November 29, 2011

Getting Rid of Equipment

Of late, I have been gearing up for my Stargate campaign (Spacemaster system) and I have been going over the equipment lists for it. In particular, I have been looking over the gear Bundle lists from the AEG Stargate SG1 game system. And then I began to compare these to the TV series. And then to any TV/Movie of the same genre. And I determined that they do not use equipment lists.

We have all seen the montage wherein the hero starts packing his overabundance of weaponry; sheathing knives, jamming clips into guns, spinning revolvers, cocking his shotgun, etc. But we never see the equipment montage; cleaning the lens of the binoculars, booting up the PDA, sharpening the pencils, slamming the batteries into the flashlight, coiling up the rope, sighting the compass, etc.
And that is because, equipment that does not affect combat is boring

In the movies and TV, when a character needs something, such as a set of binoculars, he simply reaches into his pocket and pulls one out. When did he pack it? Did it affect the last scene when he was running away from the enemy? Do we really care that we don’t know where the item came from or where it’s been the last four scenes?

So my proposal is…get rid of equipment lists. If an item does not affect combat, assume the character has one. I understand that most role-playing games are not trying to emulate the movies or TV, but I think the premise is still sound. What need do we really have for mundane equipment lists? Is a game really enhanced by the fact the player remembered to write down he had a candle or chalk on his character sheet?

I know some players enjoy that level of micro-detail, where success or failure of a plan can hinge on whether or not the player remembered to “buy” an item and write it on his character sheet. And for those people, they should continue as they were. However, I think most of the time those “brilliant insights of forethought” turn into nothing but a search for vindication when that oddball item finally, after many months of playing, comes into usefulness. We don’t require that level of micro-detail.
Rather, I would want for the cleverness of a player’s plan to hinge on the cleverness of the plan, not on whether or not his character had the requisite item in his backpack. For me it comes down to…what is more important, the story or an equipment list?

This also gets rid of the he said/she said problem. “I bought the item, I just forgot to write it on the sheet…honest!” or “I would have brought that! Only an idiot wouldn't have packed it!“ become a problem of the past, or at least diminished.

My proposal would exclude items that affect combat. Those are usually a limited resource, especially if a sword or bullet does more damage than a bare fist. Most systems have in place a limiting factor for the better weaponry, such as cost or availability, as a means to control the damage output of the characters and you would not want to mess with those systems.

Likewise, items that provide a bonus should be controlled and kept track of. If your game system provides a bonus to opening locks if the character is using a lockpick set then the item should be kept track of.
And of course there are reasonability limits. If a player wants his character to be carrying an anvil (though how he plans on using it in a non-combat manner other than a paperweight is beyond me) it should be denied.

However, there will still be times when a DM will want to limit what the characters have access to. This could be immediately after being captured and searched. Or when the characters do not have ready access to their mundane gear, like right after escaping a burning building. This is easy to do, simply state their mundane gear is gone and when they get it back they get it all back. 

So, I think with the upcoming Stargate campaign I will allow mundane, normal items to be “on the character”. Do you think you might do something similar or is this too radical an idea?


Keith Davies said...

I'm having difficulty coming up with an argument why this is a bad idea.

Unless a reason comes to me, I think I'll apply something like this in Echelon. I'm into simple.

Anonymous said...

If all you have is a hammer...

marak said...

good blog. keep posting

Sierra said...

I'm always curious why there is a separation between Combat and Non-Com. Why is it not interesting to be missing a length of rope, but it is to run out of ammunition?

jth said...

"Likewise, items that provide a bonus should be controlled and kept track of. If your game system provides a bonus to opening locks if the character is using a lockpick set then the item should be kept track of."

This is where the principal falls down for me.

There was mention in the post of binoculars and candles as being two such 'mundane' items that the character would 'just have'.

Now, the game may not provide a bonus for using binoculars or candles - but equally, these items are ones that would typically negate a penalty (such as darkness penalties in the case of a candle), or enable something else to be done (See something in detail at long distance)

So the real question is, how mundane is mundane?