Monday, May 19, 2014

A Pile of Gear

You're down and out.  You heard a recent landslide uncovered a rumored tomb location.  You and folks you know from sitting outside the alehouse gather all the gear you can and throw it in a pile.  Decide how to share it out before heading off to find you fortune:


I'm DMing ~7 folks from my work today.  Only two of them have any experience with D&Ds.  I thought I might try this as a new way of starting out.  The cards will be cut up and put on the table between them in a pile.  They'll be asked to sort it out, no rules as to how many each character gets except encumbrance*

You've probably heard of fast packs.  I never really liked them for the same reason I don't like pregens, they sacrifice player choice for expediency.  My solution over the years has been a compromise between those two goals.  You can see my forms here.  I gave players a pre-made character sheet that has a basic set of gear, like food, water, bedroll-- no use spending valuable time on boring stuff like that-- and then had them make a few limited choices about weapons and other typical dungeon gear like rope and torches.  Money wasn't involved.

This has worked fairly well, it's fast, gear is limited enough to be important, and players get to make some choices.  One aspect that it isn't good at is thinking about the gear the group as a whole might need.  Players tend to make individual choices.  With my more experienced players an outgoing player might start quarterbacking "I'll get a lantern, who is getting rope?"  I tried solving this by making a record sheet for the party as a whole, but that was just an extra step and quickly forgotten once play started.

I thought I'd try the method above this time.  Players can assume they have waterskins and some bread and cheese, maybe, but nothing else.  The party as a whole will need to decide who gets the few precious bits of armor, the best weapons and, the few shields.  Hopefully this will also get them thinking about the roles each of them will play in their expedition.

I hope for a more desperate, gritty feel to the first dungeon delve.  I'm hoping this won't feel too constraining or boardgamey.  I plan to include some armor and weapons in the dungeon that players will be able to immediately use.

*Also, I read recently on a blog about "strength-based encumbrance."  I can't remember where.  That phrase intrigued me, encumbrance has always been affected by strength.  So I thought, does it mean encumbrance derived simply from the STR stat?  Interesting, I'll try that.  So today I'll try an even simpler encumbrance system than the one I've been using:  You can carry a number of things equal to half your strength.  Armor and weapons are included in those things.  We'll see how it goes, but I'm hoping this will make hireling bearers and pack animals much more real as the game progresses.


  1. I've been toying with quick char-gen and equipping, and like Lum's starting equipment generator, which also sets up initial gear on the 'lean' side...

  2. This is an excellent line of thinking, and I also love your icons. I wouldn't worry about it being boardgamey or limiting. Nobody complains that bridge or rummy are "limiting," even though you always use the same 52 playing pieces.

    As far as your ideas of strength-based encumbrance, check out Mazes & Minotaurs to make sure you're not treading on covered territory. Their system is similar. You may wish to use some or all of the ideas there.

    If I was more clever with arts and crafts, I would love to deal out little cardboard playing cards with gear on them and have players trade it around to establish their starting equipment. That would be a fun game in itself.

  3. Please let us know how this works out; it sounds like an interesting concept.

    -- Jeff

  4. Do you have a lot of these gear icon cards made up? Do you have them in files that we can steal for our home games?

  5. Nicely done. Really good work. Thank you. As an aside, I had a similar idea waaay back. :) Here's a link. I didn't even remember... LOL

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    @ Leicester: I hadn't seen that, it is quite clever and nicely laid out. It is a perfect mini-game to emphasize the random aspect of starting gear, especially if there's a high mortality rate. Some downsides are: it undermines the progression aspect of gear, because you can immediately skip "tiers" (as the video games call them), it demphasizes the working together as a group aspect, and it relies a little on player knowledge of what should be picked (for example, chain mail, crossbow, longbow?)

    @Scott. Thanks. Actually, looking back at M&M (I know I've looked at it before, but it's been a while) it is closer to LotFP's system. It wants to be simple but doesn't like the illogic of different items all taking up the same size slot. I'm trending more and more towards not caring about that. You'll notice that going that route means you have to have a chart somewhere to consult (how many slots does chain mail take up?). I also don't worry about encumbrance affecting movement rates. I just tell my players they can't carry any more. It's unrealistic, but it make logistics a real thing in the game.

    @Bluebear Jeff: I might up a post play report when I get some time. But the short story is that it worked pretty well. I needed sacks as a piece of gear, but otherwise it worked as I had hoped. These brand new players thought about what the group as a whole might need and they knew very well what other people had on them. I'm thinking now, that maybe having a set "deck" of items
    as a standard of useful items and then have 3 or 4 that players draw from a "extras" deck could add some of the randomness Lum is tapping into back to my game in a fun way.

    @Scott: Not really, in fact, on game day I was trawling for some usable images of a shield, leather armor, and a hauberk. But I have gathered a small collection of gear images over the years. They aren't very good quality or consistent in style but they are all guaranteed public domain. Maybe the easiest way to share them is just make a post tomorrow where I share them all as images and you could save the ones you might find useful.

    @Jim: Hah, you even had the half STR simplification! Yeah, I'm realizing there are only a few ways to do this and each has strengths and weaknesses-- no perfect way-- probably the only thing that might be novel with this post is that the pool of gear is communal and everyone has to share it out. But I wouldn't be surprised if even that was done by some old game before.