Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lessons Learned in DMing: Items

Fair warning: The following post has an unhealthy level of nerd content. Read at your own risk.

I came into the hobby of DnD (and subsequently, any table top RPG) not so long ago, so it's been a major learning experience everytime I play. However, not all of that is just in the rules that you become more familiar with, but in the techniques you pick up on successfully playing the game.

Recently, it's become a bit of a problem how items have been distributed in my game. It seemed worthwhile, then to share what I've learned so far about actually giving out items in a game.
  • Who else can do it?
In most of these games, there's no such thing as a unique power. If you have an item that can do it, then most likely there is a character who can do the same thing. The key is to think about when that character could gain access to that power. If you give 1st level players an item that emulates a 20th level wizard spell, you've just given them something severely overpowered for their level.

Alternatively, most games include charts of how "wealthy" adventurers should be at certain levels of advancement. If you give them something far more valuable than they should have at that point, it's quite possible it's too powerful for them to have.
  • Shotgun vs. Machine Gun
Another thing to consider is the number of uses a player can get out of an item. Is it like a grenade, one use and it's gone? Or does it recharge everyday? How many charges do you get for a day? One? Twelve?

The frequency of encounters where the item might be used are critical in this. If you only need to fire a gun once a day, then your guys are probably only going to need one bullet a day; anymore than that, and you've probably given them more power than they can handle. On the other hand, if they're firing that gun five times a day, then one bullet is going to limit the usefulness of that gun, although its use could probably be much more dramatic at that point.
  • Does it have a downside?
One last thing to consider is the downside to the item you give your players. If it's really powerful, there has to be something to discourage them from using it frequently. If you give someone a flamethrower, you could counterbalance that by placing them in a gasoline refinery. Likelihood of use: Low. On the other hand, if you place them outside that gasoline refinery and give them the flamethrower, those chances just skyrocketed. As a side note: Players love to solve their problems with arson. It's far easier to just burn a building down than to actually worry about dealing with any of the people or traps inside. Try to minimize that.

If you play the games, I hope you found the post helpful. If you don't, well, I at least hope you haven't gone into dork overdose; you'll be hard-pressed to find an HMO that covers it.

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