I have never liked having to spend money for equipment as part of the character creation process, nor have I liked games that tell me “you start with…” Both methods of determining equipment stifle me. The first method, while being part of the charm of games that require my character to slay foes and gain gold Marks, hinders my ability to create my character concept. I don’t mind having a poor character as a motivation to gain wealth on a dungeon crawl because that is part of the genre. But I shouldn’t at least be able to give my character whatever I want to begin with so that it matches my character concept? The second method may seem to allow for freedom, however, lists also stifle me in my quest to create a character in line with the concept I have in mind. Sure classic and iconic trope items such as the ten foot pole, the torch, and the thieves’ tools can be fun, but if items are that standard, what makes my character unique? I want to play a monk that throws stones at opponents; I want to make a mystic mentalist who fights with his mind and cares not for material items and has no need for armor and weapons. Why are the rules giving me a mace and leather armor? Ugh! What about all the weapons I want that are not on the list? The nunchaku? The Jiǔ jié biān? The Colt Scamp?
Both of these methods are playable, and people are comfortable with them. But I want to make the character I want to play based on my character concept and I want the players in the games I direct to be able to do the same. Selecting a character’s equipment is just as important to me, just as expressive to me, as choosing a character’s eye color, mass, height, skills, or supernatural abilities. These methods, however, treat the process as an afterthought and tell me either, “Here, we will limit your character’s wealth by starting you off with this to remind you why your character is killing and looting” or “You have this stuff, now play and let the Director worry about it later”.
But what are the alternatives? Should a player just be able to get everything they want for their character? What if a player are new to the genre or even new to the game or doesn’t know what they want or need their character to have? What if the player is in a hurry to begin playing and would rather figure they play and define their character through their actions?
To remedy the various downsides to these traditional 5E methods for determining equipment, I recommend players use the HiBRiD 3N+1 step method. I have been using this method for over 20 years and it seeks to strike a balance between too little freedom of not being able to give your character the items you want to reflect the character concept, and too much freedom, where players can run ramshackle over your adventure because they have the word “wealthy” in their character concept or are just so overwhelmed in the number of choices that they do not know where to begin.
Step One: List a Concept Kit
All characters have a Concept Kit. The kit is an item that just happens to hold anything of average to high quality and everything the character needs to conduct the everyday activities required by their character concept that are not related to combat actions. If the player can somehow tie any item they need during the game to their character concept, such as, “I would need to be able to see in the darkness, so I know there is a flashlight in my Concept Kit”, then they simply have it. This kit is referenced by the player every time they need an object or equipment specific to a task related to their character concept. A mage would have spell components, vials for collecting samples along the adventure and writing materials. A priest would a holy symbol, vestments, and vials of holy water among other things. A gunslinger would have a gun cleaning kit, stuff for the trail like a bedroll and cookware. A thief would have thieves’ tools and so forth. This kit is carried any way the player wishes-it could be in a steamer trunk, a bag, or the items could be packed all over the character in pouches and hidden pockets.
A Concept Kit is not counted toward a character’s encumbrance or action load; the character is considered to be so accustomed to it that it is second nature to have those items on their person, like a second skin. Often, a character will feel “naked” without their Concept Kit. If the character loses their Concept Kit through play, they are disadvantaged on task rolls in 5E.
The Concept Kit is made up of two types of items. Durables items in the kit that are always available to the character as long as the kit is on their person. Consumables are items that are used up in the course of an action or task. Each Kit has 20 Uses for its Consumables. When a kit’s Consumables are used up, the player must replenish the kit or obtain a new one through play.
Weapons and ammunition are NEVER part of a Concept Kit. Ever. If an item in a Concept Kit is used as a weapon, one of the kit’s Uses is consumed, as the object is not being used as it was designed for.
Step Two: Describe Clothes
This is one of the most important group of possessions.
Often during the game, the clothes being worn, if documented at all, are just documented as “clothes”. This is a wasted opportunity. When I direct games, I always have the players roleplay meeting a new PC or NPC, and I start the expository dialog with, “That is when you see….go ahead and tell them what they see”. Then the player will say, “I’m a fighter”. That is bull%*&$! You can ask my players-I am very specific when I describe my NPCS. They have clothes, smells, complexions, and facial expressions I need the players to see this description in their minds so they can identify and attempt to intuit things about the character. Players should do the same.
People don’t see your occupation. They see you and make assumptions based on what they see. People see the clothes you are (or are not) wearing when they meet your character; they smell if you haven’t changed your clothes after you have sweated and slogged through a swamp. The see spatter of long-dried blood on your clothes that you haven’t bothered to replace even though they may have been washed a dozen times. They see the dusty cowboy boots that have just come in from the range rather than the spit-shined cowboy boots of guy from out eat that just bought his first pair. They see the gun slung low on a hip in a well-oiled and well-worn holster of a seasoned gunslinger rather than the less-used and more high-hanging gun belt of a law enforcement officer. Clothes tell a stories. They tell how much money your character has, where your character’s priorities in life lay, the ordeals your character has endured. They describe your character and give the player a unique opportunity to provide a strong image of the character in the other player’s minds.
To ensure this opportunity is not wasted, there is one simple rule: All clothing must be listed and described with at least one adjective. If you do not list the clothes your character is wearing, they are not wearing any clothes. Does your character wear socks? Underwear? What kind of shoes is he wearing? Is she wearing a dress? Is he wearing a dress? If it isn’t on your character sheet and described with at least one adjective, the Director may stop play and require you to document the adjective on your character sheet.
Yes, clothes ARE that important.
Step 3: Weapons
In addition to their Concept Kit, players must describe their weapons list each weapon’s damage code (amount of damage it inflict) with it. If it isn’t on the character sheet, your character does not have it. Like the Concept Kit, Weapons consist of Durables and Consumables. Durables are weapons such as firearms or melee weapons are assumed to be on your character. Consumables are items that are used up during combat and must be tracked by the player. Ammunition or power cells are the most common consumables.
Unlike the Concept Kit, which is inherent to your character’s very being, the spiritual gravity of the fact that weapons have the potential to take a life weighs heavily on the soul of even the hardest, coldest hero. To reflect his, unlike the Concept Kit, Durables and Consumable weapons are counted toward your character’s encumbrance.
All that remains is to determine your character’s unique items. These are the trademark items that make your character memorable or do not fall into the other categories. This also includes money and how your character carries it. Does your character carry a wallet? Pouches? Car keys? A Cell Phone? These are the everyday items that your character carries around and needs regularly. Like the Concept Kit and the Weapons, Unique Items can also be Durables and Consumables. Examples of consumables include spare batteries, cash, and coins, and just as in Concept Kits and Weapons, they must be tracked.
Unique items count toward your character’s encumbrance, since they are constantly changing and require adapting to their bulk and mass and adjusting how your character moves to account for these changes as they occur.
This method, while it may seem more complicated than the standard methods you are used to, is actually faster and more intuitive.
Th Concept Kit prevents the possibility that you may forget something your character needs and would be reasonably be expected to have. This frees the player up from having to spend time looking at tables and going on a shopping trip so that they can focus on what REALLY matters: describing their cool weapons, reflecting their character’s concept through their clothes, and choosing just those unique items that make the character, well, unique.
After all, isn’t that one of the great things about roleplaying game…the freedom to create unique characters?