Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Kitting Monitors, part 2

This is obviously a sequel to this other post about how non-weapon equipment and its mechanics can influence a game. Dan's comment is also essential reading.

As a reminder, we're looking more or less at this list:

  • Does game-mechanical equipment exist at all?
  • What equipment exists?
  • What is treated as Equipment rather than just stuff you have?
  • What technology is assumed to exist, to be available to PCs, and to be available to common NPCs?
  • How do you get Equipment in the first place? How easy is it to get more, both in the long term and the short term?
  • Maintenance? Breakages? Upkeep costs? Do these things exist, and if so, how do they work?
  • How reliable is equipment?
  • How, if at all, is equipment limited?
  • What is assumed normal equipment for a PC? How useful is it compared to what NPCs have? How much and how often does it affect the basic resolution mechanics? (are you adding bonuses to every roll? etc.)
  • Is equipment assumed and subtractive from, or optional and additive to die rolls?
  • What non-mechanical capabilities can equipment provide?
  • How crucial is the possession or otherwise of specific equipment to success? Are activities, or even missions, allowed to fail because PCs don't have particular items?
  • How vulnerable is a PC without their equipment?

Maintenance and reliability

This is largely an aspect of the setting rather than the equipment per se, but maintenance issues are important too. The big ones are the overall reliability of equipment (in the short and long term), and any work or resource costs to keeping them in play.

If the game models wear and tear, equipment damage or has fairly limited 'capacity' (power packs, magazines, fuel and so on) then appropriate amounts of effort and planning will be needed to keep PCs equipped. This can have allow for in-game variation, where sometimes PCs are running short on supplies or underequipped, and other times have more than they need, keeping things interesting. However, the need to plan in resupply and repair may be an irritation for both players and GMs (as well as characters) if it interrupts a tense plot or feels out-of-genre. In practice, few games seem to worry about any of this much. Ammunition is typically limited, but implausible amounts are carried with the GM's blessing. Occasionally, fumbles may result in damage to equipment.

Modelling maintenance and wear-and-tear is good for producing a realistic, gritty feel where the day-to-day routine and fairly ordinary activities are an important part of the game. It also allows for differentiation between conservative characters who are careful about such things, more careless folks whose equipment may be vulnerable, and reckless types who gamble on replacing it regularly. It allows a trade-off between time and money, since caring for equipment well can be mechanically worthwhile.

Minimal maintenance is appropriate for most kinds of epic or heroic adventure. The emphasis here is on deeds and characters, and it feels unsatisfactory to be worrying about whether your armour is rusting or your car needs an oil change. Ammunition or food is a different kettle of fish, but even here it seems more genre-appropriate for this to be a short-term tension rather than the cause of ongoing calculation.

I've discussed reliability elsewhere and have no new thoughts on the matter.

Getting equipment

Acquisition of equipment interacts with several other game features, significantly with genre and subgenre.

In games where PCs use cutting-edge tech dreamed up in their own labs, or fight monstrous aliens, the setting may preclude much in the way of looting. If what you use is already much better than most other people have access to - or if you believe this to be true - it often doesn't really make sense to loot bodies and take their gear. Similarly, some creatures may use equipment that's too weird, symbiotic, evil or Forbidden! for the PCs to comfortably take it. This is a major aspect of Deathwatch play, where almost every enemy you encounter will either be a filthy xenos beast or a vile heretic whose equipment you are loathe even to glance at in case it results in yer'actual daemonic possession; and where your fascist stormtrooper corps band of superhuman saviours of humanity already wield the finest equipment the Imperium can provide.

Organization-based games often mean PCs are provided with whatever they need, and so it's a matter of convincing the boss, or simply of demanding stuff. In these cases, there may be a tacit understanding that you don't bother picking up anything that doesn't look plot-relevant. In a sci-fi military shooter, say, you probably have what you need. However, not all organisations are so well-funded, especially the informal kinds that often form in response to secret supernatural or alien threats.

Subgenres where PCs are making their own way in the world frequently assume the PCs will work for their stuff. In dungeon-crawlers or post-apocalyptics alike, finding valuable or useful stuff is a big trope, and it's often assumed that you'll also be picking up a lot of less-useful stuff along the way which will be sold, traded or otherwise used up. Here, the balance of equipment made available can significantly affect the difficulty of the game, as well as the tone. Dark Sun emphasises survival much more than some other flavours of D&D, and this adds to its harsh and brutal atmosphere. In such subgenres, it's important to pay attention to what equipment people have, and to what options are available for getting more if a scenario will call for it.

Some genres are friendlier than others to rapid acquisition of new gear. These tend to have action spread out a bit: perhaps there are downtime segments between events, or they take place within a large city, or involve lots of travel through populated areas. This makes it possible to call in new requisitions, or simply do a bit of shopping. In contrast, mission-based or location-based games are often less friendly, as they tend to isolate PCs in places where it's logically difficult to get gear on purpose. Here, they're reliant on looting or stumbling across GM-planted supplies.

I think the key point here is, if a game models equipment in detail, then players are likely to expend a certain amount of effort in getting hold of equipment. The time expended will vary with the difficulty of acquiring equipment, and with the importance of that equipment to success. In a game with merchantile economy, this may simply mean extended shopping trips; in other cases it may mean spending most of a gaming session coming up with ways to retrieve, borrow, beg or steal some desirable item.


Dan has discussed the specificity of equipment, and I agree with his thoughts on abstraction and mechanicalness.

There are basically two ways in which equipment can determine the outcome of a mission.

One is the mechanical route: some item provides a mechanical effect or bonus, without which you cannot overcome some obstacle or achieve some target. The difficulty of opening the citadel vault door is 120, and without a CyTech Skelecard's +80 bonus, there's simply no way for a PC to hit that target. The castle is infused with Mortos Rays that will kill anything not protected by a Vita-Shield.

  • Purely numerical cases will tend to be hazy, because modifier-based games usually offer a range of ways to get those. Thus, it's quite possible for this situation to arise by accident due to miscalculation of the likely resources or attributes of a group of PCs. The reverse is also true: a challenge that ought narratively to be superhuman may be within the reach of a lucky or optimised PC, or a very resourceful player.
  • Numerical cases can also be plot bottlenecks. It's quite easy to impose an outrageous difficulty to some task, then offer an item with a similarly outrageous bonus as the reward for another task. In this case, do a sidequest to get the Skelecard.
  • Qualitative cases are perhaps the most open to player creativity. If a problem is described in narrative terms, then it may well be possible to think of a narrative solution that avoids having to deal with the intended obstacle. You don't need a Vita-Shield, just send in an animated puppet that you can use as a scrying focus and channel telekinetic magic through to pick up the Jewel of Plot and throw it out of the window.

The second route is a purely narrative one. It makes logical sense that an obstacle would require the use of some item, and if you didn't bring one, you can't deal with it. You can't cook stew without a container, you can't lower items down this 100-foot wall without some rope, you can't read the books in this library without a source of light.

Most games implement the second to some degree, because there's such a thing as taking the mick - you can't, in most games, suddenly announce that you teleport to Jupiter, or build a huge marble palace on the tiny desert island where you're marooned. But it's quite common to assume that if you are Doing X, you will have all the stuff a genre-appropriate character might want for anything they'd plausibly do during X. Of course you brought rope on your treasure-hunt. Of course you have a torch when you break into the house. Of course you didn't go on a journey without some way to feed yourself.

Otherwise, I think I'm leaving this one in Dan's capable hands.

Next time, probably: what stuff people actually have. Or, something else! Who knows?

No comments:

Post a Comment