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I'm seeing weight of guns, armor, and even coins listed, but no rules seem to really make weight have any effect - other than on someone's speed.

For example: When you are drowning. I can tell you that swimming is pretty much easier when you are naked than when you are wearing heavy armor. However, the rules don't seem to care what armor do you use. Just simple DC 10/15/20 check.

So, in what situations does weight really matter? Or is it just fancy gimmicks?

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Basically, weight is used to calculate one thing. Whether or not your adventurer is overburdened with all the stuff he is carrying.

How much you can carry is determined by the following formulas:

Normal Load: Multiply the creature’s Strength score by 10. The result is the weight, in pounds, that the creature can carry around without penalty.

Heavy Load: Double the normal load number (that is, Strength × 20) to find a creature’s heavy load, the maximum weight it can lift off the ground. While a creature is carrying more than its normal load, it is slowed. Carrying such a load requires both hands.

Maximum Drag Load: Five times a creature’s normal load (that is, Strength × 50) is the most weight it can push or drag along the ground. The creature is slowed if it pushes or drags more weight than its normal load, and it can’t push or drag more than its heavy load over difficult terrain.

So basically, if you have too much stuff (but not more than your heavy load), your adventurer is slowed. This is a big problem. For most adventurers this isn't much of an issue, fairly early on in your career you should be able to pick up a Bag of Holding, and not have to worry about load except for the gear your wearing or actively using.

It's been pointed out in the comments that there are a couple of game mechanics that do use the weight of an item. Prestidigitation can lift up to a pound, Mage Hand can lift up to 20 (Psions and Wild Talent Masters have similar powers). So it comes into play occasionally on this stuff as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is partially a throwback to earlier editions of D&D - in 2nd edition, for example, there were many, many different rules about how much you could carry, where you were carrying it, how that affected your speed, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Dakeyras Jun 3 '14 at 11:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ The term might be: it's vestigial. Or very nearly. By the time you have enough stuff for weight to be a problem, you're gonna have stuff that makes weight not a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 3 '14 at 11:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think 4E included weight simply so that it could be used in modules or other settings or 3rd party rule books for special situations without those books having to spend tons of paper enumerating the weight of every item in the game. \$\endgroup\$ – DampeS8N Jun 3 '14 at 14:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also for determining how/if spells effect the items. Eg. Mage Hand moves 20 pounds of materials, Prestidigation only one. \$\endgroup\$ – EagleV_Attnam Jun 3 '14 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe it's also worth mentioning is the fact that heavy armor gives a -1/-2 check to Str based skill checks I believe (and -1 speed) so heavy armor DOES make it harder to swim. \$\endgroup\$ – Tijnkwan Jun 3 '14 at 23:00

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