Hey look, an article even for players who aren’t druids!
This one’s universally-relevant no matter what class you’re playing. One of the most common mistakes I see even made by veteran D&D players is not filling their backpack with random cheap junk just in case it becomes useful later. There are a ton of tools, items, and resources gathered in the ‘equipment’ chapter of every D&D sourcebook. Don’t go wandering into the wilderness without bringing the common stuff that will likely become useful at some point. The items listed here are jokingly referred to as the ‘aabicus starter pack’ within my D&D circle as I throw them into the backpack of every character I create.
Note: This article will be ignoring the items D&D grants you for free during character creation. It will also be assuming you are a level 1 character with 10 gold to spend on starting gear.
1. All the free weightless stuff
There are a handful of items on D&D Beyond that are literally free and come with no downside. The full list includes: alm’s box, block of incense, boomerang, censer, little bag of sand, small knife, stake, string. There’s literally no reason not to grab every single one, just in case. Special mention goes to the boomerang, a ranged weapon usable by anyone with javelin proficiency that even returns to your hand on a miss. (Don’t forget to also grab the free trinket during character creation. At worst, you get a quirky semi-mystical item you can barter with later.)
2. Chalk (1cp)
For 1cp, you gain a weightless item that can draw on almost any hard surface. Leaving notes, marking trees, navigating mazes, chalking your hands before climbing… It’s practically free and worth keeping a stick on hand.
3. Soap (2cp)
Soap is of course useful for cleaning yourself in the wild, or scrubbing grime from old items found in dungeons. I always specify that it’s a bag of powdered soap, which can additionally be used to hurl in someone’s eyes if you already used up your bag of sand.
4. Signal whistle (5cp)
Communicate with your teammates at range, or alert faraway NPCs to your presence. Cheap and weightless, this one goes without saying.
5. Flask of oil (1sp)
Oil is a very versatile liquid. The rules note that you can use it as a improvised weapon in combat, but you can also oil hinges if you need to open a door silently. Then of course there’s its actual job of fueling lanterns and creating torches. In the right situation, you can also make arguments for using it to create a slip trap or dissuade a target from scaling an incline after you.
6. Bag of 1,000 ball bearings (1gp)
It’s expensive, I know, but the bag of ball bearings is one of my favorite items in the game. It is a priceless opportunity to zone out a troublesome hallway, or help you escape a perilous situation. I once recounted a memorable occasion about a time my Call of Cthulhu character made use of ball bearings while overcoming insurmountable odds.
7. Bag of 20 caltrops (1gp)
In a similar vein, “in-universe d4s” are another useful zoning tool that lets you manipulate your environment. Ball bearings and caltrops have different uses for different situations, and I like to have both on hand.
8. Rubber balls
D&D 5e doesn’t actually have stats or prices for these (In 3.5e they were 3gp). So I have to ask my GM if I can have a few rubber balls, and they usually say yes. Specifically I use them for trapfinding: bouncing or rolling one down hallways, ricocheting them off suspicious-looking walls, or testing for invisible objects blocking a path. They can also be used to gauge how deep a pit might be by dropping one in and listening to when it hits the ground.
These last four are more optional, either due to being more situational, expensive, or heavy. Sometimes it’s easier to buy these after your first session, when you’ve accumulated more gold than what you started with.
A. Mirror, steel (5gp)
It’s a shame mirrors are so expensive in D&D, because a hand mirror is very useful. You can see around corners or signal teammates with reflected sunlight. Clerics with sacred flame can use mirrors to hit their target without line-of-sight because the spell specifically doesn’t mention a need for it.
B. Crowbar (2gp)
Crowbars are used for prying open doors and crates. As a druid with terrible Strength, I carry one for the advantage on checks for using it. That being said, they’re heavy and a bit pricy at 2gp, so maybe just let the Paladin or Barbarian do their thing.
C. Grappling hook (2gp)
You’ll get to sell this once people start unlocking flight, but in early levels a grappling hook is worth carrying around. Having one is the difference between being stuck on the wrong side of a wall/cliffside/pit and convincing your GM to let you scale it. Just remember you’ll have to combo it with:
D. Silk rope (10gp)
As soon as I can, I sell my hempen rope and replace it with silk. They’re identical in function but the silk rope weighs half as much. As a druid, I need my pack as light as possible, and 10gp will become pocket change soon enough.
I know a lot of these items seem minor. But the goal is to avoid winding up in a situation where you’re thinking, “Gee, I sure wish I’d brought X right about now…” Just like you wouldn’t go traipsing into the wilderness unprepared in real life, you’re future-proofing your adventurer for whatever complications await them on their journey. Aways be prepared!