Your party has been tracking down the dragon across the wilderness. Traveling over the plains took a long time. The forest was full of minions who harassed and ambushed you. Now, mountains loom ahead as you near the location of the creature’s lair. Blocking your way is a deep gorge you need to cross and you are running short on time.
The wizard has assessed the distance and the fighter figures he can throw a grappling hook across the fissure so the thief can cross so you can make a rope bridge.
Confidently the fighter’s player states, “I secure a grappling hook on the end of my rope and throw it across into the branches of a tree on the other side.”
The game master responds, “Do you have a grappling hook written down on your character sheet?”
Everyone around the table stops, looks at each other, and then scan the sheets of paper sitting in front of them.
The equipment owned and carried by a party can be a regular point of contention in role-playing games (RPGs). It doesn’t even matter what genre of game you are playing. And, even though, the example given above is along the lines of what most people (especially character players) think about, it also goes in other directions.
You can have the player who has listed every possible item on their character so they have it at a moment’s notice. They have carefully neglected the fact of weight and they’re playing a halfling who is carrying over 800 pounds of equipment in a normal backpack—but they did put their potions in their belt pouch so they wouldn’t get broken.
Depending on the story you are playing, the equipment being carried can be a crucial factor, or it can create unnecessary obstacles. Having different ways of handling equipment situations can create a better gaming session so everyone is having fun and the story isn’t dragging. And, much of this is going to depend on the style of campaign you are running.
Characters working for a larger force, like Stargate, Monster Hunters International, or members of the king’s loyal servants, are in settings where there is easy access to equipment before leaving on the individual adventure. I’ve run a merchant campaign where part of the concept was the party’s wagons (could be a spaceship) have supplies that characters can easily pull basic items out of them. All of these settings a certain amount of ease for having the equipment available so the story doesn’t slow down. These styles of campaigns can also cause problems.
The ease of these types of campaigns can also create a level of distress—if you are allowing the players to have access to all available basic equipment, you are allowing them to have all the basic equipment. For some adventures the trick becomes deciding what to take for the immediate activity. This has led my players to create some interesting prepared equipment lists. They have packs pre-packaged for different expected encounter settings, i.e., tombs, city, unknown space derelict. In one way this has given someone, or all of them the role of a quartermaster. As the GM, it allows me to create an adventure without concern about simple needs.
I know other GMs who do this by having adventure packs. These are usually undefined packs of equipment for the characters. The idea is the same, they have all the basics they would need while adventuring. The biggest argument I have heard from both players and GMs about this type of equipment availability is that it presumes that every character is either carrying the same items, or that choice of equipment doesn’t matter. I have even had some players not want this open-ended supply of equipment so they must come up with ways of working around not having a lantern or a torch when they reach a cave entrance. It might be a way players define a character.
Equipment choice can play a role in the character’s personality. This is demonstrated in books, movies, and real life. We all know people who have and need a particular item. Those items define how the person sees themselves and their profession. My father was a chef and he had his knives. I know people who wear scrubs and lab coats because they feel it is part of their uniform. Allowing, or having, players to choose their equipment gives the player an opportunity of defining their character and associating with them.
Not all players are concerned about the equipment their character is carrying. This is where the GM needs to know their players. If you have someone who enjoys tracking every torch, arrow, and burlap sack, let them do it. If you have players who are the other end, figure out a way to let them have the equipment readily available.
The players who want to have all the equipment, and have it all written down, are in the extreme middle. The laden down halfling is a variation of play every experienced gamer has seen. This takes a different level of handling because you don’t want to take everything away from the player, but you may need to create a balance with the other characters. You can probably figure out a way of carrying or storing everything. You can take it a step further and have the players, or player, maintain a list of what the party has in their collective possession.
The burdened character could also use pack animals and hirelings (these are separate topics that needs articles of their own).
There are also campaigns where the entire party has been shanghaied and lost all their equipment and supplies. In these campaigns the equipment and how the characters take it along become part of the adventure.
It all comes down to the choices you want to make as the GM. Most of the choices need to be made before the game begins. GMs usually know their players before sitting at the table. Use that knowledge of who you have in the other chairs. Create the situations that work best for them, you, and the adventure you want to play. Other choices come during game play. Decide how critical to the story is that grappling hook? How you answer the questions as they arise will direct the style of your game and the direction of the current adventure.
Role-playing games are about having fun. Keeping that fact in mind helps create a better situation…
No one in the party has a grappling hook. At first everyone looks at the GM with a mixture of hate, hope, and despise. Stares continue for a moment until the dwarf priest speaks up, “I have my hammer we can tie a rope to.” The thief takes the hammer and starts securing the rope to the wrist thong.
“It’s a lot heavier than a hook and not really designed for throwing that far. But, it might work.” The fighter takes the hammer, swings it around in a circle, and lets it fly.
The first throw, along with the second, falls short.
The wizard speaks up, “Wait, I have a scroll that might help. On the next one, throw it higher up and I will use magic to push it across and over the branches.”
The party succeeds on the next attempt. They cheer each other on as the thief starts crawling along the rope to the other side…