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Pockets, Bags, and Group Items

 This is a system I have not tested in real life yet. Perhaps instead of finding an elegant minimalism it creates a papery irritation too small to matter. Time will tell.

The Problem with Inventory

Inventory is a weird thing in RPGs. The Bag of Holding of D&D fame has always been a fascinating contradiction to me: if you want to play a game where inventory/encumbrance is a meaningful game mechanic then why would you introduce an item that negates it; and conversely if you want to ignore inventory in your game why bother paying lip service with an item that does nothing except negate a rule you were ignoring anyway? The Bag of Holding, to me, signals a halfway position where you would rather ignore encumbrance altogether but feel some diegetic explanation is owed for why you can carry infinite arrows. 

Systems that encourage player limitation - you only have 12 slots, you can only carry your strength + 50 units of items, you have to draw on your character sheet exactly where you're storing every piece of kit to justify it - are fun if your players want that, but I've never met a player who specifically names that as a mechanic they're looking for. That's not to imply they all have inventory though - plenty of players find satisfaction in the thrill of a saving throw or debating the pros and cons of heavy armour conferring dexterity and stealth penalties, but nobody says they want that. 

I don't want a system where players have to bookkeep. All I really want is a ruleset that allows the greatest freedom whilst still giving me some textual heft to explore the fact that yes your adventurer is wearing a big ol' hobbits-just-leaving-the-shire adventuring pack complete with clanging frying pan swinging carefree from the bedroll and so many belt-straps. It's something fun and characterful but also it means you're not gonna fit through that hole or sneak past that guard - so what do you have on you if you leave it behind?

The Hotbar and the Carry-All

I've put this in a couple of my WIP systems so far - the number varies depending on my mood and the general vibe of the game but the principle is the same - you have a number of pockets - think of this as your literal trouser pockets but also your tacticool velcro-strapped chest pockets, the small of your boot-heel, and the capacity of your actual hands. This represents the items you have immediate access to and logically the items you use most frequently and probably define your character. A knight has a sword, a shield, a bow and arrows, a helmet, a cuirass and a holy hand grenade. The wizard has a spellbook, four different journals, a knobbly stick and an Orb of Mystic Portent. 

This is your hotbar - the things you can always use without having to justify anything. Everything else - from rations to tents to buckets to golden idols to stunned parrots - go in your bag. It clatters and clangs and throws off your centre of gravity. The bag is a Bag of (mundane) Holding - I will never care how much is in there unless it is larger than you and/or conscious and protesting. 

Originally I planned to confer a bane - disadvantage or penalty appropriate to your own ruleset - if people chose to keep their bags on in fights, chases, and climbs. However on the ever-lovely UVG discord I was pointed towards the following article which made an excellent point that things players are expected to track should be things they want to track - i.e. bonuses, advantages, ways to beat me and my game. If I wanted to confer penalties for bag-wearing in combat I would have to remember to ask and check, 'cus my players would benefit from forgetting or not mentioning it (like the class where the teacher forgot to ask for the homework nobody did anyway). Changing this to a boon - an advantage to rolls - means my players will hopefully be searching for an edge and think more consciously about the bag on their backs. They could even decide to shirk it mid-climb in desperation to avoid falling to their horrible, horrible deaths. 

If players want to retrieve miscellany from their bags out of combat that's fine - in-combat I might ask for a roll. Perhaps your bag has an enumerated list and players have to roll the list number or under if you wanted players to grade their bag-stuffs in priority order, but I don't think I'll bother with that...for now.

Bonus idea: Group Items

When I was a teenager I was lucky enough to go on an international trip with my school which included a hike through foreign mountains. We had our tents and bags and boots but the day before we flew out we were called into a huddle. The group leader handed out individual items to each expedition member in turn - someone got some rope, someone else got a first aid bag, someone else something else. I remember I got given a roll of toilet paper and a trowel - so we could dig and bury our business out there. We each kept it in our respective bags and people would come to us to retrieve the items - I'm not sure anyone ever needed the rope but I was definitely called on more than once for the trowel. 

At the start of play, after everyone has created their character, hand out one item in turn to your players in whatever order makes sense to you, until all items are handed out:

  1. A lantern

  2. A cook pot

  3. a tent

  4. 20 metres of rope

  5. a shovel

  6. a crowbar

  7. a 3 metre pole


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