I’ve never quite understood the whole concept of starting equipment packs. By that, I don’t mean how the straps on the pack works. I get that your character gets a backpack, or chest in the case of a diplomat’s pack, and it is filled with a variety of items that your new character needs when they go down into that dungeon or enter the dark forest to slay the dragon, please don’t try that at 1st level. What I mean is why you get the items you get in each of the packs. Let’s take the Dungeoneer’s pack as an example. In this pack, you get the following items to start your grand adventure with: a crowbar, a hammer, 10 pitons, 10 torches, a tinderbox, 10 days of rations, a waterskin and 50 feet of rope attached to the side of it. Not a bad starting inventory, but the whole concept of a equipment pack is flawed in my opinion, mainly because the items they get don’t match up with most of the packs the player would receive.
Here’s a list of the equipment packs, per the Players Handbook
Burglar’s Pack (16 gp). Includes a backpack, a bag of 1,000 ball bearings, 10 feet of string, a bell, 5 candles, a crowbar, a hammer, 10 pitons, a hooded lantern, 2 flasks of oil, 5 days rations, a tinderbox, and a waterskin. The pack also has 50 feet of hempen rope strapped to the side of it.
Diplomat's Pack (39 gp). Includes a chest, 2 cases for maps and scrolls, a set of fine clothes, a bottle of ink, an ink pen, a lamp, 2 flasks o f oil, 5 sheets of paper, a vial of perfume, sealing wax, and soap.
Dungeoneer’s Pack (12 gp). Includes a backpack, a crowbar, a hammer, 10 pitons, 10 torches, a tinderbox, 10 days of rations, and a waterskin. The pack also has 50 feet of hempen rope strapped to the side of it.
Entertainer’s Pack (40 gp). Includes a backpack, a bedroll, 2 costumes, 5 candles, 5 days of rations, a waterskin, and a disguise kit.
Explorer’s Pack (10 gp). Includes a backpack, a bedroll, a mess kit, a tinderbox, 10 torches, 10 days of rations, and a waterskin. The pack also has 50 feet of hempen rope strapped to the side of it.
Priest’s Pack (19 gp). Includes a backpack, a blanket, 10 candles, a tinderbox, an alms box, 2 blocks of incense, a censer, vestments, 2 days of rations, and a waterskin.
Scholar’s Pack (40 gp). Includes a backpack, a book of lore, a bottle of ink, an ink pen, 10 sheets of parchment, a little bag of sand, and a small knife.
First, let’s start with how you fit all this stuff into the backpack. An average backpack is approximately 11” X 17” X 6”, and the PHB says that a backpack is 1 cubic foot and has a carrying capacity of 30 lbs. (See the picture to the left? There is no way all that is fitting into that backpack.) To get an idea of the size of a standard backpack, think what most people use when traveling on a plane or carrying your laptop around in at school. If you say that that the average torch is 2 1/2 feet tall and 6 inches wide, you’ve now filled up almost 1/2 of your pack with three plus rows of torches, and they will be sticking out of your backpack. Closing the backpack will be impossible, no matter how you try to put them in there. Once you get your remaining items stuffed into your pack, it’s going to be quite full, but you can probably make it work. I’m sure those rations aren’t that big, and who has time to eat anyways when you’re in the depths of some evil wizard’s dungeon?
Now let’s talk about the 50ft of rope. That’s a shitload of rope to be carrying around on the side of your backpack. It’s going to be wound pretty tightly, and even then, it’s going to protrude from the side of the pack a good ways. Hempen rope is 1/2 an inch thick so unless you want it hanging off the side of the pack down to your knees, its going to stick out.
You could always say that the pack in a standard military pack. Now we are talking about a much bigger backpack (20” X 11” X 10”) that you can easily fit all your starting equipment in with room for all the other cool stuff you find along the way. Most of these packs can hold between 1500-2000 pounds, so if you have the space, heavy items aren’t a problem. What is a problem is that it will cost a lot more and you’ll quickly be encumbered if you try to fill it up. No player wants that.
Two other things stand out to me about the packs. First, even a smaller backpack would seem to hinder your ability to swing a sword during battle, and a larger military style pack would be a nightmare in a fight. If you have the straps on nice and tight so it sits on your back correctly, your arm mobility is going to be reduced. If it’s not on correctly, it could impact your dexterity checks and may even come flying off in the middle of combat. If you are jumped by a Xorn and swinging your sword is nearly impossible, now you’ll have expend an action to take it off. Second, when have you ever seen a picture of any character in D&D wearing a backpack? Your majestic paladin, wearing his shiny full plate, NEVER has a backpack on. Based on 95% of the pictures and character portraits I’ve seen you’d think that no one ever had a pack. This probably bothers me the most. No one wants to have their beautiful hero wearing a bulky backpack. Almost everyone has a pack of some sort at the beginning, but no one gives it any consideration except when they want to put something inside it.
I guess the answer is that everyone has a bag of holding these days, but in reality they surely don’t. A bag of holding is an uncommon wondrous item. Most people forget the whole wondrous part and think a bag of holding should only cost between 101-500 gp. Based on the Sane Magic Items Prices list that we use, a bag of holding costs 4000 gp. That’s a lot of gold for any player, let alone a lower level one. 5th Edition is primarily a lower magic item game (although there are no actual rules preventing a DM from giving out magic items as they see fit), so finding a bag of holding isn’t as easy as walking into your local general store and grabbing one off the shelf.
So how do we get around this problem? It can be argued that some adventurers don’t need to solve this problem, but I feel like most do. There are a few ways around this problem, but the first place we need to look is what is in these packs, determine if they are even worth being in there. Some items can fit on a belt, others maybe in a small satchel that the character slings over his shoulder (which is easily dropped when combat starts), and some of the items aren’t needed at all. To be able to determine this, I’m going to approach starting equipment on a class by class basis. There are certain items that all heroes need, but specific classes sometimes need specific gear.
We are going to start this examination today, by looking at the Barbarian.
Many a player fashions his barbarian character on Conan the Barbarian - big sword, loincloth and not much else. Where exactly are they keeping their equipment? Even the barbarians that are from the cold northern lands, who fashion animal pelts into coats and clothing never seem to have a backpack on their person. Also, how would a barbarian keep his backpack on when he’s raging?
The barbarian starts off with an explorer’s pack. Let’s take a look at the equipment in the explorers pack and why it does or does not makes sense.
Backpack - See above
Bedroll - So after the battle with the evil Sahaugin strikeforce, covered in the blood of his fallen victims and in need of a rest, do you picture the barbarian carefully rolling out his comfy bedroll and settling down for a nap? Of course not. The barbarian is one with the land, relying on his internal rage and animal instincts to survive. Our barbarian would lie down on the first piece of dirt he or she saw, pulling up a rock as a soft pillow
Mess Kit - Even more ridiculous than the barbarian having a bedroll is he or she having a mess kit.
“Sitting down to eat, Grak the barbarian, pulls his 6 inch plate with matching fork and knife set out of his backpack. With the same skill that he uses with his axe, Grak slices through the rabbit with his knife, cutting it up into chewable pieces.”
Nope, not going to happen. If Grak hasn’t already buried his face in the deer that he probably chased down himself and killed with his bare hands, then he surely would being carrying around its leg like a fat person with a turkey leg at the county fair.
Tinderbox and torches - Fire to light your way in the dungeon. I get it, especially when you don’t have dark vision of any sort. But a torch really doesn’t give you that much vision, especially not 20 feet. What it does do is illuminate you. The creature 10 feet away is barely visible, but you are completely visible to them.
Once again I’ll ask the question - why always 10 torches? I think it was just a nice round number which made it easy to use and to remember. I’m sure I will be asking the same question every time until I get an satisfactory answer. Players hate having to use any sort of light producing item, as it limits their ability to use a two handed weapon or a shield. This being said, they are an important part of the game, especially if your campaign is more of a dungeon dive campaign. If 10 torches is the number that you buy (maybe that’s the only way they sell them in the general store), then the barbarian should be borrowing one from a party member if they really need him to carry it. Otherwise, that responsibility should be on a character that isn’t your front line of defense.
Waterskin- The original water bottle. All players need one, even though most DM’s don’t keep track of food or water unless it playing an integral role in the campaign. The waterskin provides flavor more than anything, as many a player has had their character, in this case their barbarian, take a heroic swig of wine from their waterskin before heading into battle.
Rope - It can be argued that every player needs rope eventually. I’m sure they do, but until that happens, it seems silly for more than one party member to be carrying 50 ft. of rope. The barbarian should not be this player. As your front line attacker, he should not have the responsible for carrying these type of items. The utility character in your party should probably have the rope.
I know I’ve taken a humorous look at most of these items, but I hope you get the underlying point - the barbarian needs few if any of the items listed above. He can chip in some gold for the party member that does buy the needed equipment, but for him to start off with an explorer’s pack is silly.
What does our barbarian hero need to start off his career with, and how is he going to carry it around? Probably not much, but let’s get serious now and kick our friend Grak, the imposter Conan, to the curb and take a hard look at what realistically a barbarian would need to start off with.
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Belt (3 sp. - From 2nd edition PHB) - The may seem like a redundant item to put on the list as it is assumed that most armor would be fashioned with a belt, but this is what we will be hanging most of you items on, so it’s crucial. Depending on what armor they decide to take, it’s a good question to ask your DM. A well crafted leather belt can hold up 10 pounds, more if you want to spend the money to get yourself a batman utility style belt. Most reasonable DM’s will have it included with their armor purchases if it makes sense, but if not, 3 silver isn’t a lot to spend.
Satchel (1 gp) - There is no listing that I have found on any equipment table for a satchel, which is odd considering how any of the illustrations have characters wearing. I took the cost of the backpack and halved it, which seems appropriate to me. While obviously smaller than a backpack, the satchel can be attached to a character’s belt, or have a strap so it can be worn over the shoulder (No man purse comments please). This gives quick access to something they may need, eliminating the need to take off the backpack and rummage around till you find it. A satchel can easily be slipped off one’s shoulder right before combat starts too.
Waterskin (2 sp.) or Flask (2cp) - For that heroic swig of wine. A small water skin could easily hang from a belt or could be stored in the satchel
Journeybread (5 gp. each, 2 total in pack. 4th edition PHB) - I will be using this as a replacement for rations for all of the classes. If you wish to use rations you are welcome to do so, just think about how many a player could carry if they only have a satchel. Journeybread is described as such: This magic bread fills the stomach and provides all necessary nutrients with only a few small bites, so you can carry food for a long journey without weighing yourself down. I know people may have a problem giving the barbarian a “magic” item right off the bat, and once again, if you do, just give them rations. Instead of calling it a magic item, I’d consider it an item that would be created through the use of specialized cooking skills. A nice cooking system can be found here.
I feel that this simplifies the entire food issue in a nice clean way and reduces the space needed to store your meals. They are expensive, but you really only need them when exploring a dungeon, as most of the time you can just kill some poor woodland creatures for your dinner, besides you could always call it Lembas bread if you want it to be elfy.
Hunting Knife (2 gp.) - Basically a dagger, (it would do 1d4 damage if needed in a fight) but primarily used for carving up your dinner. Barbarians have the option of taking a simple weapon, and I’m sure many do. It’s a flavor piece, and what character can’t use another dagger?
Whetstone (1 cp.) - To sharpen that hunting knife and massive battleaxe you carry around
That’s it. The prices listed above are if you bought each item individually, but the Barbarian pack itself would cost 13 gp. which is only 3 more than the Explorer Pack. As your primary front line fighter, the barbarian shouldn’t be tasked with carrying the mundane equipment for the party. Barbarian smash things, not carry things. That’s what you have Bards for right?
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