I do encumbrance in a way I don’t think I’ve seen before. My players love it (they don’t).
TL;DR: put each item you carry in a stack. Each stack contributes to an encumbrance DC. Save vs encumbrance to stay healthy and free.
It’s very simple, yet it makes every item mechanically significant. And it’s easily moddable as well. (For instance, I don’t factor in “fashion” or held items, but you easily could.)
Here’s a pdf of the image below, and below the image I’ll post the text version.
how it works
Number each significant item you carry. Each one is a stack, even if it’s a stack of 1 item. Do not count your fashion or held items. On your inventory sheet, draw each equipped container and note what items it holds.
Stacks. The number of items a stack can hold is equal to its stack die, from d1 to d100.
Stack size. The current total of items in a stack is called its size.
Encumbrance DC. Each stack is +1 to your encumbrance DC.
Running away. If you are running away from something, make a Strength (Athletics) save vs encumbrance to get away, +advantage if you toss what you’re holding.
Stack checks. If you fail an encumbrance save and have some stacks that aren’t full, you can make a stack check: for each stack not full, roll its stack die. For each roll that beats the current size of its stack, +1 to your encumbrance save.
variants & options
Reduce speed. Instead of making an encumbrance save to get away, reduce speed by 1′ for each stack and compare speeds. You can combine the speed reduction with the default method as well. This incentivizes players to drop their packs before a fight.
Count fashion and/or held items. You can have armor/clothes and held items count toward the DC, but I don’t think it’s cool. Fighters that can wear plate are stronger than the dex users anyway; give them a break on the encumbrance game. Same with big heavy greatsword users.
Heavy items. Some items take up 2+ stacks.
Skills. Players have to pass both whatever skill check their doing (say climbing), plus an encumbrance save, whenever they do something athletic in the dungeon.
Light is heavy. I say torches and other light sources don’t stack. One torch per stack. The underworld hates light and pulls at it more strongly than you’d expect.
Stack dice. In general, I’d try to keep a stack to a single item if at all reasonable. For larger stacks, I’d go up to d6 at most, with the exception of coins, which get a d100.
Small item stack. You can have a generic stack for small items, and give it a d4 or d6 or whatever die. Then radiating off that stack’s icon on your inventory sheet, you’d write down the individual contents.
Overloaded encounter die. As Necropraxis talks about here, you can grant meaning to other results on your wandering monster or random encounter checks. Typically, only 1 result is meaningful: 1 on a d6, for example, means a wandering monster appears.
However, you can link encumbrance into this by having a 2 on a d6, for example, indicate an encumbrance save. Each player that fails the encumbrance check suffers some encumbrance-related mishap. Examples:
- lose [level] hp
- the next time you take damage, take +[level] damage
- wisdom save to not rest this turn, regardless of what others do
- backpack tears and something falls out
- you have to rest this turn or take exhaustion penalty
- you get separated from the group
- condition: tired (disadvantage to pretty much anything until you rest)
- wandering monster