Chatting about roleplaying games (RPGs), it struck me: Why are there not rules for leveling-up gear like player characters (PCs) do?
Time to discuss:
Leveling is when someone or something has accomplished a great deed or series of actions.
What causes a PC to level is everything from grabbing more gold, having adventures, slaying a dragon, or just surviving to fight another day.
When a PC gains a level, some boon or bane happens to them. In most games, the PCs get better with more health, increased performance, and special rules they can use in-game. The rare few games allow a PC to get worse – since these are a super-minority, let us ignore ‘getting worse’ in this analysis.
Gear, equipment, weapons, armor, trinkets, and more – “gear” for now. These are the tools that assist or enable a PC to do things.
In both real myth, fictional fantasy, and sci-fi, gear is everywhere. Most of it involves no-name, indistinguishable junk – a sword exists for someone to have a sword, nothing more, a helmet could be a hat for how much value it has.
That gear doesn’t matter.
Or maybe it does? Famous pieces of gear had to start somewhere after all.
Some examples of famous gear that get more legendary as time goes on:
- Medieval armor could be handed down for generations, gaining notable battle scars and a reputation, as much as the family’s suit in Mulan.
- The oceanic-people’s term “mana” denoted the power of possessions owned and passed down by great leaders.
- Excalibur from the real life legend of King Arthur, a sword with magical properties and a key to ruling all of Britain.
- When Bilbo gains the One Ring in The Hobbit, the simple thing shows off its powers again and again until the Ring seats its place as a hugely powerful piece of gear.
- Gundam introduces the titular Gundam mobile suit. It is dumb and clumsy at first, nearly destroyed by ‘grunt’ enemies. Through use, new systems are installed, abilities get unlocked, and the suit itself becomes ‘smarter,’ able to engage legions of enemies.
- Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber from Star Wars was a fury – slaying armies and being the blade to end the infamous Clone Wars. Its fame builds, being lost and destroyed and reforged over decades.
- Halo‘s Master Chief armor, Bolo‘s titular tanks, Warhammer 40K‘s … everything, cast iron cookware, and the real world compounding its infrastructure and technology.
Plenty of gear has gotten better with use. Why, then, do virtually all tabletop roleplaying games miss out on this opportunity to grow bonds and allow players to influence the fictional lore?
You get where I am coming from now. TTRPGs ought include a benefit for players to keep around the gear their PCs use.
Not only will leveling gear increase player investment, it will also serve as an avenue for story, roleplay, and unique leverage should the PC’s gear ever be the focus of aggression.
What such a system could look like might be this, what I am including in the BITS system (by no means exhaustive of possibilities):
When a piece of gear is worn or wielded during or is otherwise actively used in completion of a game milestone (slaying the dragon, intercepting a bullet meant for another, broken by the enemy and reforged afterward, etc.), that gear may level up.
When leveling up, gear gains an ability either related to what it was involved in or used for, or is chosen randomly from a table.
Gear may also gain a name the first time it levels up, e.g. Sting. Gear may also gain a title the second time it levels up, e.g. The Orc Finder.
Gear may only have a total of 6 abilities. If there are already 6 abilities for given gear, the gear may not level up. Abilities may be removed if the gear is destroyed, severely damaged, re-created, or otherwise changed fundamentally in form or function.
Why cap at 6 abilities? That is to keep all the special things gear can do to a manageable minimum. (Humans can only maintain about 7-ish items in memory.) But I am not married to the idea – with further playtesting, perhaps 4 or 3 is a better cap.
The above comes with the idea that magic/ancient/prototype/exotic items will already come with some abilities, a story to tell about their creation and history. Whether the player keeps pre-made famous gear or births a story of their own, that is roleplay, something up to the player 🙂
Any better ways to add legendary power to gear?
Always open for suggestions! Tell me in the comments or send me a DM.
Now off to make a randomizing table of famous abilities gear has had in fiction and history – cheers!