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This is a bit of an equipment logistics question so might not be all that interesting to everyone but... Reading the 5e PHB, the backpack weight listing says:

Backpack: 1 cubic foot/30 pounds of gear (You can also strap items, such as a bedroll or a coil of rope, to the outside of a backpack.)

Putting together a basic character, using class and background equipment, has given me about 108lbs of gear; including weapons, rations, rope and the like... So where does it all go?

  • Are weapons assumed to have scabbards/sheaths/belt loops and don't need to be in a backpack?
  • Similarly, does ammunition automatically get a (weightless) quiver/case/pouch?
  • Do you wear clothes under your armour?
  • How much can you strap to the outside of a backpack?

Assuming some of these and generously hanging things on the outside of a backpack, my basic character is still carrying around 65lbs of equipment (though admittedly this does include a frankly ludicrous 25lb hunting trap!)

And this doesn't even take into account anything interesting/useful (magical or otherwise) he might find lying around. A week's rations alone weigh 14lbs - almost half of a backpack's capacity!

While I enjoy imagining my character rolling through a dungeon with 3 heavy-duty backpacks, a flaming torch or five down his pants, daggers strapped to every available limb and extra arrows tucked behind his ears - it doesn't quite have that level of realism I'm looking for.

My question then, is:

Where should all this stuff go?

Ideally, answers shouldn't be along the lines of "Ask your DM" or "Just ignore logistics - it's boring - assume it all fits in the bag". I know this kind of stuff isn't the bread and butter of a good DnD session but it just doesn't seem to make sense. Am I missing something here?

Just to clarify, this isn't a question about how much my character can carry - even at Strength 10, 108lbs of gear is manageable since it's below the 150lb carry limit (ignoring the encumbrance variant rules). This question is about where the equipment goes.

Yes, I can use a vehicle or a mount to carry my mountains of rations to the next dungeon but realistically where would a rogue or a cleric (for example) keep their equipment when they are in said dungeon? Presumably they're going to need that 11-foot pole or bag of ball-bearings at some stage and wouldn't leave it outside with the mules and wagons?

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Assuming, as you've requested, that "that's boring, don't track it" is off the table, then yes, your intuition is right: this is a logistics problem. And to the contrary, it is the bread and butter of many groups' style of playing D&D, with a tradition stretching back to the very first days of the hobby in the early 1970s. Liking these ideas and wanting to involve them in your roleplaying is not in vogue now, but it is certainly within the range of acceptable ways of playing D&D. (I personally quite like the challenges and "putting myself into their head" feel of playing in this way.)

And, wonderfully, D&D 5e is flexibly designed in such a way that it can easily be played in this way without fighting the game.

If it being a logistics problem is valid for a group's approach to the game, then it's one of the fundamental puzzles that the players are responsible for solving, and doing so requires accounting for where everything goes, both in the sense of "accounting" as keeping track of things, and in the sense of justifying themselves.

When you're playing the game like this, you appeal to real-world knowledge, except insofar as the game provides replacement rules or guidelines that replace your real-world knowledge. (All RPG rules work like this — replacing or modifying your default knowledge of how things work — but that's especially true for managing mundane issues like this.)

So, with that preamble out of the way, where does all that stuff go?

Accounting for your stuff

A backpack only holds so much, yes. As you can in real life though, you can strap stuff to the outside, hang stuff off the bottom, and carry things in your hands while walking. That absurd hunting trap can go anywhere you can justify, and there are as many ways to solve the question of "where do I pack this?" as there are people with different gear-packing strategies. I'd hang it off the bottom of the pack, myself, but maybe you have other things that would better go there? Just like packing for a real hiking trip, things get juggled around until it all just works — or you give up on an item as too much bother to take with you.

Once you figure out a place for everything and everything's in its place, you've solved the problem of "how" naturalistically.

Swords, shields, ammo, and clothes

Indeed, items of combat equipment don't go in a backpack. Or they could, I guess, but that's an inconvenient place for them. Scabbards let you carry a sword on your belt with ease, and also make it quick to wield. A quiver does the same for ammo. These free up your backpack and hands for other gear. Shields get strapped to whatever they can be solidly strapped to, such as over the backpack or hung off the saddle.

Quivers (for arrows) and cases (for crossbow bolts) are listed in the equipment tables with prices and weights, so they don't come with the ammo and you have to buy one, and they aren't weightless. (A note to the less logistics-minded readers: without "a quiver, case, or other container" for your ammo, you don't get the benefit of the free reloading rules.)

Scabbards are not listed in the equipment chapter. Since swords on the smaller side are fairly useless without somewhere to keep them, it's probably safe to assume they come with scabbards when you buy them. (I personally find this a curious oversight, especially since quivers and cases are detailed, and other editions with "you want logistics? you can do logistics" levels of equipment detail do list scabbards. You may wish to add an entry for scabbards to the equipment lists your group uses. After all, when you find a bare blade in a dragon's hoard, you're going to want to buy a nice scabbard for it, right?)

Most armour, including plate harness, was worn over some kind of clothing. You might want a spare change in your pack, or you can just be grubby between the baths and laundry service provided at the inns you stop at. Medieval-level societies were often pretty filthy by default, so your character has a range of legitimate/believable choices in the realm of hygiene.

Sharing the burden

And speaking of saddles, when you've got too much gear to conveniently carry, that's where a pack horse, donkey, or riding horse comes in. (People who can't afford a beast to carry their stuff would dump it in a hand-cart instead — and though that's not a great way to travel long distances with all your possessions, people did what they had to, and sometimes travelling a long way with all your possessions in a hand cart is what people had to do. Hopefully your adventurer is more financially successful by the time they have to haul more than they can personally carry, though, and won't be reduced to such a sorry state.)

Carrying the loot

If you're well-equipped, you're probably already pretty burdened just with "necessary" gear. That doesn't leave much room for extra stuff you find in your travels, like piles of gold that can buy you that mule back in town. Old-school D&D players have long since figured out the solution to this: the sack. Sacks are lightweight, small to pack when empty, can carry literal sacks of gold, and can be carried one in each hand while travelling, leaving your packed pack unmolested by the storage needs of the new stuff. If only lightly filled, a sack can be tied to a belt, and carried even more easily.

The humble sack is a treasure-hunter's best friend, even ranking before the mule to carry even more sacks.

Less amazing than the sack, but still useful, is the belt pouch. Easily carried on the belt (or belts, if you opt to wear a second one over a shoulder, crossing your chest), pouches add a small amount of carrying space at no extra inconvenience for managing them.

Isn't this all unwieldy when actually, y'know, adventuring?

Yes, it is. Fighting while holding two sacks full of dragon's gold is not really going to end well. Or begin well, really. When combat looms, the traditional response (here, tradition referring to the grognardiest RPGers who have been playing this logistics-heavy way for decades and still are) is just as simple: drop your sacks and maybe even your pack to reduce your personal encumbrance, and then have at them with sword, bow, and spell.

Then, pray you don't have to run away — or if you do, you have a chance to snatch your treasure and gear back up!

A pack animal makes this easier yet: drop their lead when combat looms, and advance far enough forward that the melee doesn't come near the animal and spook them. (Though, tracking down a spooked animal with all your loot and gear on it can be an interesting adventure all its own, and lead you to places you might otherwise have never found!)

Better yet, hire a handler to hold your animal's lead while you, their master, engages the enemy in combat. Obviously you have to pay them, but the convenience of knowing your animal isn't going to run off unattended is worth paying for. Of course, that's assuming that they're loyal henchmen, but that's why you pay well, maintain a good reputation, get to know them at a personal level, and learn leadership skills that inspire people to be loyal followers rather than double-dealing traitors.

Plus, the risks and rewards of having and handling hirelings adds another social dimension to the game, which adds interest to play, and provides for another direction for complications and opportunities to arrive and convolve your gameplay. The more ingredients going into a roleplaying situation, the more engaging and emergent the situations that result. Just like a straying pack animal can lead to adventure, so can friendship and friction with a servant. But how the mundane can convolve play situations into deeply-engaging adventure is itself a whole other subject...

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    \$\begingroup\$ Kudos for adding in the stuff about "this is how D&D was played back in the day." Although it seems contradictory to the stuff I said in my answer, it's very true that older D&D featured logistics prominently; Fighters get keeps and war bands in AD&D, after all. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Oct 24 '14 at 16:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Portable holes are, and always were, enormous (10 cubic feet is a lot of space). Once you have reached a level where you have one, you can carry vast amounts of stuff around. Of course finding it when you need it may take a while since you end up with a hole full of junk, but that may not worry some. \$\endgroup\$ – Francis Davey Oct 25 '14 at 8:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Back in AD&D's "original" grayhawk campaign, Tenser developed the "floating disk" spell just because he hated leaving even a copper behind. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Oct 8 '17 at 13:17
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Throughout history Infantry units have carried their full kit on their backs into battle.

US Army Infantry

Any Infantry unit that is not mechanized (read: rides around in a vehicle) will deploy from a forward base and can and will do patrols and missions requiring them to be in the field for extended duration. When this occurs literally everything goes in a big ruck and they carry it. The rucks are dropped upon enemy contact (soldiers go prone, then throw of their rucks). If an ambush bags will be pooled in an out of sight location before soldiers setup for the attack.

I'm giving you this background to highlight that walking around with a lot of weight on your back is not ridiculous for an adventurer. They simply would not keep it on in combat as it would be too restrictive and tiring, but if they are properly conditioned they should have no issues carrying it throughout the day.

Strange shaped gear and gear that needs to be accessed quickly should be stowed outside their backpacks.

That ridiculously long pole? hope they bought a collapsing model! In all seriousness though, a lot of the more exotic, mundane gear available to the PCs should reside outside the backpack, attached via twine or loops allowing easy access and maximizing storage space within the backpack.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that going prone is a response to the ubiquity of reasonably accurate long-range weapons. If twelve idiots are coming at you with swords, you're probably fine to drop your pack from a standing position just as long as they don't have any mates with bows ;-) It's quite good fun in the right kind of game to develop operating procedures with the rigour of modern military training (or, for that matter, the rigour of Roman military training or any properly professional army), but designed for the appropriate tech level. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Oct 25 '14 at 0:28
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Horses are kind of expensive, but a mule costs 8 gp. Even a poor party can afford one. It can carry 480 lb of stuff, which you can put in a bunch of 1 cp sacks you strap on the mule.

If that's not enough, you can buy a 15 gp cart that the mule will pull. That allows the mule to pull 2200 lb of stuff instead.

Of course, don't forget to feed the mule. Feed costs 5 cp per day and takes up 10 lb per day. So an uncarted mule is only efficient for short trips, but a carted one can go months without losing most of the carrying capacity.

Some would rule (despite PHB notes) that The mule only requires 4 Lbs (2 cp) per day, as the Feed for Large Creatures mentions in the DMG under Foraging (specifically Food & Water Needs), as well as 4 Gallons of Water, especially since:

The food and water requirements noted in the Player’s Handbook are for characters. Horses and other creatures require different quantities of food and water per day based on their size. Water needs are doubled if the weather is hot.

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The short answer is that everything a character owns and goes adventuring with is either worn like armor, strapped to your belt like your sword or belt pouch, or attached to your backpack.

The long answer goes something like this:

Light armor is typically worn underneath clothes, because most people in light armor want to conceal the fact that they are wearing it. Medium and heavy armors are worn over clothes because even the lightest medium armor is heavy, restrictive, and hot so you want to be able to get out of it as quickly as possible, not to mention that metal against skin is not usually a pleasant experience.

All bladed weapons come with sheaths and most sheaths and / or shafts can be strapped to corresponding hooks on a belt. Sheaths are not listed separately from weapons because weapons are rarely if ever sold naked, and it is just easier to assume it is always there. This is unlike the quiver of arrows; arrows come and go, but the quiver might last your entire adventuring career.

Finally, a backpack is not a sack. This seems pretty obvious at first glance, of course, given that one costs 2 gp, which is enough to live comfortably for a day, and is more than a typical commoner might see in a week, and the other is 1 cp, which isn't even enough to live a life of squaller. But look at some of the other specifics. Both have a volume of 1 cubic foot or 30 pounds of gear, but the backpack costs 200 times more and weighs 20 times as much.

The sack is the basic unit of parcel that a commoner sees daily. Grain and flour are both sold by sack, and if a commoner wants to go to town to sell his wares, he's carrying a sack. They're made of the cheapest canvas a commoner can get their hands on, and may even include straps to carry them by. Pretty much any 'backpack' you'd buy for yourself or your kids at a general shopping center is going to be a sack. They are not what your adventurers would call a backpack.

So why does the backpack cost so much more? Although the specific mechanics of it are no longer part of 5th edition, the 3rd edition provided the answer: it is effectively a masterwork sack. An adventurer's backpack isn't something his neighbor threw together with rough canvas. It is a custom made work that probably took a week to put together. It is almost certainly made of sturdier materials, has comfortably padding for long trips, moderately more water-tight, and has separate pockets for just about everything. But the really important difference is the extra weight which is comprised of two things: a sturdy floor and back upon which the cloth was hung and a collection of hooks, straps, and other means of holding your gear securely and yet easily available so you can still draw weapons, potions, and other supplies with relative quickness. To buy a true modern day equivalent you'd have to go to either an army surplus store or an outdoors-man store and spend a hefty chunk of change.

Further, although the artwork rarely shows it, characters are assumed to be trained to fight with that weight strapped to their backs. After all, the characters are not Disadvantaged for fighting with a backpack on.

And finally, keep in mind the a matter of scale. Yes, that 10-ft pole won't easily fit in most hallways in either modern buildings or medieval castles. However, your characters will only rarely visit truly accurate models of medieval castles; in Dungeons & Dragons most hallways are are 5-ft across and 10-ft high, and a 10-ft pole strapped diagonally will fit quite easily into that 5-ft by 10-ft rectangle. A real-life two-handed sword is only a little over five feet long, but a 10-ft by 10-ft by 10-ft room will give you ample room to swing it around. Simply put most common dungeons have absurdly huge hallways and equally absurdly high ceilings.

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First of all, yes, you wear your clothing under your armor and your armor goes on your body. So however much weight those things take up, you can account for that being 'worn' (Or set off to the side when resting).

There are in fact scabbards for your sword and quivers for your ammo, and most of those are low-or-negligible weight as well.

Your 25-lb trap might be a bit difficult, and might wind up taking up a lot of your backpack space.

But, there are other things you can carry your items in, and here's a few of them without getting into the convenience of wagons, pack animals, or other transportation/load carrying things

Belts

This is what your scabbard would be tied to, and should contain a number of pouches and loops onto which you can tie various things and securely store various other things.

Pockets

If you're wearing a traveller's cloak or some other heavy type of clothing, you'll have a few pockets to store lighter ammo or accountements in as well.

Hat

Well, why not? It might be a bit uncomfortable, but no more than trekking around with over 100 lbs of equipment on your back would be anyway.


Now, as other people have already rightly pointed out, there are much, much better ways to carry your gear - hirelings, fellow party members, wagons, mules, wagons with mules, all of which cost money but all of which free you from being at your load capacity and allow you to move much more rapidly during surprise combat.

Ultimately this is up to you though, and dependent on how much actual item-tracking your DM is going to make you do. Many won't even bother making you account for where your items are stored at any given time, but if they do (and there are some that do), belt pouches and scabbards are quick-access, backpacks have pouches that are also quick access, but anything stored in the large recesses of your backpack will not be accessible during battle with ease, so save that for things you only need during downtime, like rations, bedrolls, tents, and hunting traps.

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In this aspect D&D 5e assume that you are going to apply real world knowledge or use real world references if you care about the details of how to stow your equipment. The rules ignore specific placement in favor of just totaling up the weight and comparing it to your character encumbrance limits. Something that 5e shares with it predecessors.

Historically backpacks that carried a lot of weight were built on top of an L shaped frame. The back of the frame had straps that the porter used to keep the pack on his pack. The sack portion rested on the shelf formed by the bottom of the L. Things that couldn't fit inside the sack where attached to the pack or frame as needed.

Some backpacks were little more than a large wicker basket with straps designed to keep it secure against a porter's back.

I recommend to use the 30 lb weight limit as a measure of the backpack interior limit. The main use of knowing what stored inside the pack is whether it is protected by the pack. You can assume that you can attach any number of things outside of the pack. With the provision that extremely bulky items that obviously can't be strapped or hung off a larger pack need special consideration.

The most common use, in my experience, of knowing what inside the pack and what attached to the pack is knowing which items are left behind when your character wants to shed the weight of his backpack. Beyond that there is little value in additional details.

This is part of a larger issue of things not directly addressed by the rules. Keep in mind that D&D 5e is designed to be a game in which imagined characters are interacting with a setting. A pen & paper virtual reality. As a virtual reality the rule can't cover all the details and remain reasonable in size. So players and referees have to rely on their knowledge of history and real life to fill in the missing details.

To answer your specifics

  • yes swords and weapons are purchased with what needed to carry them except for quivers for arrows.
  • not per RAW but it is reasonable to say a bundle of 20 is 1 lb.
  • for light and medium armor yes you wear clothes underneath, for heavy armor you probably wear special undergarments that are effectively clothes.
  • there is no RAW rule for this. Anything not unduly bulky can be considered strapped to the backpack by the player stating that how his gear is setup.
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    \$\begingroup\$ The official TSR AD&D 2e character sheets include space for designating where each piece of equipment was stowed. Of course nothing makes using that mandatory, but explicitly supporting stowage-accounting makes it inaccurate to say that every previous edition entirely ignores stowage. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 24 '14 at 16:07
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The thing that you're missing is, frankly, WOTC doesn't think this stuff is very engaging either, and knows that most people don't keep very close track of encumbrance. Otherwise they wouldn't do weird things like make a day's worth of dry rations two pounds. This isn't related to 5E, but in Pathfinder, grappling hooks are four pounds. That is monumentally heavy for something that is meant to be thrown vertically.

Weight is a system that ostensibly balances gear by making it heavier or lighter as required (or so I presume), but ends up not making sense in many ways. It's like this in every role-playing game I've played so far, no exception. Shadowrun is quite bad with this, too; the amount of gear any non-cybered runner carries is ridiculous. At the end of the day, these people are running businesses, and if they think that detailed weight and encumbrance mechanics are not worth the time and money, they aren't going to go through the effort of writing them.

Now that my spiel is out of the way, I usually end up buying a mule or something when I make a character. In one campaign I ran, my players had two horse-drawn carts as soon as they left the city they started in; one of which was the wizard's personal travelling carriage. In another game I played which was a converted Flame Princess adventure (Quelong, quite a good one) in 5E, we have a fleet of river boats to carry our crap. Basically, I advise you use vehicles so you don't have to think about it, and give yourself the leisure of only having to carry what's necessary for a specific incursion. Once you're high enough level to get a bag of holding, it becomes a non-issue, further showing that WOTC really doesn't care very much about this mechanic.

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When I played a while back, after a certain level we would get our own place with some form of stronghold (a room with a secret passage, possibly a trap...) Then we would teleport our piles of gold directly there. This, of course, did not really help you carry your otherwise necessary gear. Plus, teleportation is a pretty high level spell.

At lower level, they offered a form of spell that would create a shield you could use to carry all of that. Thus far, I have not seen that solution in 5e. (I haven't had the time to read all the spells, though!) You'd place your heavy load on that shield and it would follow you. Better than a donkey or a mule that could be killed, run away, etc.

For rations, we quickly found a solution: we'd use the Cleric spell to Create Food and Water (PHB p. 229).

You mentioned carrying many torches. You may want to have a lantern instead. If you are at a very low level, you probably do not want to stay in a dungeon for too long anyway... Again magic can help: a wizard can cast a Light cantrip and get you 1h of light (PHB p. 255) then your cleric can use Daylight (PHB p. 230).

So, I just wanted to complement the other's answers as they did not include much in regard to using magic as solutions to the problem. Once you are wealthy and high level, your are much less likely to need others' help to carry your findings. However, you may want a castle with 1,000 solders to keep your other belongings...

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    \$\begingroup\$ Re your second paragraph, that would be Tenser's floating disk. It's also in 5e: see page 282 of the Player's Handbook. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 15 '15 at 5:55
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You can also hire people (a trusted company) to carry your equipment for you and they will just be there as a non combatant and will run away if all the party gets killed. You also can hire someone to guard your parties horses from danger (or from thieves), and to not engaging in any combat. Rates would vary from point A to B and how many days (I would say 1/2 of a gold piece per day for the guard and 1 gold piece per day for the carrier). Of course each one will have to have a horse (or have the company provide them one). Also the party can start out side quests as guards or carriers themselves at level one to three.

I looked up medieval traveling backpacks. It have a small chest on top then a bag in the middle then your tent and bedroll rolled up inside the tent on the bottom. The whole thing is connected by wood with 2 straps. the box I would assume for breakables like flasks, potions, and so forth). The middle is for materials (flint stones to start fires, common materials, and so forth). Torches are to the side of the backpack in a holder. I also looked up pirate traveling backpack (well sailor backpack) and it's not much different.

A DM on youtube said to buy a lot of sacks for various reasons.

  1. To hold a lot more loot.
  2. to carry the loot out of the dungeons.
  3. To carefully hold most untouchable items.

There is also how many potions you can carry in a potion pouch (so far I seen 3-4 bottles in one pouch).

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When I used to play 3.5e, I always used a Handy Haversack. It holds a bunch of stuff in a magical pocket dimension (sort of like a portable hole or bag of holding), and includes the ability to immediately access whatever you are trying to get out, as a free action.

The Handy Haversack is still around in the 5e SRD:

This backpack has a central pouch and two side pouches, each of which is an extradimensional space. Each side pouch can hold up to 20 pounds of material, not exceeding a volume of 2 cubic feet. The large central pouch can hold up to 8 cubic feet or 80 pounds of material. The backpack always weighs 5 pounds, regardless of its contents.

Placing an object in the haversack follows the normal rules for interacting with objects. Retrieving an item from the haversack requires you to use an action. When you reach into the haversack for a specific item, the item is always magically on top.

So, it costs an action to get an item out, but it still has the property of whatever you need being magically on top.

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