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F.A.P.: The Problem Without Extradimensional Storage Space

Posted By John Arcadian On September 24, 2008 @ 2:11 am In GMing Advice | 14 Comments

While my first FAP post was about a big thing, this one is going to be about a lot of big things and how to move them around. Or a lot of small things and how to move them around, or a mix of big and little things. What the heck am I talking about? I’m talking about a frequently abused power, the ability to carry anything without ever being subject to the laws of reality. Oh wait, nevermind. I’ve got a bag of holding.

Frequently Abused Powers: The problem without extradimensional holding space.

We’ve all run across this one. The party or group acquires a lot of stuff. Looting and pillaging from the “bad guys” can really fill your pockets. How do you take care of all that loot. Anyone who has ever gone camping, been in the army, lugged books around a college campus, or moved and realized how much junk they’ve acquired knows that the amount of stuff they have easily outstrips their ability to carry it effectively.

Thankfully, role-playing games have some ways to deal with this:

Extradimensional storage space

Some games write in ways to get around lack of storage space. The Mary Poppins Bag of Holding. All items go in, all items come out. You don’t have to worry about size or weight.
A constantly accessible portal to another place where a character can store as much as will fit. This is only possible in games where there is a high enough magic level or a high enough tech level. There are a few issues with extradimensional space, mostly dealing with the commonality of it and what it can give people access to. “Of course I brought a cannon in, it was in my bag of holding.” “I slip through my portal back to my hometown and look up the family doctor. I get patched up, then walk back through to the other side of the portal where I left it in the dungeon.”

If something like this fits the game world, then there is absolutely no problem. I love it when my players overcome my carefully crafted challenges with inventive solutions. It can, however, be very irritating when it changes the paradigm that the GM set up so very carefully or becomes a one trick pony for the players.  On one hand it is helpful to have the handwave that it creates. It is also interesting to see the physics breaking solutions that it enables. On the other hand, it makes the Game Master “Think with Portals” to create challenges for the players. It’s really a question of play style.

Having wheels helps

Without magical or technological storage space you need a way to cart around all that stuff. A vehicle, even if it is just a cart, helps eliminate some storage issues. Transportation eliminates issues of getting your items most of the way there, but doesn’t do as well as E.S.S. in terms of getting things into dungeons, heavily guarded buildings or generally anywhere off the vehicle. Of course, there is another solution . . .

Ehh, we just don’t worry about that.

Some groups just don’t delve into the reality crashing aspects of inventory storage. Somehow, somewhere, all those little items just happen to fit. Of course you’ve got 25 feet of rope on you at any time. Of course you took it into the fancy dress ball. Of course no one noticed. Sure you had that armoire of invincibility in your pack. Doesn’t matter that it’s bigger than you.

For some things this works.  Small items might always been on a character’s person. A character might have anticipated needing their thieves tools and thus brought them along. A few games even talk about this in their rules. If a player has it on them, then assume they planned for it beforehand.

The more I think about this particularly common facet of roleplaying games, the more I think of it as a part of the groups play style than anything.  One group given a bag of holding might use it in only mundane ways. Another group might plan extravagant Trojan horse style break-ins with it. Are these abuses? That is for the group to decide.

So how does your group handle extra stuff and storage space? Do you play it close to the cuff of reality and keep track of every item? Do you have any issues using magical or technical storage space? What are the most interesting outside of the box uses that you’ve come up with for extradimensional storage space?

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.




14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "F.A.P.: The Problem Without Extradimensional Storage Space"

#1 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 24, 2008 @ 7:11 am

I’d agree with your assessment; it’s a question of play style. The real problem crops up when a ‘fast and loose’ group meets a ‘detail oriented’ individual, or vice-versa. One alternative to the “dimensional rift” concept is that the bag holds a magical field that reduces everything in it by 90%. Which affects your arm as you reach in, too…

A bit of advice to adventuring parties: Spend the extra gold and get a Bag of Holding big enough to carry one or two of your corpses. Trust me on this; it beats lugging the Half-Orc around for the next week, or questioning the morality of cutting him into more manageable bits.

Even better, get a Portable Hole. But remember to get some chests and boxes and such; proper organization in such a tight space is critical. (Actually, why hasn’t anyone come up with smaller Portable Holes? I think a 3′ x 3′ ‘personal model’ or a 20′ x 15′ ‘Economy Size’ would be excellent.)

#2 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On September 24, 2008 @ 7:40 am

This reminds me of the Highlander TV series, where they stopped trying to hide the swords on Immortals after the first few episodes. Suddenly an immortal in a miniskirt and tube top could whip out a bastard sword without even a raised eyebrow from her immortal opponent (who was out jogging that morning and counters by whipping out a katana from his fanny pack).

#3 Comment By Cole On September 24, 2008 @ 8:10 am

I impose some limits on my games. No extra armor, one weapon of your choice plus a light weapon, max amount of potions is around 50, scrolls are limited same as potions, there are no limit on gold coins, gems, and other valuables.

At first I tried keeping track of weights, but it became a huge boring task that no one wanted to deal with. Not to mention, I usually had the party go through 8-12 encounters before being able to rest, which meant healing potions and scrolls became a must have.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On September 24, 2008 @ 8:39 am

@Kurt: The biggest E.S.S. that I ever saw happen was a wondrous item doorknob with Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion. Put it against a door or wall, turn and storage space is yours. It turned an airship into the smugglers express. It got kind of silly after a little bit, but still worked well.

I think people tend to be of the opinion that if I’m paying for magical storage, I want as much magical storage as I can have. Kind of like hard drives.

@walt: Wooooow. I had forgotten the levels to which that show just got silly. Trip down memory lane. Definitely quite a few steps from Kurgan unpacking his scew-together sword.

@cole: My gaming group actually did a real like comparison one time and tried to find real equivalents to the stuff that was on our inventory sheet. We got about 3 characters worth of stuff together. 50 onces of liquid, 2 spellbooks, backpacks, clothing the equivalent of what we were carrying (4 layers of it for plate armor, etc.) Yeah. Wow. There is no way our character were carrying all of that. Not to mention the amount of weight that 100 gold coins, then 1000, etc. would realistically come to.

We even whittled down the amount of stuff to see what would be comfortable to carry on those 16 mile a day walks. It only came to a few lines on the sheet. I’m not sure there is ever going to be a “good” compromise between reality and utility of carrying everything around.

#5 Comment By Swordgleam On September 24, 2008 @ 10:03 am

Wheels? What about horses? Or giant dogs? Anything you can use as a mount, you can also use as a pack animal.

The bag of holding thing reminded me of a quote that was always brought up in my old 1st ed group whenever someone wanted to do something impossible. It was from before my time, so I don’t know the context.. and I don’t really want to. The quote is, “I turn the Bag of Holding inside-out, wrap it around myself, and walk through the castle wall.”

#6 Comment By Target On September 24, 2008 @ 10:20 am

I also tend to ignore encumberance so long as nobody gets silly. If the party wants to get realistic, it’s only going to hurt them.

An equivalent party in the real world would probably be 4x as large not including the pack mule. After all, it’s not like you can get into a suit of full plate by yourself.

#7 Comment By nblade On September 24, 2008 @ 10:31 am

@Swordgleam – I think you forgot about just having pack people. Nothing like a long jungle trek with porters carrying just damn near everything. “Where did I put my pith helmet?”

#8 Comment By John Arcadian On September 24, 2008 @ 10:38 am

@swordgleam: Giant dog? I once tried to convince a player to have his gnome character ride a giant dog. He never quiet went for it. Pity. I remember hearing debate about the bag of holding inside out, but the only place I can remember it is in a RedMage column at nuklear power.
http://www.nuklearpower.com/redmage13.php

@target: You can totally get into full plate on your own. You can only don it hastily though! You bring up a good point. Extreme realism is, generally, a hindrance to a fun time. The amount of things in any roleplaying session that are borderline for actually being possible could fill a couple of pages.

#9 Comment By Scott Martin On September 24, 2008 @ 10:41 am

We tend to hand wave encumbrance as too much bookkeeping for the pleasure it gives, but it does mean that the GM often boggles a bit when the characters pull the next weapon, shield, or barkalounger out of their golf bag.

#10 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 24, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

I have a reputation with my gaming group for being “the guy that abuses the hell out of bags of holding”.

Leaving aside the schenanigans like “Slide a bag of holding halfway under a door and use it like a burrowed trench.”, With a bag of holding, my MO goes something like this:

DM- You enter the next room. It has jade inlay tiles and beautifuly carved furniture.
Me- I put all the furniture in the Bag of holding.
DM- O.K.
Me- Now I pry up that nice tilework and put it in the bag of holding.
DM- What?
Me- Now I search the room for anything else.
DM- aside from the small bronze wall sconce holding a guttering torch, the room is bare you psycho.
Me- I take down the sconce, extinguish the torch and put it in the bag of holding.
DM- Facepalm

In fact, my group got so sick and tired of it that I had to specificly take a break from it in the last few games.

Of course, to my knowledge, most extradimensional spaces actually DO have ratings for weight they hold, opening size, dimensions of the space, etc… so even in the fantasy reality, you can only cram so much in one.

#11 Comment By John Arcadian On September 24, 2008 @ 7:11 pm

@scottmartin: Gotta travel in comfort. I might have to have my next character drag along a full furniture set.

@Matthew J. Neagley: The burrowed trench idea is very nifty. I’ve never thought of it that way. I have, however, always seen the restrictions on E.S.S. somewhat enforced. Not that it was ever by the numbers so.

One thing that can get in the way of a Bag of Holding’s brokenness is the party’s determination of how it works on the outside. Maybe the bag is always at certain bulkiness, or weight limit with anything in it. Maybe the bag doesn’t admit anything larger than the opening.

Bye bye Barkolounger. Sniff Sniff.

I know I’ve found one or two justifications like that, but generally allowed inventive ideas to go through.

#12 Comment By Swordgleam On September 24, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

@John Arcadian – I had dire dogs in one of my games, which my players loved. The “dire” in that case just meaning “really big,” since they’re about a fierce as the average golden retriever. I suggest using uneccessary cool adjectives to describe things; it helps.

#13 Comment By Target On September 25, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

In one game we had some extradimensional storage that was limited to one item. The exchange went something like this:

GM: You have the Dragon Hoarde in front of you, what do you do?

Us: We take it, duh.

GM: How do you carry the mound of gold and all those tapestries?

Us: In the bag of holding.

GM: One item only.

Us: We pile the gold up on a stack of tapestries and roll it all up. We then put the rolled tapestry in the bag of holding.

GM: *sigh*

#14 Comment By Karizma On September 25, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

@SWORDGLEAM: It’s from the second Dead Ale Wives thing
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1e20K3Tmj0

I generally don’t like dealing with inventory, and in one goofy game gave my players each one “Backpack of Convenient Stuff”. All that random rope, bandages, torches, flint and steel, and various random things no one cares about all fits. And it fits snugly. The only problem is that it’s not very organized, so the character must spend some time to find it (which isn’t that far a stretch from the imagination anyway).


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