The tl;dr highlights of the article that are important to the discussion below:
- A 2016 study showed that a Marine Corps infantry officer should be able to carry 152 lbs for 9 miles.
- Official documentation suggests that a 100 lb load was fairly standard.
- At least one soldier reported carrying in excess of 200 lbs
The weight of the soldier’s load shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. Those pounds really add up once you tally the weight of standard issue body armor, a rifle, ammunition, grenades, food, water, and other kit like night vision gear and medical supplies; even batteries for various technology used on the battlefield.
Given these numbers for humans in a non-fantasy setting, we can actually calculate their minimum Strength scores according to the tables in RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder.
Strength in D&D and Pathfinder
According to the D&D 5e Player’s Handbook:
Your carrying capacity is your Strength score multiplied by 15.pg. 176
So by simple division, the Marine Corp infantry officer above is expected to have a Strength score of at least 10, and the modern day solider should be rocking a 7 to cover that 100lb standard load.
Pathfinder doesn’t provide a multiplier for their Strength score so much as they do the following table:
This makes things interesting. If we assume 100 lbs-150 lbs is a light load, our soldiers are packing Strength scores of between 18 and 21, and old boy hauling that 200 lb load is rocking a friggin’ 23! If we classify the load as medium, the minimum Strength score required is an 18.
So at the very least Pathfinder makes our soldiers sound much more bada#$ than D&D does when it comes to a comparable Strength score.
Encumbrance in D&D and Pathfinder
Now for some fiddly bits! Let’s talk encumbrance.
Dungeons and Dragons dictates that if you carry a measly 5x your Strength score, you are encumbered and your Speed drops by 10 ft. If you shoulder 10x or more your Strength score, you’re instead heavily encumbered which reduces your Speed by 20ft and imparts disadvantage on all sorts of things.
So if you use this variant rule as a guide, our soldiers are beyond heavily encumbered. In the case of that dude packing 200 lbs, whose Strength score would need to be at least 14, he’s carrying fifteen times his score!
Pathfinder is a bit more generous…to Strength based builds. Poor Wizards who use Strength as a dump stat are going to have a really, really hard time. Let’s say your caster’s Strength is a 10. If they carry more than 33lbs, their Speed is reduced by 5ft (for those with a base Speed of 20ft) or 10ft (for those with a base Speed of 30ft).
Desna forbid you have a Strength score of less than that in Pathfinder. You could barely hold a healthy one year old child without being encumbered!
And if, in either system, you totaled up your load’s weight between armor, weapons, potions, rations, etc…it can be kinda hard not to be encumbered.
Oftentimes at a table, DMs will just hand wave pretty much all of the rules regarding carrying capacity and encumbrance. (Here is an example of when you shouldn’t.) Even if they don’t, there are all sorts of magical items that bypass the rules – like the classic Bag of Holding.
Just like in our favorite tabletop RPG systems, the militaries of our modern world are constantly pursuing workarounds. Unmanned vehicles that serve as modern-day pack animals and, believe it or not, even exoskeletons are already in production or on the battlefield. All to make sure that our soldiers are able to perform at their peak without sacrificing mobility or essential (and even nonessential, just-in-case) kit.
All of this to say two things:
- Our soldiers are incredible. These fantasy numbers do them absolutely no justice. I regularly ruck with 100lbs, and I can tell you that it isn’t a walk in the park. And I’m not under fire! These men and women deserve our respect and thanks without question.
- You’re stronger in D&D than in Pathfinder. Lower scores yield higher carrying capacities in Dungeons and Dragons versus Pathfinder. But that is probably by design. Pathfinder is unashamedly built around a bit more math. Heck, Dungeons and Dragons’s PHB even goes so far as to say this about the math behind their carrying capacity:
This is the weight (in pounds) that you can carry, which is high enough that most characters don’t usually have to worry about it.pg 176, emphasis mine
They have the math in there for those who care for it, but it is intentionally designed by default in such a way that you don’t have to. Your Wizard with the 10 Strength score can totes carry that infant; no problem. Heck, he could give every Elf he sees a piggyback ride over a short distance with little trouble (although Dwarves start to push it a bit…).