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The February, 1992 issue (yes, you read that right) of Dragon Magazine describes, in its Bazaar of the Bizarre article, a magic item called Quartermaster's Chest (XP value 2,500). This chest provides randomized supplies and/or equipment (determined by a table) in exchange for gems placed in it. Upon closing the lid, the gems disappear and the goods fill the chest (once per day), "no matter how much space they would logically take up".

My question is: What if somebody were to get shut in the chest, along with the gems (or tried to hide in the chest with gems on their person) when it operated? Would the (N)PC get crushed to death by the goods, or would they leave enough space for them? How does magic like this work?

For bonus points: Has this magic item ever received an official update since 1992?

I guess this item was designed for AD&D, 2nd edition, but I'll consider answers from any edition of D&D (in fact, 3.5 would be preferable.)

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Could you please quote the entire description for this item? or at least answer the following: Does it say anything about putting inanimate matter other than gems in the chest? What happens to unused equipment left inside it? – G0BLiN Aug 17 '14 at 16:26
@GoBLiN it does not, it's purposefully vague. Unused equipment dissapears after 24 hours. – GMNoob Aug 17 '14 at 16:35
@G0BLiN As GMNoob said. There are no official answers in the (rather brief) description to your questions. – OpaCitiZen Aug 17 '14 at 17:51

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Undefined and up to the DM. This is a feature, not a bug!

In AD&D, both editions, magic items are the exclusive domain of the DM and they are given full rein in deciding how they work, which is to say:

  • If you're the DM, the game doesn't care, so make up whatever sounds good.
  • If you're a player, you have to ask your DM, or (more likely) experiment with the item in-game.

This is a deliberate design feature of AD&D. It means that players of the game can argue all they want about how it works, but when it comes time to sit down and play the game, arguments don't impede play because it's the exclusive call of the DM. It's also a feature because it's a prompt for creativity: for decades, AD&D was full of magic items with lacunae like this for the benefit of creative players and DMs to customise their gameplay. These lacunae are meant to be explored: they enrich your campaign beyond anything that could be written by a designer miles and years distant, and the consequences of how a DM's answer fills in the blanks creates opportunities for experiment and exploitation.

Because of this difference in philosophical approach between AD&D and D&D 3.x, there is no way to fill in this kind of descriptive gap in an item in an official way if the item hasn't been rewritten officially for 3.x.

Consequently, a 3.x DM must import the AD&D philosophy for just a moment, and make something up. A 3.x player must do similarly, and wait for their DM to make something up.

Personally, I can see several ways I could rule this, and each have very interesting consequences, either in terms of danger to the PCs, opportunities to exploit the feature, or ways to kick off entire unexpected adventures. But I will refrain from sharing them in a big opinionated list, because that would defeat the purpose: your group's DM should have fun answering this question, and your group's players should have fun directing their PCs in investigating it.

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If you are going to reframe the question, you need to also provide a valid answer. It seems unfair to say "I have answers but I won't give them to you, figure it out yourself".… – GMNoob Aug 17 '14 at 16:37
@GMNoob "Fair?" No, I'm saying it's a matter of opinion, there is no RAW for this item and cannot be any because that is not how magic items work in AD&D, and the AD&D RAW is "you are supposed to make it up, not me." – SevenSidedDie Aug 17 '14 at 17:39

The Item Is Deliberately Unclear

I'm using the description of the quartermaster's chest (XP 2,500; GP 12,500) from page 288 of the Encyclopedia Magica, Vol. 1 (1999) and that description jibes with the description provided here. If this information is different from that found in Dragon #178 (which I doubt), I'd go with Magica as it's the only reprint (I hesitate to call it an update) that I'm aware of.

That said, I totally agree with SevenSidedDie's answer about the design paradigm of pre-Dungeons and Dragons, 3rd Edition magic items. The PCs were supposed to experiment to determine how magic items worked instead of having magic items' effects quantified. The DM--not the game--is supposed to make decisions about how wacky stuff works in the campaign. Were I a player who had the description in front him because his PC identified a chest,1 and I was speculating as to how my quartermaster's chest shenanigans would turn out, I'd look carefully at that description, discuss possibilities aloud with the table, and hope I was persuasive enough to sway the DM. Y'know, assuming the DM hadn't already determined how the chest works.


  • If I wanted the chest to kill creatures I'd argue that when the description says that the chest's "goods will fill the chest, no matter how much space they would logically take up," and that means the effective interior space of the chest changes to accommodate the goods but not anything else. Unless the chest produces nothing (a 10% chance), if the chest is closed with Al the hireling and at least 100 gp of gems inside, when the chest's opened Al's squeezed to death all over whatever goods appear.2

    The gems would be, of course, gone.

  • If I wanted the chest to enable transportation I'd argue that the gems are required but nothing says they must be loose gems. If the chest's goods are not the result of alteration magic but instead the result of trade from a shy oddball faraway race (which is, of course, the truth), they only trade their goods for gems, but they'll take anything in exchange for their goods along with the gems (e.g. gold pieces, magic items, other items, or people). If I went to a contemporary store and tried to buy food with Magic: The Gathering trading cards, the store wouldn't sell me the food, but if I threw in $100 along with the trading cards, the manager would probably take both.3

    Putting Al the hireling and 100 gp of gems in the chest and closing and opening the chest makes Al and the gems disappear and the goods appear. Putting a gemless Al the hireling in the chest and closing and opening the chest just confuses Al.

Coversion Notes

If the DM's converting this item to Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 the DM should either make the item generate a conjuration effect with the teleportation descriptor (a la the 7th-level Sor/Wiz spell plane shift [conj] (PH 262) et al.) that sends the gems somewhere for one or more creatures to exchange whimsically for goods or make the item generate a transmutation effect (a la the 8th-level Sor/Wiz spell polymorph any object [trans] (PH 263)) that only turns 100 gp or more of gems into air, gruel, animal chow, rope, planks, cloth, adventuring gear, water, wine, ale, or something else of the DM's choosing.

Making such a choice enables the DM to adjudicate possible outcomes more easily.

  1. In a weekly AD&D 2nd Edition game in which I participated for a decade, the DM never told us exactly what magic items we had (and, as mentioned in my War Story, the spell identify often wasn't particularly helpful, either). I mean, we only had, like, 2 magic items each at level 9, but we were still guessing at their functions even after toting them around for--both game and real life--years.
  2. My table would also make Schrödinger's hireling jokes.
  3. An issue of InQuest magazine ran a feature wherein the journalist attempted to buy snacks from his local convenience store using Magic: The Gathering cards instead of money. The store's clerk--to no one's surprise but the journalist's--refused.
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You focus on the mechanism of the trade, but I think the mechanism of the infinite space is equally interesting - it isn't a given that a person who remains in the chest while the gems are replaced with equipment would be harmed in any way. – Brilliand Aug 18 '14 at 6:17
Another alternative would be, since the description only mandates closing of the chest (not locking), that the item/person/etc gets displaced when the goods appear... so Al the hireling would effectively get "spat back out" by the chest as soon as the lid got closed (and the lid flung open in the process). – Doktor J Feb 1 at 4:22

Although not explicitly stated, I would imagine that this chest works as a sort of extra-dimensional portal with a strange being who likes to trade.

Goods disappear if not removed from the chest, and the gems are gone forever. I would assume that any character placed in the chest would also disappear into an unknown location, just as unused goods do.

I am not aware of any updates to the item.

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Couldn't this chest just as well be some kind of magical conjuration device? - like a Decanter of Endless Water or a Robe of Useful Items‌​? In that case it may simply be fueled by gems - making it function as a normal chest while no gems are inserted. This interpretation is less creative, and leaves less room for abusing this item ("let's convince the Tarrasque to hop in!") at the price of losing some interesting (and entertaining) effects – G0BLiN Aug 17 '14 at 18:07

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