Player Advice: Clever Uses for Mundane Equipment

Dungeons are dangerous places. Most adventurers lust after magic items and the power they bring. Just as often, though, a humble mundane item can spell the difference between life and death…


Buying mundane equipment can be boring, unless you add depth and flavour to the process, but clever adventurers use every item at their disposal to gain advantage during their explorations and delves. Some items have obvious uses – the 10 ft. pole or caltrops for example – while others seem relatively useless or to only have one use at first glance.

Listed below are a small selection of clever uses for mundane items:

  • Wine Flask: Flasks of wine are handy things for adventurers to carry. Obviously, they hold wine – which is nice to drink after a hard day slaying orcs, but they can have other uses. Wine offered in parley is a great way of ingratiating yourself with a dungeon denizen. It’s also handy when fleeing – many sentient creatures will stop to pick up a wine flask hurled behind a fleeing party. Really cunning adventurers keep a special wine flask doctored with sleep poison for just such eventualities.
  • Rations: In a similar fashion to wine, rations can be a handy bargaining tool when meeting creatures not immediately hostile to the party. Drugging or poisoning food left to distract pursuers is also a clever plan.
  • Mirror: Mirrors are great for looking around corners when you don’t want to expose your entire body. They are also handy for signalling and can be devastating when used against a medusa or basilisk. The glass in a mirror can also be used as a rudimentary alarm system. Scattering broken glass in the doorway of the room in which you are resting may warn you of the approach of skulking or invisible foes. Finally, depending on the edition you play, a mirror attached to a 10-ft. pole may allow you to cast line of sight spells from around a corner. (Check with your GM!)
  • Bag of Flour: Great for scattering on the ground to see if anything crosses a certain section of floor, a bag of flour is also a rudimentary (and tremendously cheap) detect invisibility spell — if hurled into the right area. Hurled in the air, flour can also reveal hidden air currents (which in turn might indicate the presence of hidden doors or niches). A bag of soot gathered from a campfire can perform the same tasks (and is free!)
  • Oil Flask: Oil is obviously flammable, but it’s also slippery. Coating the top step of a set of stairs with oil virtually guarantees anyone not spotting it will slip and fall down the stairs. We once used this tactic against a pack of trolls chasing us. Of course, we also put a wall of fire at the bottom of the stairs and all three trolls slipped, fell and slid straight through the wall of fire. Hilarious (for us) and fatal for the trolls as they landed prone and rather battered and scorched at our feet.
  • Marbles: See oil flask above. Marbles can also reveal if the floor is level. This might in turn reveal the presence of a cleverly hidden trap or hidden area. Hurled at the feet of your enemies can stop them dead in their tracks or even render them prone, which in turn stops them pursuing you (or fleeing).
  • Chalk: Using chalk to mark your way is a classic explorer’s tactic. However, you can also use different colour chalk (if your GM allows it) to indicate different things – perhaps red chalk indicates danger ahead, blue means water and so on. Scouts probing forward of the main party can even scribe different coded symbols on the walls so the main body knows what to expect as it advances.

I’ve only scratched the surface of clever uses for mundane items. Remember, one of the hallmarks of a superior player is inventive play – take a look at your equipment list and see what hidden capabilities it holds!

Help Fellow Gamers

Do you have clever uses for other mundane equipment not immediately obvious to others? Share what they are in the comments below and help your fellow adventurers survive their next delve!


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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

26 thoughts on “Player Advice: Clever Uses for Mundane Equipment”

  1. Torches… always torches. They are dirt cheap and work even when magic doesn’t. If you have run away, you don’t want a lantern splashing burning oil down your arm while you blunder out into the darkness. Use a torch instead… They can also be used as improvised weapons, causing both fire and bludgeoning damage, in a pinch.

    If you wind up in an underwater trap, or needing to explore a submerged tunnel, bring along a leather scroll/map case… since they are waterproofed, it stands to reason that they can be used to store an extra breath of air or two… it just might save you from drowning if you have to… or you can jab a hole in one end with your dagger and use it as a breathing tube, if you need to stay underwater while the bad guys are searching for you.

    Winter Blankets are relatively light and dirt cheap… and can be used as an improvised sack to carry treasure. They can also be used to wrap around prisoners, then bound with rope. It’s almost impossible to work on unraveling the knots if you are wrapped tight in a blanket and then bound tightly with ropes.

    Rope. Always bring rope. You can’t have too much of it – you really can’t. Whether its used for climbing up, climbing down, tying up prisoners, setting tripwires, securing loot, etc. Players are always coming up with new uses for rope, and you should have at least one 50 ft. coil of rope for every 2 to 3 PCs in the party.

    A whetstone. If you carry any kind of bladed weapon, even a knife — and you should always have a knife or dagger. Always. — then a whetstone is necessary. Per the Ultimate Equipment guide, a weapon that has been sharpened using a whetstone gets a +1 bonus to damage on its next successful strike. This rule is often overlooked.

    Extra clothes/outfits. Buy a cheap explorer’s outfit or traveler’s outfit or even a laborer’s outfit. If you get wet, slimed, burned or blooded, you may need a spare set of clothes before you go much further. Also in a pinch extra clothes can be torn into strips to use as bandages if you run out. This is – in my opinion – one of the most overlooked items in player’s inventory.

    I have a standard adventurer’s kit that I always carry for all my 1st-level characters, no matter what class they are. As I advance some of the items might be upgraded or replaced with magic or alchemical items, but these are the beginning standards: A Backpack, 2 leather or canvas sacks, a bedroll, a winter blanket, 6 torches, 3 days of trail rations, 1 or 2 waterskins (wineskins), 50 ft. coil of rope, leather scroll case, flint n’ steel, 2 belt pouches and 2 or 3 flasks of oil. A whetstone. At least one dagger or knife — ever try to cut a blanket or bandages or whittle with a sword??? And either a 10-ft pole or a quarter staff… for poking and prodding ahead, or used as a weapon if needed. Note, per RAW, they’re free.

  2. Gloves! While most suits of armor include some sort of gauntlet, ensuring your hands are covered gives you a major advantage against certain traps. Our GM is a fan of contact poisons on door handles, levers, etc. Gloves negate the contact poison.

    Ladder. Besides the obvious use, a good ladder (especially a good collapsible one) can be used as a makeshift bridge. When spanning a pit trap or other large drop, the rungs can be used as a rudimentary pulley system to get heavy objects out of the pit trap. Additionally, leaving the ladder at the top of the hole makes it much easier to get a grappling hook secured for quick egress. Additionally, I usually mark my ladder in advance as if it were a yardstick (or meterstick, based on your preferred unit of measurement). This makes it much quicker to measure distances than knotting my rope at regular intervals (which can shorten the length and reduce the usability of the rope).

    Lamp Oil and Caltrops. Well, any combustible material packed into a container filled with caltrops, shuriken, or other small, sharp objects can make for a very nasty, if rudimentary, fragmentation grenade. At early levels, this little trick can make an extremely effective weapon against large groups of weak enemies (such as kobolds and goblins). Even if your GM rules it only does 1d4 damage, that’s enough to put an end to most kobolds and some goblins. A second one should finish the job.

  3. I know its been a while since someone commented but theirs another use for flour…
    In the pathfinder campaign my group is playing in, we were trapped in a kitchen in the dungeon while two ettins (2 headed giants) attempted to squeeze through the door / break down the wall to get to us. Things were looking pretty grim as our party was low on health and spells. Suddenly, our dwarf’s player and I look at each other after looking through the kitchen in an attempt to secure our escape. The Flour… we remembered that flour is flammable and can cause dust explosions. As my character has both profession:Herbalism and craft:Alchemy we were allowed to metagame this. The dwarf (whom has the most health and high strength) begins tearing open bags of flour and throwing them at the ettins. Now this alone wouldn’t do much more than annoy them and possible blind them for a turn as he was aiming for their heads, however… both of them were next to lit torches. Flour goes off, ettins take burn damage and are blinded for 3 minutes as decided by the DM’s dice. We mop ’em up, barricade the room, rest, and end the session there.
    Flour Fire saved our party and gave us the idea to craft flour bombs to use in the future.

  4. Lard. Bring a gallon of lard with you to…
    1) plug your ears w/ if harpies or such show up
    2) use as lubricant to unstick something
    3) leave behind for monsters to eat
    4) act as temporary water-proofing

  5. believe it or not but the best use of oil can be a meaning between seeing if a lake is water or acid which some people have pulled on me in the past also rope can be used for so much more than climbing it can block doors if you know how to bind it or even use it to make a wedge under the door also a large metal weapon can stop a lightning storm if placed correctly. the flour btw can also stem heavy loss of blood from a bleeding attack.

  6. My group is obsessed with a 10 foot pole. Its great way to trigger a trap if you don’t have the perception to see it

  7. Marbles can also function as sling bullets and child distractions as needed.
    Always pre-knot a length of rope for faster, easier climbing.
    I always have ear plugs, as well as chocolate and/or honey. It can be used as a snack, a bribe, a lure for some kinds of animals, etc. And when confronted with stench effects, I have had my PC stick chocolate up their nose to combat it!
    Thanks for this!

  8. We allowed party members to use rope to make a sling from their Crossbows so they dont have to drop them to draw a weapon.

  9. Wine makes a great cleaning agent. Oil on an arm going into a tight squeeze helps with the removal of said arm (ask any bovine-focussed vet). A bag of flour thrown to burst against a ceiling between you and your foe can provide an obscuring cloud – I used to do this Marbles in the mouth can give a bonus to Diplomacy when talking with aristocrats… (this may be tongue-in-cheek)

  10. Wineskins (or waterskins) are also useful for swimming. Filled with air, they can be used as a flotation device. I had a character that faced a long swim across a lake. He used two waterskins, one under each arm, and found it easy to rest halfway.

  11. I love these ideas, and many of the comments too. One thing I think about when considering alternative uses for common goods is whether or not the character who am I playing with think of the strategy to improvise. Sometimes my people just don’t have the wisdom or intelligence to come up with those kind of answers.

  12. While fleeing a hoard of Dark Elf raiders across a field of volcanic glass, they closed on us with my character bringing up rear guard. They were right on my tail when I emptied 3 large bags of metal bearings (marbles).
    Besides the entire group of us gamers laughing our butts off, I took out a good third of them and nearly all of their mounts.

  13. A chunk of clay on the end of a fishing string can be thrown to stick to small objects (papers, keys, etc) and drawn back to you without giving up your hiding spot.

  14. Skillet – i used a simple skillet in a trap. It was there to bang on a wall to warn for incoming enemies when they tripped the wire.
    Pretty simple but wakes everyone up at once.

  15. Copper wire (semi rigid, malleable probes),
    Vials of seasonings (bartering)
    Fishhooks (slip over door to send thread through) Once enough thread is through to reach floor and be hooked with copper wire, it is probably dangling between a door bar and it’s door. Attach end of heavy 10’ twine to end of thread. Pull thread back out from above til it pulls twine up between door and bar. On visibly remaining twine end attatch something that will snag on door bar but not the door, like a large hook. Eventually the hook will lift the door bar. Su casa es mi casa.
    Always keep soft wax. Not only do they make impressions of keys, but good wax can make forgeries of signet rings. Plus waterproofing or as earplugs. Candles jammed in oil flasks make timers if a fuse is imbedded in the end of the candle. Adventuring party-specific signet rings.
    A ball for noise & motion distraction.
    Waterproof bone scroll case with wire & twine tied around it. Spare paper and coal to take “rubbings” of etched things too big to yoink. Pens, ink, things to communicate with pictures.
    Pouch that is just folded cloth that pops open when untied from belt while fleeing to release treasure distractions. A large satchel or belt with all the spare gear that can be dropped quickly to move faster. If you can only carry 50 more lbs of treasure, then only carry 50 lbs of extra gear.
    Block and tackle. A freely spinning wheel instead of just an eyehole embedded in the end of your weapon’s pommel (or an even second bigger one between the flange plates of a mace) sounds ridiculous until the people making fun of it need it.
    Crowbar angular end on any metal weapon long enough to pry with. Or BIG holy symbol of Gond
    Hollow shield handle for a torch tip.
    Helmet with 3horns that stands like cooking pot when set upside down over a fire.
    A whistle.
    A tiny flute.
    Magnifying glass. For ignition.
    Extra gear that you bury near your campsite in case yours is ruined.

  16. One of my favorite things is a Robe of Useful Items. You have to love having a ladder to lay down over muddy or icy terrain to give you traction! I’m going to play in a game in a week or so with that wonderful Robe and hope to come up with some interesting ways to use it!!

    Thanks for this post, it is timely and I always want to be more creative with “stuff” I have on hand.

  17. I always have extra blankets stashed in my backpack. On more than 1 occasion our party ended up fighting a fiery beast that inflicted damage to us as we engaged in melee or even a flaming wall that barred our way. A quick drenching of water gave me a small amount of fire resistance when I wrapped myself up in it before moving to melee or there were times I would throw it over an area to create a temporary 5ft walkway.

  18. Potatoes. If the DM allows you to get trade goods, get sacks of potatoes. They’re good for food, you can let them bloom and derive poison from the flowers, you can throw them, you can use them like ball bearings, you can make flour out of them, you can make glue out of them, you can even waterproof things with them if you can manage to slice them extremely thin and have the patience. Carve them into bullets and use them with slings. Almost an infinite use for potatoes. They are the greatest mundane item ever.

  19. Small cauldron full of tinder to make quick-setting glue out of boiled dungeon creatures. Quick-setting glue has many nefarious uses. This glue is approx 75% as strong as pva (on a good day). If you add water you can make soup. There is also a recipe involving boiled dungeon creatures and lye to make explosives but we are not supposed to talk about that.

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