I didn’t know how the tracking of a character’s equipment was affecting the roleplaying games people were playing. My article, Do You Have That On Your Character Sheet, generated a number of comments and discussions. There are different ways of handling the equipment issue: some game masters (GMs) are strict about how items are recorded while others are more fluid with their game (and, by-the-way, this covered the spectrum of wanting detailed lists to I don’t give a frack). Neither is a problem. How the game runs is part of the agreement between the GM and the rest of the players in the gaming group.
I was reminded how some games use an all-inclusive system of an adventurer’s availability of equipment. In the systems I have seen where this is used the character purchases a supply of a limited number of items that are not predetermined. When a character needs an item like rope, grappling hook, small clay pot, bag, etc. it is one of the uses of the gear pack. The limit is drawn with being items of lesser expense and of a non-magical nature. When this was brought up in discussion it was loved and hated.
Another way of dealing with the issue is the use of skills, advantages, feats, or another method the system provides for character enhancement. The one that were quickly pointed out was a character who is a scrounger, or having the ability to gadgeteer, or McGyver. The idea put forward was to allow the player character come up with a method of finding what they need, or making an improvised item. Kind of how my example in the first article went at the end. The person who presented this use is a little more flexible with his group.
When the party hits a point where they need something that they don’t have, he allows for a check to be made at a level of difficulty he feels is appropriate for the item needed and where the party is at. If the player makes a successful check the character finds something that is suitable to use, the better the check the better the substitute. He did point out that he has one player who has become reliant upon the skill check, which at times creates an oversimplification of the encounter the party is facing.
This brings me to how this plays into GMing style.
I am over-simplifying this into two styles, which really are on a multi-linear scale and not opposing. This is based on the conversations and breaking the main lines of thought down. It really was more complex than this, but I do try to limit my articles in length so they can be easily read in a single sitting. The first style is going for the combat experience and the other is going for the puzzle solving.
Those who embraced the concept of easily available equipment were GMs who like to keep a game moving quicker and are more interested in cinematic games with high adventure. When dealing in a campaign, or adventure, based on the combat that is going to take place, getting there isn’t really the focus of the game. The characters need to arrive at the appointed place, sometimes by an appointed time, to face off against the adversary. When running this style the equipment a character has isn’t all that important and not having the right item plays against the plot.
Those who were set against the idea felt it gave too much leeway to the players, and allowed the players to easily foil an encounter meant to make them work through a problem. This style has more non-combat, puzzle solving encounters as part of the plot. When these encounters are used equipment becomes more of an integral part of what is happening. The situations require the players to work through the puzzle, or obstacle, to achieve their goal and the limitation on equipment plays into that scenario.
I enjoy writing both types of encounters. I’ve had entire game sessions without a weapon ever needing to be drawn, except for affect. Other times, there have been sessions which were one continuous fight. Both are good and both are fun. Most the time there is a combination of the two so we can create the ebb and flow that comes with every good plot.
The biggest takeaway I had from the conversations is the need of having good communication between you, the GM, and your players. Let your players know ahead of time how you are going to run your game.