Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Dungeons & Logistics

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 28, 2013

The first adventure game I ever completed writing was called “Dungeons of Doom.” It was pretty terrible, I’ll admit, but I was only thirteen or fourteen, and I was really proud of it (until my next completed adventure game).  Really, in retrospect, it was all kinds of horrible for all kinds of reasons. Among its many limitations – and this was partly deliberate – was a cap on equipment that you could carry. In Dungeons of Doom, you could only carry three items at a time. The entire game consisted of something like 29 different rooms, so you wouldn’t have to backtrack very far to pick up something you dropped.

When I was writing it, it seemed like a reasonable-ish limitation. Aside from “real” adventure games like Colossal Cave and Zork, I was inspired by Atari’s Adventure, which (kinda) had a limitation of only one item at a time. Since I was one of the only people who ever played the game, I guess I was right. If you knew the solution (and of course, I did), part of the “game” was maximizing your score by minimizing the number of actions until the end. I had not planned an ideal logistical pattern to the game, so trying to figure out how to win more efficiently was a small source of entertainment.

In Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, I completely eliminated the idea of inventory limits. For all practical purposes, the party inventory is… infinite. I suppose if you tried hard enough, you could end up running out of memory or something, but the game doesn’t impose any limitations. It was a deliberate abstraction – I figured that one way or another, you are going to haul all that crap out of the dungeon to sell it if you wanted to, and so there was no need to impose that manual busy-work.  You were heading back to town for other reasons often enough as it is.

I can’t claim that this approach was “the right thing,” or that my little three-item limit from DoD was “the wrong thing.” I don’t know that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach for all RPGs that makes sense. I really do believe that it’s possible to make just about anything “fun” with the right game mechanics tuned in, and the logistics of managing your inventory is no exception.  It’s not hard to envision a game where that’s the key to the game.

After all, in The Hobbit, much of the conflict arises from what happens after the dragon has eliminated and the dwarves have obtained his horde and it comes to a matter of transport and distribution. Because they can’t simply cart it out, it leads to open warfare between five different armies. Arguably the biggest threat comes from the logistics and distribution of the treasure horde! And in many RPGs, particularly Diablo-style games and roguelikes, the process of choosing what to take and what to ignore isn’t an insignificant element of the gameplay. But of course, no matter how much inventory room a player has, it will never be enough…

Ultimately, the inventory limitations have to fit the game, whichever way it goes. It’s something to think about, and not something a game designer should simply borrow from other game systems without consideration.


Filed Under: Design - Comments: 19 Comments to Read

  • Felix said,

    Well, if you can imagine a game where inventory limits make sense and are fun, go for it. What I can say is that text adventures have long moved to infinite inventories, at first via automatic carry-all items (which can lead to the amusing situation of having a broom in your coat pocket), and more recently through simply lifting any limit on what players can carry.

    Of course, that does mean player inventories can become unwieldy. But then, why would you put countless uninteresting items in your game when you could have fewer but more relevant?

  • Maklak said,

    I rather like your idea of combining “delete” and “sell” buttons that you mentioned earlier. While in Morrowind I had some fun hauling each and every Dwemer Gerar to sell for 50 gold, I wouldn’t have the patience now, so I found the “infinite” inventory in FK to be useful. One nitpick I had about it was that useful items got mixed with vendor trash, but sorting the loot as soon as it is acquired will solve this. BTW, Project Eternity is going to do something similar with “individual inventory”, “party inventory” and “stash”. The last one is large, but inaccessible during combat.
    All in all, I think what you envisioned for FK2 inventory system will work out.

  • Xenovore said,

    I think there should be inventory limits; but yes, they have to make sense. I’m not a huge fan of the slot/space limited inventory (which 95% of the CRPGs out there have). Those are so arbitrary, i.e. how many slots do you allow per character. . .? There are only two things that determine that: 1) The amount of space available on the screen and 2) the whim of the designer. (These days it’s pretty much just #2, since screen space isn’t at a premium anymore.)

    The other issue is that it’s just so unoriginal and copy-cat these days. I mean, it seems like every CRPG designer out there just says, “[Insert favorite CRPG here] used slots, and I LOVED [favorite CRPG], so my CRPG will use slots” (rather than actually think about how inventory system design affects game-play).

    I much prefer a weight-based inventory system (e.g. Ultima Online or The Elder Scrolls games) where a character can carry as much as he wants as long as he is strong enough to haul it. It’s better than a slot-based system because:

    A) It makes logical sense based on real-world expectations.

    B) More importantly, weight capacity can be directly determined by a Strength stat. This is important because it can open up many more game-play options than a slot-based inventory can. For example, Strength can typically be increased by experience, spells, items, shrines, blessings, etc. So not only can a character gain increased weight capacity via natural progression through world content, but the character can and will actively seek out ways to increase his Strength stat, or seek other (magical) means to reduce weight.

    That said, I will make an allowance for slot-based inventories: If a CRPG’s game content is simplistic, e.g. there are only 20 items in an entire dungeon, then a slot-based inventory will work just fine.

  • Xenovore said,

    Regarding “trash”: It’s slightly cool that a character can pick up anything/everything in sight, or can loot every single different body part off a victim, but really: Don’t put an item in the game if it’s actually useless. I.e. if the only thing an item is useful for is to sell to a vendor, then either replace it directly with coin, or remove it completely.

  • McTeddy said,

    I actually prefer the trash system over finding gold. The only thing that can ruin it for me is when the inventory and trash are mixed together and it’s hard to sell.

    But I do agree that slot’s are a terrible form of carrying limits. Encumbrance is a far better system in my opinion.

  • Lee said,

    I find the encumberance system the best.
    I do not like the autosell/autoconvert-into-money options. The pet system in torchlight is a bit of a fourth-wall breaker.
    What I found acceptable is either (*rare*) magic bags (if it makes sense in the setting) or inventory realism with hard choices
    That one makes for more realistic and balanced value of the items: a sword, even rusted, requires much more effort and material than a night in a modest inn in a standard medieval fantasy setting. Yet in most cases you will find tons of swords (even unlootable ones), that are almost worth less than a piece of freshly baked bread.
    True the realistic approach requires much more attention to the economy. At least you will not finish your adventure with much more monetary worth than all merchants and individual you encountered put together.

    I loved the bartering system in Ultima Underworld. It put focus on establishing good relations with NPC and paying attention to the real local/personal worth of items. Much more immersive than just a charisma/mercantile feat acting a fixed percentage.
    I do not however wish my rpg to be economic simulations where the best way to get your gear is to become a merchant/peddler, transporting goods from one place to the other.

    To each its own (tastes).

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @Lee – one of my favorite aspects of Ultima Underworld too. 🙂

    I think the diversity of opinion here speaks to the reason why “One size fits all” doesn’t make sense…

  • Yodhe said,

    I hate both as a player and designer the notion of unlimited carrying items. The only thing worse than seeing a hero carrying 10,000+gp, fourteen weapons, three suits of armour, and all in sundry; are creature that drop make random drops. Nothing kills the ambiance for me, when a giant rat drops 10gp like (s)he had been carrying it around in a marsupial pouch, or stuffed up its’ a**e.
    Of course in “my game”, I never wanted to implement the dreaded trader in the dungeon, or friendly townee shoppe, so trade is done by barter. As the party exists on the margin of a near-future distopian civilisation, the lack of a formal currency is a driving factor in the game. You can’t buy your way to the next level, or that fancy item you want/need. Of course I can imagine that there would be a roaring trade in small consumables, like bullets, or medicines, but still it will be dependent on individual needs.
    Still although I have an encumbrance system which slow a unit down, in terms of the number of movement points per turn, I still liked the idea of limiting the number of items a person can carry. I settled on 9 (depending on circumstance), although items like backpacks can increase by a further x number. But then each system I guess depends on the game one is making, and the narrative/game-flow one is trying to create.

  • Tesh said,

    Tangentially, speaking to Lee’s comment about merchants, one of my favorite parts of Privateer was being a merchant, flying trade routes. In the end, it was the only way I could save up enough to buy the gear I needed to complete the story proper. If I’d jumped right into the storyline at the beginning, I’d never have been able to get through.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Have to say, I’ve always liked the classic “inventory tetris”. I find it best when coupled with a weight limit too (I think Neverwinter Nights had this system).

    Giving unlimited (or nearly so) inventories leads to people becoming pack rats. This is of course coupled with the friendly local shop that buys all of your crap… So I fully agree that bartering should (mostly) be the way forward.

    Certainly a system where shops will buy certain items (those rarer or special items, perhaps things which are not worn or used, or accept them in trade for other items), and the rest of your crap can either be used to barter with or should be considered next to worthless.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    Completely unrealistic but possibly entertaining option: Item-based inventory limits combined with wacky crafting system. You can’t bring home all those forks. But you can weld them together into a BIGGER fork. And then fuse the giant fork with your sword to make it a Sword, +1 Vs Chickens.

  • Xenovore said,

    I actually prefer the trash system over finding gold. The only thing that can ruin it for me is when the inventory and trash are mixed together and it’s hard to sell.

    And in most RPGs it is a PITA to sell, so. . .

    I’m fine with stuff that’s useless to this character, if I know it’s used for something in the world setting by other characters with other skill sets, e.g. crafting items, or profession-specific items. That was my point before; if an item is completely useless, then it’s also completely worthless; nobody wants it, not even vendors. (How would they profit from something nobody wants?) Ergo, replace it with something of worth, or remove it completely. It sounds nitpicky, I know, but I like my games to have a modicum of logic at least.

    Regarding “Inventory Tetris”: To me, it’s more “annoying distraction” than “desired feature”. I much prefer Ultima Online’s inventory system. There you can put stuff wherever, even on top of other stuff, and you generally only have to deal with your stuff when want to. It’s flexible enough to allow a player to get all OCD about sorting stuff, but doesn’t force it like slot-based systems do.

  • Maklak said,

    As to useless items, I kinda liked looting all those plates and spoons and clothes in Morrowind, then selling them. So if something is useless to my character, but makes sense to be there and have value to somebody, I’m fine with selling it.

    I liked the UOs inventory system as well. I kept different sort of things in different bags and had one bag for general loot.

    If you want something that makes sense, a weight as well as volume limits should apply to what a character can carry, and there should be some way to have more stuff. Weather through backpacks or hirelings that carry items for you.

  • Xian said,

    I always thought an unlimited inventory was not very realistic. Gothic III was one of my favorite games, but I should have been bent over with the weight of 20 swords and multiple suits of armor, especially after cleaning up the battlefield when the enemy had been defeated and I was gathering up stuff to sell to the vendors.

    On the other hand, limited systems can be frustrating. Many of the Bethesda games, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, set a weight limit. If I wanted to do alchemy, smithing, enchanting, and such I had to use a good proportion of my inventory for the materials required for those pursuits. I was constantly balancing my crafting materials vs other inventory.

  • Cuthalion said,

    I prefer weight limits over inventory tetris, and inventory tetris over item count limits. An encumbrance system with both a weight limit and a volume limit (preferably one I didn’t have to constantly manually rearrange) would certainly be more realistic, especially if you could add packs or pouches to increase volume and reduce the weight effect of items placed in them, but I would honestly just rather have either an unlimited inventory with only useful or valuable loot or a simple-limit (e.g. weight) inventory where I can loot anything, Elder Scrolls style.

    I think some of Spiderweb’s games have added a loot bag, where you can just consign items to it to get them out of the way and turn them into cash automatically when you visit a shopkeeper. Or maybe that’s the way you’re doing it? Maybe both. I like that system though. Keeps things from being too crowded or tedious without stretching suspension of disbelief too much by abstracting out rat hides into gold and magic swords.

  • Xenovore said,

    I like the idea of a “loot bag” where you put the stuff you know you’ll want to sell. It could be any bag; just hand it to the vendor, he buys everything in it, and hands it back.

  • Moldar said,

    Does anyone recall the way the sacks were implemented in Ultima 7? If you threw stuff in a sack and were looking for it, the sack was cluttered. Where and how you placed items in your inventory actually mattered there!

  • poopypoo said,

    +1 to WhineAboutGames’s idea!

  • Xenovore said,

    @Moldar: Same way the inventory was implemented in Ultima Online. (Ultima Online was pretty much Ultima 7 Online — many of the concepts were pulled straight across.)