Friday 18 June 2010

Lost Equipment

My interest was piqued by the recent article I did on the 10’ pole and I got to wondering…are there other items of ‘standard equipment’ from the early days that have gone by the wayside? And if so why have they fallen from use? Is it just a question of not being bothered when we select equipment, or has their value really been superseded by the utility and ease of use of feats and then powers?

Evil GM: I think there were lots of 'goofy' items everyone had... Someone on your blog has already touched on the iron spikes we used to hold open or shut doors. In reality, how useful would they really have been. I'm not sure how deeply you could really hammer an iron spike into the ground, especially a rock floor, certainly I suspect you couldn't really hammer it in far enough in a few seconds to actually jam a door shut. A blow powerful enough to bust open a locked door or one barred with a hunk of wood is not going to be thwarted by a small metal stick hammered half an inch or so into the ground.

BigLee: I always thought of it as wedging a door shut or forcing hinges or locks out of shape thereby making them unworkable. This of course assumes the PC has the time to carry out this act of vandalism. Unfortunately this theory is undermined by the fact that in practice these iron spikes would be 'removed' as soon as the PC's were ready to pass through the door again!

Evil GM: Another item still on the equipment list, but frankly daft is the old 50ft hemp rope. Not saying the rope itself is daft, it's a very useful piece of kit with a variety of uses. It just bothers me as it's so unwieldy. 4e lists it's weight at 10lb - which frankly seems a little light to me. How strong is a ten foot section of rope that only weighs as much as a bag of sugar? Enough to support a hulking 6'6" warrior, built like a brick outhouse and wearing 100lb+ of metal armour and shield, weapons and supplies? Personally I think hemp rope should be significantly heavier and far more awkward to carry than the weight would suggest.

BigLee: I never had a problem (as a player or GM) with the Hemp Rope because it was such a useful item. I always felt its utility both as a tool and as a roleplaying aide outweighed the fact that its description was a little unrealistic. The silk rope however always bothered me. I have no real idea what the comparative load capacity's of hemp or silk rope are but the idea of a fully armed warrior dangling from a flimsy silk rope always made me laugh. Silk ropes are for Ninjas and characters in Chinese martial arts movies!

Evil GM: Then there were the items that were obviously designed to avoid worrying about the detail - climbers kit, thieves tool, disguise kit. Just packages of stuff to make the rules work. The "Climbers Kit" that contains crampons, an ice pick and other unspecified things that help your fighter climb more difficult rock faces. Or the "Disguise Kit" containing makeup, wigs and false teeth so the Bard can disguise himself as the kings bodyguard!

Now I'm not saying the various tools and kits are a bad idea - I personally don't want to have to become an expert on rock climbing to have my Fighter scale the castle walls, but it does show how the game has always been happy to turn a blind eye to realism in the interests of playability.

BigLee: I think the worst example of this sort of simplification is the "Thieves Tools" which brings together a whole range of specialist (and probably illegal) equipment into a convenient and unspecified package. These are the tools of a master criminal not an Airfix kit! I'm all for making rules easier to use but sometimes I think a player needs some detail on his character sheet to stimulate ideas.

Evil GM: Another omission from 4e equipment lists (and one I'm not too concerned about) is the wizards material components. Components could be used to create tension as the wizard started running low on certain materials. It certainly increased tactical thinking - I still recall one first edition DnD wizard taking clippings from everything we met in case it turned out to be a component of a higher level spell - but most of the time I found tracking every component just became a chore. They (WoTC) started getting around this with kits - I recall a material component bag that had all common (ie valueless) components in. I think dropping them altogether is, in playability terms, a sensible step.

BigLee: Ah yes, Material Components, I'd almost forgotten them. Or maybe I blotted them from my mind to protect myself from the memory! The irony is I always thought that including material components was such a good idea, or at least it seemed like that until I had to play a wizard. Keeping track of components was a pain in the proverbial and made playing a Wizard a chore, taking all the fun out of casting a fireball. I think this was a concept that worked better on paper than in a game. It should have added another layer of arcane mysticism to the class but instead it turned magic into something mundane that could be achieved with the right combination of ingredients and words.

Each new edition of the game has evolved the game and brought with it a different focus from that which went before. Some equipment has been 'lost' from the official lists because of this changing focus and the changing rules. But nothing is truly lost unless the players want it to be. Who cares if Material Components are no longer in the rules or reflected in the equipment lists. Add them to your PC's character sheet and build their description into your roleplaying. The same goes for any detail you put on your character sheet, from obscure equipment to elaborate backstories or personality quirks. Ultimately, what you get out of the game depends on you put in.


  1. Oh, yes. Material components for spells felt so right and fired the imagination. On paper, it seemed so cool that you had to find a bit of ash or obtain a pearl or something in order to make a spell work. But in practice, as you point out, it just became a pain, and most gamers I've met all had the same story: pretty quickly, you just give up keeping track of components.

  2. White Dwarf (years ago) did an article on the Thieves' Toolkit.

    It specified what could be in there but also the consequences of failing a test (such as a jemmy snapping) and so the thief could not force chests or doors until he replaced his jemmy / skeleton keys etc.

  3. My personal favourite was always the ubiquitous "10 foot pole". Admittedly there are plenty of uses for what is essentially a long stick. Having said that, 10 foot is almost TWICE the height of an ordinary human. How do you easily carry that about? Never mind the fact that you might as well just have a spear as you can then use it to defend yourself as well...


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