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Item Hoarding and How to Avoid it

by Jae
Item Hoarding and How to Avoid It

Your players might be hoarders. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but health potions might go unused, magical items may stack up, and once common troubles are sometimes completely erased with a surplus of equipment for any situation.

If you want a more casual game you don’t need to discourage hoarding. But in more serious games or even just a game that focuses on mechanics, you might want to prevent your players from sinking into “too good to use” territory. Today we’re going to look at ways to prevent item hoarding in your game without punishing your players.

Why Item Hoarding is a Problem

Item hoarding is not a problem all on it’s own. Collecting items and being ready for situations is one of the things your players work towards, after all. It’s also why a bag of holding is such a good item in the first place. Item hoarding moves from a casual gameplay feature into being a gameplay problem when your players hit inventory limits, have answers for anything, or just hold onto stuff forever.

Full Inventories and Weight Limits

Players with a full inventory can cause some issues in logistics for the rest of your players. If you are using the weight limits in DnD and playing with encumbrance you’ll find that most of your players can’t really carry that much.

On top of this, if you look at some of the things players often want to keep with them, you’ll see a Tetris-based nightmare when you think about how they plan on carrying all of that stuff. Sometimes a backpack just won’t cut it.

So what do you when you find yourself in this situation? Most DMs just fudge the inventory system or don’t play with encumbrance. We get it, the rules for it suck to use because every five minutes a player has to stop and decide what they’re gonna drop to be able to pick up the next shiny object in their path. Worse still is when you want to enforce coin weight. Gold is heavy!

So if you skip the rules here, what’s to keep your players from abusing their inventory and acting like they have a bag of holding anyway? The DM is the only obstacle and more often than not you have to find yourself making a lot more one-off decisions rather than having your players figure the inventory stuff out themselves.

This also sucks, so we recommend you stick with the inventory rules and use some aids like digital character sheets to make the inventory calculations a bit easier. We’ll tackle some solutions for the full inventory situations later on as we solve your players’ propensity for hoarding that rivals dragons!

An Item For Any Situation

Another common problem that we see with item hoarding is that players will often over prepare to the point at which it is exceptionally difficult to catch them with the items necessary to overcome an obstacle. This might not seem like a problem at first, but a handful of simple items can trivialize most obstacles you would throw in the path of your players.

When you players are over-geared they rely on their inventory to solve situations that would otherwise necessitate the use of skills, spells, and unique characteristics of the players. Sure, inventory based solutions are okay, but they can make every problem look the same after a while. You can even get one player who tries to solve every problem with their inventory and prevents other players from shining in areas where they would excel.

This problem in hoarding is more a case by case basis, but it certainly takes a lot of charm out of carefully planned dungeons and sessions with thoughtful, player specific challenges. It is completely possible to take this idea and wield it for good, forcing your players to rely on that inventory and restricting their skills and abilities. But that has similar problems and should really only be pulled up for one-off sessions or special dungeons.

A Complete Removal of Danger

In video games there is a concept of over-kitting a player to the point they are nearly invincible. This can exist in DnD as well if your players overstock on things like healing potions, which essentially add additional healing spells to their arsenal.

Try as you like, you might be seen as an unfair DM for limiting your players access to such items. This of course is not your intention (we hope) but it can feel that way to your players. The downside to being less stingy on potions or other items that heal and buff your players is that while they can acquire them, they might not use them often.

In the absolute worst cases you’ll find players that have stacks of healing potions. These players effectively transform themselves into a healer without taking a single healing spell. When this happens, once dangerous combat becomes trivial.

And for you to adjust and apply any danger, you need to either deal more damage, put players in much greater peril of falling unconscious, or start layering on status conditions. All of these things work, but it gets really risky when you are trying to balance around consumables. It is doable, but most DMs really don’t want to do it.

Trash Collectors

Do you remember that key item you gave your players six sessions ago that was a clue to a one time puzzle? No? Well, they still have it. They also have a pile of other knickknacks and garbage filling up their inventory from a billion sessions with clues that had “negligible weight”.

This isn’t really a problem for mechanical reasons, but it looks awful on a character’s inventory sheet. This problem gets really noticeable if you run mystery sessions a lot. Dungeons and Dragons is a great game for mysteries, but you need to be realistic and assume your players will hold on to anything you give them unless you tell them to let it go.

The Dragon Within

The last and most common form of item hoarding in the game is wealth. Your players will get fully blinged out if you let them, and they will never drop riches if they can help it.

If you don’t restrict inventories based on gold weight, this can get really bad really fast where players are carrying around enough money to sink the economies of entire towns in one go. It might not seem like economy balance is a core concern, but wealth hoarding becomes a huge issue when price is no object for your players.

Technically Not Item Hoarding

We’ve outline a few of the reasons item hoarding is problem, but not every item your players stock up on regularly is about hoarding. There are a lot of items that your players should keep stocked and you should not punish or restrict them because it will only end up hurting your game.

Ammo, Rations, and Torches

Ammo is a divisive topic. Do you ask your players to keep track of it? Some people are very strict about ammo rules and others wave their hand and assume players restock and retrieve ammo between combat. We’ve run sessions using both strict and loose rules for ammo and how you manage this really depends on the type of players you have at your table. 

When it comes to ammo though, you should never look at it as an issue of hoarding. If a player wants more ammo, let them find it somewhere. When you restrict access to ammo, you take away a player’s ability to attack. This is rarely ever fun and more often than not it is needlessly punishing to the player.

In a similar vein to ammo, rations, torches, and basic survival gear is not a hoarding issue. Your players should be allowed to stock these things because running out of them frequently is not fun.

If you have a ranger on your team many of these types of items are trivialized by their abilities, and this is because WoTC knew that keeping up with these things was not a super exciting part of the game. There’s a reason 80% of all the books focus on combat and combat abilities, and inventory management and supplies covers maybe 10 pages total.

In short, these items are not hoarding – they are basic supplies. Restricting access to them should be reserved for special occasions where you have planned out session obstacles around each concept.

Keeping Track vs Punishing Players

So keeping track of ammo, rations, torches, and similar items can be a slog, but some people like to do it. We’ve run several successful games where people monitored these things down to the number of nails in their inventory, but it’s not always going to be easy. It takes a particular type of player to mark every arrow fired and ration eaten and you should be happy if you have players that pay close attention to these things.

When you are using rules that require players to keep track of these things and you want to enforce the possibility of them running out, you don’t need to do any additional work to make this more punishing. What this means is that when your players are keeping track of items, don’t bar them from recovering ammo, foraging for food, and crafting torches.

Sure, you can have them make rolls for the success of these things. But simply blocking them from access is essentially you telling them you plan on starving them of supplies on purpose, which will lead to “too good to use” behaviors from your players really quickly. They’ll start rationing everything and this will bog down your game. Don’t over punish.

Assumed Restocks Should Be Standard

When your players go to town assume they want to restock their basic items. Why? Because otherwise you will spend 10 hours in shopping montages every session when your players get to a town. This might be fine for you, but even if you have time and room to roleplay shopkeepers, you should put some purpose behind them that isn’t just basic restocking.

When your players get into a town and get settled, ask them if they want to restock. If you enforce this early, you can figure out what their base kit costs to restock and have that information ready. It takes a tiny bit of planning, but it saves you hours of your players staring at their inventories and asking you what each item costs one at a time.

Best Way to Curb Item Hoarding: Prevention

Now that we know what is and is not item hoarding, let’s look at how to prevent it. We’re talking about prevention first because it is way easier to prevent than it is to fix after it happens. The first step in prevention is admitting that you are likely the cause of the problem.

You Gave Them Too Much

As the DM you control the game. If your players are hoarding a substantial amount of items that change how the game is played, who gave them those items? It was you! Surprise, you’re the source of your own problems! This is true for most of the Dungeon Master’s problems, but it is much easier to deal with if you recognize it early.

In the cases where your players are overstocked on everything, you need to either cut back on the offerings or give them items at a pace roughly equal to the pace in which they are being consumed. It’s okay to modify rewards and dungeon contents on the fly. If your players all have a healing potion, don’t let them find another one in the next room. You’re keeping the game alive, so don’t make your problems worse for yourself.

You Didn’t Challenge Them Enough

Another case of problems you made for yourself could be that you gave them items for challenges that didn’t materialize. Often when players are hoarding healing items it’s not intentional, it’s that they didn’t need to use them.

When you give your players supplies they don’t need, they will hold onto them until you give them reason to use them. Assume that your challenges need to match your party’s preparations and adjust accordingly to prevent over or under utilization of the supplies they have.

You Didn’t Use Weight Restrictions

Remember early on how we said that weight restrictions suck. Well, they do. But simply allowing your players to stuff everything in a backpack is not the solution to this problem. You will have to take on the role of policing backpacks unless you put rules in place that make your players keep track of their items.

This is best done with digital inventory systems like D&D Beyond or any other digital character sheet that can track weight. If your players are hoarding piles of items because you didn’t want to deal with some inventory management rules, you really did it to yourself and will have to own up to that if it becomes a problem for your game.

You Didn’t Give Them a Place to Unload

Are your player characters homeless? Do they not have any sort of bank? If this is the case, as it is for many adventures, then of course hoarding is going to be a problem. If you were forced to keep all your possessions with you at all times, you’d be a hoarder too. The same goes for characters in your game.

To solve this you simply have to make sure that your players have a place to drop stuff off. This can be a bank, a home base, a cart they live out of on the road, or really any other place that the players will feel safe leaving their valuables.

If they have a place to set stuff down they’ll feel a lot better about the inventory restrictions that are in place. By not giving your players a place to unload their goods you are essentially telling them they have to hold on to everything or lose it forever.

Fixing the Problem After the Fact

If you’re reading this article it is likely that you have not prevented the problem from happening. That’s okay because while it might suck, there are ways to fix item hoarding after it crops up in your game.

Know Your Players Inventories

The first step in solving the problem once you’ve identified it is to take an active role in managing it. To do this you need to know what is in your players’ inventories. Either ask players for a copy of their character sheets ahead of the session or use a digital campaign management tool that will allow you to look into player inventories whenever you like.

Once you know what your players have you can start reducing the quantities of items that appear to keep the problem from getting worse. We’ve made the mistake before of not checking what our players had before handing out items, so we understand that we as DMs are usually the root cause here. But a quick peek into your players’ backpacks will give you the information you need to help solve a problem you made for yourself.

Increase or Modify Game Challenges

After you understand which items are piling up and affecting your sessions, you can modify your game challenge to force your players to use more items and deplete their overstock. Potions are easiest to take care of because you just need to hurt your players a lot without allowing them to get a full rest in. This can easily be handled with hoards of small beasts that will continue to stalk the players and will pounce any time they try to rest.

For other items you might need to get more creative. But you can always simply increase the pressure in a dungeon or on an adventure that will tend to push your players to exhaust what would otherwise be an issue for your future sessions.

Use Item Specific Challenge to Deplete Inventories

Another thing you can do when you know the specifics of a player’s consumable inventories is to match a challenge to an item. This can be a sort of puzzle where you present an obstacle that requires a certain type of item.

These can be easy to create when your players are on a quest because you can put all sorts of really restrictive stuff in their way. If your players have hoards of spell scrolls you will know what scrolls they are and be able to put an appropriate puzzle in front of that particular player.

If you have more mundane issues where players are using survival gear that isn’t expendable, that’s okay too. These items are likely not hoarding problems, but they shouldn’t be excluded from the item specific obstacles you put in front of them. By allowing players opportunities to use these items, you appear to be rewarding them for being prepared while still draining consumables from other players.

Introduce a Hub, Bank, or Other Unloading Spot

You might not have started the campaign with a place for your players to set down their treasure. If this is the case, it is so incredibly easy to give them a place to unload later.

Have a cart for sale, grant them a title to a house, induct them into a guild, or open a magical bank. Literally any of these will solve the issue.

The only thing you need to do is make sure your players are given a space where they feel they can leave items they don’t always need behind. You’ll find them setting things down simply because they have the option to. The only stipulation here is that you need to provide your players with a secondary inventory for thing they have but don’t have on them. This is a task that is easily accomplished with a spreadsheet or scratch sheet of paper.

Keeping the Hoarding Weight Off

Now that you know about the troubles and solutions for item hoarding, keep the weight off your players by following these best practices. If you know it’s an issue for you, discuss it with your players and let them know you may have made some mistakes. Often, if you have a good group, they’ll work with you to tackle the problem as well.

Once you’ve talked it over, let your players know if you plan on changing any rules. Let them know if you want to standardize and streamline item replenishment in towns or on long rests. Being upfront about it will make this process much easier for everyone.

After all this, don’t forget that it’s still your job to stay on top of things, so keep checking your players’ inventories and adjust your game accordingly. With a bit of effort and some cooperation from your players you too can defeat hoarding and make a better game.

Happy DMing.

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