RPT#192 – Tips On Managing Mundane Equipment
A Brief Word From Johnn
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By Johnn Four
- Determine Mundane Equipment’s Value Proposition In Your Games
Having GM’d and played in nearly equal amounts this year, I have to say I’ve developed a great dislike for equipment management. 🙂 Buying initial inventories and managing those inventories is a royal pain and detracts from the game for me.
As per last week’s comment in my Brief Word, the true test of any game design element is to ask what value it brings to the game.
So, what value does equipment management bring to your game?
I’m not saying that equipment itself has no value. PCs need to eat, drink, and arm and defend themselves. They must carry rules-mandated items, such as ammunition and spell components. Having equipment enables immersion and provides a sense of realism. It can facilitate puzzle encounters, enhance roleplaying, and provide GMs with a source for rewards and PC resource depletion (i.e. burn off loot inventories). So, equipment itself is a valuable game element.
What I’m saying is that the game value of equipment *management* is highly suspect to me.
- Remember all those characters whose starting inventories included 10′ poles that never got changed throughout the entire life of the PC?
- Is it fun pouring through equipment lists, recording detailed inventories, and calculating expenses to the copper piece?
- Could game time spent ascertaining PC equipment inventories during character creation be better invested?
Using scarcity to challenge the players is a good GM technique. If the PCs run out of torches or food the game has more drama. However, how often does this situation arise in your games? And what is sacrificed for those moments?
It’s just like player mapping. While it’s realistic to have players make their own maps during games, that process usually involves one confused/frustrated player and four bored players. 🙂 I draw the maps for the PCs in my games, and while I lose a small sense of realism and some opportunities to get the PCs thoroughly lost, I get to claw back session time for more valuable activities and the group is involved throughout a session more often. It’s a great trade-off, in my opinion.
Time to turn this from a rant into a tip. Take a moment and decide if you feel the current management style of mundane equipment is a valuable activity for your group. If so, great. If not, read on. There’s no right or wrong answer here, just an opportunity to tweak your games to suit your group’s style and needs.
- Fuzzy Management Method
To date, this is my favourite solution for equipment management. I only partially instituted it in my previous campaign as a GM, but when I’m a player I always wish it were in effect.
Players announce how much money they allocate to equipment and deduct that from their wealth. Then, any time during the game when a PC needs a mundane item, the player can have it. They just keep a running total of how much money each new item costs, and once they’ve used up their allocated portion then they can’t assign themselves any more equipment.
This keeps games flowing smoothly, greatly decreases the time shopping trips take, dramatically decreases character creation times, and keeps the equipment management beast under control. In other words, this frees up more game time for storytelling, roleplaying, action, and other fun activities. It still creates scarcity, because once the equipment funds have all been allocated, then the PCs are out of luck until they go shopping (or crafting) again.
The trade-off is a bit of realism. Another trade-off might be puzzle challenges. It’s a puzzle in of itself for players to anticipate what stuff they’ll need and to obtain it. Ask your players how much fun this activity is for them. Also, ask yourself how many clues do you provide about what’s coming up. If you give out very few then the players’ decisions are going to be arbitrary anyway, the activity is not going to be a challenging puzzle, and we’re back to square one–what value does equipment management bring to your game?
Furthermore, some puzzles you have cooked up might be easily circumvented with a good choice of on-the-fly equipment selection. Perhaps you have the PCs enter a maze but then a player says he has some chalk, notes that down, and partially nullifies the challenge of the maze.
To this, I again ask you to evaluate the pros and cons of time spent on detailed mundane equipment management versus time freed up for other activities. It’s your call because this is a valid con of the tip.
- If the PCs often buy chalk, then the point is moot anyway.
- How often does this situation arise? If it’s rare, then do the efforts of equipment management justify any fun gained from these rare cases?
- Can you use this as an opportunity to develop different or better puzzles, or to challenge your players in different ways?
I feel that the challenge of considering all the possible equipment a character could have and figuring out how to use it to solve a problem is a fun activity for players. The fact that they didn’t buy it during an initial “equipment procurement stage” isn’t enough of an issue to detract from the overall fun and therefore I don’t mind if the players assign themselves equipment on-the-fly to get themselves out of jams. Your opinion might differ though.
In addition, remember that we’re just discussing mundane equipment. Not specialty items. Feel free to communicate to your players ahead of time any items that are not available for purchase during adventures using this method.
- Create Equipment Packages
This classic tip is another great time-saver. Prepare equipment packages so PCs can buy many items in a single transaction. During the game, players can refer to the package list instead of having to record each item on their character sheets.
Sample mundane equipment package ideas:
- Personal effects. Needle and thread, dishes and cutlery, money pouch, comb, and any other personal items a person would carry with them.
- Camping gear. Sets of clothes, tent, sleeping blankets, and other equipment required for comfort, safety, and survival in the wilds.
- Dungeon gear. 10′ pole–just kidding!
- Class/professional gear.
- Social “gear”. Clothing sets broken down into detailed inventories and accessories.
Generous GMs can allow bartering on package prices if that’s important to the PCs.
In the past, I’ve found creating packages to be a bit of work–time I’d rather have spent on NPC or encounter creation. So, a good idea is to ask your players to whip up various packages for you. They make good bonus EXP assignments, favour requests, and boredom killers.
Keep in mind that packages aren’t necessarily presented as such by a single merchant. They represent a period of shopping at a number of locations. Therefore, you might also assign a time cost for each package and let PCs whittle that down through skill use as well.
Packages are ideal for fast NPC creation too!
- Details Cost Time
A rule of thumb is that more detail costs more game time. If you want to factor in bartering, quality of goods, availability of goods, and multiple sources, then equipment management will take longer during character creation and campaign play. Consider how much each of these factors contribute to the entertainment value of your game. Be ruthless and cut anything that detracts from the fun.
- Have Players Create A Team Checklist
If you feel equipment selection prior to adventure is an important element of game play, consider making it a team- oriented activity. Encourage your players to create an equipment checklist and challenge them to work as a team for optimal equipment selection.
Typically, each player manages their equipment individually without conference. Any synergy between equipment lists of the PCs occurs purely by accident. There is no careful checking to ensure various contingencies can be handled or to eliminate redundancy.
Between sessions, or during administration portions of sessions, have the players work together on their group’s equipment management.
Goals for a team checklist:
- Completeness. When items are discovered as forgotten, add them to the checklist for next time. Maintaining an ongoing checklist ensures a well equipped group.
- Survival. With total food, water, and shelter inventories centrally tabulated, the high intelligence character can prevent unfortunate shortages in the field.
- Minimize overall expense. Let the best PC for the job do the bartering.
- Remove redundancies. Only one 10′ pole per party please. And buy only equipment that is necessary.
- Create back-ups of critical items. Also ensure safety and rescue equipment is distributed amongst multiple party members–it’s hard to rescue the PC who fell over the cliff if he’s the one with all the rope.
- Spread the weight. Optimize encumbrance levels for greater speed and mobility.
- Notify About Shopping Opportunities In Advance
Try to give PCs ample warning about upcoming chances to buy goods, services, and equipment. This will get them thinking about equipment needs in advance for hopefully faster equipment management situations.
- End Sessions With An Opportunity For Shopping
If you can swing it, place the PCs in a town or near a civilized region at the end of a session. Then point out that next session they’ll have a shopping opportunity if they choose. If possible, have everyone handle equipment management between sessions to free up more game time.
- Ask Players For Wish Lists
Request equipment wish lists between sessions to get the players thinking about special or customized equipment items. These lists help you plan as well. For example, if you factor in probability of availability or quality in your campaign’s goods and services, then knowing in advance what the players are seeking will help you get all that figured out before the session.
Do you have any equipment management tips? Send ’em on in to me to share with everyone in future issues:
- Weaving Characters Into Campaigns & Stories
Request 1-3 Game Bits
When creating a campaign, start with your audience–your players. Ask each player for 1-3 “bits” they want to see in the campaign. A bit can be anything that might come up in the campaign, including:
- A setting element (ancient dragon temples, huge cities)
- Scenario elements (intrigue, lots of puzzles, nemesis: Orcs! lots of ORCS!)
- Troupe (the players are a troop of knights, a group working for a spy master, freelance adventurers)
- NPCs frequently found (I want a beautiful princess to woo, I want an elder master around to teach me things)
They can also include things they absolutely do not want to have in the game, such as drow cities, murder mysteries, dragons, an all thieves group, or a wizard of ungodly power being their patron.
With these ideas in mind, the GM should then put together a campaign. The campaign should incorporate as many of these ideas as possible, excluding ones that people hated. Create a world pack and present the campaign to the players. Have them create characters.
When they make their characters, ask for 1-5 game “bits” for the campaign. This should include most of the things they need or want for their character’s conception and future dramatic moments. The GM can use these as a guide to determine future plot lines and things to incorporate later.
As plot lines begin to mature, ask the characters for more “bits”. This gives you the new directions the players want to go and things they want to see.
Why keep doing this? Because both creating and starting (or restarting) is a continuous job.
When you read a story or see a movie, how often are the characters just there, with no attachment or place in the world or the other characters in the setting?
The answer you are looking for is basically “NEVER”.
Writers know that audiences won’t believe characters who are just “plopped” into the world. Things and people need to come from somewhere and have a reason to do the things they do.
Most players are reasonably good about creating a character concept and history, no matter how lame. It is easier to play a character when you have a strong background behind it. Most players like making play and roleplay easier, so they make characters with a strong concept and history. Yet, often these stories do not have any attachment to the world around them.
It is always best to make a character part of the game world, weaving them into the tapestry of the background story. Players should talk with the GM about elements in the game world that the character could have a connection to: recent history, NPCs, organizations, other characters, or even just random things. Form a connection to these things and the character is connected to the world. This helps better define the character and gives the player/character more options in play.
When you read a story or see a movie, how often does a group of four to six total strangers, with little to no knowledge of each other, get thrust together to do something, and work together well, if at all?
The answer is basically, “NEVER”.
So why do we accept this in games? They are supposed to be inspired by literature and action/adventure movies. Even video games have a back story explaining why the various characters are working together. No matter how flimsy, there is always a back story to make sense of things.
Not so with game characters. In most cases, they are thrust by the fates into a group of complete strangers to face life and death risks. You would hate this in a movie, why accept it in a game?
So where is your group’s back story?
Some players will say, “Well, they are PCs”, so they will interact with characters that normally they would have ignored or run away from. The PC halo is a hackneyed game concept that says you are supposed to embrace other PCs, no matter how weird, lame, or dangerous the character is. (The concept of halo came from the little bright ring that surrounded characters you were specifically using in early computer RPGs, much like the green polyhedron in a sims game or the gold circle at the feet of a character in most modern games).
Players really want stories, though they will often settle for less. However, if they want a story that includes their characters, they should work with the GM to make it happen.
First and foremost, they need to have a “Group”. To make a group, there needs to be some kind of relationship between the members. The characters must be weaved together, not just weaved into the tapestry of the world, but into the tapestry of the group itself.
Tip for players: to help the campaign story along, work with the other players when you create your characters. Find a connection, something in the characters’ past that links them together.
- When did they first meet?
- Did they work together?
- Did they grow or attend school/training academy together?
- Do they have a mutual friend?
- Was one character the best friend of another’s older sibling? Did they meet once at a party?
The more connections and history a character has with the other characters, the easier it will be to play with those characters. Your character will have a reason to work with the other character, rather than the lame…”well he is a PC”.
The GM should always be involved in character creation. Not only will the players supply information about the world, but they are a source of ideas about characters as well. They can make sure each character has a protected niche and that every character will have something to do in the campaign.
One other thing they can do is run mini-weaving scenes. Players play out or narrate scenes between their characters at some times in their histories. This gives them a chance to practice their characters and develop a mutual history.
The various weaving process gives the troop reasons to be together, some depth to their relationships, and the chance for the group to work out who does what, in addition to adding depth to the character’s history and the GM’s world. The GM should work with the players to see how the characters are woven together.
- Tip On Tracking Hit Points Faster
From: Dave Robinson
This is just a very quick tip for tracking the hit points of large groups of monsters in a big battle:
Add, don’t subtract.
When you have a half-dozen ogres or so, each with 20 hit points, what you do is keep a tally of the damage dealt, not the total hit points remaining. Once the tally crosses the total they’re dead. I do this because addition is much faster than subtraction.
This one change can easily cut half the time off taking care of monster hit points, which helps your battle flow more smoothly.
- Dungeon Idea
This tip does require a substantial expenditure of money, so you might want to put out the donation jar early to help defray some of the cost.
I, the DM, am creating a special, large Helloween dungeon for the characters to go through on our Halloween game. They’ll roll randomly for their starting locations. But instead of normal treasure, there will be special prizes, such as some XP rewards, desired magical items, and some “real” prizes, including a pound of candy, a hand-painted figurine of the player’s character, and the grand prize, a year’s subscription to Dragon Magazine. Those are the “treats”.
The “tricks” can include having to provide snacks for the next month’s gaming sessions, having to walk around and cluck like a chicken every time you want to attack during a session, or XP penalties if you want to be particularly nasty. Just an idea for a fun, special holiday session. Remember, some players might not be able to afford to bring snacks to all of your sessions, etc, so think hard and tailor your tricks and your treats to suit your gaming group.
Take care, Johnn, and Happy Helloween.
- Micro Managing Campaign Time
From: Dwayne al’ Trawick
It is in my opinion that micro management is fairly important in the beginning of the game. This way, you have time to meet and become pals with your players’ characters. You and the other players have time to understand their ways and grow closer. It’s also important in travel and adventure so that you have ample time to describe and let the players grow comfortable with your world’s society and landscape. But eventually, you will definitely want to go into a macro management style.
Here are a few things I plan to try in my campaign:
- Speed up travel. Have a short paragraph or two describing long trips and then move on to the next plot thread. It’s silly to roleplay every innkeeper once the characters are on friendly ground.
- Speed up upkeep with monthly maintenance costs. Instead of having your players wear holes in their character sheets by changing their money supply every time they order a beer, you can have a monthly upkeep cost. This has been introduced in D20 and GURPS. You determine how much the characters are living it up, and then you assign them a monthly cost dependant upon their apparent social class.
So food, lodging, likewise for their horse and/or pet, and maintenance of their weapons and armor and replacements for their perishable gear, tolls and taxes and whatnot. Then charge them that amount at the beginning of every month. If they can’t pay, they sleep outside, their sword gets rusty, their horse gets sick, so on and so forth.
- Pay attention to TV shows and old radio plays. Not those big one hour shows but the 30 minute ones. Notice how the majority of the time is in the main scenes. Learn to break up your adventures into scenes like that. Travel, gear up, and whatnot is not important. If you’ve listened to any old radio plays (I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes plays) you’ll notice an encounter with an employer lasts only as long as it is required, meaning the employer gives the deal, gives the reason for the job, the reward, and as soon as the players accept, fade and roll into the next scene. Likewise when interviewing NPCs. You should cut out as soon as the NPC has said what you wanted. This also allows the players to understand when the NPC’s purpose has been finished.
Well, I hope it helps.
- Noble Adventure Ideas
From: Mr. Kitty in Louisville
I just finished reading “12 Tips For Using Nobles In Your Games”. It reminded me of another adventure idea that I had for Dungeons & Dragons. In most campaign worlds, “raise dead” and “resurrection” spells are fairly easy to come by, especially for the wealthy, such as nobles.
But what affect does this have on the right of inheritance for noble titles? There would have to be some system in place to account for this. If the King is assassinated, does his son become King for a couple days until the King is raised by the High Priest? A DM might have to think on the fly to answer questions like this.
Some other adventure ideas:
- A Duke is killed in some remote place, and the adventurers must deliver his body-or a portion thereof-to a priest to raise him before a time limit expires and the Duke’s cousin is automatically granted the title.
- A powerful priest resurrects a long-dead King, who is the great-great grandfather of the current King. The newly resurrected king is demanding the return of the crown, and a civil war is brewing. The PCs may be forced to choose sides, may be blamed as the cause for the trouble (especially if it was one of them that did the resurrecting!), or may have to journey to a remote monastery to find a book of ancient laws that deal with the subject.
- The PC’s enemy, the evil Count, is finally dead. But his son, who is more friendly to the PCs, sends word to the party that there is a conspiracy to resurrect his father. Now the race is on to locate the missing cremated remains before the evil Count can return from the dead and reclaim his title.
- The Queen has recently granted the title of Duke to a lammasu, or some other unusual creature. Some nobility hire the PCs to investigate this new noble, because they suspect that he blackmailed the Queen into granting him political power.
- The King has just been turned into a lich. He still seems pretty benevolent, but the priesthood of Pelor is outraged, and the PCs find themselves urged to help overthrow the undead monarch.
- The local countess has been reincarnated as a badger. Legally, she still is entitled to hold her lands and her title, but her vassals refuse to serve her and want her deposed. The PCs find themselves alternately being asked for help from the nobles and from the royal badger.