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D&D Inventory System discussed in Excessive Detail

So hopefully you saw & are using the inventory sheet I made.

It should hopefully be pretty self-evident, especially if you have this list of sizes for common items. But just in case you have questions… here are:

Some deets

Armor

Various armor costs various amount of circles (“Leather” doesn’t cost any, and “Scale” costs three). The backpack costs two circles. That’s right, even an empty one, so fill it up!

Backpack flap

Each row of five small slots in the outer flap of the backpack can instead carry one medium thing; just write it across those five rows. That’s why the seams on the flap are there. Or, you can put one big thing across all ten rows. Or you can put a ration across two rows, as in the example.

Backpack, food compartment

In the food compartment there are two halves of five cells each.

Each half can fill up one big thing (scribble across each five cells), two medium things (one for each line of cells) or five rations (one per cell). Those are what the checkmarks are for.

Backpack, strapped things

So the two single straps (in the middle of the sheet) can each carry one medium and one small things. This is a great deal for just one circle each.

And the double straps (in the lower center of the sheet) are for those who have mostly big things. One big thing for one circle is kind of an iffy deal [you could get one big AND a medium using the other straps], three big things for two circles is OK I guess, but five big things for three circles is a great deal!

Wearing (belts or shoulder straps)

Medium things, kinda self explanatory. Three per marked circle.

Pouches

You can mark a small or a medium pouch, it doesn’t cost circles directly but a small pouch you need to also list among your small things (just write “pouch” in one of those lines). Medium works the same way; check the medium checkmark and list “pouch” among your medium things.

Sacks, once they’re in use, you don’t list among your other things; they just cost two circles. Even if they’re not completely full (because it’s cumbersome to schlep sacks around). Empty sacks are small things until they are in use.

How you organize things in the pouches is up to you.

The pouches conveniently have five lines, which you can use as follows:

You could also have one line per kind of currency (GP separate from SP etc) but then you’d need to keep track of the total sum somehow.

If you have sacks, or want more pouches, free to use extra graph paper or augment this sheet with sticky notes.

Clothes, necklaces, masks, helmets etc

Listen, if leather armor is free, then so is a velvet bridal gown.

But let’s say you find earrings and start wearing them. Then also list them among your tiny things. You find a gross-looking mask and you decide to wear it. Also list it among your small things. That’s how it works.

Helmet bought along with armor counts as part of the armor, helmets gotten separately count as small things.

Items carried in hand

Similarly, if you are holding something in your hand, don’t erase it from its slot. That way, a sword keeps its weight even when you unsheathe it and hold it aloft and pray to the power of Greyskull.

Shields count as medium things.

Retrieving things from the backpack

DMs out there, feel free to introduce brutal houserules such as things in the backpack taking longer time to retrieve or whatever. This sheet helps you see where everything is, so that can enable such rules.

I’m not about to do that, I mean, I made these backpacks super organized for a reason! Players, please just put things in the flaps or on the straps or in the “food” compartment as you wish and as you think is cozy. There is a point to having things in the medium slot strapped on you instead of in the backpack, though, and that’s in case you to drop the backpack, then you get to keep the items worn directly on you.

Also, sacks and pouches (unless they're all the same thing) aren't as organized. Retrieving things from them costs one action unless it's components for a spell

Multiple things per slot?

Pouches and sacks are set up that way. That’s the life-changing magic of pouches and sacks!

For the medium and big slots on straps outside the backpack—absolutely not. Things would fall out!

There are only a couple of things that bundle up well. Why, oh, why, does inventory system design always end up with a bunch of exceptions…

Bow, Quiver, 20 Arrows
These are a medium thing. A good deal, because a bow alone (longbow or shortbow) is also a medium thing. Quiver w/ 20 arrows alone would also be a small thing. One arrow alone would also be small thing. So don’t lose your quiver. The check boxes at the bottom of the page help you keep count but you also need to have the arrows stored.
A 10-pack of torches
This bundle is a big thing. A great deal if you have ten, on par if you have nine, and a bad deal if you have eight or fewer. Each single torch is a small item.
A pair of daggers, a pair of handaxes, a pair of javelins, a pair of light hammers
These pairs are all medium items. You have to pair like with like. One such weapon alone is also a medium thing.
A six-pack of “Light” components
In my campaign’s house rules, the spells Light and Produce Flame cost components. (This is not 5e RAW.) If you also use similar house rules, a six-pack of these components is a small thing. Similar to how a flask of lantern oil is a small thing.

Multiple bags

If you are a horse or a goliath or whatever feel free to get multiple sheets! That’s as intended.

Design philosophy

Do I need this to play D&D?

Hey, if you’re a new DM, and you don’t want to fiddle with this stuff, you don’t have to.

Just let your players grab the standard loadout that their characters and backgrounds give them, the explorer’s packs, dungeoneer’s packs or what have you. No need to count up gems or candles or coins just go wild.

But if you find yourself after a while wanting more of a limit on how much they can carry, come back here and let this sheet save the day. It’s gonna be much easier than counting out every single pound but it’s going to give results that are very close to the real rules.

Under the hood math

I figured that you could carry 15 pounds times your strength score, right? And a third if you’re using the optional encumbrance rules, which we are.

The backpack could hold 30 lb but some the example pack lists in the PHB had more than 30 lb of gear. Confusing… but… that’s why I came up with the straps. So the main part is 30 lb or two circles.

What the heck is a heavy thing?

OK, so there are three things that seem iffy with my system.

One is the position of the strapped items; I’m thinking of redrawing the sheet so their positioning get more of a diegetic role (like having the two single straps on each side of the backpack). But this is just a SMOD — a small matter of drawing and designing. Maybe one of these days…

The other is the bundling up of items. That’s just a weird exception to an otherwise clean design.

The third is… why the heck are there so many size categories? Do I really need six sizes?

But maybe I do. There are four normal sizes.

I’m glad tiny things count. Getting the coins and gems out of the tomb is part of the problem the characters are facing, and if I’m counting that stuff, I can just as well count nails and candles and other “finger-sized” things in there.

Small, medium and big are kinda self-evident as inside bag, worn on body, strapped to bag.

Rations is the first of the weird sizes. They’re the only thing that is that size. That came about because when I was checking the ready made kits such as Explorer’s Bag I saw that often the biggest weight were the ten rations. They weighed 20 pounds. Making them small things would make them weigh half as much, and making them medium things would make them weigh one-and-a-half times as much. I also liked that they were things you could just check off and wouldn’t have to take a lot of room on the sheet.

Heavy things are weird in another way. Probably the most unnecessary and the most illogical category. Like, a tent is 20 lb in the equipment list but only a big item here, so why is a 10 lb greatclub a heavy item? One reason is because I didn’t really see you strapping weapons on your bag, they’re usually held, right? Or maaaybe worn somehow. So I was glad to get a separation between those and the strapped item. And another reason is that I see them as part of the strength based martial character’s build. I want to reward them by letting them be able to carry these things. Since the heavy things cost a whole circle each, these characters are pretty much the only ones who can carry them.

This extra category beyond big became relevant when we started using three sizes of waterskin. Medium is half a gallon, big is a full gallon, and heavy is two gallons.

Why the cello in our campaign is a heavy thing, I do not know. It’s just… it’s not really easy to strap it in among the tent and bedroll stuff. But that’s another dumb exception. By my own rules it’s just a big thing.

Why we have an inventory sheet

The point of rule design is to give answers to questions that come up in the game.

Some awesome things have emerged from these limitations:

These weren’t predicted interactions, they just happened, and they were awesome.

Comparison to other systems

Before I made this sheet, I was familiar with Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Torchbearer, Dungeon World, The Black Hack and an inventory tracker someone on Reddit made. While I was making this I took another close look at those. Torchbearer’s system was an especially big influence. After I made this, some other ideas in this same space have come up (without being aware of mine because this is kind of an obscure site, I’m guessing), silent0siris (well known on Twitch and YouTube) and Giffyglyph on Reddit.

I thought I’d go through why I made some choices differently.

Having a “fenced in” list

LotFP has a way of counting up items, a method that for a while was a darling in the OSR. It says

Realistically, no one keeps track of such things during a game. However, the Referee has the authority to call an audit of a character’s inventory at any time, so each player should make sure that…

Audit?! When your system is so annoying that you keep losing track and have to re-audit it, there’s… it’s fine, but it made me want to design something else.

That’s the danger of an unbounded list. If you write a list where the page itself has some physical limits, and you know how much you’re allowed to carry at your desired or current encumbrance level, you can map out that many empty rows and then just fill those rows without having to recalculate. For you LotFP fans out there, I wrote up how to do this with LotPF’s inventory system and encumbrance rules. Obv if you’re playing 5e or want something that’ll give answers close to 5e’s answers, the sheet on this page is what you want instead.

Even for my sheetless variant I have you map out the right number of rows first. You don’t want to be counting and recounting rows everytime you find something cool. Map out how many rows you have and inventory counting will take care of itself.

Torchbearer was definitely my biggest influence there. “For example, four torches may be bundled into one space. As these items get used and depleted, their space requirement does not. An item always requires at least one space in inventory.” Yes. You don’t want to re-count all your poundage just because you burnt up a torch! It’s nice to have some space to play around with is what I’m saying.

Size categories

Torchbearer has a kinda nice system where there’s only one size category, but with a number. A number in parenthesis after the item itself can bundle up and fit that many in one slot. A number without parenthesis after the slot, you need to use that many slots to fit it.

But if go you’re overboard with that you’re kind of back to where you had a pound number for every item. Before Istarted researching about inventory sheets I tried to propose a sort of dotted grid where each pound took up one line. It sucked!

You’re still… everything needs a number, instead of just a name.

SystemAmount of categoriesCategory Names
Torchbearer1Slot, smaller and larger are numbered
Lamentations of the Flame Princess4Small Items, Coins, Items, Oversized Items. Costs encumbrance points
Reddit “Inventory Tracker”31lb, 5lbs, 30lbs. Some things take up multiple slots
silent0siris Sunfall4Large, Small, Trivial, Class. Also differentiates Blt, Bck, Bg, Arm, Eq and has abstract packs and usage dice
The Black Hack 1e1ItemsGood old each coin is a single slot…? + usage dice
Giffyglyph’s Darker Dungeons7Coins, Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, XL, XXL. Also uses usage dice for some things
Idiomdrottning6Tiny, Small, Ration, Medium, Large, Heavy

BTW, my best guess at translation between my categories and the others are these

IdiomdrottningTorchbearerLotFPReddit “Inventory Tracker”silent0sirisGiffyglyph
Tiny things-Small items or Coins-Trivial itemsAssorted coins
Small thingsSlotItems1lbTrivial items(Around twice the size of a Tiny item or half the size of a Small item)
RationsSlot(3)Items2lbTrivial itemsSmall items
Medium thingsSlot 2Items5lbSmall itemsMedium items
Big thingsSlot 4Oversized Items30 lbLarge itemsLarge items

I obv… uh I can’t help that silent0siris and Giffyglyph came up with similar names that I used, after. I feel guilty that they don’t match up.

(The Black Hack only has one category, and Dungeon World uses an abstracted and weird system that I don’t feel like trying to grok right now.)

Slots have different sizes

Looking through these eight systems makes me realize something. They all have one slot size, but then have different items take up different amount of slots (or have many items share a slot, for smaller items).

The idea that “small things go here, medium items go here, big items go here” is sorta my own thing? I know that in the backpack flap, I let you combine slots, and the food compartment also has some of this going on in a different way, but generally I wanted to have the slots themselves be different sizes. It sorta matches how I think more.

That’s really the point of this in the first place. “Can I carry this small item that I picked up?” If you have empty small slots then yes!

Maybe for a future version I should really double down on that. Find some way to sort out all the bundling and exceptions.

Concrete list of items

In Dungeon World’s system, you have an item called “adventuring gear” that you can use five times. Let’s say you need a rope. You rummage through your “adventuring gear” and then bam! There it is. You have five things and you don’t know what it is before play starts. It’s like a magical Doraemon pouch (or Skalman shell for you Swedes).

In silent0siris’ system, you have a kit similar to the kits in D&D that lists a bunch of items; but you only have one of the times in there. It’s one item but it’s a Schrödinger’s item. Or if you spend 50 extra GP it’s three Schrödinger’s items.

In The Black Hack (and Giffyglyph’s Darker Dungeons, which credits TBH for this), the list of items you have is concrete, but the amount you have on each is based on a die roll. You use a torch and then you roll to see if that was your last torch or not, pretty much. Silent0siris’ system, being a mashup of many other systems, uses something like that too for torches and arrows. Torchbearer, which is careful about other types of resources, does this with coins (of all things! Why should I go into the dungeon if even my loot is abstract).

Even Torchbearer has the “don’t worry if you have the skill you also automatically have all the items for that skill” which isn’t really what I want. Silent0siris at least does this better with a “class slot”; he gives you room for the item but you can still lose the item. A good compromise.

Similarly, in Diaspora there is the Resources roll and the Wealth stress track for buying things.

These are all well and good and I’m really happy that some parts of D&D are abstracted. That AC/HP is just a big vague mess and I don’t always know what’s going on in there until someone comes out alive. I wouldn’t expect or want people to leave their chairs to act out fights. “And then I’m pulling the goblin’s hair, like this…” “Ouch! Oww!! Stop it!” No, that’s not what we want.

However, getting in touch with what items my character actually has and where they stow them can be a really nice & cozy way to see the world through my character’s eyes for a while. That’s why I really don’t like “usage dice” and things like that.

It’s not “my character would probably have a rope”, it’s “did I pack a rope?” For one brief moment, I am the character. Is this awesome? y/n

Armor counts. Coins count.

Some of these systems don’t count armor or coins.

But I really wanted to do that. Being able to carry heavy armor is the perk of a strength based build, and getting coins and gems is sorta the point of some (not all) dungeon expeditions.

It’s the stuff in between that I thought could afford to be a little fuzzier. In the end it didn’t end up fuzzy at that level either, it’s all nice and crisp all the way down.

Square slots

This is going to sound ridiculous, like I’m just being all NIH and bikeshedding for a petty difference but I really wanted the slots to be horizontal, like in a list, and not squares. Square slots to me bring to mind something you’d do in a puzzle game or video game. This is another thing Torchbearer and silent0siris did right. When I travel somewhere, and write a list of everything I’m bringing with me, I’m not writing it in square cells. I’m writing it on horizontal lines on a list. List-entry lines are like the characters own inventory, squares is something like the player would do when playing a very distant game. As with so much of this, my goal is to bring the player closer to the character.

Adherence to 5e

Now, Dungeon World, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Torchbearer are great games but we play 5e. The best game of all time.

Obviously 5e uses pound weights and not item slot sizes. As it should—5e’s focus on pounds instead of sizes, minutes instead of turns, feet instead of squares etc is what makes it such a Rosetta stone that can play material from many different editions and even some different games.

But one design goal I had with my system was to give answers that stayed very close to what the original 5e would. You can carry about the same amount of rations, tents etc as the original 5e could.

Obviously the three aforementioned non-5e games can’t be faulted for not being 5e—work on them was started before 5e came out and they had different design goals than 5e. All four of the games were inspired by B/X but it’s OK that they do things a little differently. They were able to write their own gear list, for one.

But the Reddit “Inventory Tracker”, me, Giffyglyph and silent0siris all try to work with 5e.

“Inventory Tracker”

The “Inventory Tracker” obviously is meant for the 5e RAW, which I really admire and that tracker is why this project started, I wanted to do something like it but that also helped me limit what I carried so I didn’t accidentally overcarried stuff and would have to toss thing out at an “audit” (not sure how that would work).

Silent0siris “Sunfall”

Silent0siris’ system obviously isn’t a traditional inventory system at all, with its Schrödinger’s items and “roll to see if you still have torches”. It’s very different from 5e RAW. Silent0siris is a great DM who’ve I’ve seen on YouTube often, I just had very different design goals to him.

Earlier in this article I wrote a list of the questions I wanted my inventory system to answer and silent0siris’ Sunfall system doesn’t answer any of those. Sure, you don’t have to decide between rope or blanket but his system is still a bit of a mouthful to try to learn and understand. It’s a great example of how abstracting something doesn’t necessarily mean simplifying it, and how abstraction can sometimes come at a cost. I have to ask myself—what even is the purpose of using his system compared to just saying “OK never mind you can just have whatever you want”? OTOH, his system really can screw over the players. You get what you want—once or twice. A ten-pack of torches in 5e RAW burns for 10 hours. In his system a ten pack burns for an average of 1 hour!

Giffyglyph’s Darker Dungeons

This is another radical departure from 5e. Instead of being based on strength it’s based on how big you are! So all humans can carry the same amount of stuff.

That’s based on the Anti-Hammerspace system, which came out in 2012, so I guess I can’t blame Giffyglyph too much for kinda namespace-colliding a bit with my size categories. Anti-Hammerspace doesn’t name the slots though.

Sandra, your system is almost perfect, but…

Source code is here, improve it!