The Jester had an intriguing blog about encumbrance recently, which got me remembering a proposal for encumbrance I had devised back in the 3e days. I had it all detailed in the old Regdar's Repository, but it got all chewed up when the forums got moved. It was fairly simple, so I'm reproducing it here.
Encumbrance As It Stands
Right now, in 4e, encumbrance is simple. You get 10 pounds (or 4.5 kilos) per Strength point. If you go over that, you're slowed. Over 20 pounds (or 9 kilos) per Strength point, and you have to drag the goods. Over 50 pounds (22.5 kilos) per Strength point, and you are immobilized. For most people, that's plenty. However, it has some issues.
First amongst those are steeds. Because there is no factor for size, large creatures tend to have a ridiculously low carrying capacity. Dragonborn basically can't ride anything but exotic steeds, and an armored knight is breaking his poor stallion's back. Most people I know simply ignore carrying capacity altogether, which is fine, but the written rules should have considered this.
Second, I'm not sure what the point of encumbrance is. I think it's just to prevent PCs from throwing the entire dragon's horde in their belt pouch and walking away. However, in the end, this just becomes a time-killer. The party has cleared out the dungeon, and now the DM and players engage in a math problem to figure out how many horses and carts one needs, and how many trips it takes to get everything back to town. That sort of logistical puzzle can be engaging once, at most. Then it's just a chore. Most of that can be hand-waved.
So Why Overcomplicate Things?
Well, there is some value to having a modicum of realism in the game. Shoving a dragon's horde in your pocket seems pretty silly. Plus, merchant caravans (and the related wagon train carrying the PC's treasure back to town) is a bit of a staple of fantasy. Moreover, the inabiliity of steeds to carry dragonborn just bugs me.
But we don't want this to be too difficult to use. First, nobody likes writing down how many pounds (or kilos) each potion is. Second, this really should be a background thing, raised only when the players face a challenge involving encumbrance.
Step One: Gear Slots
My solution is to introduce Gear Slots (GS). A character gets one Gear Slot per Strength Point per square they occupy (i.e., Tiny creatures get 1/4 the GS, Large creatures get quadruple, Huge creatures get 9 times, and Gargantuan creatures get 16 times). (Small and Medium creatures occupy 1 square, so the math is easier for PCs.) A creature that does not walk upright (including oozes, and snakes) doubles the number of slots they get.
Step Two: Encumbrance Columns
Now here's the elegant part. On a blank sheet of lined paper, make three columns. The first column is called "Unencumbered". The second is called "Slowed". The third is called "Immobilized". Now count a number of lines equal to the numbe rof GS's you have. Write a thick line across the page. Under the thick line write "Pouch" in each column.
Step Three: Filling in the Grid
Now take your stuff. An object occupies a number of GS equal to the object's listed weight divided by 5 (if you have things listed metrically, you need to divide it by 2¼ -- sorry.) Round down. Armor and shields occupy 1 GS per +1 of armor bonus to AC it affords. (Cloth armor occupies no GS.) Weapons occupy 1 GS if one-handed and 2 GS if two-handed. A ten-foot (or 3-meter) pole occupies 3 GS. Adornments (rings, amulets, etc.) are not counted, unless they weigh at least 1 GS.
If an object takes less than a GS, write it down in one of your "Pouch" columns. When you hit ten items in a pouch the pouch is full. 500 coins/gemstones occupies 1 GS. That pouch occupies one Gear Slot.
If an object occupies 1 or more GS, write it on the first open column. If it takes more than one GS, indicate that with a downward line occupying that number of rows. When you fill the first column, you are encumbered. As soon as you write something in the "Slowed" column, you are, you guessed it Slowed.
For each Pouch you have, you need to make sure you have a container to hold the stuff. The first Pouch is free (we call this "pockets"). Everything else needs a container. The capacity of all containers can be measured in "Pouches". A belt pouch, obviously, holds one Pouch. A backpack holds 10 Pouches.
Carts and Wagons
Carts and wagons are a special type of Pouch. When stuff is put in a wheeled wagon-type carrier, it is treated as being one-fifth of its normal capacity to the person doing the dragging. This lets you figure out things like wheelbarrows, handcarts, wagons, chariots, and the like.
Steeds can carry far more than they could before. Their capacity has basically increased four-fold. However, most PCs will find their capacity has been halved. This still will not be a problem for most people, but it does make encumbrance more of a factor. Still, since you have to keep track of your stuff anyway, and write it down, this system lets you watch encumbrance as you write, so there's no extra steps. It just requires a little effort when you first set up your character (and whenever your character's Strength increases).
One interesing aspect of this rule is it allows for obesity rules, something I sometimes see people ask about. Basically, to have an obese character, don't worry about penalties to Constitution of a disease track or any of the other complicated proposals I've seen for obesity.
Just figure out how overweight the character is. Divide those excess pounds by 5 (or 2¼ if measure in kilos). Now fill that amount of Gear Slots with the word "fat". You're done. A fat person is simply carrying around extra gear in the form of useless fat. They are more easily encumbered. That's it.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, if you're interested in a slightly more rigorous encumbrance system.