Something’s up with D&D’s storage items. Let’s unpack it.
The Bag of Holding Baseline
The most common magical storage option is the trusty Bag of Holding, an uncommon item that can hold much more than its outside might otherwise indicate.
A rarer option is Heward’s Handy Haversack, a rare item that functions as a backpack, with one main pouch and two side pouches. It’s also larger inside than out.
How do they stack up?
Heward’s Handy Haversack is is ⅓ the weight, but the Bag of Holding holds 4x more weight and 5x more volume (without splitting the area into smaller dimensions).
If Bag of Holding is better pound-for-pound, why is Heward’s Handy Haversack more rare?
Clues lie in differences in the text.
“Placing an object in the haversack follows the normal rules for interacting with objects. Retrieving an item from the haversack requires you to use an action. When you reach into the haversack for a specific item, the item is always magically on top.”Heward’s Handy Haversack, Dungeon Master’s Guide p.174
Both items say you need to take an action to withdraw an item.
However, Heward’s Handy Haversack also brackets this mechanic with two other sentences that clue something better was intended. Let’s go in order:
Normal Object Rules
“Placing an object in the haversack follows the normal rules for interacting with objects.”
Of course using objects follows the object interaction rules. Generally, repeating a rule that’s already in the core design is a bad idea, since it can lead to confusion. So, why is this here? It’s not in the Bag of Holding. Is it because the haversack’s contents were meant to be accessed as an object interaction? At least the side pockets?
The next extra sentence tips us off to the design intent (known as Rules-as-Intended or RAI).
Magically On Top
“When you reach into the haversack for a specific item, the item is always magically on top.”
If the item is magically always on top, then why does the withdraw mechanic require us to spend the same time as rummaging through the entire bag of holding? The “on top” flavor suggests that it shouldn’t take a full action to search through Heward’s Handy Haversack.
Lost in Translation
While the “always on top” language was borrowed from 3.5e, it seems like the mechanical language never got a proper update:
Can we pick up some more clues by looking to its roots?
4th Edition. In 4e, getting an item from Heward’s Handy Haversack was a minor action. You might say, “see, this proves it wasn’t supposed to be a full action!” But, getting an item from a Bag of Holding was also a minor action. So, we can’t look at that and say one was supposed to be different from another.
3rd Edition. In 3.x, retrieving an item from Heward’s Handy Haversack took a move action. However, there is a slight juxtaposition here against the Bag of Holding. The Bag of Holding also required a move action to retrieve an item. Except, a Bag of Holding stuffed fuller than a normal backpack would take a full action to rummage through.
This seems to confirm that the “on top” language wants a different mechanical application. Still, it’s uncertain whether this was meant to be an object interaction (as the combination of the item’s additional sentences suggests) or a bonus action (a mechanic added after public playtesting was concluded).
Change up the action economy.
At most, retrieving an item from Heward’s Handy Haversack should require a bonus action. You might also decide that it only takes an objection interaction (like closing a door or drawing a blade). I lean towards the latter, since it is less likely to punish classes who rely heavily on bonus actions.
Since Heward’s Handy Haversack has separate pockets on the side, you can get creative with implementation. A slight upgrade would permit bonus action access to the side pockets, while the main pocket remains action access (like the Bag of Holding). A stronger upgrade would allow access to the main pack as a bonus action, with side pocket access as an object interaction. Parsing things like equipment storage location can often be more headache than it’s worth, so consider whether this amount of fiddlyness fits your campaign.
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