What’s In Your Wallet?

Recently a friend shared a story where he tried to explain 3.5 after playing 4e for awhile. I don’t remember the exact quote, but he was describing how armor weight interplays with other gear weight (in non-linear fashion) when determining encumbrance for determining armor check penalty and speed penalties. Encumbrance is something I’ve generally always played without. My house rule is generally: everything can fit into the backpack, but nothing unusually large or heavy (doors, statuary, ladders, bodies, etc).

The advantage of an abstracted inventory is that it takes away tedious bookkeeping. Also by having a vast arsenal of items on hand, it makes it possible to MacGuyver up some interesting solutions to puzzles and other situations. The downside is that it takes away some of the challenge and a lot of the realism. But D&D is supposed to be heroic, not realistic… so I guess that’s kinda moot.

Besides the size and weight there’s also an issue of location. Obviously the equipped items are filling up some slot on the body, but everything else? Is it in a belt pouch, pockets, backpack, saddlebags, chest strapped to the pack horse? Normally an item’s location doesn’t make a difference; it’s always just a minor action away from my character’s hands.

But what about if an enemy wants to steal or attack an item? Called shots, sundering, and pickepocketing are out of the rules in 4e so I guess it’s pretty much at DM’s discretion. This is good for an enterprising player that wants to lift a key out of a guard’s pocket, but bad if the DM turns around and has an enemy ritual your sword right out of your hand!

To that end, even though I don’t fastidiously record the weights and locations of everything, I like to have a general sketch of where all my character’s items are, even if there is probably more than is reasonable in the backpack. That way if my DM is feeling evil, I can at least make a case for saying something is hard for an opponent to get at.

Photo courtesy of kevindooley on flickr.
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10 thoughts on “What’s In Your Wallet?

  1. Also, the DMG (pg. 65) has guidelines for item hp and AC. You know, for sundering. Just FYI.

    BTW, while I never sweated weight within reason , I used to have my players record each container they carried and what was in each. I still like the idea of this, perhaps when my current group gets more precise in their character details I’ll return to that practice.

  2. I have never played with a group that kept track of weights and encumbrance and I’ve been playing for about 23 years, with numerous groups. There was just sort of a vague guideline about how much you could carry.
    Generally PC’s could carry their weapons, armor, and things of reasonable quantity and size in their backpacks and belt pouches. It was an unspoken rule that any non-essentials were to be kept in the wagon, cart, or base of operations when exploring.
    Most of the groups I played with generally made bags of holding fairly common among adventurers. We also tended to ignore the actual rules for the bags. A BoH could carry an unlimited amount of non-living items. As long as it could fit through the mouth of the bag it was fair game.
    But it was up to the PC to keep an accurate inventory, and give a copy to the DM, because the DM could use it against them. Put a Holy Avenger in your bag, but didn’t write it down during that game session? Sorry but it was lost in the void. But the void inside the bag was a very strange and mysterious place.
    Even if you did write an item down and kept a good inventory. When you tried to take an item out of the bag the DM could randomly ask you to roll. Then the DM and Player both rolled a d20. If the DM got the higher number then he could alter the item (remove magic abilities, curse the item), you may pull an item out that you never put in or he could declare that the item was lost to the void. If the player got the highest, then they pulled out the item as planned.
    It was frustrating, but we all agreed it was fair. It also kept people from abusing the bags. You would think twice about putting something in the bag if was extremely valuable. You may never get it back.
    Generally the bags were used to carry basic, easily replaceable equipment like tents, bedrolls, blank parchment, extra clothes and common weapons that you took from defeated enemies. It was also a good place for the group’s necromancer (me) to put all the dead bodies and body parts he collected (nothing aged or deteriorated in the bags). You never know when a dead orc might come in handy.
    It was also common for the bags to be stolen. You couldn’t always carry this big sack around with you, so while in the middle of a battle you would have to sit it down, or possibly take a negative. But if you did that you put it down you ran the risk of having it stolen.
    That’s how we normally got around encumbrance. Like the rules say, if it takes away from the fun of the game, don’t use it or change it. Keeping track of weight was an annoyance and definitely not fun, so we got rid of it and put in place an option that often opened up numerous plot hooks.

  3. @Sarah D,
    The rules where there was a percentile check modified by the level of the pickpocketee and the value being pilfered. I guess I made too blanket of a statement. Even more importantly, I was wrong to think that I need a rule in order to do something.

    @Rook,
    My Bad, I’m going to double-check my DMG before complaining about the rules in the future (well, at least try). I don’t DM so I’m not often in there. I just remember having to look at “sunder” every time I inspected the old PHB for what I might want to do in a round, and so out of sight, out of mind, I guess.

    @Geek Gazette,
    My party is pretty cautious, so we’d never use a bag if it had a chance of cursing an item! Plus our DM is pretty vicious, so we wouldn’t want her to have a chance to get at our stuff. But having that random element can be a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing.
    When you had your characters record weight, did you enforce the standard penalties, ignore them, or use a house rule to determine the effect?

    • Actually I’ve always had a democratic and fair groups, for the most part. The DM knew that if he abused his power, or if the rest of the players felt he was being vindictive, petty or picking on a specific player, they would simply vote to declare the DM’s call void. That’s actually how I started DMing.
      I was in a group where the DM was a petty little so and so. He would punish players that outsmarted him, which wasn’t that hard, and figured out ways to defeat scenarios or encounters that he thought were unbeatable. After killing 3 or 4 of a certain player’s characters in 3 game session, while everyone else survived, we decided enough was enough. He got mad, left the group and I’ve pretty much DM’d every game I’ve played since then. That was in my late teens/early 20’s. So I’m going on 20 years DMing and almost never running a PC in that time.

      In my games the only time weight ever comes into play is during an encounter or event(lifting a heavy door, dragging/carrying a body). I never worry about what they are carrying(within reason) and I’m pretty lenient about the bag of holding trick. To be honest I forget most of the time.
      Usually it is the players who remember because they want to roll to see if they succeed, plus they really like using my purple d30. Even though they know they could lose something valuable, the also know they may get something better.
      Of course the group(s) I’ve played with over the past 10 years tend to be older and aren’t all that fascinated with items. They sell just about everything for cash. They hate keeping track of an inventory. They like a little mystery/puzzle to solve, a chase/escape scene, with lots and lots of battles mixed in there somewhere.
      They tend to not want to carry much with them and the BoH is generally for supplies or to get loot from the dungeon to town so it can be sold. What they do keep is mostly kept at their base.
      My house rule is anything above 20 is a success. If they roll a 27- 29 on the d30 they get to roll percentile for a random minor magic item or ability added to the item they are retrieving. A natural 30 gets them a chance to roll for a medium magic item to replace the one they are trying to retrieve.
      Losing something in the bag can create a whole new campaign. If they happen to lose something important in the bag, they always have the opportunity to try and find it. When something is lost in a BoH, it will often show up in someone else’s bag. It may even end up on a completely different plane. You never know.

  4. Mark me down for another person against overly precise equipment lists. To me it’s a lot of work with very little fun value. In my games I let the PC’s automatically have any reasonable gear and let them roll for odder stuff. (If they make a point of writing down odd stuff, then they have it, of course). I find it encourages people to look beyond their magic items for more interesting solutions.

  5. My groups DO play with encumbrance. I don’t always like it (especially when it comes to money) but I see the point behind it.

    The solution I generally see is that most DM’s I know make items designed to increase carrying capacity cheaper and more available. When every group started to pool their money in order to buy a Portable Hole before any kind of other equipment, DM’s (myself included) just went the easy route and made them cheaper and more available.

  6. @Geek Gazette,

    That sounds like an interesting mechanic and a fun way to bring a d30 in. I’ve always been a fan of random effects, random treasure, wild magic, spell failures, critical fumbles, etc. The Only downside I’ve discovered is that the GM has to be a bit more forgiving. D&D has become a very fine tuned machine, so a few bad random effects can really be detrimental to the characters or slow a game down too much.

    @Jim,
    If you play with encumbrance, but the DM makes it easy to have the magic items that negate having to worry about space/weight, then isn’t it the same has not playing with it? We used to have a house rule where everyone over 3rd level just had a handy haversack in addition to his other stuff, which seems like the same kind of thing.

  7. @Michael
    I’ve never encountered any real problems with the random d30 roll for the Bag of Holding effects. Of course I tend to be very, very fair. Almost to the point of being too lenient, but knowing this helps the players to trust me.
    They know I won’t screw them over on purpose, so when I make a call that I think benefits the game, even if they don’t like it, they don’t say anything. They know that there is a reason for it and it will pay off in the end.
    We are all there to have fun and if you feel that it is GM vs PC or that you can’t trust the GM to be fair, then no one has fun. Ok maybe some of the petty, vindictive, TPK GM’s might have fun, but the group probably won’t.
    I want everyone to leave at the end of a game and feel that they didn’t waste those hours. I don’t want to feel that I wasted that time either. I want all of us to leave and be excited to come back in a few weeks to do it again. I may not always succeed, but I always try real hard. Of course I know my group pretty well. I know how they like to play and that helps me a lot.
    The d30 gets more use than just the random BoH roll. We also have a table rule that once per game, each person at the table, GM included, can choose to roll the d30 for any roll. If a PC wants they can choose to use the d30 to hit, for damage, skill checks or for a saving throw. The GM can do so as well, but it is only once per session, per person. So the d30 usually doesn’t get called upon for that purpose until the climax of the adventure.
    For us it helps to create that larger than life, cinematic feel. It’s like the hero shooting an arrow and hitting just the right spot to kill the villain or ducking at just the right moment to avoid the bullet.
    There are other ways to do this, but I needed a use for my purple d30 and this is what I came up with.

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