Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Equipment Lists - A Lament


How boring is an equipment list?  Ugh, it’s got to be the most tedious yet necessary thing in a fantasy or science fiction RPG.  Everyone (or close to everyone) loves the little fiddly bits you get with a new supplement: new weapons, new electronics, new armor types.  Each new thing is just a sight modification of the old stuff, but it’s still cool, right?  Well, it’s not cool enough for me.

You know what I would like to see?  Answer: an equipment list that sparks the players’ imaginations and prompts new avenues of play.

For instance, how cool would it be if an equipment list had five entries for Long Sword or Laser Pistol?  What if each entry showed how the weapon or item could be improved using different components or techniques for making it?  Even better, what if the equipment list rules gave hints about how the characters had to quest to find the right material, the right tinkerer, the right artisan, or whatever to make the weapon something beyond its mundane, default entry?

So, take a laser pistol for instance.  A pistol might have 5 attributes: weight, hitting power, accuracy, durability, and other.  The default material on the equipment list would be the cheapest and least reliable material- you know, the kind of laser pistol you would buy at the Wal-Marts of the future.  Then, elsewhere in the equipment section, the rules would give a list of materials that would reduce the weight of the gun, increase its hitting power and accuracy, make it more durable, and the “other” category in this case would be # of shots per battery pack.

In addition to the improved materials, the rules would tell the players how they could fabricate the materials or how to purchase/find the materials.

In a fantasy world, it would give names of weaponsmiths, artists, alchemists, etc. where they could get the blade sharpened to a keen edge, the pommel weight reduced to balance the weapon, or magical enchantments to make it more powerful.

Equipment lists are so mundane in most games, but I think they can add a lot of depth to a campaign if the designer just takes the time to think about how awesome weapons are in the first place and the different ways heroes in the stories we love to read have tried to make them awesomer.




Veritomancer said...

For my zombie survival game Fear The Living, Gear is treated mostly descriptively, with an abstract rank from 1-5 that determines how much it helps your character succeed in situations where it's used, and how much it can hinder your character (and earn them exp) in situations where it's a liability.

Thus characters are encouraged to go into detail about their gear's capabilities and downsides, because it translates directly into how often that Gear will get you extra successes in combat, or how often it can be used to generate complications for your character (and xp as a result).

Another thing you might want to consider Troy are game systems that focus on the consequences of owning or using Gear. A new project I've been tinkering around with called The Dark Roads (think firefly in a weird post-apocalyptic paved-over Eden inhabited by Jinn and Angels, with armored and sigiled wagon trains instead of ships).

In the system as it stands, Gear, improvements to your crew's wagon, and all of the rest of that stuff that's usually handled with gold or a wealth rating or whatnot is instead handled via points of Debt: 1 point per significant item or improvement, with items being grouped into categories like "Weapons of a Gentleman" or "Provisions" for ease of reference.

This system links fictional pressure (the need to take on passengers, take risky jobs, explore ruined city-states, make desperate deals with Jinn) to equipment, and I think similar systems require some attention as well.

That being said, one could easily make an alteration to such a debt-based system by having variations of a particular item, with the amount of Debt accrued increasing based on how fancy/powerful the item is.

A final thought before I collapse into an exhausted stupor: the console and computer action/rpgs Borderlands and Borderlands two also present another way to make items interesting that might combine well with the thoughts put forward in this article: random generation. I know a lot of OSR types who would give their right testicle for a table that with a few simple rolls (or one roll with a lot of dice) generate a weapon with unique powers, handling characteristics, history, and material. Such randomly generated equipment could be useful in non-OSR games as well-any game that relies on randomly generated or procedurally generated fictional content could be enriched by every magic sword or pet griffin having unique capabilities, histories and quirks that don't require a whole lot of design to generate.

Just some thoughts.

Troy_Costisick said...

Excellent response, Veritomancer! I like what you're doing with your Zombie game. I'll have to keep an eye out for Borderlands games. I appreciate the tip :)



Nargosiprenk said...

Have you tried Torchbearer? I've seen it has some good inventary mechanics. Also, the Spells itselves are "items" to be ordered in the "bag of mind", because of vancianesque magic.
And those are pretty much equipment lists, :P.

Either way, this is a good entry. I can think of four atributtes for Items in a Post-Apoc game:

Name - Origin - Pourpouse - Quality Bonus

Name: What it is in the fiction.

Origin: The origin of the Item or the way you got it, whatever you think is more important. It represents the emotional bond you have with it, either for the cost of it or for the memories it recalls. You can draw emotional power/morale power/WHATEVER power to help or hinder you in some ocations. Like Aspects in Fate.

Pourpouse: The Skill for wich you can use the Item.

Quality Bonus: The number you add to other numbers when it's appropiate (either when you Draw "X" Power or when you use the Skill).

(Wall of text comming...)

So this is interesting: the more you are emotionally connected to the Item, the better you can use it for skill-y things, and vice-versa. ¿That old, almost broken knife your granpa gave you ten years ago, to stab his heart before he became a Zombie? It's Quality Bonus is 5, his Pourpouses are Open Locks and Stab Things (it can't cut anything). You can use it for stab whoever you want, then you get a +5 bonus. You can also use it to Draw "X" Power, then get +5 bonus to your "X" Power Pool, or to a Courage roll; the GM can tagg it when dealing to Zombies of Old People to give you -5 to your Courage roll, or she can force you to spend 5 of your "X" Power Points if you don't want to loose control of your character for a while...

Troy_Costisick said...

I own Torchbearer, but I haven't had a chance to play it yet. I'm hoping to in the near future tho! :)

I think your last suggestion is very interesting. I really love the idea that the more emotionally attached you are to something the more powerful that something becomes for you. I think there is plenty of area to mine in that idea right there.