Resting and Encumbrance: Resource Management In My Old School-ified 5th Edition

Resource Management is one of the pillars of what I consider to be Old School role playing.  One of the limits on your resources is the encumbrance system of your game.  Especially in a game where the majority of your experience is derived from treasure recovered, there’s a balancing act for the player to manage of how much equipment, how many supplies, and how much treasure they can carry.  One of the key resource mechanics in 5th edition is resting, by which character abilities recharge and hit points (always an abstract measure of stamina) can be recovered.  In order to really make this matter to 5th edition players, consumption of supplies must be a part of the rest mechanic. 

So I have a house rule that rations and water must be consumed in order to get the benefits of a rest.

Many original games and most new style games have encumbrance systems that don’t get used at the table, so you need a simple and quick system.  This is pretty much a solved problem in much of the Old School community, abstracting items into a format that is easy to count and having a set limit that is easily determined.  A glance at an inventory list should tell you your encumbrance status without calculation.  

What is important, and why the mechanic needs to be simple, is that it needs to be updated as resources are spent and treasure is acquired during play.   This is where I reference the proto-typical murder hobos, Cortez and his conquistadors.  During an Aztec uprising in the island city of Tenochtitlan, some of the conquistadors tried to flee by jumping into the lake, but they drowned because they were laden down with too much gold.  That's what disadvantage on your athletics swimming check will get you, you greedy gold hungry adventurer.

While I’m not the only 5th edition DM to use such an inventory list system, I’ve gone off the deep end into Last GaspGrimoire/Corpathium style encumbrance sheets.  My players indulge me, what can I say?


Managing what an adventurer has in their hands is another part of play.  Who has the light source?  Who is mapping?  It’s a free item interaction to drop what you have and access one of your ready items.  The map gets littered with items.

Supply Consumption for Rests
  • Short rests require 1 abstract “dot” food ration and 1 abstract “dot” of water.
  • Long rests require 3 abstract “dots” of food rations and 3 abstract “dots” of water.

  • Iron rations are 3gp per 3 dots and fit 15 dots to an item.
  • Standard (the ones in the PHB list) rations are 5sp per 3 dots and fit 9 dots to an item.
  • 6 “dots” of water comprise 1 water skin which is 1 “item” of encumbrance.  


One of the players volunteers to be Quartermaster for an experience point bonus.  They cut out additional cards if need be (extras are stored in plastic coin sheets) and hands out sticky tack.

Art is stolen from Last Gasp Grimoire.  Blogger's tools for presentation suck.

How Does This Work In Play?

I knew things were working when, after negotiating with some Swamplings (Cajun halflings in the swamp) and sharing a fire, the players’ reaction to the Swamplings offer of dinner of 3 ration ‘dots’ per character was a simultaneous chorus of “Cool” and all were bent down to mark the dots on their sheets. It's added another element of pressure and tension, it feels more like a trip through the swamp.

Herzog was a brutal Dungeon Master.

The one adjustment I've made was change the number of  ration “dots” per item and re-creating the old “iron” rations from previous editions.  I may change the barrier from 'encumbered' to 'overencumbered' to 5 from 10. 

Tonight is 15 sessions in this campaign (plus 4 from the 2nd occasional group), almost all of which have been spent in a hex crawl through a swamp.  Some characters have pushed it without food for a day, but not more than once.  They returned to town briefly to resupply.  Food is appreciated treasure, and it is a meaningful choice to share with NPCs on occasion.  One player grumbles that he doesn’t like keeping track of bits.  But the other 3 claim to actually enjoy the item management.  They’re very close to recruiting NPCs just to assist with encumbrance, but haven’t yet.