It’s not about equipment

Character equipment still plays an important role in OSR games. Seeing where the OSR play style comes from, that’s understandable. 

But for FKR games? Is equipment for FKR heroes as important as for OSR characters? I doubt it. If I take a look back at the pre-D&D scene, the time of the two Daves, Braunstein, Blackmoor, Prof. MAR Barker, Tekumel, the first thing I notice is that varying damage (in the sense of ‘roll a d6 for a dagger, and a d10 for a zweihänder’) was not around yet. So, apart from the fact that each weapon has its own advantages and disadvantages, there was no need to get ‘a better weapon’ so the character could do more damage.

Also, contrary to what many Original D&D players (or better: forum members) are claiming, pre-any-school roleplaying was LESS lethal for the characters than the first couple of editions of D&D. The reason for this is simple: Braunsteins and early Blackmoor was about adventure. Sure, you had your dungeons, but pre-hit point roleplaying was less about grimdark survival, and more about a shared fantasy experience.

If FKR is playing worlds, not rules – then your character is not their equipment

The premise I’m using often for FKR gaming is Chirine ba Kal’s “play worlds, not rules”. Take your favorite book and turn it into a sourcebook for your games. I’m certain the main protagonist of that book is not defined by their equipment. That equipment might help describe him (a narrative device, then), but it’s not used to define him. Exceptions confirm the rule. Literary character are defined by their actions and interactions. Again, gear is just a diegetic tool to help with the description.

I think this is important because, at least to me, this means a shift away from the tight focus on gear, to a tight focus on behavior and, if you like that in your game, character archetypes. There is a reason why I love John S. Ross’s rpg Risus so much. Not because of the system, it doesn’t really interest me. What makes Risus shine is its concept of clichés: A character is described with clichés – genre-typical descriptions. For instance: A tight-lipped Barbarian from the North with scarred forearms. Instantly, you form a mental picture. 

But there’s more to clichés than just this. In all probability, you also intuit his abilities and predispositions: fighting. Enduring harsh weather. Drinking. Resilience. You just know them.

That’s the power of clichés. And of course, John S. Ross didn’t invent them, but he was the first to introduce them to roleplaying games. A stroke of genius.

Let’s stay with clichés just a little longer. So we have…

A tight-lipped Barbarian from the North with scarred forearms

Another question: Can you imagine what equipment this barbarian is carrying?

Of course you can! A sword. A flask. Heavy fur boots. Drab. Fur cap. A backpack. Jerky. 

The power of clichés at work.

So what really matters is not equipment lists or “starting equipment” (a perennial favorite in OSR circles), but a good, solid character description. And clichés work best for that.

This does not mean equipment is not important. But it should spring naturally from the character description, instead of the other way around.

In Risus, a character’s gear is called “Tools of the Trade”. This gear comes with the character. And you, the player, determine what these tools are.

Just one last example, a longer one this time:

Henry Dorsett Case
(Neuromancer, William Gibson)

“A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void….The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.”

So… “Washed-up console cowboy with a drug problem”.

And you know how he looks. You intuit his skills. You can imagine his “starting gear”.

Isn’t this amazing?

2 thoughts on “It’s not about equipment

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