42 Long-distance Gritty Realism III: Inventory

Because I’m sometimes pre-occupied, my posts are sometimes slow. My second post on long-distance D&D (3 months ago) dealt with supplies, the first dealt with time. This one still isn’t touching on space, but instead attacking inventory. You’ve probably already heard that several of the games played within D&D  deal with resource-management. Let’s prequel with that.

Resource Manager: the Gamening

Going through a dungeon, which is what D&D was originally designed for, is not just about kicking down doors and killing monsters. A lot of it is about managing resources: you need to balance the light (torches), health (hit points), offensive and utility abilities (spells), and various bonuses (potions, items, etc.) you have with the treasure (and thus XP) you want to get. Get in too deep, and you might run out before you get back out. The Darkest Dungeon computer game captures this to a T.

Now, this sounds great, but D&D wasn’t designed with this resource game in mind, so the resource game is frankly shit. It’s utterly terrible. Even now, in 5E, 40 years after the first game, it’s based around tracking pounds of stuff. There’s a bunch of solutions that make dungeon-crawling easier. My favorite is the Strength = items carried rule. A character can carry as many items as his Strength ability score. Str 8 = 8 things, Str 18 = 18 things. It’s simple and tracks well enough. But what happens when you go long-distance?

Trucking is hard

Carrying lots of stuff long distances overland without a hover-wagon is horrible. That’s why caravans trade in expensive luxuries like silk and gold and slaves and drugs and tea and coffee. Like I said, the basic D&D inventory system is stupid, and even the ‘Strength = items carried’ rule doesn’t capture how horrible carrying stuff is. Have you ever gone for a three-day hike? Or a week-long hike? Carrying a full pack sucks. So, I simplify things for long-distance games.

Each hero or henchman has one inventory slot.

Their adventuring or professional gear goes there. Magic skulls of memory for wizards, a year’s supply of swordmaceaxes for fighters, golf clubs for the thief, whatever.

*d4 supplies also take one inventory slot.

Carrying a person takes a slot, too. If your buddy is unconscious, it’s a simple choice. Drag the food or drag the buddy.

This means that smart heroes have porters (say, 2 slots) and pack animals (2 to 4 slots) and wagons (more slots). Stupid heroes walk around in full armour and haul their supplies in sacks on their heads. A character can carry one extra inventory slot worth of stuff, but it is encumbered.

Encumbered heroes are fucked. They have a -1 to the supply check and more (in UVG: -1 to the encounter check, have disadvantage on misfortune saves and cannot make haste or travel carefully). They also have the regular encumbrance penalties (whatever they are in your game system) in combat. Also, from a social perspective, they look like poor people. This is bad for appearing heroic.

Players are going to come up with weird justifications for how they are going to rig up rollers, ropes, and pulleys to drag heavy things long distances. This is good. Encourage them. As a suggestion:

Dragging stuff: using improvised stretchers, ropes, rollers or skids, a creature can pull double its slots. So, a human? Drag two slots unencumbered, 

Carting stuff: adding wheels is great, because the drag is reduced, letting a creature pull triple its slots.

Supplies and inventory slots

In the last post I went on at length about usage dice and supplies (*d20 -> *d12 -> *d10 -> *d8 -> *d6 -> *d4 -> screwed). So, obviously this is important. How many inventory slots should supplies occupy? You could do the simplest thing: *d4 = 1, *d6 = 2, etc. But the maths really breaks down a bit. Any number-crunching player that looks at the tables on usage dice will figure out that carrying a bigger stash of supplies is great, because it’ll last longer as the number of average uses goes up with the number of slots. Profit!

The way to deal with this problem is to rule that supply stashes can’t be split and suddenly a large coach is required to drag that *d20 supply pile.

But this is a bit silly.

The actual proper breakdown uses the value of each supply die compared to the one lower down in the chain. Here ya go.

  1. no dice = 0 slots
  2. *d4 = 1 slot
  3. *d6 = 2 slots
  4. *d8 = 4 slots
  5. *d10 = 7 slots
  6. *d12 = 10 slots
  7. *d20 = 15 slots

it’s not that complicated, but it means inventory management is going to take some time, and you have to use the mathematics of shitty rounding. That means, the final product of subtracting or adding stashes has to be equally or less favourable than the starting condition. I dunno, maybe the heroes spilled some salt and bread while repacking.

Subtracting or dividing stashes: When splitting stashes, always round down. So, a *d20 (15 slots) would split into a *d12 (10) and a *d8 (4), or into seven *d6s (2). In both cases, some supplies (a slot’s worth) would be lost.

Adding stashes: heroes need to add together an equal or larger amount than the slots required. So, two *d8s only make a *d10 (1 slot lost), or three *d8s make a *d12 (two slots lost).

And I still don’t suggest splitting stashes, because it will be a pain in the ass, and there is a reason a mule can only carry two slots.

Counting again

Ah, crap. So we’re down to counting items again! Well … that’s going to be somewhat inevitable at some point. I mean, resource management game, right? Don’t worry, I’ll make an “Overlander Sheet” or something for the whole party soon.

But there’s another reason. The overland management game is about getting a caravan of pack animals, or vehicles or whatever together – and managing those instead of pounds of waterskins and whatever. We’re taking the management to a higher level.

And the inventory slots have another purpose. Loot.

What about loot?

So the heroes come across a series of beautiful crystal sculptures with diamond eyes? Why do they hack out just the eyes? Space (and time).

Any time a treasure or item is described with fancy words, add an inventory slot for every word. Add slots for heavy materials, fine workmanship, intricate mechanics, cyclopean architecture. Just pile it on.

A hero (looter) can hack out 1d6 + Charisma modifier percent of a treasure’s value easily. This usually reduces the value of the rest of the work by 10x that amount in percent.

That statue of the Metaphysical Insinuation of Being by the famous Jeerida the Artistique? Six inventory slots of glorious marble and gold worth 6,000 gp to a collector. Or, gouge out the gold bits for 300 gp. That’s 5%, so the remaining defaced sculpture is now worth 50% less: 3,000 gp vaporized.

Yeah, looters are assholes.

How much hacked out stuff fills an inventory slot? I dunno … I could add a rule here for looting, where thieves can get 6 bits (or *d6 ;), fighters and wizards 3 bits. Simply, the thieves are better at figuring out what to steal.

Syruss the Thief rests in the Porcelain Throne

Next time: Long-distance IV: Misfortune

This was another long one. It’s lifted pretty much straight out of the rule appendices of the Ultraviolet Grasslands. You might notice I get long-winded at times? It’s because the appendices will visit an editor after they’re done and get choppered up.

Meanwhile, let me invite you again to the Stratometaship. It’s a gay old time. We have rainbows.



7 replies on “42 Long-distance Gritty Realism III: Inventory”

Some of the best ideas about encumbrance and loot (especially loot – the devaluation idea is brilliant) I’ve ever seen. Great post.

Thanks! 🙂 I do try. Encumbrance is a perennial annoyance, but still: something to be dealt with.

I’ve been really enjoying this series, and I love the rules for hacking out the loot, but I’m not sold on the “inventory slot for each adjective”. Fundamentally that’s what makes some things great for loot and somethings terrible, how expensive they are vs. how hard they are to take with you. With this system you could have a master-crafted, jewel-encrusted, cyclopian-designed, pocket watch take up three inventory slots.

Fair point, Jon. You make a good point for adding a large disclaimer:
“Rule 0: Use Common Sense”.

On the three-slot watch, I could argue, “this watch is so delicate, so refined, that you’d need to wrap it and handle it terribly carefully if you wanted to avoid it getting damaged.” But at the end of the day, the noun (pocket watch) should probably win and let a hero get away with just slipping it into a pocket.

I also go back-and-forth on the space issue – for an individual dungeon crawl or a heist, the Str = inventory system almost certainly works better.

I think you’re right, that 90% of the time the Str=inventory is a beautifully simple way to to do it, and I’m going to keep that in mind. On a tangent, I think this inventory system could be worked into a beautiful alchemy or even steampunk jury-rigging system. Eg. roll alchemy skill to harvest (increases your d#), choose an effect and roll alchemy to craft (+/- equipment) for success and an alchemy inventory check to see how much you used.

Do that! I think it would be very interesting to see. Do you have a blog I could follow?

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