have added some detail on that to my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Nov 3 '20 at 18:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have any examples of 3.5 books referencing AEG? \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Nov 25 '20 at 18:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin sure. Sandstorm (2005) on page 103, at the start of its section about vehicles: "The Arms and Equipment Guide provides information on vehicles, vehicle movement, and vehicle combat." It then presents stat blocks for vehicles in AEG's format and presumes you'll need to refer to the AEG to understand them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Nov 25 '20 at 19:00
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I think more of a common sense approach would apply here, and you would probably see more wagons even if it wasn't necessarily needed from a gameplay perspective.

You have the weights of everything and the max weight a horse can pull, though not many owners would want to push their horse to 100% all the time. Additionally, you can count the weight of the wagon which is (at least in 5E) 400 lbs. You need to account for the horses food, supplies for the people manning the wagon, tools to fix if one of those wheels popped off (we all played Oregon Trail and know how bad it sucks to not be able to fix it).

Then, you would need to take risk into consideration. Would the person sending supplies want to put them all in two wagons? Why not spread them out so if one is lost, at least most of the supplies get through?

I think what is happening is you're running into a gameplay mechanic when you need to look for a story mechanic to justify more horses and carts until it sounds right and realistic to you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Further to this answer, I would note that favorable conditions "can double" the drag capacity. That suggests that doubling would be the maximum, perhaps with wheels and a flat, paved road. Running carts cross-country might not increase the normal dragging capacity, or it might even be reduced over rolling terrain. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2 '20 at 22:36
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Danny Santoro's and Carcer's answers already provide a lot of useful insights about the topic, regarding the organization of the carovan, the supplies, the guards, the amount of travel an animal can do et cetera.

Beside the weight, you should consider also the volume and the shape of the goods you want to put on the wagon. For example, a wooden sheilds weights 10 lbs, so using the statistics of a wagon

Wagon: Huge vehicle; Handle Animal –2; Spd drawn (poor); Overall hp 60 (hardness 5); Overall AC3; Ram 4d6; Face 15 ft. by 10 ft.; Height 5 ft.; Crew 1; Weight 400 lb., Cargo 2 tons; Cost 35 gp.

you should be able to put 400 shields on it, considering only the weight: but can 400 shields be put inside such a wagon, considering their curved shape and the volume?

If you want to be very realistic, you should take into account a lot of aspects for organizing such a carovan.

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