Full disclosure: I’ve got a bit of an obsession ((My friends have referred to it as a fetish, but there’s no sexual component, so nyaaaah. You’re wrong.)) with luggage. Specifically, backpacks, messenger bags, and the like. So, this post is sort of feeding that obsession. If you’re not interested in my thoughts on hauling around a bunch of RPGs and boardgames, you may want to skip this one.
As you may have gathered from reading my blog, I play in and run a lot of games, either with my gaming group or as demos at stores and conventions. That means that I wind up hauling a lot of game stuff from place to place, and sometimes that gets heavy and awkward. So, the past few years, I’ve been looking around for good bags that serve as sensible, well-designed game totes.
What I’ve found is that RPG players are not a market that gets catered to by luggage designers. Fair enough; after all, we’re a small market, and we generally haul around stuff like books and dice and pencils. This kind of load doesn’t require the specialized design and engineering you usually see in bags designed for miniatures gamers, with the padding allowing you to carry your army around.
But I have found some good products for hauling around my stuff, and I’m gonna talk about them below. I own, or have owned, each of the bags listed below. Now, none of them are inexpensive, but they are all top quality, so you get exceptional value for your money.
The Gamer Bag
Years ago – almost ten years ago, now, I guess, I did find a bag that was specifically designed for RPG gamers. It was called the Gamer Bag, and it was a messenger bag that came with a zippered, foam-lined insert that let you carry about a dozen miniatures in the bag. I no longer have the bag ((Though I still have the foam insert.)), and can’t find it anywhere online ((If you happen to find it somewhere, let me know. It was made by a dance bag company in BC, as I recall.)), so I can’t show you what it looked like.
It was a good compromise bag. It held a few rulebooks, some paper and pens, and the aforementioned insert. Not quite big enough to be a single-bag solution for a GM of a game that requires a lot of books or minis, and the insert was a bit of wasted space for a player who had only one figure to bring to the game, but it was well-constructed and worked great for squad-based minis games. It was my go-to bag for a long time.
Paladin Mission Go-Bag ((For the Paladin stuff, I’m linking to Darkthreads.com, because that’s where I bought mine. Their customer service is top-notch. If the bags wore out at all, I’d buy more stuff from them, but they last forever.))
The Paladin Mission Go-Bag is, I am told, designed for US Special Forces use. It is strong, durable, and holds a surprising amount given its size ((You’re gonna see that this is a recurring theme with pretty much all the high-end bags on this list.)). It’s a messenger-style bag, with one exterior zippered pocket and a larger main zippered compartment. Inside the main compartment are four tubular pockets – almost pouches, really – attached two to the front and two to the back. These pockets have drawstrings allowing you to cinch them closed.
At first glance, it doesn’t really seem like the bag can hold all that much, and that the internal pockets would get in the way. In practice, it can hold an amazing amount – but there’s a learning curve to using it ((I know! A learning curve to using a messenger bag! But it’s something that I’ve found is true of a lot of very intelligently designed bags. You need to learn how to use them to best effect.)). I can easily carry my iPad, several hardcover rulebooks, a notebook, a pad of graph paper, my dice pouch, a few miniatures, and a bunch of pens and pencils in it.
I don’t use it that much for RPGs anymore, though, because I’ve found some solutions I like better, which I’m going to talk about below. These days, I mainly use it for carrying a variety of smaller board and card games. The interior pouches are great for holding small game packs, like Zombie Dice or Cthulhu dice, or card decks for Magic or the Z-Man B-Movie card games. I can slip in my Fiasco kit in between the pouches, or a small boardgame like Carcassonne or Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space.
And it comes in both black and desert tan.
This is the grown-up version of the Mission G0-Bag above. It’s a full backpack, with all the MOLLE features, and can hold a lot of stuff. If you were to fill it with hardcover rulebooks, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to lift it ((Well, I know I wouldn’t be able to lift it.)). With that in mind, I generally use it to haul around boardgames. Boardgames can be a problem because the boxes are generally not a very convenient size, but they’re generally lighter than the equivalent volume of books. This huge backpack is my solution to carrying around more then one or two without dropping everything everywhere.
The large internal pocket will handle my copy of Conquest of Nerath without a problem. I can even slide in two of Fantasy Flight’s square boardgame boxes as well, and fill the little bit of room at the top with smaller games like Zombie Dice or some card boxes. The exterior has a large pocket near the bottom that’s big enough to hold the Mission Go-Bag ((Almost like they planned it that way, huh?)), and so will hold my Fiasco kit, or a couple small boardgame, along with a few other odds and ends. Above that is a slightly smaller pocket that’s big enough for one small boardgame or a few card games. And the bottom of the pack unzips to create a third external pocket that can just fit one of the square Fantasy Flight game boxes on a sort of diagonal, with empty space to fill up with dice bags, pencils and pens, token bags, and other stuff like that.
All in all, I can fit about ten board and card games into this pack. It makes it kinda heavy, but it’s got good shoulder straps and a belly band, so it’s surprisingly easy to carry once you’ve got it on. You just need to stay aware that you’ve got the equivalent volume of a ten-year-old strapped to your back as you maneuver through crowds.
This bag is an interesting one. It splits the difference between something like the Cafe Bag below and the Mission Go-Bag above. It’s about the right size to haul a stack of rulebooks around, and the main pocket doesn’t have any internal pouches to get in the way. Instead, there are two gusseted pockets on the outside, very similar to the Mission Go-Bag’s internal pouches, except these close with snaps. It’s also got a couple of flat slip pockets on the outside, a larger zippered flat pocket, and two elastic water bottle pockets, one on each end.
This is the bag I tend to use if I’m running a game that requires a few rulebooks. The rulebooks, a pad of paper, clipboard, iPad, etc. go in the main pocket, and my dice and pens and tokens and such go in the external pouches. And I can load it up pretty heavy, because it’s go this great rubberized grip on the shoulder strap that flexes and holds on to your shoulder, keeping the bag from shifting around.
Tom Bihn Organizer Pouches ((You may notice that Tom Bihn stuff dominates this list. The reason for that is their wide array of high-quality products and superb customer service. They have become my favourite luggage manufacturers. This is not to slight anyone else on the list. Everyone’s gotta have a favourite, right?))
When I first ordered these from Tom Bihn, I kinda looked at them and said, “What the hell am I gonna use these for? ((So, the question then arises, if I had no use for them, why did I order them, right? Did I mention I’ve got a bit of an obsession? There ya go.))” Now, I use them for everything and I’m thinking that I need a few more. They’re just incredibly useful for keeping things, y’know, organized.
They come in a lot of styles- clear, padded, cordura, cork, dyneema, ballistic nylon – several sizes – mini, small, medium, pen and pencil, and large – and a slew of colours that I’m not going to try and list. Not every size is available in every style, not every style is available in every colour, and so on. But you can mix and match to a pretty impressive extent.
At this point, I’m mainly using the small, medium, and large sizes.
- Small pouches are good for a few plastic minis, a set of dice or two, or a deck of cards.
- Medium pouches are good for a whole bunch of plastic minis, a bunch of dice, several decks of cards, digest-sized books, or a whole bunch of pens, pencils, markers, and sticky notes – perfect for running a game like Leverage RPG.
- Large pouches are what I’m using to organize my game stuff. I’ve taken my Fiasco kit out of the plastic case it was in and put it in a large pouch. I use one to hold everything I need to demo Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and D&D Next. I’m keeping my character sheets and reference material for each game I play in separate large pouches. I’m thinking that I may drop the correct dice, a pencil, and pad of paper into each character pouch, so that I only need to grab one thing when I head out to play.
This is a funky little thing that is very useful if I’m running or demoing a game that requires a lot of dice – you can’t always count on the players to have sufficient ((Or, in some situations, any.)) dice, so I just toss a whole bunch of dice loose in the tray, throw in my personal dice bag, any other little things I’ll need – tokens, minis, whatever – and snug the whole thing up with the drawstring. Once I get to the venue, I haul out everything but the communal dice, and set the tray up open in the middle of the table where everyone can reach the dice they need. And at the end of the session, everything goes back in the tray, I cinch it up, and it goes back in my bag. Easy-peasey.
The Empire Builder is my new big RPG bag. When I haul my D&D 4E stuff around for the Storm Point game, this is what I use. It’s got a nice, big interior pocket, as well as a roomy flap pocket on the front, and an open-top pocket on the back. The front pocket has a number of zipper pockets and little gusseted pockets for pens, books, etc. The interior pocket has clips to attach one of the Tom Bihn Brain Cell laptop bags, and comes with some plastic file dividers. You can also add a Freudian Slip to hold more pens, paper, and other little things.
The bag is pretty spacious. I can fit my laptop, a folder for each of the players’ character sheets, a couple of reference books, my dice bag, screen, dungeon tiles, pens, paper, minis, the adventure, and my iPad. It gets a bit heavy when I really load it up – books are pretty heavy for their size. Fortunately, you can get the Absolute Shoulder Strap, which is nicely padded and comfortable when you’re carrying a ton of crap in your bag. Which I always seem to do.
The cafe bags from Tom Bihn are very simple – a big interior pocket, a zip pocket on the front, and an open-top pocket on the back.Â My large cafe bag has become my go-to player bag. It’s not too big, and will hold my character sheets, a rulebook or two, pens, paper, dice, my iPad, and a mini or two. I don’t need a lot of organization for the character stuff for any game I play in, so the smaller, simpler bag is perfect.
The Super Ego is an awesome messenger bag. It’s the largest of the series that also includes the Imago, the Id, and the Ego. A more casual style of messenger bag than the Empire Builder, it holds a little bit more, but doesn’t have some of the organizational options that the Empire Builder does. That makes it a good choice for when you want to carry around only a couple of games, for small demo situations or a casual evening. You can toss a Fantasy Flight square box in the main pocket, along with a large organizer pouch with, say, your Fiasco or Leverage kit, a medium organizer pouch with pens, pencils, index cards, and post-its, and the travel tray with a bunch of dice.
The front pocket can still hold a bunch of small-box games, like card games, or another couple of organizer pouches with more games or accessories or minis. It’s got some organizer pockets for things like pens and pencils, too.
Like the Empire Builder, it’s easy to overload this bag, especially if you’re using it to haul around RPGs with their heavy, hardcover rulebooks. I strongly recommend getting the Absolute Shoulder Strap; it just makes everything better when you’re carrying more than you should.
The Smart Alec is a great big backpack. It’s got minimal organizational options – well, mine does, anyway. They’ve released a new version in the last little while that features a modular system that allows you to add extra modular pockets on the top and back, which increases your organizational options. But the baseline model is a big, empty bag, with connection points for adding a laptop shell inside, a couple of zippered side pockets on the outside, and a zippered pocket in the interior top.
It’s great for carrying a couple of boardgames or small RPGs in organizers – basically, it can haul everything that you could haul in the Super Ego, but in a backpack configuration. This is great if you need to be carrying things from place to place, like at a convention, because the backpack carry is just so much easier than the messenger bag carry for heavy stuff.
One of the nice features about the Smart Alec is that it’s got a bungee cord strap on the exterior that lets you strap something on the back of the pack. It works great for attaching a battle mat, for example.
I personally think that the Synapse is the best backpack in the world. It’s got a wealth organizational pockets – zippered pockets on the inside and outside, and a gusseted pocket on the inside. One of the outside pockets holds a one-litre water bottle ((True story. I had a bottle of water in that pocket. It leaked – about half the water ran out into the interior of the bag. I had a brand new hardcover book in the main compartment of the bag. One corner got slightly damp. The rest of the water was caught in the gusseted interior pocket, and kept well away from the book, my iPad, and my lunch. Smart, effective design. Well, of the bag. Not of the water bottle. That got replaced.)), there are nice big side zipper pockets, and large zipper pocket at the bottom, and a small one just beside the water bottle pocket. You can load several small games or everything you need to run an RPG, including dice and minis, into it very easily.
And then you carry it on your back. It’s not as big as the Smart Alec, but the organizational set-up makes it a little more versatile in how you load things, so you may be astonished to see that, if you’re smart about how you pack it, it holds almost as much. They’ve also recently released a new version, the Synapse 25, which is essentially the same bag, but a little bit bigger. It’s got almost the same volume as the Smart Alec, but I’m betting the organizational set-up lets you pack even more game material into it ((I can’t say for certain. I don’t own one of the new ones. Yet.)).
The Aeronaut is probably the bag on this list that’s least useful for carrying gaming stuff around. That still means it’s plenty useful, though; I mainly use it as a small version of the Paladin Mission Pack. Indeed, when I’m doing the big game demos at C4, I usually carry both bags to make sure I get as many games as possible to the show.
That said, the bag has a few constraints imposed by the design goal of making it the largest size carry-on bag allowed by airlines. The dimensions of the bag are determined by that goal, and so you get a few restrictions on fitting in some games. Still, the big centre pocket will hold a Fantasy Flight square box, a couple of large organizer pouches, and a small game or several decks of cards tossed in around the edges. The end pocket is just a bit too small to fit in a large organizer, but it holds Carcassonne pretty much perfectly, and is a good place for some medium organizer pouches with accessories.
The thing that really makes this bag for hauling games around, though, is the fact that it’s got three carry methods. You can carry it like a suitcase, like a messenger bag ((Again, I recommend the Absolute Shoulder Strap.)), or pull out the hidden backpack straps and sling it on your back. I usually carry it on my back unless I’m also carrying the Paladin Mission Pack, in which case I use the shoulder strap. Yeah, I’m loaded down like a mule at that point, but it means that I get all my games ((Nineteen different ones, last C4.)) to the con site in one trip.
So, there are some thoughts about carrying games around, and the tools I use for it. Hopefully, you’ll find something useful there. And if you have any suggestions – a favourite bag or game-moving tool – please let me know.
Like I said, kinda obsessed.