The blacksmith was very obliging last time, and took some of your starting gold pieces to provide you with a spiffy suit of armor (if you wanted one). But there is a lot more to adventuring than defense, and it’s time to consider those other items that will help your character survive and thrive as an adventurer.
Armor and shields typically vie with weapons for what sucks up most of your starting money, depending on whether you focus on offense or defense. Characters start with a variety of weapon proficiencies, from the relatively miniscule list of the wizard to really large selection of the fighting classes. Some races grant weapon proficiencies regardless of class, or let you use exotic weapons as if they were martial (so you don’t have to spend an Exotic Weapon Proficiency feat to learn their use), or just give a bonus with some kinds of weapons (e.g., halflings get a +1 bonus with thrown weapons). You can fight with a weapon you don’t know how to use at –4 to attack rolls, so it’s best to stick with weapons with which you are familiar.
In general, cost is a good benchmark of how good a weapon is. Simple weapons are comparatively cheap (except for crossbows), martial weapons are more expensive, and exotic weapons (which require the Exotic Weapon Proficiency or for the weapon to be one that your race favors) are very pricey. Larger weapons let you roll bigger dice (or several dice added together) for damage, and higher-quality weapons might have higher critical hit ranges or modifiers. Weapons sized for smaller creatures do less damage but cost the same as their larger cousins because they must be specially made.
When you are attacking with a weapon and the roll on the die (not counting any of your bonuses) is a 20 (or 19-20 or even 18-20 for some weapons), that’s a ‘critical threat.’ You roll to hit again, and if your roll beats your target’s AC, you score a critical hit. Usually this means you do double damage (you even get to double your Strength bonus), but some weapons let you multiple damage x3 or even x4. Some weapons are easier to get critical hits but do less damage (like a rapier or scimitar), while others have a bigger damage die (like a greataxe or glaive) but are harder to get critical hits with (though they hit really hard if you do get a lucky hit). Some weapons also let you do special tricks, like tripping an enemy with the hook on your halberd, or give a bonus on a trick, like using a flail’s chain to disarm an enemy. There are even double weapons that let you attack with each end (though there are penalties for fighting this way; see Table 180, PHB pg. 160). Some do different kinds of damage—bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing—that makes them more or less effective against certain kinds of monsters (e.g., skeletons are hard to hurt without a blunt weapon). All of these goodies tend to increase the weapon’s price.
Every character will usually be better at either hand-to-hand combat (if they have a good Strength score) or ranged combat (if they have a good Dexterity score). Thrown weapons and slings, by the way, are sort of halfway in between, in that you use your Dexterity bonus to attack rolls but still use your Strength bonus for damage. Regardless of which is your specialty, you want to have a backup weapon in case you can’t fight the way you want to. You may be great with a greatsword, but if your opponent is faster than you and doesn’t let you get close you will want a couple of javelins to throw at him or a sling or bow or crossbow to shoot at him. The same goes for a sharpshooter when the bad guys want to get up close and personal.
It’s also good to have at least one light weapon like a dagger or handaxe, because if your character should get grappled and wrestled to the ground by some tentacled horror (or even a barroom tough), you won’t have room to use a big weapon and you’ll want either to wrestle it (or him) right back or try to get out a small weapon to stick him. On the other hand, some weapons are extra-long ‘reach’ weapons that let you attack creatures that aren’t right next to you, maybe letting you get them before they get you. But if they get too close, you may not have room to maneuver your long weapon and you might have to drop it and draw out something else. Obviously, you can’t afford everything at 1st level, but every PC (even sorcerers or wizards will need a weapon sooner or later) should have a melee weapon and a ranged weapon, or a weapon that can be used for both (like a club, dagger, or spear).
General Adventuring Gear
Adventuring is sort of like camping—super-dangerous camping! You need to pack like you’re going into the wilderness, because usually you are (even if the wild place is the rat-infested sewers under the city). You probably want to have a backpack to carry your stuff, and some extra sacks in case you find more stuff. You want to have some food and water, and maybe some torches or a lantern and a tinderbox. Maybe some rope if you need to climb (or tie up a prisoner). Some paper and ink to copy down ancient inscriptions (or draw a map). A piece of chalk to mark your way in the dungeon so you don’t get lost. Just think like a Boy Scout. Sure, you can go crazy with it, and many of those items you’ll never really need, but often you will, especially at lower levels.
There is a simplified rule for dealing with your room and board and personal expenses; the Upkeep optional rule in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (pg. 130). Instead of paying for meals and lodging every day, you just pay a set cost for the whole month and assume the minor things are taken care of at a certain category of lifestyle, from meager subsistence to extravagant luxury. You save time and effort but you lose some of the flavor of the game; check with your DM if you should be buying provisions individually or just paying a set cost for upkeep.
Still, you need to think about what you want to make sure your character has on hand. You need something to carry your stuff in, and you need to factor how much you want it versus how much you can carry. A bedroll, tent, and a coil of rope sound nice, but that short list accounts for 37 lbs. of your carrying capacity, and if you can’t lug that around you may not be able to get it.
You might consider purchasing a mule as a pack animal, perhaps as a joint party purchase. They can carry a great deal (three times what a human with the same Strength could carry), enabling you to carry much more stuff (or to lug back unconscious party members from the dungeon), though there is always the chance that the mule will be attacked by monsters or bandits whether you take it into an adventure site or leave it tied up outside. Still, mules are relatively cheap and it may be a good party investment. A pony or light horse is also a possibility, but they are much more expensive and not as strong; they are better for riding at a good speed rather than carrying a lot of stuff.
You could also purchase a guard dog. You may find it aggravating to have to keep track of, but at low level it might fight better than the rest of the adventurers (though as you become powerful the dog becomes less effective). It can also be invaluable in helping to guard the party while you sleep in the wilderness, so dogs can be very valuable allies. You need some Handle Animal skill to command your dog if you get one.
Okay, that’s all the basic bits and pieces, but sometimes you need a little something extra. If you find that you have some money left over after picking up the necessities—weapons, armor, and your general gear—you may want to invest in some of these items.
You can buy a variety of special kits to help boost your skills or other checks. Sometimes these kits grant you a bonus, like a crowbar, a portable battering ram, or a climber’s kit. Other times they are required to avoid suffering a penalty—if you don’t have artisan’s tools or basic thieves’ tools, you have to make do with improvised substitutes and suffer a penalty to your skill check. Some specialized gear you can buy once and use over and over, like a suit of cold weather gear or a magnifying glass, while other items are expended through use, like a disguise kit or healer’s kit, and need to be replenished after use.
With other special items, especially ones related to class abilities, it’s an either or proposition; if you don’t have the item, you are out of luck. No holy symbol? No turning undead, no casting any spell that requires a holy symbol as a divine focus item. No spell component pouch, no casting spells with material components. No spellbook? Your wizard is in a heap of trouble. You might even consider creating a spare and finding someplace safe to stash it when as you go up levels and make some money, just in case your main book gets trashed somehow.
Some special items are alchemical or even magical. You might be able to buy a potion or scroll of a 1st level spell to keep on hand, or maybe one or more flasks of acid or alchemist’s fire or some holy water (very useful against swarms and undead respectively). Maybe a thunderstone or tanglefoot bag as a secret weapon. Once you’ve had your first adventure and earned a few XP, a wizard might want to spend some of her first bits of loot on making a few scrolls.
A few of these items are real necessities—holy symbol, spell component pouch, thieves’ tools. The rest are luxury items; they’re great if you can afford them but they’re not going to make or break you. Still, if you have some extra cash on hand they are worth thinking about, even as you set your sights on saving up for a big purchase down the road, like a heavy warhorse, full plate armor, or a magic sword or wand.
About the Author
Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, and son Allen. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.