The evening before my most recent trip to Africa, my pack was bumping up against the weight limit. Looking at a tough choice between a couple extra battery packs for my Canon and a 16oz jar of Jif, I chose the peanut butter.
I don’t think about inventory management much on a day-to-day basis, being that I live a mile from Target. I do spare a thought to encumbrance however. I choose my Macs largely on weight, hoping to shave a few precious ounces to keep my work bag light.
But when you travel, you’d be smart to think through scenarios, really imagining what you might need across a variety of situations, knowing you might be cut off from that precious supply run. I traveled to Africa with my buddy Bob. I knew he was loaded up on heals, as he devoted a pretty good portion of his pack to a really nice first aid kit, which included antibiotic ointment and the like, so I only packed a few Advil.
Instead, I loaded up on ordinances and field rations. DSLR? Check. GoPro? Check. Jif? Check. It’s important to spread the responsibilities across the adventuring party.
Now, I should dial back the theatrics here. Heck, I stayed in a swank villa a couple of my nights in Africa, so it’s hardly like I was trekking into Mordor with my life hanging by a thread. Still, it’s important to remember that in certain situations, the exact contents of what you are carrying in your backpack can literally mean the difference between life or death.
Those who are climbing Mt. Everest immediately come to mind, as do those who are stationed in the Arctic. Alaskan frontiersmen need to keep close tab on their inventory, as do those engaged in diving or mining operations. I live in Minnesota, and we’re actually encouraged to keep a survival kit in our car during the harsh winter months because, IDK, we might drive across a frozen lake or something.
Weight is a real life issue too. The 70 pound packs that soldiers often carry in places like Iraq can literally compress ones spine to the point of making them shorter.
In Defense of Inventory Management in D&D
Although we acknowledge that there actually are legitimately life or death situations when it comes to inventory management, we often gloss over it when we game. Video games will often allow us to stack two dozen long swords or whatever into our backpack, while D&D might dole out a Bag of Holding, mainly because accounting for inventory feels too much like paperwork.
But I think there are times when inventory management should be played up in games like D&D. The latest Tomb of Annihilation adventure is a perfect example. Set in the jungles of Chult, the Tomb of Annihilation adventure throws a variety of jungle monsters at players.
But it also throws jungle hazards at players. Dehydration is an issue, as is disease. Players need to make saving throws or get Mad Monkey Fever, Shivering Sickness, or Throat Leeches. To shield against such inflictions, players can purchase insect repellant, but they still need to track the number of applications.
Players can also purchase a rain catcher for 1 gold piece, but the foldable apparatus weighs 5 pounds, which must be accounted for. The weight is worth it, as the rain catcher can catch 2 gallons of rainwater and that is important, since a player who doesn’t drink two gallons of water per day in the jungle must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or suffer from the dehydrated condition.
What’s more, when your D&D adventure is a hex crawl through dense jungle, you need to keep an eye out for fantastical creatures, but you also need to take care that your gear doesn’t break. Target isn’t just next door, after all.
So your explorer backpack better darn well have what you need. Otherwise, you might find yourself rolling an engineering check to try and rig up some gear. And that might work! An improvised item might not be up to your high standards, but it’s like camping coffee. By java, if you’re stuck up sh!† creek without a French press, it’ll do the job.
All of this to say that I really enjoy the inventory management rules in Tomb of Annihilation, as well as the new items they created that are solely for a jungle environment. Sure, they require a little bit of book keeping, but the rules are implemented elegantly. (Here is a helpful little tracker I ran across.)
The bonus is they also add a full pack’s worth of immersion and a Bag of Holding’s worth of theme to the adventure. The Tomb of Annihilation jungle setting is the perfect time to give some attention to encumbrance and inventory.
All I know is that whenever I’m playing through Tomb of Annihilation, I’ll be bringing a 16 ounce jar of Jif to each session.