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The rules sometimes refer to items, for example bag of holding says: "Retrieving an item from the bag requires an action." The term item is not formally defined in the rules, so normally we use the the dictionary definition, which is

an individual article or unit, especially one that is part of a list, collection, or set

By my reading item could include creatures as part of a collection, such as everything that is in the bag of holding, but there is a concern that it is not clear if a Player Character should be considered to be an item, based on colloquial use of the term. (If not, its not clear how to get PCs out of the bag again, but that is another problem).

Is there evidence from uses of the term "item" in the rules that it can refer to creatures such as PCs? If not, would the term as given by the dictionary include creatures?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I just want to confirm, is this more of a rules lawyer "technically" question, or would it be normal to refer to a person as an item in your dialect? My gut answer would be to say that in normal English you don't refer to people as items, but I don't know if that applies to all dialects, so I'm curious what the basis of thinking people are items is. \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Sep 6, 2022 at 6:16

2 Answers 2

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It’s problematic to refer to people as items

In everyday usage, “items” does not encompass creatures. If you were asked to remove all the items from the warehouse, you wouldn’t carry out the store person and their dog.

It can be done - the Nazis referred to concentration camp inmates as “units”. Which illustrates the problematic nature of the usage - it is usually a deliberate effort to dehumanise.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While 100% true, the question isn't asking about standard language. It is pretty clearly asking for rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Sep 7, 2022 at 20:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri which are written in standard language \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Sep 7, 2022 at 21:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ The language they are written in and their appearance in said writing are different. It may be a bad idea, but if they don't appear the answer is "there are no such rules" not "rules like this are bad". And just because something isn't a good idea doesn't mean it doesn't appear. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Sep 8, 2022 at 12:28
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There is little support for the term "item" applying to intelligent creatures

Player's Handbook

In the PHB, the term "item" appears 85 times, and nearly always refers to equipment, or is used in the context of magic items, which are objects (they can be sentient in some cases). There are very few exceptions:

  • Mounts and other animals: a table on page 157 lists creatures such as Camel, Pony, or Warhorse under the header "item". It however does not include creatures with higher than animal intelligence. (This fits the definition as an item being anything on a list).

There are only a few uses in spells where there is some ambiguity. For example:

  • Telekinesis allows you to manipulate creatures or objects, and allows you to retrieve "an item from an open container". I think most DMs would rule this would allow you to retrieve a creature from a container, not just an object.

  • Mage hand allows you to manipulate an object or retrieve an item from an open container. It is not clear if you could use it to lift a tiny creature, but the majority consensus on this site is that you can. If so, the situation is as with Telekinesis.

Dungeon Master's Guide

In the DMG, the term appears 784 times (mostly because of long lists of magic items, and wondrous items), and practically always refers to some kind of object. There are only very few magic items that use the term in their description (other than referring to themselves or to magic items in general); for example:

  • Bag of holding states that retrieving an item requires an action.

  • Heward's handy haversack likewise states that retrieving an item from the haversack requires you to use an action.

  • Quiver of Ehlonna refers to items, but it is pretty clear these are meant to be ammunition only.

The Haversack and the Bag are exactly what spawned this question, because living creatures such as player characters can be put inside: both of them talk about how long a creature can survive within before suffocating, which would not make sense if you cannot put creatures in. But if

  1. you can only remove an item from them, and
  2. player characters cannot be considered items

How do you then get the PC out again? Can they somehow climb out by themselves, even though the items do not say this is possible? Will they just suffocate in there eventually unless they can plane shift or banishment themselves back out?

Conclusion

There appears next to no support for "item" referring to a intelligent, living creature in the rules. So a player character would typically not be considered an "item". In a very few cases, spells and magic items will work in unexpected ways if the term is not allowed to be used with an extended meaning of "object or creature"; it will be up to the DM to decide how they adjudicate such cases.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "living creatures such as player characters can be put inside [the handy haversack or bag of holding...] How do you then get the PC out again?" - Well, both include the following sentence: "If the bag/haversack is turned inside out, its contents spill forth, unharmed, and the bag/haversack must be put right before it can be used again." So that's one way to get a creature out of it. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 13, 2022 at 5:56

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