But You Must Take It With You–And Here’s Why

While we know of many reasons why a plot-vital possession can be good for a story, the difficulty can be getting it into the story, particularly if it doesn’t belong to the characters in the first place. For it to stay in the story, the characters need first to pick it up and take it with them, then to not get rid of it. What sorts of things make a character take an item with her?

  1. Value. This quality is good for getting characters to pick things up, but not so good for getting them to keep them; for the character interested in turning a profit, what’s valuable to them can probably be made even more valuable to someone else. Unless you’ve got some way to ensure that the item just won’t sell (or at least, not before it attracts enough plot to be worth the investment), you can use this quality to get people to pick it up, but it’ll be harder to get them to keep it.
  2. Appearance. Showy, unique, shiny—something that looks different from the things around it and thus interesting is that much likelier to appeal to the magpie part of the average character’s brain. And if it looks good with their clothing or would provide that extra boost to their image, so much the better!
  3. Portability. It’s a lot easier to get people to pick it up and take it with them if they actually can pick it up and take it with them. If it’s too big to carry, if it’s unwieldy and awkward, if it’s nailed down—okay, sorry, if it’s molded into concrete, welded into the wall, or otherwise requires unusually high rolls to get out—then they’re not as likely to be interested in it unless it’s got other advantages in its favor.
  4. Usefulness. In some cases, this is mundane uses—a sword stabs people, a fork can be eaten with, a robe covers you and keeps you warm. In others, this is the kinds of magical powers that often appear on plot-vital possessions. The more useful it is, the less reason they have to discard it.
  5. Mystery. This is my favorite attribute for a plot-vital possession, because there’s so much more to it than just how it looks or what it does. In this case, the item clearly has a story behind it, or uses in the future, though what those are remains to be seen. It’s finding out that’s half the fun, and that’s why the item goes straight into the pocket or around the neck and never leaves.
  6. Symbolism. Sometimes, people pick up an item because of what it represents.
  7. Sentimentality is a common favorite, with an item’s value coming from someone who matters to the character having given it to her. Other items are symbols of a rite of passage, like an entrepreneur’s first dollar or a potter’s journeyman project. Then you have trophies, symbols of a victory against a foe. Either way, it’s not what the item is that gets it pocketed, it’s what the item means.
  8. Someone else wanting it. Sometimes, a plot gets started because the plot-vital possession is already in someone else’s hands, or someone else is already seeking it. Isn’t it amazing how quickly something gains value by the need to spite someone else, or at the very least to compete?

When setting up an item to be a plot-vital possession, it’s best to give it at least two of these qualities to make sure it gets picked up. If you’ve got a player who’s known to respond well to one of them, by all means use it, but it’s best to have at least one backup plan. After all, if they don’t pick up the item, or they sell it or throw it away first chance they get, what’s that going to do to your plot?

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