Call to Arms: The Magic Satchel
This installment of the Call to Arms-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover/editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so what do we get?
Well, first of all, we begin, as always, with a bit of flavor-text and the history of the “bigger on the inside” idea that has accompanied mankind from Santa Claus to Doctor Who – and it shows awareness of a possible reason for the initial introduction of the classic bag of holding into the context of the games we know and love.
I feel obliged to go on a little digression: As you may have noticed, I can be a bit of a stickler for encumbrance, carrying capacity etc. – it just helps my immersion in a given game and I am very much what you’d call a simulationalist GM. I want to know where the weapons etc. are. The problem here, is, alas, that tracking a ton of items can become tedious and time-consuming…but ignoring packing, carrying capacity etc. them altogether (like many a game I witnessed do) rubs me the wrong way. Similarly, I have spent literally whole sessions of players just buying equipment for a massive wilderness trek, haggling with the merchants and the like – and I *enjoy* sessions like that…most of the time. Sometimes, I just wished the system had a means for characters to be “crazy prepared” and just draw an item from the pack…within reason. Unfortunately, most of the time, takes on the crazy-prepared mechanic simply don’t work as smooth as they should. This pdf approaches this conundrum by introducing the practical pack mechanic.
The mechanic itself is dead simple: There is a chance a character has stored an item away in the practical pack, assuming the item is under a set weight and cost. Determining whether the item is stored inside is handled via an associated skill-check (or Int/Wis, if you have no ranks in the associated skill) – characters with ranks in Climb are more likely to have packed tools for climbing, for example. Now thankfully, the pdf does not leave you alone to associate skills with items: A massive table does that work for you and should you desire to extend the mechanic from the mundane and masterwork items to e.g. weapons and armor, you’ll find some guidance herein as well.
Such practical packs are usually containers of some sort – and from the bandolier to saddlebags, a lot of different sample containers (including volume information) allow for more precise takes on what can potentially fit in such a container – an no, as written, specific keys to locks could not be duplicated, though lockpicks could – which is nice in my book. How does filling the pack work? Well, you determine a value and go shopping. When you draw an item ex nihilo from the pack, the item’s price is detracted from the value used in shopping – unlike quite a few “crazy prepared”-takes, no chance of suddenly drawing forth odd items when finding treasure. No single object in the pack can weigh more than 1/4 of the weight of the pack and total weight cannot exceed the weight of the pack, so cheating encumbrance via these can’t be done efficiently either.
How to draw items from it? Well, the skill-check is a simple DC 10 + cost in gold of the world. Less than 10 Copper means DC 10, silver is rounded up to 1 gp. Common items reduce the DC by 5; uncommon items increase base DC to 15, rare ones to DC 20. You also reduce the base DC for each factor of 10 the item is less than the value of the bag. As an example: A 40 gp alchemist’s kit would be DC 50, but if the practical pack has been filled with 400 gp or more, you’d calculate 40 gp/400 gp, arriving at a DC of 14. If the value of the pack were 4K gp, you’d instead arrive at a DC of 11 – 10 base, +1 for a value exceeding 1 sp. If this sounds complicated to you at first – it really isn’t; in fact, in practice, it can be done fluidly on the fly. If you botch the skill by 5 or less, a GM may allow you to draw forth a substitute, adding in degrees of success/failure – a design-notion I really enjoy!
If you require multiple items of a type and wouldn’t usually carry multiples, the pdf has you covered as well, providing concise rules for that as well. Some items, like flint, a non-combat knife and similar tools are codified as always available and rechecking for similar items is also possible.
Very important: If you’re one of the GMs or players who hates minutiae like this – the pdf does offer a simplified version of this system as well. They are based on bag quality (4 steps) and fit comfortable on half a page, covering all bases. Now this is accounting for table variance!
Okay, so this is where things get even more interesting: Rather than rehashing the ole’ bag of holding rules, the pdf continues to develop the aforementioned rules and applies them to magic bags: There are, for example, mercane bags: You drop items in for the mercane to sell, but may, yourself, request magic items from the mercane by putting your hand inside…and yes, this easy reselling of loot is thankfully balanced via market value modifications. Two particularly nasty cursed satchels are provided as well – the bag of devouring that tries to eat you and your items…and there is a bag into which you can throw items…only to get worthless junk back.
Really fun: The evil, demonic and intelligent chomper, a devouring bag that not only is malevolent, you can swing it at foes to bite them. Cool visuals! The helpful steward of the bag is intelligent as well and could be visualized as a bag of holding with an integrated butler that lists all objects inside. The mythic bag of needful things takes a bow before one of Mr. King’s better books and can generate objects. Finally, the artifact of this installment of Call to Arms would be the doorknocker to a private sanctum – basically a doorknocker you can affix to any door, open it, and enter your very own private demiplane…which can btw. be altered, in case you were wondering.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Fat Goblin Games’ two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports nice artworks in full color by Rick Hershey. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Lucus Palosaari’s magic satchels…are BRILLIANT. I’m not even going to try to slowly lead into this. Magic Satchels as envisioned here are exactly what I always wanted – this book pretty much looks and feels almost like it was written for me. This streamlines the extensive shopping trips and planning required in simulationalist gameplay without sacrificing the need for planning in advance; this provides almost the ease of GM-handwaving encumbrance and actually creates suspense: The cheers when players draw forth the third stake they needed on a hard skill-check…is glorious and adds actually a fun, novel component to the gameplay…and all without falling into the innumerable pits and traps this type of design sports: From weight to scarcity to even a simpler system, this book covers ALL basics in its deceptively few pages.
The page-count may not sound impressive…but if you’re like me, you’ll celebrate this system for its grace and elegance, for its innovation and seamless integration in gameplay as well as for speeding up the game sans losing the threat and excitement of e.g. prolonged wilderness trips. Oh, and the simple alternate system is great for less detail-oriented games, providing supreme support for different table types.
This is a truly brilliant little pdf that will feature in each and every one of my campaigns from now on. I adore this book. Its final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and it receives EZG Essential status: If you love your details, but want an truly elegant way of speeding things up sans breaking your game, get this!