The Gassy Gnoll: I Need a Portable Hole

You might not know it by looking at this Gassy Gnoll’s desk or basement (where his home office is), but he’s a bit of a neat freak about some things. It’s not really about how many times he brushes his furry coat or how he arranges his polearms, but more about having certain things stay relatively clutter free. It’s one thing if he puts something in a pile, because he can usually find it pretty easily. It’s something else entirely when it’s somebody else’s mess that infringes upon his territory…

Where am I going with this? My wife volunteers as a veterinarian with an organization called Street Petz here in Colorado Springs. She goes out once or twice a week to help the pets of the homeless population living in and around downtown. This help comes in the form of free vaccines, help finding low-cost veterinary care where possible, as well as pet supplies such as leashes, collars, toys, blankets, food, and so on. It really is a great organization and I’m happy she helps to give back to the community.

This is just a part of the chaos in my garage right now...

The problem comes with storing all of the donations she gets from various individuals and companies in the area. We have a series of three heavy duty metal bookcases in the garage that are overflowing with dog and cat food, toys, blankets, and more. Currently I am unable to park in the garage because we have too much “stuff” for my car to fit. I drive a black car and it’s been damn hot in Colorado of late, so I’m a little annoyed.

I really need a portable hole that my wife can stick all the donations in and haul them around. Unfortunately other than in a recent episode of the new Thundercatsย cartoon with a magical bag that Kit and Kat used, I haven’t really seen any portable holes I can just pick up at

By now you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get to the part that actually involves gaming… So here ’tis.

Clutter eventually is a problem for any character you run for a long time. Whether you’re managing a laundry list of quest-related items or just the latest equipment you managed to scrape together gold for in the marketplace, it gets to be a problem when you’re carrying more than a few items. And regardless of whether you’re tracking encumbrance with items carried and items left in certain key places, keeping track of more than 10 or 15 things can start to get tedious.

There’s a great quote in Heatย with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer – “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” During the recent wildfire in Colorado Springs, I thought about this quote more than a few times and realized that once you get to the point where you’re having to store stuff, it becomes nearly impossible to figure out what has to go. It’s a difficult exercise to not only organize the stuff, but figure out what’s important and what you should recycle or donate.

At what point does the clutter around your character become too much to manage? And how much of that problem is player organization vs. character organization? In my case, I’d guess it’s a little of both – but I wonder if there are methods that could be used at the gaming table to remedy this problem.

I have a character who’s basically a detective and former military hero in the Zeitgeistย 4e campaign we’re playing. He doesn’t have all that much equipment really, but at one point I broke down and bought and Investigation Kit to try and help with finding, collecting, and examining evidence at the scene of a crime. Pretty standard for a cop, right? Sort of like no self-respecting thief with lockpicking skills would leave home without his lockpicks.

So why did I feel compelled to not only spend my character’s money on it, but write it down on my sheet? Do we really need to write down that our character has a set of clothes? Or that he carries a pad of paper and a pen? If it’s a piece of equipment with a magical or martial effect such as a magic sword, scroll, or potion, I can see the benefit of writing it down explicitly. If I need to know what it does in combat, I sure as heck want those numbers where I can get to them quickly.

But for the rest, why don’t we come up with a list of items that are simply assumed to exist in the context of the game. And while we’re assuming things, let’s assume that I always drop my backpack of all the “other” items that I don’t typically carry on my person so they aren’t weighing me down in a fight.

For the cops, let’s assume that all detectives have: an investigation kit, a pad of paper, a pen and ink, a uniform, and a shield or badge of some variety. If they need it, it’s there. These “extra” items can exist in the realm of a magical backpack that the character has with them at all times except in combat. To get an item out of the backpack, it takes a half or full action. Let’s give it a coin flip and say half the time it’s in the top of the bag and it takes a half action and the other time it’s at the bottom, which makes it a full action.

And this list can be somewhat fluid as items may be added at the beginning or end of a session, but not in the middle. For instance, if you discover that you really should have a torch or two and a flint and tinder to light them during a session, note it and add it to the “assumed” list at the end of the session for next time. We should also put a cap on the number of items in this “default” list, so let’s make it 10 items and call it good. (That way at the fantasy grocery store they can zip through the “10 items or less” line without incident.)

Right away this technique means that a GM can know what the party may have access to by default (and can design encounters that may require other items as warranted), but doesn’t bog things down by buying those little penny-ante things in the middle of an adventure.

What do you think?

(By the way, happy 4th of July! Have a happy and safe holiday!)

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11 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: I Need a Portable Hole

  • In games where encumbrance comes up at all, I make sure my players know what they have in pack, and what they have on them (sometimes including what’s on the pack animal). I know this seems like a pain, but there are times when stuff just gets dropped, times when you need to know what you have in your pockets(es), and if the pack animal takes a short walk with a sudden drop off a cliff, what’s gone down with it.

    In other games, I’m a big fan of the ‘if it makes sense that you’ve got it, it’s cool by me’ mentality when it comes to equipment. As an example, CP2020 characters have a mobile. If you want something kick ass and top of the line, you better buy it and keep an eye on it. If not, you own a phone. I don’t care what type – or what your ring tone is – I just need to know that
    people can get hold of you. And yes, you own clothes even if they’re not listed. You’re not walking round Night City in the buff.

    • Fitz

      @Thanks ShortyMonster – There are definitely things you want to track for encumbrance and I get that, but I think there has to be some common sense (as you point out) to it all…

  • Philo Pharynx

    I’m also one of the people who just rules, “You have what makes sense for your character” type GM’s. Especially once they players get extradimensional storage. If there’s something odd or expensive your character wants, write it down. Otherwise it’s , “Sure, who wouldn’t go down into a dungeon without a big ball of twine and a block of wax. Now roll your Dragon dentistry skill…”

    • Fitz

      @Philo Pharynx – Awesome. Dragon dentistry. Wonder if there’s any art of someone flossing a dragon’s teeth? ๐Ÿ™‚ As for the ladder – that’s a great idea. ๐Ÿ™‚ I used to love portable holes when I was just starting in AD&D and somehow none of my characters have had one in a very long time.

    • The problem I have with “you have what makes sense for your character” is when what one person thinks “makes sense” differs from another player’s (like the GM’s) sense of what “makes sense.” Yeah, you can always say “GM gets the last word,” but then you have situations where a player feels cheated because if they’d known it wasn’t assumed then hey would have explicitly listed it.

      • Fitz

        @Jack – I see your point. But there has to be some give and take (and mutual understanding) between the GM and players. For example, you might not be able to pull a backpack-sized nuclear accelerator out of your backpack, but you should be able to pull out a pencil and some paper.

        • That’s *probably* true.

          • Fitz

            ๐Ÿ™‚ The trick is achieving that understanding between players and GMs and making sure it’s understood *before* it becomes a problem. I suspect that a simple list of examples along the lines of the nuclear accelerator vs. the pencil and paper would make it fairly clear. But I haven’t tried it in practice yet. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Philo Pharynx

        Yes it does involve a bunch of communication between the player and the GM. If a player has a reasonable reason why they’d carry it, I usually don’t make an issue about it. If it’s utterly unreasonable, I say no. If I still have doubts I usually roll a d20 as a luck check. If they roll low, they dont have it/forgot to replace it. If they roll middling, they have something like it/they have a partly broken one/the parts to make one. If they roll well, they have it. On a natural 20, they have a masterwork version of it.

        There’s also a few other considerations.
        * High level adventurers have had a lot of stuff pass through their hands. Who knows what they’ve forgotten in the bottoms of their handy haversacks and bags of holding? Sometimes I’ll let them pull out minor magic items just because even those are pocket change to them.
        * How often they try to stretch the boundaries. If somebody is always trying for something unbelieveable, then it’s less likely they’ll get it.
        * What are they trying to do? If it’s something clever that adds to the story, I’ll usually let them do it. Or rather try to do it. Usually getting the items is just the start. They’ll usually need to make rolls in order to pull of their plan. And that’s where the drama is.

        • Fitz

          @Philo Pharynx – That is a totally reasonable table-time mechanic. Yes, no, or d20 luck roll. Perfect!

          And I completely agree about the drama – sometimes the quest for that last piece of the puzzle for a terrific plan requires a little more effort and is just as much fun as coming up with the plan in the first place.

          I suspect that if the player can come up with a valid reason why they have it in their possession, I’ll be much more likely to give it to them. But if they can’t, they may be out of luck. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Philo Pharynx

    p.s. on protable holes… Don’t forget a ladder. I also had one character make a set of shelves on one half of the portable hole. Another one had one set up as a small bedroom with all of the comforts of home. ๐Ÿ™‚

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