Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to prevent huge equipment lists

I've played the Sorcery! series in full and loved it.  However, by the end of it, my equipment list was huge and I was finding it difficult to fit it into the box and find stuff I was asked about.  While items are cool, you don't want to be carrying round huge piles of junk in your backpack.  Here are some ideas to reduce huge equipment lists.

Have a some items that you keep track of - provisions, money, arrows are all items that you can get more of, so instead of giving out some different item, you could hand out gold, food or ammo.  There are other items that you can keep track of as long as you state their use in the intro.  For example, you could have healing potions that restore 1 skill and 6 stamina points and have several vials of those lying around.  Other such items include black cubes from Daggers of Darkness, spell gems from Scorpion Swamp, and magic rings from Legend of Zagor.

Get rid of unnecessary items:  Have a gem worth 10gp?  Why not just have 10gp?  OR if you really want gems because gems are cool say 'You find 10gp worth of gems.  Add them to your money.'.  What about some healing herbs that restore 4 stamina points?  Why not have another provision.  Streamline the equipment you can get without reducing the flavour too much.

Have codewords to track events rather than items - some items such as Banedon's crystal star pendant from Lone Wolf 1 are only given to you to indicate that you have performed a certain action.  It is done so that there is no ambiguity about whether you have done something or not.  However, in later Lone Wolf books, you are asked if you have the crystal star pendant, not because it has any use, but because if you do, you get to speak to your new friend Banedon.  However, if you lose it or leave it behind, then it seems to negate your friendship which doesn't work.  I know why items are used.  They are to prevent ambiguity.  Say the book asks you if you are friends with Banedon.  You might think that you may have met him back in book 1 but you don't know if you are friends.  You may think that you missed a previous encounter with Banedon where you become friends so you don't know whether you are or not.  The crystal pendant makes it clear.  However, instead, you could use a codeword - it keeps track of what you've done and you cannot lose it.  Sure you are putting a word in a box, but it is a different box so it will be less cluttered.

Have an inventory limit - stops clutter, is more realistic and it can open up some interesting game choices.  How realistic you want to be is up to you.  Lone Wolf has a good balance between realism and simplicity.  Or you could just have a 5 item limit or a 10 item limit or whatever.

Make most of the items consumable - if they are a magic item, you lose it after you use it, for example a potion or a one use scroll.  To make sure that people don't hang onto it, you could make it so that you have to use the item at a certain point.

Have the character lose some/all of their items -  burglary, robbery, letting them go to prevent drowning - there are many ways you can deprive a player of their items.  Use sparingly as it may annoy players if done too much.

Make sure items have several uses:  For example, the pocket myriad from Citadel of Chaos can get you out of several scrapes as can the ring of fire from City of Thieves.

I'm going on an epic quest
and all you give me is two
meals and some advice?
Make sure items are cool:  Increase the quality and you won't need the quantity.

Have fewer red herrings:  Red herrings can be cool if you make players work for them.  They are just annoying if they are a 1gp item on a shop list.  Get rid of them.

Have shops in places where you know that the player can't afford everything:  I love shops because it opens up choices but having shops where you can buy everything is no fun.  Limit the player's spending power and they have more choices and shorter equipment lists.

Have items that are smaller parts of a larger item:  Collect the components for a magic item and you can turn several mundane objects into one good one.

Make people tightwads:  Don't just give the hero stuff.  This is one area where Sorcery!  got it right.  You didn't even start with the spell components for you spells.  Not even easy stuff like sand and pebbles.  Now that's mean.


  1. Hi Stuart, this is Gaetano (posting as "Anonymous".)

    It never made sense to me that in most gamebooks. you have an item limit in your backback (8, 10, or whatever) but a candle takes takes up as much space as a tinderbox or other larger items.

    I got around this in one of my own gamebooks by creating a stat called "space value". Smaller items had a space value of 1, whereas the largest items had a space value of 4. The players were informed at the start of their adventure that their backpack had a maximum space value of 11.

    This way, I thought, players would have to make real-world types of decisions regarding what items to keep and what items to carry. Instead of getting rid of an hour-glass to obtain a scroll, they could instead drop a tinderbox and be able to pick up a scroll and one other smaller item at some later point.

  2. That picture you have from diablo, where something like a sword takes up three blocks but a potion only takes up one? I wonder if it would be possible to do something graphical like that in a gamebook.

  3. Or, just say at the beginning of the gamebook, "Get a big pad of paper to note down all your equipment. You'll need it."

    I jest. It does get frustrating at times when you're told to lose all your equipment. In the Cretan Chronicles, say - you find amazing weaponry and armour in Book 1, then you find an EVEN BETTER sword at the end of Book 2... and then, at the start of Book 3, you lose everything. No matter what you do. Darn. That third book in the series is dark...

    At least when you lose all your equipment at the end of Blood Sword 4, you're consoled by finding THE MOST POWERFUL MAGIC SWORD IN THE WORLD.