A trio of questions that take me out of my comfort zone, because I don’t know the game system, and they are – to some extent – heavily system-related issues. But I had the advantage of being able to consult my fellow GMs on this one, and also had the luxury of being able to answer twice, and of being able to take long enough to mull over my answers to find a more universal solution on general principles. It does mean that this article will be a little more all over the place than usual.

Ask the gamemasters

Tommy Franklin asked (edited for clarity),

“I am planning to run a Shadowrun 4E game for my friends. The setting is quite attractive, but my major concern is the huge amount of gear options that I have to deal with. I know some DMs prefer to use “adventurer kits”, which pack up most of the necessary gadgets, to reduce the amount of work for the players. However this approach doesn’t seem to work with Shadowrun, because “gear sensitive” is the hallmark of this system. I do not want to combine the SR setting with some other rules, which requires a lot of transition work.

Here are my three questions.

  1. How do you, as a GM, helps the players to choose their equipment? Either because the system is too complex, such as SR, or because the players may take advantage of the rules to become too powerful or too weak due to lack of game experience.
  2. How do you track the cost of ammunition and potions during the game? Do you calculate exactly what the players have bought and used, or just hand-wave the geek-math?
  3. When will you allow PCs to buy new equipment? Any time they want, after the session of the game, or will you, as GM, set a special “shopping day” in the game for them?

By the time this question was received, Johnn and I had become aware of the mounting backlog of questions, and had instituted a policy of providing preliminary replies by email in order to buy ourselves time. You can assess the scale of the backlog problem by glancing at the Ask-The-GMs queue, considering that we closed it to new questions at the end of 2011, by the fact that this question was asked at the start of 2011 and is being answered “officially” six years after the fact!

So. here’s the plan of action: I’ll start with my original email response to Tommy, follow that with some thoughts from my fellow GMs on the subject, plus a few general observations of my own from other game systems that I do know, and then wrap up with my new general-principle answers to questions 2 and 1 (in that order) – I stand by my preliminary answer to question 3!

There’s a lot to do, so let’s get busy…

Section 1: Mike’s Original Answers

Here’s the text of my original reply to Tommy, annotated with further thoughts:

We have a bit of a queue built up for Ask The GMs so I thought I would give you some quick answers to tide you over until we can give your questions the attention they deserve.

First, let me state that I don’t know the Shadowrun system, so take my answers with a grain of salt.

Question 1: Managing Equipment

The easiest way is to go by price.

Beginning characters should not be able to afford anything more expensive than 20% of the highest priced item in the book. As the characters gain experience and the rewards that go with it, and capture the odd piece of equipment along the way, they can move first into the 20-40% range, then the 40-60% range. Anything over 60% should always be a specialty item that you deliberately place for them to find and use. Never give anything in the 60%+ range that has a standard power supply, regardless of what the books might say; if you limit the power available, you have a means of removing something that proves to be too powerful. If it proves OK, then you can have the PCs learn of a cache of power packs that fit the specs for the item in question.

Also, make sure that each character has a fixed budget to spend on the equipment that they have at the start of play; this will usually be the same amount for everyone, but you might tailor it to character backgrounds.

Of course, if you give one PC an advantage in the form of accessibility of advanced/better equipment, you should either give them a balancing disadvantage or give the other PCs an advantage of a different type. This is a critical area of campaign design. – Mike, 2017

If you combine these two guidelines, you should have no trouble with equipment choice.

Question 2: Ammunition / Power Supplies

Another of the ways you can control the danger to your campaign is with restricted ammunition. I generally divide the ammo into two types: standard and exotic. Standard ammo is available in just about any town that the characters visit, though they may have to deal with the black market. Exotic ammunition should be treated as a “controlled substance” by you – doled out in small amounts until you see how dangerous the weapon is compared to others. In general, even if a weapon using exotic ammo is not too unbalancing, it should be harder to obtain than standard ammo.

A good way of distinguishing between the two is the price per shot times the number of dice in each shot. If a box of 50 rounds costs $500, that’s $10 per shot; if each shot does 2d6, that’s a price of $5 per d6.

Compare that with a belt of 5000 shots costing $25000, each doing 1d6: $5 per shot, 1d6, so $5 per dice – the same. However, the implication of such a large number of shots is a semi- or fully-automatic weapon; if the weapons fires 10 shots a round, that should boost the price per dice accordingly, to $50 per shot.

Which should place the ammunition belt into an entirely different availability category. What’s more, 5000 shots – even when used in a semi- or fully-automatic weapon – is enough to last for a long time. To test the waters, I would make a partially-expended ammo belt available, one with maybe 100 shots.

Once again, the 20-40-60 rule would apply, giving some ammo categories that would start off being exotic but become more readily available in the course of the game.

Potions are a different story. You always have to ask yourself where they come from when placing them in a game. Once you answer that, you can work out whether or not they are available generally or are low-priced “exotic” rewards.

Never forget that the promise of exotic equipment makes great bait to wave in front of the players – just be prepared for grumbles if the bait isn’t really on offer.

Equip NPCs in exactly the same way – but they have as much budget as the story demands!

Question 3: Buying Equipment

Anytime they want? Heck No! They have to go somewhere where equipment is sold, deal with any entanglement due to past and present affiliations and deeds and even things they are rumored to have done, but might actually be innocent of. One of the best ways an NPC can weaken the PCs is by spreading a rumor that will cause their source of supplies to dry up.

If the PCs want to go shopping, and they can get to a marketplace, more power to them – but the game does not stop while they max out their credit cards. And if there’s no marketplace nearby that’s willing to sell to them, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the beginning, middle, or end of the session – they have to make do with what they’ve got.

Even then, don’t presume that the PCs have received exactly what they thought they were buying. “When I sell a horse, I won’t guarantee that it has four legs, the customer has to count them for himself,” as was written in a Robert Heinlein story. Filing the serial numbers off batches of defective ammo, “correcting” use-by-dates, and in fact, every scam you can think of, is fair game. And if the PCs shoot their guns and the guns just go “click” that’s part of the fun!

In the past, I’ve seen advice on this subject that suggested using a backwater starting location for the PCs so that the GM could limit the amount of gear that the PCs have to choose from, and employing a rags-to-riches subtheme to adventures. The way I see it, there’s only one problem with the proposal: in order to vet the lists, the GM needs to read up on *all* the equipment and be an equipment-combination guru. Letting the PCs have full access to the equipment list means that you only have to read up on the equipment they select, plus whatever you are going to need. Even the price-point suggestion in response to question 1 lets you stratify the prep work required, putting up to 90% off for another day.

Hope these quick answers help,

Unfortunately, the email exchange is on an old hard disk and no longer accessible, so I can’t state what Tommy was able to make of my advice, I can only hope that then, as now, it was helpful.

Section 2: Collective Wisdom from Multiple GMs

While waiting for another player or two to finish their lunch a week or five back, some of us had a quick discussion about the problem. Most of the participants weren’t familiar with Shadowrun as a game system, either, so there is that ongoing Caveat. But at least one was, which is better than none, and all of us had experience with other equipment-heavy rules systems such as Star Wars: Edge Of The Empire. The following are some of their thoughts and some of my own, in no particular order, for whatever they are worth. Some are mutually-contradictory, be warned!.

Shadowrun is equipment-hypersensitive

Control of access to equipment lists is a key assumption in the Shadowrun game. It is especially sensitive to equipment problems when this principle is not adequately policed, and a single mistake can be campaign-wrecking, though it’s rarely quite that bad. Double-check and double-think every equipment decision you make.

Exploit Initial Equipment Restrictions

If the players start with little-or-no equipment, whatever they acquire will have to come as a result of their adventuring, placing equipment under strong GM control. The trick to this approach is challenging the characters without overwhelming them – and without gifting them easy meat.

Equipment should break

Especially if not properly maintained, the survival rate for equipment should be restricted. Maintenance might require specialized tools; restrict access to those, and you effectively restrict the PCs access to the equipment already in their possession. But this road can leave the GM open to accusations of bias.

Breakability Based On Characters

Most game systems have some sort of hit-point mechanic. GM’s can exploit this to quickly test for breakage of equipment.

  • To do this, rate all equipment into one of several categories:
    • 5% – weak and fragile
    • 10% – sensitive or delicate
    • 25% – robust and functional
    • 50% – designed to be resilient
    • 100% – special case for vehicles and the like
  • Multiply each character’s hit points by each of the indicated percentages, rounding up, EG if they have 35 HP, you get 2, 4, 9, and 18, respectively. These are both a HP threshold and the amount of damage any piece of equipment can take once that threshold is breached.
  • At the end of combat, compare the total damage done to the character to these targets. Equipment can take the indicated damage without risk, and the percentage chance of failure is the % of the way through the indicated rating. The chance of repair is 100 minus this number. When one piece of equipment breaks, the next restarts at 0% chance but the grace period is applied only once. 100% chance is guaranteed breakage.

    For example: At the end of a fight, our 35 HP character has taken 13 points of damage. Applying this to each category:

    • 5% = 2; 13-2=11; 11/2 = 5 pieces of 5%-rated equipment irreparably damaged (potions, mealpacks, bandages, whatever) and 1 piece which has taken 1/2 damage (50% chance of damage, 50% chance of salvaging it if so).
    • 10% = 4; 13-4=7: 7/4 = 1 piece of 10%-rated equipment irreparably damaged (roll randomly for which) and 1 piece which has taken 3/4 hp, having a 75% chance of being damaged and 25% chance of being repairable if so.
    • 25% = 9; 13-9=4; 4/9 = 1 piece of 25%-rated equipment (choose randomly) which has taken 4 hp out of 9 possible, having a 44% chance of being damaged and a 56% chance of being repairable if it has been.
    • 50% = 18; 13-18= -5. So no 50% equipment has been damaged. Optionally, you can track the -5 and apply it as a modifier to the HP of the 50% equipment in the next fight (so the 18 would be a 13 in the next combat encounter).

This saves you from having to track this sort of detail during combat, but is reasonably realistic despite the heavy levels of abstraction.

You can also rule that all experimental equipment is one category worse than it would otherwise be once the bugs are worked out.

Make each equipment-function a project: who is it good for?

Don’t try and swallow a whole equipment list at once; divide equipment up into functional categories and study each one separately. You might do armor this week, shields next, melee weapons the week after, ranged weapons after that, and so on. DO make notes on each item, especially asking “who would use this?” and “who can afford this?”; those enable you to quickly select the equipment used by NPCs, and to vet the equipment lists proposed by players.

It can be worthwhile letting characters have ONE piece of equipment that is outside the restrictions provided that there is a story attached to how they came to posses it, which they have to provide.

Can you map out an equipment tree?

If one piece of equipment is obviously just an improved version of a previous one, with no downsides, penalties, or restrictions added or increased, it can be considered a more expensive version of the previous one. This lets you map out equipment trees, with each such downside, penalty, or restriction forcing an item off onto a separate branch of the tree that is only accessible to those who aren’t bothered by the downside, penalty, or restriction.

Don’t ignore combinations, such as including a ring of protection in D&D; leather-plus-+1 ring is obviously better than leather alone, but not as good as +1 leather would be, which would free up that ring slot for some other magic item. Pay close attention to stacking restrictions.

Defining a typical entry-level for each character archetype or class completes the map. Expect martial types to have two-to-three times as many entries on their branches.

With shields, remember that there is a limitation introduced: no access to two-handed weaponry while using one, so “X-plus-shield” is not an entry on the “X” branch, it is an entirely separate branch. This can result in the same item appearing multiple branches.

You can then assess from a character’s progress through his career how far along the tracks he should be and hence what his equipment level should be, quickly and easily – but do allow a bit of random chance if you do so, don’t be completely predictable.

Restrict Access To Ammo

It can be far more effective in a sci-fi game from a game point of view to give the character whatever equipment he wants and restrict provision of the ammunition or power supply. Don’t assume that the tail comes with the donkey, the PCs may have to pin the tail on it for themselves.

Beware the unlimited power-pack

Think twice before giving the PCs ANYTHING with an unlimited power pack, and if it’s combat equipment, think a third time – and then think better of it. Not saying you can’t do it, but be darned sure you know exactly what you are doing AND that the power pack can’t be modified or adapted to power anything with greater combat effectiveness.

The Improbable recharge-rate alternative

A nasty trick to play is to give the PCs an unlimited-charges power supply that takes a long time to recharge – a week, say. This effectively gives them one shot with the weapon or whatever-it-is but then takes it away from them for that improbably recharge period.

The Second-hand/black market is your fremeny

The black market will always have things on it that you don’t want your players to get their hands on. Make it as much trouble as these things are worth (and a little more) to access them. And remember the ammo comments.

“Experimental” weapons should always have a flaw

Experimental weapons (or equipment in general) should never function perfectly. They should always have at least one flaw. This may mitigate the effectiveness of the weapon, or it render it completely worthless. There may be a practical work-around, or not. As a result, it can always sound like a fun idea to let a PC have one or more such pieces of equipment. The problem is that you then have to come up with these flaws, and make them both distinctive and reasonable, and not something that could/should have been spotted and corrected long before things reached the point of field-testing. And that gets hard-to-impossible after a while.

A New-Equipment/Prototype Design Flaw system

Roll 2d6, and multiply the results shown on one die by the results of the other. Multiply the result by four plus the number of generational steps ahead of current standard equipment the equipment is, plus one more if the owners don’t have access to the appropriate standard maintenance equipment required or don’t have the appropriate skill.

The number before the decimal point is the number of major design flaws. These are easy to identify but hard to correct. Roll d% for each: 0-30 and the character will be permitted a field workaround if they think of one; 31-60, and the character will be permitted to obtain a modification to the design that they can implement in a future adventure, if they look for it; and 61-00, the problem is inherent and uncorrectable.

The number after the decimal point is the chance of a minor design flaw manifesting each time the equipment is used in a different way or different environment. It can be much harder to identify the precise cause of these, and they can even seem intermittent or idiosyncratic to one particular example of the equipment. Roll d% each time one comes up: on a 1-20, the problem can be identified immediately; 21-30, the problem can be identified immediately, but a correction will take d6 game sessions to design and implement; 31-40, the problem will take d6 recurrences before it can be properly diagnosed and d6 game sessions for a correction to be designed and implemented; 41-60, the problem can be identified after d6 recurrences but correction will require months of work by the manufacturer; 61-80, the problem can be identified after d6 recurrences but correction is not possible; 81-00 the problem can’t be identified, roll again after d6 recurrences.

Traveller Tech-Levels can be a guideline

Some game systems like Traveller and Space Opera assign equipment to a given Tech-Level. Even when employing a completely different game system, understanding at what tech level an equivalent item becomes functional/possible in such a game system can provide a guideline on what should be available in your game. But it can be more work.

Use equipment to drive the plot and engage the players

Only the most basic equipment should be freely available. Anything beyond that should involve a story that the PC has to work through to obtain it. This can be a single encounter, purely roleplayed, or it can be a major quest, depending on the value of the item and its rarity.

The need to obtain replacement parts, ammunition, power supplies, etc can be a separate story in its own right. Treat your equipment choices as opening the door to future PC motivations and rewards.

A simple availability system

Rate equipment as a percentage of typical starting capital; subtract each item’s result from the highest result to get a basic availability level, assuming the PCs can identify and purchase from the right place. 100% or higher is readily available, unless illegal; the interpretation of anything lower is up to the GM but should reflect the combination of the amount of trouble the PCs face in acquiring it, the amount of trouble the PCs will be in if they are caught using it, the amount of trouble the PCs will be in if they are caught simply possessing it, the number of other people who want it and can’t get it, and the number of people who want to take it off them.

Give major pieces of equipment a personality.

This tip speaks for itself. Treat major equipment as a simple NPC in its own right – cooperative when treated right, cantankerous when not, and in-between the rest of the time.

The “What-you-need” approach

With this approach, PCs start with no equipment, none, nix. Instead, up to their weight limit, PCs are assumed to have whatever they think they need – but there’s no handing anything back, and once you hit your weight limit, that’s IT; thereafter they have to trade in and do all their shopping in character.

Coupled with reasonable restrictions, this can force PCs to use their existing equipment in innovative and creative ways because they don’t want to commit any of their remaining capacity.

Note that equipment that increases carrying capacity does NOT increase the equipment limit.

Spreadsheets can be worth their creator’s weight in gold

Let’s say that you have put together a spreadsheet listing all the equipment, a category or type, its price, its weight, a very brief summary of what it does, how many of each a given PC has, and the page number and location that holds more details, 1 item to a row. What can you do with it?

Sort it one way and you have a list of all equipment by type in alphabetical order, making it easier to find specifics on anything. Sort it another, and you have a list of all equipment by type in price order, making it easier to decide what should or shouldn’t be available to the PCs. Sort it another way (and assuming consistent nomenclature) and you have a list of all equipment that has a similar effect on the game. Sort it another way and it’s a contents list for the equipment sections of the rules, regardless of the source volume. Sort it still another way and it becomes an index to those sections.

If you adopt some of the suggestions above, you can easily insert columns for availability or damage rating, or even simply list the weights of the equipment that each character is carrying, taking all the work out of that..

If you’re talking about equipment, you need to be thinking about what you can do with a simple spreadsheet, and whether or not it’s worth your time to create one. And if in doubt, just say “yes”.

Abstractions can save time and effort

Our natural inclination is to be specific about equipment. This many med-packs, that many bullets or energy charges, and so on. But there is an alternative that can yield big benefits: Abstraction. Define healing in terms of the number of 4-round or 5-round combats-worth that the PCs have between them. Define Ammo in terms of the average number of rounds of combat they will last, and forget how many actual shots are expended in each of those rounds.

The advantage is that all you have to count is the number of rounds of combat that have taken place to know how many of the PCs supplies have been expended, and how many more they have left.

Avoiding the problem: Different system with the same setting

Rather than just converting the equipment section from another game system, something that Tommy has ruled out, contemplate changing game systems entirely, retaining nothing but the game background. This enables you to bypass the entire equipment system if it seems to complex; the important point would be to match genre with genre. Traveller, Space Opera, even Star Wars (minus lightsabers, perhaps)… you have plenty of options.

Study NPCs from published adventures to understand equipment

The final tip to unlocking the most effective equipment combinations is to study the characters in published adventures, especially those from the system authors. Don’t just look at what equipment they have, try to understand why the characters have made the choices that they have done, and why an alternative would be inappropriate; where they have been forced to compromise, and what they have prioritized. The more equipment-sensitive the game system is, the more this will pay off.

Section 3: A new system for ammo-tracking

So why does a GM want to track ammunition in the first place?

First reason: Realism. Verisimilitude is a perfectly legitimate motivation – but is it enough to justify all that tedium?

Second reason: Replenishment. You want to force the PCs to have to replenish their supplies from time to time. But tracking ammunition seems to be a lot of work when the GM could simply tell the PCs that they will run out of Ammunition in a day or two or a week or whatever at the rate they’ve been using it – whatever suits his plot purposes. If plot is the reason you’re tracking expendables, in other words, make the decision a plot-based one.

Third reason: Motivation/Excitement. Knowing that the ammo is running out and the zombie horde are still outside the door – or whatever – makes encounters more exciting. But any sort of ammo tracking system will have the same benefit, so choosing one that has the minimum workload for the GM is infinitely better than tracking each and every expendable.

Fourth and final reason: Confinement. Knowing that they don’t have enough expendables to do so is also a good way of stopping the PCs from simply shooting at everything in sight, forcing players to become more cautious – and more inclined to roleplay their way out of situations if they can see a way to do so. But if the point is to confine the amount of damage that the PCs can do to judicious levels, why use the most labor-intensive approach?

None of these reasons justify tracking expendables by item. This was touched on in the suggestion earlier to be more abstract in your handling of expendables. But even that proposal involves a certain amount of work that isn’t all that necessary. I was reviewing the discussion with my fellow GMs for breakdown into the earlier sections when I thought of an even simpler approach.

Meals: track by days’ worth of food. Assume that if they choose to go on light rations, they can double the number of days remaining. If they choose to go onto bare minimum survival diets, this amount can be doubled again. If they can forage/hunt but there is relatively little food to acquire in this way, they can extend their supplies’ duration by an additional 10% per person so engaged for at least 3 hours – provided that they do so every day. If they miss a day, it drops to 5% a person. If game and food is plentiful, make that 25% per person so engaged for at least three hours. In the process, this expendable becomes all about the PCs activities and not a mere bookkeeping activity.

Bandages/Medicines: track by HP worth. “You have bandages and medicines capable of handling 120 HP worth of wounds, between you.” Sell these in standard units of, say, 40 HP worth. Again, if they undertake the appropriate activities, up to 50% of used bandages can be salvaged – but it’s rather harder to do so with medicines. Nevertheless, a character with the appropriate skills who expends 3 hrs on doing so might be able to restore 25% of one standard unit’s worth with natural equivalents. That distinction does mean that these two types of expendables should be tracked separately, even though they are bought as a unit.

Ammunition: track by HP, and sell in standard batches of HP worth. If you want to get technical, multiply the number of items of ammunition in a standard box by the average amount of damage per shot, divided by the average number of items that have to be expended in order to achieve that damage – but once you’ve made a nice, round-number estimate, forget the working and simply use that as a standard. For example, if shotgun shells do 2d6 each, that’s an average of 7 points per shot. So a box might contain 140HP worth. All you need to do is total up the damage inflicted by the shotgun-wielder each game session and deduct it from the 140hp total.

Some characters are walking arsenals. That’s fine – get them to specify a primary weapon and a secondary weapon, and if necessary, a tertiary weapon. Assume that 75% of their damage comes from the primary weapon, and 25% from all the others. 75% of that 25% will therefore come from the secondary weapon if they have more than two, and 25% of the 25% from the rest. Simply work down the chain. This ignores the weapon actually used, which is fine; the law of averages will eventually even things out.

That leaves only the problem of a character deliberately specifying a weapon that does low damage as their primary choice and then actually using a heavy-damage weapon almost all the time. This is a form of cheating, but don’t call it that; simply keep track of what weapon each PC is using, most of the time, and if it doesn’t match the list provided by the player, tell them that you are adjusting the sequence of the list to match what the PC has actually been using.

If you want to deal with smaller numbers and less math, track all of the above (except meals) in dice – which are never rolled, simply counted. “You were hit three times by the Landekkian Fungus-Worm for 3d6 each, so that’s used 9 dice worth of bandages and medicines.”

That’s about as simple as it gets.

Section 4: A new system for managing complex equipment options

Tommy himself raises the question of standard “adventurer’s kits”. The problem is that this neglects the opportunities for individualization, arguably going too far.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t use the concept as a foundation, have all the advantages of a standard “kit” and of individualization as well – it’s all in what you do with those kits.

Prep Step 1: Price Points

Lets assume that most PCs have starting money of 500 Moons (to invent a currency on the fly). Nine-tenths of this amount will be the base price-point for a standard adventurer’s kit, or 450 Moons.

More advanced basic kits increase in price by double the last increase. So a level-2 kit costs 450+900=1350 moons; a level-3 kit costs 1350+1800=3150 moons; a level-4 kit costs 3150+3600=6750 moons; and so on. (Personally, if I were generating these, I would round all of these except the first up by 50, to get 1400, 3200, and 6800 moons, respectively, just for the convenience).

Prep Step Two: Standard Breakdown

Whatever is more expensive, Armor or Weapons, costs a % of the available funds, decided by the GM – somewhere between 50 and 75%, probably around the 60% mark. Half of what’s left goes on the other type of item. Round the results of both up to get convenient numbers. Whatever’s left goes on accouterments.

If we continue the example, using 60%:

  • Level 1 kit, 450 moons: Armor 270 (call it 300) moons, Weapons 90 moons (call it 100), other 50 moons.
  • Level 2 kit, 1400 moons: Armor 840 (call it 850) moons, weapons 280 moons (call it 300), other 250 moons.
  • Level 3 kit, 3200 moons: Armor 1920 (call it 2000) moons, weapons 600 moons, other 600 moons.
  • Level 4 kit, 6800 moons: Weapons 4080 (call it 4000) moons, armor 1400 moons (but this is less than the previous, so call it 2000), other 800 moons.

…and so on.

Prep Step Three: Construct the base kits

Level 1 Kit: Buy the best that you can afford in whatever the main two categories are (armor and weapons, usually). Buy the essentials from the ‘other’ budget, choosing the most basic items and avoiding unnecessary frills. Contemplate a very cheap vehicle. Spend whatever’s left on supplies.

Level 2 Kit: Buy the best that you can afford in whatever the main two categories are (armor and weapons, usually). Buy upgraded forms of all the essentials from the other budget, Buy any remaining essentials from what’s left. Spend the remaining funds equally on ammunition (if applicable), food, bandages/medicines, and supplementary equipment.

And so on. You can define whatever breakdown categories you deem fit, based on the game system.

Prep Step Four: Give the standard kit lists to the players

Make copies or printouts for the players to refer to. Distribute them. Then let them start to customize them.

Customization of Kits:

The total price point is fixed. Everything else can be replaced. So if a player wants a cheaper armor, they can spend whatever they save on a better weapon, or on upgrading essentials, as they see fit. But once play starts, they are stuck with what they’ve chosen.

Until they can afford the next level of kit, they are stuck with only those equipment upgrades you hand out as part of an adventure or as rewards. Keep track of the value of these, as they should not exceed the allocated value of the next kit’s equipment.

When a PC can afford to upgrade to a level-2 kit, they can customize it in exactly the same way as they did previously. They may already have received some of the equipment included in it as rewards or whatever; that’s fine, because of the restrictions placed on such equipment in the preceding paragraph.

Why this is beneficial

It keeps consistency across all characters in terms of resources. You can’t buy a bigger gun without sacrificing armor, for example. The checks and balances are inherent to the system.

But, more importantly, for each kit you have to look up just one piece of armor, one weapon, and the miscellaneous equipment list, plus whatever the players choose for themselves – four major items, instead of the ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or even fifty-plus of an equipment-rich game system. Just pick the most expensive item that can be afforded in each category.

The Bottom Line

Even in an equipment-rich system like Shadowrun, equipment need only be as much work as you want it to be. And, of course, the same principles and techniques can be applied to any RPG, from Tunnels and Trolls to GURPS

The question now is not, “How can I manage PC equipment,” it’s “Hoe easy do you want it to be?”.

Section 5: About The Contributors

As usual, I have to thank my fellow GMs for their time and their insights:


Mike is the owner, editor, and principle author at Campaign Mastery, responsible for most of the words of wisdom (or lack thereof) that you read here. You can find him on Twitter as gamewriterMike, and find out more about him from the “About” page above.


Blair Ramage was one of the first players of D&D in Australia, using a photocopied set of the rules brought over from the US before they were on sale here in Australia. When the rulebooks finally reached these shores, he started what is officially the fourth D&D campaign to be run in this country. He dropped out of gaming for a long time before being lured back about 15 years ago, or thereabouts. For the last eight years, he has been co-GM of the Adventurer’s Club campaign with Mike.


Saxon has been vaguely interested in gaming since the early 1980s, but only since going to university in the late 1980s has the opportunity for regular play developed into solid enthusiasm. Currently he plays in two different groups, both with alternating GMs, playing Dungeons and Dragons 4th ed., the Hero system (Pulp), a custom-rules superhero game (also based on the Hero System), Mike’s “Lovecraft’s Legacies” Dr Who campaign, WEG-era Star Wars, FASA-era Star Trek, and a Space 1889/Call of Cthulhu hybrid. When it’s his turn he runs a Dr Who campaign. He cheerfully admits to being a nerd, even if he’s not a particularly impressive specimen. He was a social acquaintance of both Mike and Blair long before he joined their games.


Ian Gray resides in Sydney Australia. He has been roleplaying for more than 25 years, usually on a weekly basis, and often in Mike Bourke’s campaigns. From time to time he GMs but is that rarest of breeds, a person who can GM but is a player at heart. He has played many systems over the years including Tales Of The Floating Vagabond, Legend Of The Five Rings, Star Wars, D&D, Hero System, Gurps, Traveller, Werewolf, Vampire, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and many, many more.

Over the last couple of years he has been dirtying his hands with game design. He was a contributor to Assassin’s Amulet, the first time his name appeared in the credits of a real, live, RPG supplement. Recently he has taken to GMing more frequently, with more initial success than he was probably expecting (based on his prior experiences). Amongst the other games he now runs, Mike and Blair currently play in his Star Wars Edge Of The Empire Campaign.

In the next ATGMs: The first of a pair of undead-related questions: When Undead Go Stale…

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