Apr 14, 2023
In most games, the idea of carrying capacity can be a bit of a headache to track, especially when it converts it into a pound based system. Sure you have a solid grasp of the exact amount that your character can hold in their arms, but it can get a bit tedious and out of control and turns into a crunch game all on its own...
In most games, the idea of carrying capacity can be a bit of a headache to track, especially when it converts it into a pound based system. Sure you have a solid grasp of the exact amount that your character can hold in their arms, but it can get a bit tedious and out of control and turns into a crunch game all on its own. Bulk simplifies this immensely by turning carrying capacity into an abstract concept of what your character can lift instead of a super defined amount.
The Rules of Bulk
Bulk represents things like weight, unwieldiness, and size. A Greatsword for example is 2 Bulk representing that it is a somewhat heavy and potentially awkward item to wield. There are three kinds of Bulk you can run into:
Negligible Bulk is an item that has no definable Bulk because it isn’t a burden at all to carry. This would be things like clothing, rings, jewellery, and so on. They are things that mean nothing to your character’s overall strength limitation and don’t need to be accounted for when carrying things.
Light Bulk on the other hand is an item that has weight to it, it could potentially result in you being weighed down (like how the straw broke the camel’s back), but it’s generally not going to be much of a burden. Ten items of Light Bulk count as 1 Bulk. We round down with these numbers, so 9 Light Bulk does not equal 1 Bulk. This means that if you can only carry 6 Bulk before going into a penalty, you could carry 6 Bulk and 9 Light Bulk and not be over your limit because 9 Light Bulk is still rounded down to 0, rather than up to 1.
# Bulk is an item that has x amount of Bulk. This is going to be things like armour, shields, and anything heavier than a dagger and this is where your Bulk limit is going to be tested, especially if you have low strength.
You can carry an amount of Bulk equal to 5 + your Strength modifier before you count as encumbered. If you have a negative Strength modifier, then that means you subtract your Strength modifier rather than adding it. You can carry an absolute maximum number of Bulk equal to 10 + your Strength modifier. While perhaps a bit video gamey, you can’t go past this limit at all. Think of it as your character reaching their absolute limit. They simply can’t carry anymore.
Coins do have Bulk and this could be reason for you as a player to pay a bank a visit. 1,000 coins, regardless of type, equates to 1 Bulk. So, 999 coins is still negligible Bulk. They never become Light Bulk, only ever being negligible Bulk or a number of bulk. Like light Bulk though, 1,999 coins is still 1 Bulk, but 2,000 coins is 2 Bulk.
Creatures also have a Bulk limit, but this was written before Sprites came along. Because of that, I’m going to give some personal advice. As written, a Tiny creature has 1 Bulk, a Small creature has 3 Bulk, a Medium creature has 6 Bulk, a Large creature has 12 Bulk, a Huge creature has 24 Bulk, and a Gargantuan creature has 36 Bulk (at least).
We know from Sprites that they count as 0 Bulk when riding someone and just take up 1 action to stay mounted from both themselves and the person they’re riding. So, what I propose as a bit of homebrew advice that the listed Bulk here is when you’re dealing with an unconscious or dead body. Something that is dead weight. For something that is alive and can properly distribute its weight, I’d say that these weights are reduced by 1. A halfling riding the shoulders of a human is going to be cumbersome, but it’s not going to be an awful time.
Now, there are also dragging rules and they’re pretty simple. To start, a dragged item has half the Bulk it would normally have, so if you’re dragging a Greatsword, it’d be 1 Bulk instead of 2. If you drag an item, you move at a speed of 50 feet per minute.
Now, talking as a GM here, I know why they limited movement this way. If you could just halve the Bulk of an item you’re carrying by dragging it, well, everyone might do it or it could be exploited. But personally, I’d add a little more oomph to this mechanic to determine variable levels of Bulk. If the item’s base Bulk is light enough for you to carry without getting into a state of encumbrance, then you can drag it at half speed. This is because it is assumed you are using both hands to hold the object and thus, likely walking backwards or in a really awkward position if you’re walking forwards and you’re also being cautious about the state of whatever it is your dragging—you don’t want to rip the bag, you don’t want to hurt your friend, and so on.
If you are dragging an item and it pushes you past your base Bulk limit, then you move 50 feet per minute, as described above.
If you are dragging an item and it pushes you beyond your Bulk limit, then obviously you can’t drag it.
Size and Bulk
Variance in size is becoming more and more common, so, how does it work with Bulk? Well, it’s pretty simple. Medium and Small creatures are the standard when it comes to Bulk. All the rules mentioned above are exactly as they are for Medium and Small creatures, but for smaller and larger creatures things can change a bit.
A Tiny creature has a bulk limit of half its normal limit and it treats Negligible Bulk as Light Bulk. This means that if you have a Strength Modifier of +1, you’d have a Bulk Limit of 3 (5+1 = 6, 6/2 = 3).
A Large creature has double the Bulk Limit, it treats 1 Bulk items as Light Bulk, and it treats Light Bulk items as Negligible Bulk.
A Huge creature has quadruple the Bulk Limit, it treats 2 Bulk items as Light Bulk, and it treats 1 Bulk and anything lighter than that as Negligible Bulk.
Gargantuan creatures have octople the Bulk Limit, treats 4 Bulk and 3 Bulk items as Light Bulk, and it treats 2 Bulk items and lighter as Negligible Bulk.
Now, how higher levels of Bulk work for Larger creatures is a bit up in the air from what is written, but my guess is that, using a Gargantuan creature as an example, if an item of 4 Bulk or less is considered Light Bulk to them, then 5 Bulk would be the equivalent of 1 Bulk. This is just my guess, but I’m really curious how this mechanic works. Either way it’s not really necessary to figure out bar very specific circumstances because of how rapidly your Bulk Limit grows between size increases, and the fact that, at least as of writing this (early 2022) there are still no large sized ancestries.
Bulk is an interesting mechanic that makes an otherwise annoying and tedious stat into a far simpler one. I know most people ignore weight limits in their TTRPGs and honestly I can’t blame you, but Pathfinder 2nd Edition’s Bulk system is super easy to follow, understand, and keep track of.