People are heavy.

I'm doing some syntheses of Moldvay Basic D&D (by way of the reissue Old School Essentials), the BECMI-based Rules Cyclopedia add-on, and some various other tweaks and whatnot for streamlining and familiarity for modern players. One thing that's noticeable is that, nowhere does there seem to be a standard measure of a player character's weight outside of demihuman class descriptions vis a vis the Cyclopedia, e.g.:

An elf is 5' to 5 1/2' tall, and weighs about 120 pounds.

Presumably human classes could be considered to weigh in around 150 pounds, similar to dwarves. Still, this does present some issues in other places where weight matters.

Boats seem too generous:

  • A 15ft canoe fits five people.
  • A halfling could navigate rivers on a raft with, if professionally made, only a single square foot of area.

Bu so be it, that's perhaps a touch more focused than most groups would need to care about anyhow. Of more pressing concern is that many other things don't seem generous enough:

  • Mules can only carry one modestly-equipped person.
  • Nobody can carry a human or dwarf if any armor is involved!

The last one in particular seems especially harsh--dungeons, especially in OSR, are dangerous places, sure, and it makes sense to need to drop some of your treasure haul to carry a fallen comrade, but nearly everything, including any and all armor, seems like a downright excessive demand to make of a player should they be forced to choose between comrade or coin.

So, the question is not how much a player character does weigh (which investigation shows to be between 60 and 150 pounds depending on race, plus gear), but how much they should for balance and flavor reasons--with special attention paid to players carrying an incapacitated party member. Alternatively, what mitigations might exist (houserule or otherwise) to make things more reasonable on this front?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I really like the image of a halfling nimbly navigating down a river on a tiny raft... \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ a person in heavy armor not being ably to carry another person in heavy armor sounds completely reasonable to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 2:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ As much as a duck, or as much as a hen weighs. (Bonus points for those who get the references). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 2:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ ... I was resisting making that joke \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 12:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @intelfx The first one was a ref to Monty Python and the Grail, while the second one was from an overused comic routine. Two comics, straight man and jokester like Rowan and Martin or Abbot and Costello, where one talks about "and yesterday I found a hen way" - other one says "What's a hen way?" and the first says "About six or seven pounds." Also works with a Greek urn. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 13:58

3 Answers 3


You don't need to carry alone

The early editions of D&D were heavy on the resource management (see for example this answer to What's the point of long, empty hallways in dungeons?, in my opinion one of the best on this entire site). Lots of things were unrealistic to make things harder there: you'd take one turn (10 minutes!) to walk a short distance of 120 feet in a dungeon.

But, if one of you team goes down, and they are too heavy to carry for a single character, there are other alternatives:

  • Share the load, have two characters carry them together. Or one carries the character, another the gear.
  • Lose some resources - get rid of the heavy armor.
  • Drag them along. Use a blanket or bedroll if you feel charitable. (Rules detail here to be clarified by the DM)
  • Take their stuff and run. Let them roll up a new character.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Most of these seemed pretty much foregone conclusions (especially the "take the money and run" answer, knowing the typical OSR party), but dragging is, embarrassingly, not one I had thought of. D&D 5e allows sliding loads of double a character's carry weight before grinding to a halt (or as close as 5e gets), so effectively halving weight for pushed or dragged loads in general seems precedented... or the chronologically inverse equivalent. \$\endgroup\$
    – JessLovely
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 6:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JessLovely Yes. B/X has no explicit formula for it, IIRC, so the DM would have to make up some ruling. Using 5e's seems a simple approach. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 6:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Being able to drag twice the weight you can lift is also consistent with real life. Depending on the surface, the weight you are dragging and the grip of your boots you can get between ≈1× and ≈4×, and 2× is reasonably accurate most of the time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 9:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ If anything like carts or cart wheels can be handwaved in, there's a lot you can drag along as a party. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mast
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 19:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mast Carts are, RAW, a common land vehicle accessible by the party... though whether they'll fit in a dungeon, or the draft animals required to pull them will be willing to enter, is a different story. Wheelbarrows and the likes, on the other hand... well, I might do some crackpotted math based on the cart mechanics to see how hard a PC would have to pull for a given weight. (Answer: depends on whether PCs are closer to horses or mules. A draft horse can carry even more than a cart will without breaking a sweat, but two mules can only just manage the equivalent between them.) \$\endgroup\$
    – JessLovely
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 22:49

Just use real weights

This is what we do in the Coup de Greyhawk -campaign. Real weights for people, real weights for items, to the accuracy anyone bothers to find out.

How much can you carry? Just use real numbers, again, to the best of your (plural, the entire group's) experience with camping, gym, garden work etc, combined with sources on for example how much weight soldiers have and have had on them on the march, adjusted for character strength or dwarfiness or whatever other circumstances and fantastic elements are in play, as appropriate to the game world and idiom.

This way:

  1. You know how much a table or a sword or a maille weights, and if not, you can easily find it online. The same with a gnu or an elephant tusk, or whatever you might want to carry. You do not need a rulebook with extensive lists, which might be total nonsense, anyway.

  2. Things do not need to have a particular, fixed weight. Different mailles have different weights. This is ok.

  3. Weight is a niche concern and often an approximation is more than sufficient. And if the pit trap opens with a weight of 200 pounds, that is about 100 kilograms, so a heavily equipped big guy might do it (calculate or roll a die if in doubt), and two people certainly would.

  4. This will teach you things about the real world - how easy various deeds are, how good an idea that plate mail is in a dungeon (quite good, in my play experience) and is it better than a maille, should you really take a pollaxe with you in there, and so on. You will be drawing new conclusions about the art of dungeon expeditions, not just repeating pre-conceptions some RPG writer had when writing some rulebook.

This practice is in tune with the philosophy in the (free in both senses) OSR guide Muster. (I am not the author. I know the author and play with them.)

Research burden

Note that you can do as much or as little research as you want. Default to the group's best judgment, then and there, and to the extent something is interesting in and of itself or keeps bothering you, check it up later for later referee calls.

That is: you do not need to do extensive research in whatever. You can, and it can help, but it is voluntary. Estimate freely.

Fantastic elements

So, how much can a dwarf carry?

As a baseline estimate, carrying capacity is roughly proportional to weight (at human scales; a different matter with ants). So how much do your dwarves weigh? If they are more like real life dwarves, than not much. If they are shorter but broader and more heavily built than people, then roughly as much, plus they do have some small benefit for having a lower center of mass. So roughly as much, but interpret generously. IF your dwarves are more stone-like and much denser than people, then they are also likely to be likewise stronger and can use their body mass to their advantage.

On the other hand, your dwarves might have more of a mythological tint to them. In that case, you would default to your understanding to their nature: consider their place in the metaphysics of the game world, and the myths that are your source material, and whether these imply great carrying capacity. If you do not see anything like that, default to a human.

So, essentially, you have two sources here: the real, physical world, and the mythological sources and stories that you have adopted as guiding your play in this particular game world.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @JessLovely the AD&D 1e rule was "a character can lift 10x their strength score, in pounds, over their head". How much they can carry, and move around, is covered by the encumberance rules, along with common sense about where/how are you carrying that? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave That, along with your answer, could work--if I was trying to redesign the B/X encumbrance system from the ground up. I thank you for your guidance, and while it's well beyond the scope of my question, I hope others find use in it. \$\endgroup\$
    – JessLovely
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 22:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Feel free to ask a different question about economical modelling! It is an interesting subject, to be sure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 6:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JessLovely I extended the answer to discuss research burden and fantastic elements. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 6:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ “Mailles” is a collection of French mustard, which may be relevant to your game. But do you perhaps mean “mails” a collection of armour? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 21:05

Since this is old-school inflected B/X I contend that referencing the real-world as a heuristic for making the rulings is appropriate.

For carrying a downed character, I believe that referencing firefighter's carrying techniques could serve as a basis for making ruling. Firefighters are a good surrogate for adventurers since they are, generally, physically fit people and carry a significant amount of gear for their safety. In the linked document, there is no indication that one fighter can carry another -- instead the techniques involve dragging or two-person carries. The missing point in the B/X rules are rules for dragging -- presumably a character can drag more than they can carry; if the DM feels that it is necessary to adjudicate whether one person can drag another, then the exact multiple (2x? 3x?) would need to be assessed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The link doesn't appear to be working (and has spaces in it - I haven't tried escaping them) \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is what the link points to: http://ctaeir.org/Unit%20Plan/Homeland%20Security-EmerSer/Emergency%20Services/PS_HSES_6/PS_HSES_6_CarriesAndDragsTeacherGuide.pdf note this is not https so your browser may be blocking it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 14:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Strange, it's not Firefox (which gives "server not found") but my DNS server (corporate settings): ping: ctaeir.org: No address associated with hostname - matching the browser error. Hopefully not a problem for people elsewhere \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Pretty certain it's something odd with the DNS here. And at some point Firefox must have started displaying spaces instead of %20 in the address bar, but I don't know when because it's so rare to see them in URLs, which distracted me. Google's cache doesn't have the pictures \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisH: same for me (residential ISP in Canada), it's DNS lookup that fails. Like you, I tried ping ctaeir.org on the command line, so it's definitely not the browser being weird about HTTP. But googling for ctaeir.org brings up a hit for its front page ("Georgia CTAE") so it's not a typo and was a real site. Clicking on that hit doesn't work; DNS error. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 16:04

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