Not Equipped to handle adventure


In early roleplaying games equipment was king. We deliberated over who could carry the gear we needed. Pots, pans, tents, and bedrolls were packed carefully onto our character sheets. Iron rations were bought and consumed -- suppplemented with fresh food when the prospect arose. Our dreams weren't preoccupied with magic items -- a suit of plate armor was a treasure worth countless toil and adventure. Like kids at the pet store we did as much time shopping in windows as we spent acquiring goods. We knew the local blacksmith by name.

Dungeons were explored, but using the caution of long poles to test for pits and pressure plates. Grapnels, shovels, and augers were all put to good use because these were the tools that would carry us to safety. Ropes were essential -- and string might accompany a character sheet as an accessory to show the DM how we were going to wrest treasure from the bowels of the earth. Tying, slipping, and winching our way to riches artifact by artifact. We didn't have the luxury of finding piles of gold and jewels; we would salvage treasure where we could find it. An old statue with an ivory horn... well we would have to find a way to extract the precious bone without damaging it. "How is it affixed." "What tools do we have" We interacted with the environment, not just the splat text in a box of a module. The environment had riches, but they didn't fall from the sky. We had to work at it. When the physical riches were lean, we would peddle information to merchants, scholars, and historians.

Over the last few decades role-playing settings have become increasingly bountiful. More supernatural creatures, more magic, and the gross domestic product of every kingdom and principality must be measured on a boundless scale. As a generation nurtured on the philosophy of constant growth and endless abundance took over the game, there seemed to be a limitless treasure to fit the world view. Treasure and vast riches were fruit on a low-hanging branch. Preparation was not required to secure the treasure. It was easy. In an effort to make the game more "exciting" the designers wrote out the boring bits. Getting magic was more exciting than finding a stone tablet from an ancient civilization. The syrupy sweet transformation of the role-playing game began with piles of treasure, leading to colleges of magic selling items, and ending with corner store magic shops.

The general store has gone out of business. There is no one left to swing the picks, or use a sieve to look for jewels. Why waste all that time when my rulebook says that every orc carries enough treasure to support you for a week? Does every person in your city walk around with $500 in their wallet? What percentage of your wealth is in your wallet, compared to in your real property?

These are annoyances of settings, but the worst side-effect of the status downgrade for mundane equipment is in the experience. We used to connect to the game through the stuff you used. It was over 30 years ago when my first player asked me what items were in the thief's tools. We sat down and figured them out so that they could use them in the game. That was back when the player, DM, and character all had to interact with a trap to disarm it. I am sure I got the physics of a lot of traps wrong, but the players knew what they were looking at and took pride in getting past the trap.

When more skills were added to the character sheet equipment got moved to page two. I am afraid to ask if they even use equipment in 4th Edition. The Lord of the Rings was an everyman story about a person who resolved to take on a big task. It wasn't about their levels or their skills; and it wasn't about their equipment. It was about the choices they made. For good or ill, they interacted with the world. They fought when they had to, ran if they could, climbed, hid, crawled and wondered.

They lived in a visceral world where they would prepare for their challenges. Sure they got elven rope, and bread, and knives, and mithril shirts -- it was high fantasy after all -- but they packed their ponies, gathered cabbages, and generally attended to an everyday reality that is missing in many games. There are plenty of old-school gamers that are just finishing their last year of high school. Old-school is not chronological. It is a philosophy -- a philosophy that accepts that the most likely thing in your characters hands when the troglodytes burst from the forest is not your sword, but your waterskin.

Oh man, this just came up yesterday as I started a solo campaign for my girlfriend. I based the beginning little bit off a bit of prepublished something or other and I was staring at the page, mouth agape, when I saw that the designer had actually written (paraphrasing here) "Of course it's entirely possible that the PCs miss this room altogether and so won't get the benefit of the NPCs gear after defeating them and lotting the bodies, so to not disrupt the treasure component of level dependent benefits feel free to have them discover a chest of gold in another room". This was in a cave system occupied by bandits that were described as earlier as "poor and desperate". I know that if I was poor and desperate I would have just spent the chest of gold and bag of jewels on a nice fort somewhere, and to pay staff to maintain it. If they were so poor and desperate then where did they get magic freaking boots and enchanted weaponry? Oh right...they got it off a chart denoting CRs and ELs and other crap.

A man with magic boots need not go hungry. A man with magic boots and a chest of gold can live like a king. entire chest of gold was suggested for no other reason than to support the bell curve of character advancement with no consideration at all towards the fact that a box of gold that big is more money than the town had likely ever seen in one place at once. Where did the bandits get it? Who the hell had they been robbing!?

Before we started playing I let Ember know that this was bullshit. I let her know this wasn't going to be a campaign of loot. There would be no chests of gold or piles of jewels lying casually on a bench in a soft velvet bag. True20 doesn't use experience points...the characters "go up a level" when the GM sees fit. I know this is a little arbitrary for many, but it works for us because my players trust me to do what's right by them. All the delicate math of level balance vanishes behind "what's right for the pace of the campaign".

As soon as "what makes sense" became "what some line graph says" I started to lose faith with this part of many RPGs.

My girl was of course fine with this. She didn't learn about roleplaying sitting around a table at the FLGS with a bunch of people who were more interested in the next level than the next twist of the plot. She's been an avid video game player since she was 8, and so this type of thing isn't what she wants out of roleplaying...she gets it out of video games and so expects RPGs to be a more graceful representation of the "real" world". I think her exact words were "well, that's fine Scott...because if I wanted to find treasure I'd play Skyrim." Taking that further, it's almost a disgrace that video game designers seem to get what many RPG designers have Skyrim you find 5 or 6 coins here, one gem there, a silver plate over there. It's almost uncanny that some of us oldschool GMs make fun of more "modern" roleplaying games as taking their cue from video games than from the past of our hobby...because the video game designers actually seem to have finally figured it out while these guys working for tabletop publishers have lost the plot completely.

I'm kind of a stickler for knowing what your character has on them because I remember the importance of the ten foot pole. I was about to start a group campaign in tandem with the solo thing where the PCs are shi[wrecked at the beginning on a little island. Resource management would have been of paramount importance. They were a bit dismayed at having to detail exactly what was on the ship...I made only one concession towards vaguery by giving them a stack of blue and red poker chips. The blue ones were more numerous and represented little incidentals they might not have thought of at first, the red ones were fewer and represented big items on the ship they might not have known about because they had belonged ot other (now dead) passengers. Even with that, 10 blue chips and 3 red ones, they were limited. Once defined they lost the chip and gained an entry on their equipment list.

I suppose this new pardigm comes from not wanting to dither in minutiae and just "getting on with the romp" but it removes some critical element of finality to the player's decisions in equipping their party. It speaks volumes about the values of the new wave of gamers and why they play in the first place. This other campaign I speak of, the one that hasn't gotten off the ground yet, was to take plkace deep in a foreign jungle; while looking for a new player or two for some frsh blood what stopped most from being interested was the knowledge that they really would be restrained to some realistic degree of isolation and limited resources. It turned off 99% of the potential players I spoke to...and I was okay with that. Just another bar for entry that prevented me from ending up with a table of people I really just did not want to game with anyway.

I think my own mental breakthrough in this matter came when I actually worked out how much all of that crap weighed. A gold coin weighs ounce? So who the hell is carrying the groups cache of thousands? And where did the orcs in the cavern get them all anyways? Gold has no value to those that can't go to town and spend it in the first place. This is when I realized that half the magical item list was completely fugazi. No one sat down and said "you know what would be cool and evocative of the atmosphere of this setting? A bag that's bigger on the inside than the outside and always weighs the same no matter what's in it..." This was merely a convention allowed to make it easier to haul off big scores of gold and gems.

Looking at it that way, this isn't necessarily "old school vs. new school" because the oldest school possible is the one responsible for this bit of spurious logic in the first place. They laid the groundwork; but at least they tried to disquise it behind the veil of "reality within context". These days it's just assumed with a wave of the hand. It isn't "How can we make this work" so much as it's "who cares how it works...bring on the heap of metal!"

Nice little rant Gil...I remember when I had a group of players whose characters were inventors alongside being explorers that were trying to invent the telescoping ladder to make everything fit on their cart and fit around tight corners better. They admired how I made sure this was a lousy contraption for the first few incarnations of it they devised. I'd hate to think how a group of "new school" roleplayers would react to my ensuring there was a reason no one else had invented it first. The "ladder problem" became a major thorn in their side and they loved it. To this day those particular players still bring it up even though they don't ever seem to mention the rest of that campaign with anything approaching the same degree of fondness.

Sidebar; they also invented the folding umbrella and were granted a large estate for their ingenuity. Their wealth was not measured in coins but in land and stock.

Like the both of you, story is paramount when I run a game. The players are the heroes of the story. Now I do throw in a bit of treasure in various forms, but as with my races, governments, religion and languages, I take common thngs and put my stamp on them. For example, an Orc in my world is like an Uruk-hai from Middle Earth rather than the Gamorrean Guard orcs of D&D.

I like figuring out the why and how of things. What makes sense? In Scott's example, there was a chestful of gold. Why? Scott was nice about saying so, but that's stupid and he explained all the reasons why. Instead of a chestful of gold, how about a hostage WORTH a chestful of gold (to the right people). That's an NPC who can point the group in the right direction if needed, adds drama and excitement and a host of problems and issues for the group. And it's WAY more fun than a chestful of gold that doesn't belong there.

I once gave a character really cool black spiky plate mail that added a bunch of cool bonuses and didn't give him much of an encumbrance penalty. The armour was addictive and he had to make a WILL roll every week. Everytime he failed that roll, his will lowered by 1, he became more addicted to the armour and he physically mutated (horns, goat feet, poisonous barbed tail, bat wings, red eyes (infravision)). Once his WILL reached 0 he became a demon and an NPC. The funny part about this scenario is that the PLAYER got addicted to all the cool bonuses and stuff that happened because of the armour. He never tried to take it off and looked forward to his weekly roll so that he could see what would happen next. Of course, he was devastated when he lost his character, but he just shook his head and said "I should have known better."

My friend Charles has been gaming with me for over 20 years now. He will warn you not to get greedy if you have an abundance of treasure to choose from the more you grab, the more likely I am to mess with you. I have turned male characters into female, deformed them, turned them into animals, teleported them, cursed them and more.

I player of mine once told me that I freely give out rewards, but I tend to take things away just as quickly. He was frustrated because he wanted tobe a horse trader and had a small herd of six nice horses. But he insisted on bringing them along wherever he went. Two died and three were stolen from him before he learned to keep them somewhere safe. Of course, he had to pay for someone to feed and care for them, place for them to stay, etc. While he eventually did build up a herd and became a horse trader and retired his character as a rancher, he had to earn it.

My point here is that on the rare occasions that I use a published adventure, I either delete the treasure or change it so that it makes sense. I also take "normal" treasure and twist it. I make you earn things and if you aren't careful with it, I take it away. Not because I try to, but because it makes sense. The player with the horses? Two of them died in a rockslide while on a narrow mountain trail. The other three were stolen by bandits during the night. Why? because everyone who knew horses could recognise how nice these horses were.

One last thing, even when I reward characters for a job well done, I make sure that they are treated in a realistic way. If they mouth off to the king, he will punish them for it, no matter how grateful he is for them returning his kidnapped daughter. I once had a party fight a group of escaped gladiators in the sewers below the city (an adventure from GURPS Fantasy Adventures). Two of the three characters got tore up and unconcious while the last character managed to get by almost unscathed. The healthy character decided that going back the way they came in was too risky and so he made his own way up to the surface, dragging his unconcious companions behind him. He eventually made his way through a narrow tunnel and into the castle, coming out in the king's harem.

The king exuberantly rewarded the characters with medical care, money, weapons, armour and horses. But he also took the eyes of the healthy character as that character knew the secret escape passage that led from his harem room and that was normally punishable by death.

So make sure to make the rewards for gaming as realistic as possible. Have it make sense, even when the players bitch. A small village may reward them with sheep instead of gold, or even a banquet held in their honor. And if the characters get greedy or don't take care of their stuff, let things happen to them. Don't coddle them. Make them earn it.

Umm... I think that I started ranting there. My bad. I'll try to be shorter next time. Lol!

"Instead of a chestful of gold, how about a hostage WORTH a chestful of gold (to the right people). That's an NPC who can point the group in the right direction if needed, adds drama and excitement and a host of problems and issues for the group. And it's WAY more fun than a chestful of gold that doesn't belong there..."

-I really like this because it's a story element and not a game element. I'm a big proponent for GMs taking crap like "insert a chest of gold to preserve balance" and making it actually work. I think it's the only proper way to engage the hobby. The problem is that there are many many GMs who are learning about this hobby through this paradigm. It's hardly "new", it was just as bad when I got into gaming as it is now...and I can actually think of many examples of where it has vastly impoved.

It's something that has to be developed by each individual running the game, this whole "no, not a chest...a person worth a chest" thing. It's just too bad that not enough effort is put in by designers to instill this type of intelligent use of the system and/or setting; maybe they just don't feel it's their job. But if they aren't going to do it then who is? It's this train of thought that keeps me around this place; we don't generally fall for this sort of sloppy and lazy gamemastering and seek to find ways to make it better. It would be nice if a prepublished scenario said "they're poor bandits, so don't have much in the way of gear for the PCs to take from instead insert some kind of treasure equivalent to X GP value that seems likely for the area and for your individual campaign. Some ideas you could use would be; a prisoner they intended to ransom, an entire wagon load of unmarked and expensive trade goods, or a valuable work of art (like a famous and rare wall hanging) that the bandits have been using improperly or ignorantly for some other purpose thus lowering its exhorbitant value to something realistic for the PCs level." Instead, they just say "insert a chest of coins". Bleh.

The same goes for equipment the PCs have (or don't have). The emphasis is on "you have your weapon, you have your armor, you have your spell book...goes smash a dungeon". This is the area I think where it is a "new" trend. My biggest pet peeve is the throw-away magic items. When a PC finds a magic sword it has a story...because they are rare and hard to make and expensive. I usually use the "legacy weapon" approach so that as the PC gets more powerful so too does the weapon as their attachment to each other strengthens. It keeps them from trading it in for the next best thing they come across when they get more badass (because I'm probabaly not going to insert some next best thing...). I hate the feel of the disposable sword. It's a great tragedy in roleplaying in my opinion. Likewise for the notion that one cannot "upgrade" or modify a magical is what it is and if you want something different you have to trade up. Gah. Gross. There's something really cool about setting special magical gems into a legendary breastplate with magical properties that I've had all along. Then I add some shoulder spikes which provide a further strengthening of the item later on. Etcetera. It's personal that attachment grows. It's not a tool or entry on a character sheet to be rubbed out and replaced later; instead it becomes part of the myth of the character.

It should be mentioned though that I actually very rarely include "magical items" in campaigns. This way, when I do, they're a really big deal. The current paradigm feels like a board game.

I suppose what this leads to is the logical conclusion that this is actually how the majority want it. It's sort of a chicken/egg thing; which came first, bad writing in the roleplaying industry leading GMs to think that's the right way to do it, or bad GMs that just don't care thus leading designers and writers to cater to the LCD? We'll never know...but we'll lament that it is the way it is.

I'm currently using a bit of prepublished business to launch a solo campaign for my girlfriend, I know it will inevitably walk away from the plot structure of the adventure as written (that is afterall the goal), but it will give us all an excellent case study in how to do this sort of thing the right way as I post about it in a seperate thread I'm going to be starting tonight. This equipment question is absolutely going to be part of what we explore there and I might not have thought about it if it weren't for Gilgamesh posting thanks again Gil!

This is actually something I could use a lot of help on, having come up on 3rd D&D and the notion that limited equipment is best ignored. In the game I'll be returning to in a few months, equipment and wealth aren't really things we focus on, as it being in the 20s, we leave it kinda vague. Mostly the assumption, the characters being higher-up gangsters right now, is that they have plenty of money and aren't really wanting for anything.

But there are definitely games where I want to emphasize limited resources, even if not this one. What's the best way to do that? What have you guys done in the past to do so? Also, how do you take them out of abstraction? It's all well and good to have the players strike off daily rations, but how do you impress on them the feeling of being hungry, particularly when they run out. I generally find physical things like that to actually be the hardest to describe and give the feeling of, because the players are so totally disconnected from that aspect of their characters.


What's the best way to do that? [emphasize limited resources]

How do you impress on them the feeling of being hungry?
The players are so totally disconnected from that aspect of their characters.

You raise some really interesting questions. I am disappointed in most games because they don't have tight-enough rules around hunger/fatigue/travel and equipment. A large part of an adventure game is exploration, but players have become complacent that they can travel to anywhere and not fret the hazards of being lost, eating the wrong plants, falling down a ravine, running out of food, getting bitten by a spider,etc. If a GM is not willing to kill a character in these scenarios then the players will not pay attention to them. If a GM is not willing to limit spending then players will not save money. They will live in a world of entitlement.

If you diminish the importance of the mundane hazards, you diminish the importance of the fantastic hazards. If mundane equipment saves the lives of characters and takes them to new avenues of adventure they will place importance on them. If you diminish the importance of mundane equipment, you diminish the role of fantastic equipment. A sunrod is not a magic item -- it is a message to your players that you don't want them to be bothered carrying oil for a lantern because it is boring.

Players pay attention to what serves them in the game.

Imagine a game where a mirror can make the difference between life and death. Why? Because a mirror can start a fire and signal for help. Finding warmth and shelter, finding food, and finding water are critical survival skills. A mirror can help you immensely in starting a fire. Starting a fire keeps you warm and allows you to cook your food so that you don't get gut-rot or disease from eating spoiling meat.

To preserve immersion these little choices need to have material consequence -- not out of proportion -- but real consequence. The sum of the consequences can be measured.

If we give the characters a single skill called survival and let them roll a die and abdicate the need to plan and understand the environment then the players will make sure that someone in the group has a point or two of survival. Clothes don't matter. A winter coat isn't necessary. Player's don't have to dress for the environment. They can wear their armour all the time. They don't need a wineskin because they have a +2 sword. They can kill the next thing they find, get some gold, and buy a drink.

gold = you can buy Gear = gear leads to killing = killing gets gold = gold gets better gear = more killing = more gold

You see the problem? It makes the game one-dimensional. A character has a one-dimensional stat for wealth, for survival, for everything. Every problem can be solved by shutting up and rolling the dice. You don't need to find a silver knife to confront the werewolf -- just hit it with a big sword... no blow it up with the fireball ... sneak behind it and stealth attack. The one dimensional thinking permeates the game. Each character is optimized for a couple of responses. It is less about the environment and more about the "build" of the character. The character construction solves the problem, not the player. A unique situation is more about "did I build for this contingency" than "how do I resolve this problem."

Equipment is ignored because it is less valuable than magic. Characters put the best item they can in every "slot" they have available. They don't optimize for the Actions they are trying to take. This lets the player lazily ignore equipment. There is no befit to having the right equipment. They don't seek out a guide, because they don't need help with unfamiliar terrain.

Equipment should increase your survivability by improving your skills. A heavy coat should help you shrug off the cold, but add to your fatigue.

Magic should allow you to do things that are not-normal. D&D missed the mark when they made magic items uber-equipment -- most game designers in lemming-like fashion, followed them.

Powerful Magic (artefacts) should extract a price or toll from the user. Fear and wonder should be paired together.

So what is my advice?

When a player tries to take an action ask him what equipment he/she has to help. Each item that helps -- add a bonus to their roll.

"You camp out that night?"
"Do you have a tent? A bedroll? Firewood? Flint and steel? An extra blanket? What are you eating?"
"Okay, so that is a survival check of 40 ..[hmm. add up all the missing equipment]. If you fail by more than 10 I am going to give you a penalty of... more than...

For wealth... I'd do something like the poker chip idea. Give them something tangible to spend.

In the long term... play a game with more than a one-dimensional ruleset. :)

I like how Burning Wheel gives you a wealth skill. You test against it to acquire equipment so that you don't have to bother with book-keeping for your recreation. I like that concept as I sell and support ERP software -- I get quite my fill of book-keeping and finances at the office.

Where Burning Wheel falls short for me is in actually using equipment during the GAME. Equipment gets dressed up, but doesn't make it to the prom. Still one-dimensional, but less tedious. Most RPG's are really weak on using equipment. Typically it is just there not functioning within the same set of rules as everything else. It sits on the character sheet waiting for a use in the narrative out-of-dice uses(ROLEPLAYING). The fewer of those interactions there are, the less equipment means to the participants.

Am I wrong?

- Character History
- Subtle interaction
- Equipment

- Rolling the dice past a non-combat obstacle

Character History
Subtle Interaction
Travel and Exploration
-- History(preferences), Interactions(situations), Adversaries(opposition), and Equipment modify your ability to take actions

The core mechanism should be taking actions. All rivers should flow into this ocean.

But how do you keep from getting bogged down in this? Part of me loves the survival aspect, but another part gets bored by it. Really? You guys are gonna test every square foot of the passageway with a ten foot pole?

I also just fundamentally lack knowledge here. I was a boyscout, but that's really useless when it comes to anything approaching actual survival skills, no matter what they tell you in the PSAs about that boy who survived because he was an eagle scout. No, he survived because he was clever, and mostly lucky. But I digress.

The problem I always come across with stuff like this is trying to make it more than numbers. It's all well and good when I tell them their starving, but that's fairly difficult to convey. Getting into a character's head space is easy - getting into their physical space is much more difficult, especially in something like combat. Don't get me wrong, my players get tense and sometimes panic in combat, but it's very difficult to convey that very physical feeling of getting shot or punched.

Or am I overthinking this? Thoughts?

But how do you keep from getting bogged down in this?

You avoid getting bogged down by allowing the rules to "fall-away" as much as the GM decides. A rule is only needed when the narrative is not clear what the outcome should be. Your characters are tired and hungry does not need to be any more than that. When the action starts, some skill tests may be assessed a penalty condition because... the characters are tired and hungry. Likely tired and hungry should affect tasks of the mind and spirit. Being hungry doesn't impede my ability to swing a sword when attacked, but it may make me less likely to notice the ambush. The rule only applies where it make sense, or when we need to magnify the action. Whether that is looking for a path, avoiding an ambush, or trying to survive.

That is where we get to survival. If you want to explore the possibility of characters dying on their trek across the desert, the rules should be able to magnify the "tired and hungry" scenario and introduce a framework that HELPS the players and GM explore this new challenge. It has to fit with the "tired and hungry" rule. So, you have a set of rules a little more detailed to give a framework. It should be the same framework as everything else so that you don't need a 500-page rulebook to figure it out. A character collapsing in the desert is tense and exciting. If the GM arbitrarily annouces that "you collapse" the player would feel cheated of the opportunity to apply strategy to alter her fate.

This is the approach that I advocate for a rules system. In the heart of the narrative the rules should not exist. As you begin to evaluate action you use "just enough" rule. The examination settles on the level of detail that the players require. The rules should be able to meet that level. You should also be able to adjust the flow of time to a level of detail that is interesting. Are we plotting out every day, hour, minute, or second? This is dependent on the pace of the action.

Your boy scout motto is "be prepared." That means that your game should have a rule for hunger...even if you never use it. Given all this I expect that you understand my position on the 10'pole. If the character has a piece of equipment they can choose to use it in a tense situation. If they try to use it all the time their characters will get bogged down -- likely having to camp out in every dungeon they visit. However, the 10' pole allows them to assess a danger and use strategy to alter their odds. They do this when they feel threatened. If players respond to danger by taking actions to mitigate danger then you create excitement and involvement. This is so far removed from the "tell me when I need to roll" approach that infects the RPG. When they don't engage the situation they should not be rolling a "skill check" they should be "making a saving throw against stupid".

An experienced character should take different actions than an experienced one. My criticism is that they take the same actions with different results. The flip-side of this argument was used in designing D&D. They wanted the character skill, not the player skill to determine the result of an action. If a character can bypass a trap with a pole, why are there skills on the character sheet. My answer is that the result of an action is the DESCRIPTION of the action plus the SKILL of the character. A player may do a very good job describing how to pick a lock. The GM may feel like the player is using out-of-character knowledge, but they have the basic right approach. I say give them a bonus to the skill check. Without some skill to back it up it likely still wont work. If a character with a lot of skill applies careless description they should get a penalty.

GM: "A room has a chest, a clock, a carpet and two doors."

Player: "I search the room."

GM: [Rolls the dice with two penalty conditions] In the chest you find three warm blankets.


GM: "A room has a chest, a clock, a carpet and two doors."

Player: "I search the chest."

GM: In the chest you find three warm blankets.

Player: "What is the carpet made of?"

GM: [Rolls the dice with a penalty condition-partial success] "It is well worn, especially on one side. Their is a huge crease down the middle, so it is pretty much worthless. At some point this was an expensive rug -- red geometric patterns. "


GM: "A room has a chest, a clock, a carpet and two doors."

Player: "I look under the carpet."

GM: There is a trap door under the carpet.

The result of action should be based on the description and the rule. Not just the rule. Not just the description. In this context equipment is important because it allows you access to actions.

How does this apply to survival?

If a character travels from the small outpost of Hithertown to the great city of Yon, they may forget to pack a lunch. It is a full day's ride. Halfway through the day the GM may ask "what are you doing for lunch." The players may decide that they need to hunt for food. Hunting, cooking, and cleaning may take them an extra hour or two, making it after dark when they arrive in Yon. They may find something odd in the forest to investigate... a firepit full of bones, animal tracks, or just about anything. Or, they can decide to be hungry. They arrive in Yon famished and looking for a meal. That drives them to the local tavern immediately where...

Engaging with the environment creates action and opportunity. In the cases above, the narrative action is all that is needed. The survival condition precipitates action.. it is not the central aspect. You do not need rules to govern this use of survival.

A pilgrimage across the Eastern Sea of Sands could be handled the same way. You make sure that the players provision themselves for the journey. Give them a gentle slap on the wrist for any omissions and put them at the edge of the desert, haggard, at the edge of exhaustion, and leaking sand from every orifice. It works.

There is a rule here, but it isn't a good one. The players agree to "pretend" to be wary of the danger, and the GM moves them to the next stop on the adventure ride. Welcome to adventure game called Dungeons and Disney. The Eastern Sea of Sands is no more dangerous than the pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean. For all the hot air we all know that the main character can't be thwarted. Sure they can get killed in combat, because the game is written around that; but, the Eastern Desert is just window-dressing. If you want to make it dangerous, throw in a Sand-Scorpion -- that can kill a character. A de-hydra with seven heads can kill. De-hydration, sun-stroke, exhaustion... nope.

If you want travel to be anything other than window dressing in your campaign you need to have the Sun "attack" their character. You need to have hunger cast spells on them. Players must be able to modify their environment to protect from the Suns attacks. They should be able to assess their odds, turn back, apply strategy and understand the consequences of their failures -- just like the combat decisions they make.

Disney and Dross is not balanced. Narration is too powerful out of combat, and not powerful enough once in it.

BTW -- I bought the True20 stuff. I'll have to read through it all at some point. sounds like there is some stuff in there I will like.

As I'm reading all of this stuff, I keep having flashbacks to games I've run or had a character in. It has always seemed, with groups I've been in, that it ends up like this, "Weapons? Check. Armor? Check. Rope? Check. I'm done!" Like has been said before, the players will pick up on the GM's cues and ignore anything that seems to be irrelevant. As a player, I can say that it is far too easy to fall into that trap.

I think I was still in 2.5 (skills and powers) D&D when I stumbled upon the relevance of paying attention to what you have on your person. I, randomly, decided the character I was making would have a hand mirror with him, and it ended up saving my ass. From that point on I would try to find things in the equipment lists that have a wide variety of uses. Granted, with D&D it never seemed like you could stock yourself properly. I'm not saying that my characters should have everything I wanted, but, the rules as I remember them really left you as a pauper. Now that I think about it that seemed to be another reason why some of the characters were never supplied properly. It was humorous to see the other players' characters with everything to fight, but nothing to eat, not that I was any better when I began.

The realism, as everyone has mentioned in their comments, is what I've been looking for. Hacking your way through a dungeon grows tedious to me, I want interaction and to witness the evolution of my character. Neglecting certain aspects of what my character would do pulls me out of the moment. Things can be mentioned, "I'm going to snack on some dried fruit as we travel through the forest," without having to go into great detail. I'd say that it is all based on what level of immersion you want. If a group just wants to go around murdering monsters and getting buried under their mountains of gold, then they can. I won't want to be in that kind of group because that isn't the interaction I'm looking for.

I better stop now because I feel like I'm talking in circles.

Nothing wrong with circles friend; I haven't been able to talk in a straight line yet. I agree it comes from the DM. I like Scott's ideas about a big discovery session. That should create an opportunity for the players to come together and talk about the roles of their characters in the adventure. I'm not talking about those tactical roles, but:

Moral Compass
Problem Solver
jack of all trades

These are the things that you can start to build a character around. Once you have built characters, you can build a game.


GM has a Scott-style discovery with the players
GM builds a world
GM pitches the world to the players and describes places, events, and people
Players pick their roles and build their characters

The trick is what comes next. The GM usually creates a point of cohesion --- a reason why the characters will confront challenges together. Then he creates a challenge to start things moving.

Haha. That's how I work. I bounce around from one thing to the next until I forget my main point.

That discovery session sounds intriguing. Better to know what everyone wants to get out of their experience, or if their will be conflicts that would make the group suffer. Now if I could only find a group to be a part of. The woes of my hermit like lifestyle.

But, back to a little more on topic with equipment. From my own experiences, mainly playing D&D, it started to turn from interacting with the world to more of what online RPGs are currently, fighting monsters and being disappointed that you didn't get the magic item you were hoping for. This leads to fighting more monsters to get that item to "drop", or to get enough currency to buy one from a living vending machine. The most memorable items that my characters have held have been like Scott mentioned, items that my characters personally modified. They weren't necessary magical. One had daggers with dragon eyes in the bottom of the hilts and another had a sword that grew more powerful the longer he used it.

Now, I can't say that I'm not guilty of many of the things that have been mentioned. Most of the adventures I have been involved with had a ton of booty that was gathered, to the point where every character's back should have been broken from the weight of the gold alone. Stuff like that was always non-factors in the adventures, some kind of unwritten rule that had been agreed upon. However, when I look back on those adventures, can't think of one that could be considered a campaign or setting, I can see that the unwritten rule(s) hindered having the play I was looking for. I know the groups I have been in played out more like we were in a video game, with a lack of plot, than a real world. Perhaps video game RPGs should have been given a different genre title, that way there wouldn't be a reference for expectation inside anyone's head. This doesn't hold for everyone, but when I hear RPG, pen and paper isn't the first thing I think of.

"One had daggers with dragon eyes in the bottom of the hilts and another had a sword that grew more powerful the longer he used it."

-In the campaign I ran where I destroyed the world and the PCs saved the people, they killed a dragon. Just once, and it was a small one that was being transported off a ship in a cage to be studied. It managed to escape the cage at the docks and the PCs killed it. They had a number of its scales turned into breastplates for the party and they became known as the Green Scale Gaurd (they didn't give themselves this name, and I don't think they really liked it, but it suited them as they were all about justice and equality. An NPC bard, telling their tale on his death bed, was the 'voice' of the campaign. He's the one who called them this.) Even when they found a piece of magical armor somewhere they wouldn't take it for their own because they were far too attached to their green and scaly breastplates.

If you use anything even similar to the d20 rules, I recommend getting the Midnight campaign setting. It is rather "low magic" in many ways that are setting specific and it contains some really and truly great rules for "legacy weapons" that grow in power with their user...because it's unlikely that they'll find another down the road.

That's pretty cool. They could have just wanted something a little more intimidating, but you can't argue that they weren't well known. I'm pretty sure that was the only dragon that any of my characters was involved in killing. I can't even recall if the dragon had any treasure, all I remember is that once I plundered the eyes it became a free-for-all to harvest everything we could. Attachment to weapons can definitely have an effect on what characters will take.

This isn't exactly pen and paper related, but, I once grew obsessively attached to a spear in Soul Reaver (a video game). I intended to kill the end boss with it. Unfortunately, I tossed it into a spot that I couldn't retrieve it from, and stopped playing shortly after that. I'm still a little heartbroken over it.

I'll have to check that one out. I can't think of any "low magic" games that I've played in, but, I have a lot of fond memories over either spur of the moment items that have proven useful or weapons that grow with the user/have a definite meaning to the player. I've long grown tired of, basically, being force fed baubles to fill some status quo, like what you mentioned before with a chest full of gold to counteract not getting certain things from those poor, vagrant bandits. I'm rather curious as to what successful bandits look like in that realm, or do they become bankers?

"...or do they become bankers?"

El oh el. My thoughts exactly!

At one point, in a campaqign and setting long in my past. the PCs were responsible for making wyvern steak one of the greatest delicacies known. I couldn't bear to have a chest or heap of treasure in a wyvern's lair...they don't even have opposable thumbs, or even upper apendages to manipulate things with; and what the hell would they want with treasure anyways? So I made the "treasure value" of the encounter the wyvern carcass itself...

I actually find it hilarious that every single creature or monster has a crow-like attachment to shiny things.

"wyvern steak one of the greatest delicacies"

I like that. Can I steal?

Absolutely you can!

We should actually take this oppurtunity to share our lists of alternative "treasure", likening back to the suggestion that instead of the chest of gold the bandits have a hostage worth a chest of gold. I'll dig mine ut of a binder in a box in a closet and post it tomorrow morning. It includes some rather odd things that, like the wyvern steak, make total sense when viewed in context.

That's awesome! Kinda feel bad for the wyverns, though, and I'd love to see a wyvern ranch. I don't have a list for alternatives, the groups I've mostly been involved with have stuck to D&D treasure rules. That's the only alternative "treasure" that I can think of, and that was more of me thinking that it would be cool to have a trophy from the fight. I should have used the alternative method because thinking up reasons for a handful of orcs basically having Uncle Scrooge's vault was such a chore.

That's what made wyvern steak such a rare can't farm the things at all.

Some of the others I've used (from various campaigns over the years):

-wyvern steak
-paint made from illithid blood (there was this particularily depraved artist one will ever forget Dell's epic play, "The Fall of Morwyn, or, How I Forgot To Feed the Gods")
-skin (this also had to do with Dell the artist/playwright...Stone to Flesh became rather profitable for a short time until he found out what they were doing)
-an umbrella
-the collected works of Saay C'saay (an epic bard whose work had been lost for years and years)
-an *accurate* map of the northern wastes from before they were the northern wastes
-black salt
-myconids (Dell was also an amateur chef and preferred his ingredients to be sentient)
-a famous wagon (I won't bother with the details. It suffices to say that the wagon was...famous)
-a pair of worn out leather gloves worn by a famous smith lost when a dwarven tribe's halls were taken in a civil war
-a working 9 volt battery (long story)
-someone's car keys
-a beat up and tarnished flute
-a bag of marbles (just plain old marbles)

Needless to say, Knowledge skills can be far more useful than the Identify spell in most of my campaigns.

I remember when I started with a new group - some 25 years ago (after 5+ years of gaming prior to that). They cleaned up a goblin lair and were whining that there was only around 30 COPPER pieces to be found. They whined all the way back to town and all that night in town.

The next morning, they were surprised when a group of men-at-arms were loading up to go check out the ruins - and even told the "adventurers" that the goblins were all dead and there was no treasure to be found.

The looks of confusion on the players' faces when the new group returned to a hero's welcome with a huge wagon loaded down with arms and armor and boots and bed frames and such... and the looks of incredulity when the new group then SOLD all that stuff and were QUITE wealthy afterwards... oh, that's just priceless!

I also had a treasure that consisted of a magical sewing machine. The player kept it, adventured to earn several thousand gold to buy cloth - and then retired the PC to become a world-famous tailor.

Treasure is truly in the eye of the beholder... and can include beholder's eyes.