26 July, 2012

Equipment in Game Systems

Technology is one of the biggest advantages that humanity has had in its conquest of the world. It's a real thing...it does't require religious faith to work, it can't be argued that a tool is simply a morale boosting exercise...it is quantifiably an advantage. It isn't magic that requires ritual, arcane times and places or obscure componentry. Anyone can pick up a screwdriver and they become far more proficient at turning screws into their appropriately threaded holes, it might take a little instruction but you don't need psychic manifestation, noble birthright or wads of cash to make it happen.

But something seems to go awry when we translate items and equipment into roleplaying games.

The advantages provided by magic, religion, psychic powers and social status have been integrated into gaming mechanisms in many different ways across many different systems. In D&D, and many OSR products, magic gets a list of spells completely different in function and feel to the rest of the game. Religion revolves around obscure and unknowable gods, but the very mechanisms of faith within a game make a quantifiable difference.

D&D 3 (and 3.5), gave you an advantage to skills if you used a masterwork version of equipment...but what did normal equipment do for you. What about a found item like a simple stick?

If you had a stick for leverage, were there game mechanisms in effect that increased your strength for the task at hand?...not that I remember. It's the kind of common sense thing that was left to GM fiat. "Oh, you've got a stick, Ill reduce the difficulty to move that rock by 5...but it you roll under a 10, you'll break the stick and if you roll a one you'll injure yourself in the process. Nothing in the rules, but you could make it up as you go.

I'm also thinking of a recent Mythbusters episode in which they mimicked being stranded on a desert Island with only a pallet of duct-tape for survival. In this episode, Jamie and Adam went through a variety of challenges to prove that duct-tape would make the survival not only possible but plausible.

How would a good game system handle the diversity of benefits possible from a simple roll of duct-tape?
Does skill with a specific piece of equipment play an advantage? (Knowing how to use the duct tape most effectively).

In some games, equipment has a flat mechanical game cost based on it's ability to improve a character.

Small benefit in a narrow field of uses = low cost.
High benefit in a narrow field of uses, or small benefit in a wide field of uses = moderate cost.
High benefit in a wide field of uses = high cost.

But a roll of duct tape or a multi-use survival knife (high benefit in a wide field of uses) is cheaper than an oscilloscope (small benefit in a narrow field). How do we quantify this in a game?

These are the things I'm currently thinking through for Walkabout.
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