After getting feedback from my players (using my own advice from “Getting Player Feedback“), I took a crack at trimming down the time needed for item management in my D&D campaign. Among other things, I proposed that we try to resolve a post-adventure dissection of the party’s haul in 15 minutes.
It took over an hour. (Not that it was a boring hour, but still!)
With that in mind, here are 6 tips on speeding up item management in your game.
It’s worth mentioning that for a lot of gamers, item management is fun. Assuming that you’re playing a game that involves heavy item management (exemplified by D&D), you’ll know which of your players enjoy it and which ones don’t pretty quick. If everyone enjoys it, more power to you — but for a lot of groups, it can distract from time spent gaming (it’s not addressed in “More Fun, Less Work,” but it could have been). If that sounds like your group, this list is for you!
1. Have a quartermaster: The quartermaster is the player who keeps track of the party’s items — not the stuff each individual PC carries, but the things that are common to the group. In most groups I’ve played with, there’s at least one person who enjoys this.
2. Note where things came from:
- Player: “We use identify on the magic dagger.
- GM: “Which dagger?”
- Player: “The one from that room, with the monster.”
Sound familiar? This problem is easily solved by jotting down a reminder next to each important item — something like, “From room 36.” Then when the party wants to do something with the item later, everyone knows exactly which item it is.
3. Set a time limit: Like I said up top, this might be a fictional time limit — but even if you go over, it sets the framework: “Our goal is to resolve this fairly quickly.”
4. If possible, do it over email: If you can time item management so that it takes place between sessions, you can handle it via email (or on your blog, on a messageboard, etc.). I find that it’s often hard to control when item management takes place, but even if you only use this approach occasionally it can still save you some potential boredom.
5. Have a system: The PCs in my D&D game have a contact who buys magic items and a contact who buys weapons and armor, and we’ve gotten things to the point where no rolling is involved (and prior to that, where one roll resolved the sale of multiple items). The NPCs are part of the system (established as contacts during play), and so are the rules we made up to resolve sales (like the one-roll approach mentioned above).
6. Treat it like a break: Particularly if you’ve got a couple of players who are into item management and a couple who aren’t, it can sometimes be best just to call a short break. That way, everyone not involved in dealing with items can go grab a soda, play a video game, etc., instead of just sitting around.
We’ve used all of these tricks except for numbers 4 and 6 in my current campaign, and even though item management still takes longer than I’d like, it’s become less of a hassle. Every group is different, of course, and you may find that some approaches work better than others for you — and even if you don’t get the results you’re looking for right away, chances are you’ll be headed in the right direction. (For example, despite the fact that we blew our 15 minute time limit, we figured out a few things in the process that will make item management easier next time.)
These are the 6 tricks that I’ve found to be most useful for me over the years, not a definitive list — what works for your group? What doesn’t work? Have you streamlined or improved on any of the 6 tricks mentioned here?
Taking a trick from Monte Cook, I’ve found that using index cards for items is a wonderful boon. Not only do the players get a physical representation of the item, there’s less paperwork to keep track of because it’s on the card now.
Loaning an item? Give the party member the index card. Having an item identified? Give them a card with all the real info on it and take the unidentified card back.
Add a numbering system to the cards and now there’s no confusion to worry about.
Some of the function of the quartermaster that you discussed I do with software that I use to track items recovered, where they came from, and what their special abilities are.
What I’ve found that’s also effective is grouping coins, gems, art, and normal weapons/armor as a single bulk value and assume that the party will just sell those off. I do list each individual item, so that if they want a particular gem or piece of artwork, they can pull it out. But, overall, we assume that won’t be the case. This is particularly useful as you go up in levels, and these items begin to lose their appeal and importance.
And, I think I might try the time limit with my group — see how that works.
I talk about it some more on my blog too…
I’ve used the cards for a long time (though more so in Fantasy Hero than d20 games, strangely enough). A card is a great place to record what the party knows about the item (including any stats they need to use it).
It seems that many people that try to use cards for the first time over do it. Obviously, you don’t want a card for every arrow. One of the reasons we aren’t using cards right now is that we decided to abstract most of the mundane item management in a relatively item poor campaign. So go back to town, restock arrows. Find arrows, restock. Otherwise, tick them off.
Card’s don’t always work as well when you have an irregular group. It can really hurt when someone accidently took home the bag of holding! The DM can keep the cards, but now you need to be highly organized. I’ve seen at least one suggestion to use envelopes labeled “Joe”, “Joe’s backpack”, “Joe’s big sack” etc. If you have to take something out of the “backpack” card, well you know that took some time. 🙂 For the really hard-core, write the encumbrance on the envelope.
IMHO, it really works better when the cards are strictly for the players, even written by them–while the DM keeps a list, indexed to the cards. But maybe that’s my relative lack of organization talking.
On the larger topic, it’s not merely a question of whether players enjoy items or not. It’s also a question of whether the game (the way being played, at least) requires significant resources to acquire and understand items. That gets into that whole question of do you really want to fool around with the party carrying around a bunch of stuff they don’t know how to use? And if not, what do you do about it?
I’ve tried to push this to e-mail and have failed…
In my current campaign, we’ve minimized item management on the one hand because each time they level, they get standard wealth for the new level. On the other hand, this means the players need to spend time choosing items. For some, that’s easy. For others, I need to do a lot of hand holding. Of course since I like the aspect of item management where players have at least some control over what they have by purchasing items, this aspect would be hard to eliminate.
In my previous campaign, I did use item cards for party items. It did help with the “who has this item” and made them get used a bit more. I also used poker chips for standard healing potions. But there’s effort to write up the cards. We also occaisionally had problems getting folks to actually take party items (I suppose I could have been hard assed and if an item wasn’t claimed in a reasonable time, either have the NPC claim it, or say, “gee, that item seems to have been misplaced since no one cared enough about it to keep track of it” followed by RIPPPP….).
Having a player keep track of stuff is great. Except when they aren’t there. This record really needs to be left with the GM between sessions. We need to improve on the noting where things came from.
Crazy Jerome brings up a big point about the backpack full of unknown stuff. This is definitely one of the things I dislike about D&D. Some things I do to minimize it:
Things like magic weapons and armor may easily be tested to determine their pluses assuming someone is proficient in the weapon (or armor). Ammunition would be a bit of a problem, but I’d still allow test firing at a straw bale to be non-destructive. I also allow simple abilities like flaming to be determined (unless there’s a good reason they use a command word).
I really came to like item identification in Cold Iron where at a modest level (4th – though leveling is a bit different than D&D), mages could use detect magic to identify magic items pretty well. Of course what they couldn’t necessarily do was determine command words and how good a charged item was. But they could identify a lot of potions.
I always handwave identification back in town. I assume over the course of time, the magic item vendors buy enough items for reduced price that they can turn around and sell to someone else that they can identify for free (though D&D with it’s 100 gp cost to identify raises a problem – many potions simply aren’t worth identifying).
Probably it would be acceptible to eliminate most of the identification issues by allowing spell casters to spend several hours identifying stuff. That means they may not want to do it right after an encounter (which leaves some room for experimenting, which can be fun – to a point), but doesn’t leave the party with a bag full of items that might as well be cash because once they get back to town and identify them, they aren’t going to keep them, yet, had they known what they were, they might have used them.
So what this all comes back to is don’t have rules and game elements that don’t actually get used in play.
(Larry) Taking a trick from Monte Cook, Iâ€™ve found that using index cards for items is a wonderful boon. Not only do the players get a physical representation of the item, thereâ€™s less paperwork to keep track of because itâ€™s on the card now.
This is a neat system, though I’ve never taken it this far. I used to give out items cards for the obviously important stuff, mainly as an excuse to draw a picture of the item. 😉 (And welcome to TT, Larry!)
(Pedro) Some of the function of the quartermaster that you discussed I do with software that I use to track items recovered, where they came from, and what their special abilities are.
What software do you use, Pedro?
(CJ) Cardâ€™s donâ€™t always work as well when you have an irregular group. It can really hurt when someone accidently took home the bag of holding! The DM can keep the cards, but now you need to be highly organized.
One way around this would be to buy one of those little index card boxes and some appropriately-sized dividers. Then you could section off each packet of cards, and the GM could hold onto the box between sessions.
(Frank) I also used poker chips for standard healing potions.
What a cool idea! I might have to give that a try. 🙂
Probably it would be acceptible to eliminate most of the identification issues by allowing spell casters to spend several hours identifying stuff.
Another approach I used to use was allowing the party’s bard to ID some items with successful Bardic Knowledge or Knowledge skill checks. This got a bit out of hand in that campaign, but used in moderation it can save some time while allowing the bard (or any Knowledge-heavy PC) to show off some of their skills.
I’ve got a quartermaster in my games, generally, and yeah – it can be a bit of a trouble when he leaves the list of items at home. But you know – each time he does that it’s something the rest of the group leans on him for.
My main input is that a lot of simple potions, after a while, I simply name as they’re found. 90% of them are found either on an NPC’s corpse or in his effects, and I can’t imagine someone not labelling healing potions for easy identification. Plus, most minor potions aren’t worth the trouble of identifying at mid-to-high level.
I’ve been doing the ‘This is Room 39, here is what you’ve found’ thing for a while, because otherwise it’s too much trouble trying to remember where the magic broadsword we got off that guy was.
(John Fiala) My main input is that a lot of simple potions, after a while, I simply name as theyâ€™re found.
This is a useful tip, John. 🙂
“It smells like a cure moderate wounds potion” has become a common phrase in my campaign. 😉 Unless there’s fun to be had in not knowing what a potion is, I tell my players what they are as they find them. (And welcome to TT, John!)
I like the card idea. Although i am curious how that doesn’t slow the game down further. It seems like having the cards then requires organizing the cards, following by storing them, replacing them, etc… it seems easier to just write down what you have and don’t have… Although I can see the benifit as I think about it in having the cards for single use items… I don’t know how many times I have seen a fighter drink the same darn healing potion 3 times.
The Quartermaster idea has worked well for us. Our group actually had a message board where we converse and review stuff. We have found that trying to swap magic items via email on online doesn’t work very well because invariably we are waiting for one person or another to check their email (or the message board) to verify that they don’t want something.
My DM is extremely generous with “stuff” so I think I may recommend the card idea next time.
Thanks for the feedback!
(Martin) Another approach I used to use was allowing the partyâ€™s bard to ID some items with successful Bardic Knowledge or Knowledge skill checks.
That’s a good way to do it, though it raises issues of how skills work. By requiring a skill check, then there is the possibility of not getting critical information. If you don’t roll for the skill check, then the actual number of ranks may not be important.
One way to handle this would be to make sure most of the time, the character can just take 10 (even if bardic lore normally doesn’t let you take 10). Another idea would be to have different levels of information, so if a DC 15 check is made, for example, thus and such is revealed, at DC 20, more info is revealed, etc.
(Rob) I like the card idea. Although i am curious how that doesnâ€™t slow the game down further.
The trick I think is to not have too many cards. Having cards for every item would quickly get burdensome. Having cards for the newly discovered items, plus any items the PCs regularly share (whether they are party items or individual items – if Fred always shares his ring of climbing with someone else, have a card, so you know who has it) would keep things manageable. You might not even bother with cards for treasure items you don’t expect the PCs to actually use (the huge sized 2-handed weapon for example…).
I usually have a player quartermaster in my games, and what we usually do is that player runs auctions for each item that start at what the group could sell the item for (they have a vendor who eats the identify costs in exchange for getting to enter the first bid on every item). once the entire pot has converted to cash, they split it evenly.
What usually ends up happening, is everybody ends up with items that suit them very well and we never have any disagreements, although sometimes a person will have to spend so much on an expensive item that it becomes their entire share.
(Rob) We have found that trying to swap magic items via email on online doesnâ€™t work very well because invariably we are waiting for one person or another to check their email (or the message board) to verify that they donâ€™t want something.
I’ve never had a group that would — as a group — use a messageboard, but I’ve always wanted to try it. It’s too bad that it doesn’t solve the whole problem for your group, because it seems like an idea with a lot of potential.
(Frank) Thatâ€™s a good way to do it, though it raises issues of how skills work. By requiring a skill check, then there is the possibility of not getting critical information.
Agreed. I always just winged it — none of the info was critical, except in the sense that the item could be used right then, instead of several days later back in town.
(Ryan) I usually have a player quartermaster in my games, and what we usually do is that player runs auctions for each item that start at what the group could sell the item for (they have a vendor who eats the identify costs in exchange for getting to enter the first bid on every item).
This is a perfect example of a system (tip #5) that works well for your group. Very cool!
Well, some of the items ideas are cool. I also use Monte’s advice about item cards, as it’s something for the player to actually hold on top of writing it on their character sheets.
But I would like to maybe contribute a small system I use for letting players ID potions.
At beginning levels, it’s a nice challenge, even raising the money for Identify spell (100g) is a challenge in itself. In order to make life more easy for us, I allow a spellcraft check to verify magical properties and ID the potions.
The fomula I use is 10 + spell level + caster level = Spellcraft DC.
I also permit synergy bonus of +2 on potion ID check if Craft->Alchemy has 5 or more ranks.
“I like the card idea. Although i am curious how that doesnâ€™t slow the game down further.”
Frank is correct that the trick is not to have a card for everything. This is what I meant in my earlier post that you can go to far with the idea. The short form is that cards should only track things that you really care about tracking. Do you count every arrow religiously? Then have a card for the quiver and mark them off. Do you allow simple restock or even not worry about it? No card. You don’t need cards for armor and other “passive” worn items unless they are the kind of things that the party trades a lot.
Martin, I used the index card box in my Fantasy Hero days. It does help, but I speculate that the envelopes handled by the players (but stored with the DM) would work better. It takes considerable time to dig through the box unless you organize by player anyway.
For potions, what we do is assume that potions of the same type made in a (widespread) culture always have the same flavor/smell/color sufficent to readily recognize them once the party has used a few. Thus, a basic healing potion from Archipelago X is obvious to the natives. That’s why they don’t label them, BTW. 😀 If a very old potion was “common” in its day, it probably has no label. An esoteric potion, however, usually does have a label. In d20, I allow alchemy checks to discover potion properties (including whether a potion is spoiled or inert). The net result of this system is that most potions are known by the party, but you still have plenty of reasonable situations where they can find something unknown (if you want).
OT: Some people have reported that the card idea works well for spells. It’s a lot of work to prepare them, but very handy in play. With complicated items, that’s the real time savings as well.
I use a messageboard in my games, generally a yahoogroup. My players don’t chat on them too heavily, but it’s helpful for arranging when people won’t be able to show up, setting up when games will happen, and to distribute important handouts to the group.
Never throught of using it in item management, though.
I’ve had mixed luck with message boards. I hit about 50% for management of who will be at sessions or not. I did have a little luck with item management in my previous campaign. Unfortunately, two of my players no longer have internet access, so the board has become a lot less useful.
Alchemy to identify potions is a nice idea, though kind of weird since alchemy is not part of making the potions. I like the spellcraft check idea though.
Standardized potions are nice also. I generally figure healing potions are labeled (you really never want to count on your buddy knowing which potion is the healing potion when he’s trying to save you). In fact, in one previous campaign, given marked healing potions, I had PCs feed healing potions found on prisoners to them so they could be questioned and sent on their way (these were wilderness encounters, where it wasn’t necessarily wrong that the goblins were about, but perhaps they needed to be a bit more tolerant of trade…).
There’s an easy way around card storage. I used envelopes for each player. I even drew a picture of a backpack on the envelope, so that it’s incredibly who has what gear. If you want to give the players a chest of treasure, get another envelope, and write treasure chest on it, and fill it with whatever you like. If you want to lock something, lick it closed. And feel free to write TRAP on the inside, it’ll be real funny to see the greedy player get hit.
(I’m back from my trip now. :))
As always, there are some excellent suggestions here in the comments! I particularly like Rudolf’s expansion on the envelope idea, of drawing the container — plus sealing it for locked items and including traps. Very clever. 🙂
I’ve always had problems getting things moved to email. It works well for the first month or so of a campaign, then it just kind of peters off… it’s very very annoying. 🙂
(Jason) Iâ€™ve always had problems getting things moved to email. It works well for the first month or so of a campaign, then it just kind of peters offâ€¦ itâ€™s very very annoying.
I think I’m going to turn this topic into a post, because it seems like a pretty common problem. Thanks for the inspiration, Jason!
No problem! Glad to be an inspiration! 🙂