Removing action penalties for gear swaps in tabletop Roleplaying Games

An essay on a specific element or ttRPG game design.

When I first got into playing RPGs, a round of combat was generally viewed as being a minute. As a result, no one worried about how long it took to draw a sword, reload a gyrojet pistol, or get a potion out of your pack.

I’m not saying none of the games had different action economies. Just that no one I played with ever worried about those things. You could do one thing a round, maybe two, and it was assumed in-play that you could get the gear you needed for that.

That changed, over time. Some of that change grew from better-written rules in more games to handle the action economy for such issues. Some from games moving to shorter durations for player turns (though I don’t remember ever having to declare I was drawing a pistol in Car Wars games, where a phase was 1/10th of a second).

Now most popular RPG rulesets have explicit rules for determining how long it takes to draw a weapon, change a battery, sheath a wand, dig a potion out of your bag, and so on. It makes sense. It helps with verisimilitude.

I’m not convinced it adds much fun.

I’m leaning toward trying some games where it is just assumed you can have any one set of held equipment at the beginning of your turn. Things you have to strap into or carefully adjust still take time, but if you want to be using a greatsword one round, twin nickel-plated Colt .45s the next, and a zippo lighter and healing potion the third, fine.

Changing gear in the middle or a round still takes time. Otherwise we hand-wave it, and focus on the interesting things characters are doing with their equipment, rather than making them waste a turn getting what they need to have fun ready.

This could be adapted to nearly any game system, though games with Quick Draw options, or limited charges as a power balancing factor, or characters who focus on equipmentless options in order to have reduced effect for increased readiness might nee tweaking.

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About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps.

Posted on November 17, 2020, in Game Design, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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