Does the gear make the man?

The same conversation that got yesterday’s post going also started another discussion regarding the importance of gear to a character.  Tim Hannon (@theloremaster) suggested that gear in Savage Worlds was overrated and the real character choices are in the Edges.  Sean argued that many well known characters (King Arthur, Elric, Indiana Jones), their gear are integral parts of the characters.

Here’s the thing: they’re both right.  In Savage Worlds, if you have a piece of gear that is iconic to the character, you’re most likely going to use the “Trademark Weapon” edge and through that selection, define the circumstances of that relationship.  In the case of other gear (such as Indy’s hat, for example) one could handle that through the Quirk hindrance – he’s always got to have his hat.  While I feel this covers most cases, it does have some problems.

Now, I feel that there two situations here: where the gear actually is SIGNIFICANTLY better when being used by a particular character (ie. Excalibur); and gear that has sentimental value to the character (ie. Indy’s Hat).

In the former category, this is going to cover weapons that are magically tied to the user in some way.  For my understanding of the Arthurian legend, Excalibur proved that Arthur was the rightful king of England and could only be wielded by the rightful king.  So, in this case, I’d actually suggest that the weapon would have a stat block as follows:

If rightful king, Excalibur grants the Trademark Weapon Edge, even if prerequisites are not met.  Additionally, Excalibur grants +2 to social based trait-tests when dealing with subjects of the realm.  Str+d8

If not rightful king, Str+d6

Similarly, if you look at a weapon such as the Sword of Truth or Sword of Shannara, I’d say similar treatments would need to be made.  These weapons are magically tied to the user and are more than just a preference of the character.

Now, on the flipside, let’s look at Indy’s whip and hat.  I’d say that neither piece of gear grants any real benefit to Indy (other than he’s used having them around), so for Indy’s stats, I’d say that the Whip is a Trademark Weapon and the Hat is a Quirk, as above.  They define the character, but they are (in my view) a preference of the character, rather than a mystical object.

Obviously, there’s major game implications for the magical weapon angle.  It really hangs a hat on one particular character as the ‘main character’.  With that said, look at the fiction that my examples draw upon – there is an incredible cast of supporting (and equally important characters) that don’t have or need a piece of gear that is tied to the fate of their character.  So maybe, in game terms, it isn’t so bad.

This sort of discussion has been mostly focused on Savage Worlds, but I think does have some general application to other games.

Anyway, that’s some thoughts on gear and characters.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Simplifying Gear Selection in RPGs

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of having a brief conversation about equipment in the Savage Worlds supplement, Agents of Oblivion with Sean Preston, the President of Reality Blurs.

Sean had made a comment on twitter about how the formatting of gear tables can be a tedious job after quite a while, which I would have to agree.  Table formatting was perhaps the most uninspiring work I had to do when working on my CMA papers.

Anyway, this got me thinking about Agents of Oblivion’s gear tables, and in particular, how firearms were handled.  Being set in modern times, there’s literally thousands of different kinds of fireams, all with their own quirks/effectiveness/etc.  For a game like AoO to try to recreate a listing of all the options would result in a very, very, large list and likely, a large number of extraneous entries (for example, in terms of Savage Worlds, is an MP5 really any different from a UMP? I don’t think so).

On top of there not being substantial differences between weapons, picking gear becomes a more difficult task as you need to weigh small differences (this one weighs slightly less, but this one does slightly more damage, etc) instead of getting gear picked and moving on to playing the game.

What did Sean do in AoO?  He broke it down.  Firearms can be classified by two defining features.  First, the weapon class (Pistol, Submachinegun, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle, etc) and then the ammo caliber (small, medium, and large).  Each weapon class has a variant with a different caliber of ammo.  Each class/caliber combination has a set of statistics that define any weapon that matches that class/caliber combination.  This leads to a much smaller list of selections that are generalized.

Someone wants to use an AK-47?  That’s an Assault Rifle with Medium Caliber ammo.  An M16?  Same thing.  Now you just have to select a weapon based on the job you need to do then decide the “trappings” (ie, Brand name).  Yes, it’s a simplification, but one doesn’t play Savage Worlds for a simulation of real life.

Now, as I was thinking about how Sean handled this, I realized that he had used the ideas that are presented with respect to powers in Savage Worlds.  Most powers in Savage Worlds (at least in the core product) are vanilla.  There’s no trappings, just ‘the power does this’.  So, Blast is an area affect power that creates a medium burst template centered where you desire and deals 2d6 damage.  You decide if the bolt is lightning, a fireball, swarm of bees, etc.

I like this approach.  It cuts down on the number of entries for the same power with a different flavor text.  It gives control to the players to make their powers their own.  Others don’t like this approach (and that’s ok), as maybe the setting flavor is lost by not having the trappings (see: D&D).  That doesn’t enter my thought processes, so its not something that bugs me.

Back to the firearms.  I’m not going to say this is perfect for every setting.  Take World War II.  I would want to see exactly what is presented in the Weird War II setting book.  A table for each major country in the war, with their own signature weapons and appropriate stats.  Each nationality is going to be starting their gear with something from their country list, so it doesn’t get overwhelming in terms of choice there.  For this setting, that flavor is important to me, but again, each PC only has a short list to choose from, which is the most important part.

Ultimately, a generic ‘skin as you go’ model doesn’t work for everyone in all situations.  But, I think it fits with Savage Worlds and Fast, Furious, Fun and is a very welcome addition in my games.