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Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Bag of Holding - Everyone's Favorite D&D Magic Item

Who doesn't love a bag of holding? It is a magic item in Dungeons & Dragons that can hold tons of stuff for you in a little demi-plane. This allows you to not have to worry about the encumbrance rules (which most people seemed to ignore anyway) or make trip after trip into a dungeon to haul out all the furniture worth hundreds of gold.

As a DM, it can be fun to play that out. The heroes kill a dragon and now they have to transport thousands of tin coins out through fire trap rooms, over a bridge crossing a bottomless pit, and across an ooze lake.

But, yeah, it gets old. You end up hand-waving it. The players feel like you're messing with them. Or, your campaign grinds to a halt for a whole session as the characters deal with the buying of carts and mules, the transporting of loot, and protecting said loot from brigands and ne'er-do-wells. That kind of scenario is definitely worth doing once, but not after every adventure!
Heck, selling the loot can be fun too. Oftentimes, it is that extra side-trip to town to sell off a coral bra or whatever that ends up being a fateful moment for a PC, where our heroes get into a bar fight and the dice rolls go horribly wrong or they insult the local lord and go to war with the whole town.

I guess it depends on the type of game you want to run. If you have a lot of time, then you should definitely indulge in these details when it feels right. If you have a group that can play for 4 hours a week, every week, the go for it. But if you're one of those once a month for 3 hours kind of groups, then you're just never going to get anywhere.

The green illustration is from an enworld thread, and depicts the carrying capacity for 3rd edition bags.

Let's take a look at bags of holding from the various editions. I know there is one extremely awesome side-rule that every DM should know about...

AD&D 1st Edition (and 2nd edition)

This version has different sizes and can hold up to 1500 pounds. The note about it being pierced (from the inside!) is odd. The bag ruptures and is ruined and the contents lost forever in "nilspace". That's pretty nasty!

The second edition version is pretty much identical, except that the rupture could also come from the outside as well.

As a DM I've always been torn on ruining PCs' gear. Say a guy falls into a spiked pit due solely to a bad die roll. There's a good chance the bag of holding would be ruptured. I guess you could say that it is the PC's fault for volunteering to be trap-bait while carrying the bag in the first place, but it seems like a harsh punishment.
I guess it comes down to your style. I assume some DMs out there say that when a dragon breathes fire on a PC, all their stuff burns and some of it is obliterated. If you are one of these guys, make sure your players know in advance. A lot of players might assume that's not something they have to worry about, and would have prepared for the encounter differently had they known their gear was in peril.

The good part about running the game in this more realistic fashion is that the game will feel more real - there are consequences for every action. It will also be bogged down with a lot of pre-planning by the heroes to account for all of the extra variables. They will have to choose what gear to bring, and find a safe place to stash the stuff that they are not taking with them on the trip.

If you check out the portable hole entry, there is a note about placing a bag of holding into a portable hole. Doing so creates a rift that sucks all within 10 feet to a random plane.

Way back when, as a teenager, I was a player in a Greyhawk campaign. Since we were young an occasionally spastic, inter-party combat would break out from time to time. One legendary showdown involved a character who was good at one thing: throwing knives. His opponent was a psionicist who had a power called inertia barrier.

The inertia barrier is an invisible field in front of the PC. Any arrows, sling stones, or knives flying into it lose their inertia and plop to the ground.

So, as you can see, we had ourselves a truly bizarre stalemate. Knife guy threw knives at his foe, which then plopped to the ground. The knife gimmick was all he had. So, knife guy decided that if he was going down, he was taking psionicist guy with him. He put his bag of holding into his portable hole. A rift opened.

We players greedily began chatting about looting our friends' dead bodies and splitting the magic items. I wondered, what plane would they go to?

The DM decided: The Plane of Fire. Both characters, and all their stuff, were incinerated.

D&D 3rd Edition
The 3.5 Dungeon Master's Guide bag of holding entry starts off pretty similar to the previous editions. The bag now has types. And there are rules for putting a living creature inside (something I'd wager has happened in most of your games at one time or another). The creature has 10 minutes of breathable air. Then, they suffocate.

D&D 4th Edition

Not much to the 4e bag. 200 pounds of stuff is pretty crap-tastic. Drawing an action from the bag is a minor.

I'd like some flavor on what the interior is like. Is it a rainbow-mist void? Is it like the interior of a stomach? Is it the interior of a ginormous bag? Is there gravity in there?

D&D 5th Edition
We might as well check out the bag from the new edition while we're here. This version is from the final, borderline-obsolete final playtest packet. This bag holds up to 500 pounds and always weighs 15 pounds. We are back to losing the contents forever if the bag is ruptured, though "an artifact always turns up again somewhere in the world". You still have 10 minutes of air if you climb in.

In this version,  putting the bag in a portable hole sucks you into the Astral Plane. And if a hole is put in a bag, you go to a random plane! Nice.

There is a Dungeon Magazine adventure that uses a bag of holding in a fun way. It is called "Deadly Treasure", from issue 41. It was one of those rare modules that I was actually excited about running as I read it.

The adventure was about a wizard's tomb/dungeon where each room was guarded by a magic item in a weird way. "..a party might eventually penetrate his tomb and clean it out, only to discover that they had destroyed half the treasures on the way through".

Room 4 in the dungeon is a narrow crawlway 3 feet wide and high. The end up the hallway leads to the bottom an enlarged bag of holding blocking the exit! "A thick cloth sheet seems to be stretched across the passage before you..."

A PC could get around it. But if they cut it open... some of the PCs are sucked into "...nilspace and quite likely lost forever"..! This actually happened when I ran it. I had a player who was running a custom race he'd made. He was... a klingon. And this was in the horror-themed demi-plane of Ravenloft. Poor klingon was never heard from again. Fun fact: he took 2d8 damage when he ran from battle.
The other big bag of holding thing that springs to mind is the epic "Bag Wars Saga" from the Knights of the Dinner Table comic. If none of your players know about this then, my friend, you have got an epic campaign on your hands.

I don't want to spoil it, but the bag wars saga is built on the conceit that all bags of holding are portals to another world. One party dumped soldiers and materials (most D&D groups will throw anything into their bag of holding, after all). Well, the people thrown into the "bag world" made it their home, stole the PCs' stuff, and an epic campaign was had.

Think about it. You could have your heroes roam bag world, stealing the loot of other adventuring parties (who of course then come looking for them!).

Or, a rival band of NPC adventurers roams bag world and ends up stealing the PCs' loot! The intensity of your campaign just went up about 20 notches. When an NPC steals a PC's hard-earned magic item, that PC turns into the spirit of vengeance and Liam Neeson combined.

I'm not doing it justice. If this even remotely sounds like something that could benefit your game, check out the free 3 page pdf here which describes how "bag zones" work.

You might also want to check out the bag wars book as well. There's a 6 page preview on drivethrustuff here.

I have my second Shadowrun game this Sunday. I have learned more about the rules and have been listening to the Arcology actual play podcasts to help me learn how the game works. I'll let you know how it goes.


knobgobbler said...

Last week our Pathfinder group got to 9th level and the GM handed out BoHs to us.
It's that point in the game where all the magic gewgaws become the primary tools for dealing with problems... teleports take over for land travel, no one ever dies/stays dead, BoHs fudge away the complexities of encumbrance.
My interest in the game really starts to wane when it gets to that point... whereas that scenario of getting the cart of treasure from the dungeon back to town... that still sounds like all sorts of potential for fun.

Sean said...

Knobgobbler, each PC got a bag of of holding? Did you find a handful of them at once or did a magic user create them?

knobgobbler said...

Our PCs are indentured to an archmage... he gave them to us at the outset of a new assignment... a privilige of rank amongst his agents perhaps?
I understand the fun of such things, there have already been pranks played... I just think they shift the game into a wholly different mode of play... gritty to glamorous... or somesuch. Further along the spectrum from The Shadow towards Green Lantern.

Richard Marble said...

I had a fun time with a Bag of Holding once. My wife was DMing and she threw a doppleganger at us. Now she had given us each flying Pegasus at the start of the game. She couldn't figure out what I was doing. I started trying to capture the doppleganger in the bag of holding. Finally rolled high enough to do it. She was still puzzled asking what are you going to do with it now? I jumped on my pegasus. Flew as high as I could while still being able to breathe and emptied the doppleganger from the bag of holding at a high enough altitude that he splattered on the ground below. I took what was supposed to be a 20 minute battle and ended it in 3mins.