Characters in my Riddleport campaign will be constructed just from the Pathfinder Core Rules and two regional supplements the group bought for Paizo’s world of Golarion. This is a nice break from the splat book inflation previous D&D 3.5 campaigns of mine have suffered.
Further, I’m ruling that exotic arms, armour and equipment will be rare in the pirate city. Characters may start with anything they can afford from the rule book. Once the game starts though, merchants and craftsmen will not have exotic items in stock. Fortunately, Riddleport is named after the thriving sea trade that seeks haven in the lawless city, and you never know what might come off the docks.
This ruling has a few implications.
Exotic rarity creates a flavour tweak
First, all default NPCs will bear non-exotic items, which means this type of equipment will be considered the norm in encounters and loot. This is good to know when I’m building NPCs and whatnot. It’s a decision that affects flavour and will help me highlight notable NPCs, which I’ll get into a bit further on.
The economics of exotic equipment
Second, exotic equipment costs twice as much as listed in the rule book, if a merchant has it in stock at all. This is just for Riddleport. In other areas of Golarion, the pricing might be different. Higher costs will only impact poor and low level PCs, but that’s ok.
For the rest of the populace, this situation creates a negative feedback loop. Only a few can afford exotic equipment, which reduces demand, when means lower stock, which keeps prices high. Further, rarity means few will take the time to bother learning how to use the equipment, which limits the skills and feat choices of your average Riddleport citizen, resulting in even lower demand.
All this is a setup for PCs who use exotic weapons. If I know my players, mayhem will result quickly in an urban campaign. That’s why I selected Riddleport, where might makes right, not a justice system. Therefore, the PCs should be able to operate in a theatre of factions and alliances, rather than always having to dodge the law, which opens up a lot more gameplay opportunities.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found running-from-the-law games stifling after awhile, and it forces PCs to move around a lot. I want my players happy to stay put in Riddleport where I’m spending a lot of design time in.
So, back to the setup. In a tough and gritty urban campaign, a key survival tactic includes stealth. You want to be safe when you wish, unnoticed when desired, and able to move throughout the city without complication.
The first gotcha the PCs will find is when they travel in a group. Six mercenaries going anywhere together will stick out like a sore thumb. They enter any establishment and all eyes will be on them. Depending on the reputation they build, when they walk down the street others will give a wide berth, hurl insults, ask for help, or be reported on to important people who live in fortified demesnes. This means more party split-ups, but I’ve got plans to handle that.
The second gotcha is exotic equipment. Any PC brandishing a strange weapon, wearing unusual armour or flashing exotic equipment is going to get noticed and talked about. Go ahead and choose that double orc axe, I say. You’ll soon be tagged as the orc axe guy, and it might even be whispered the PC is in cahoots with orcs….
While I’m on the topic of reputation, if the PCs do things in a pack then they’ll become known as a gang or group. Thus, one character’s actions will be reflected on the whole group. That is, unless they take precautions. If they don’t, then exotic equipment with taint them all in terms of trying to be stealthy, whether it’s physical or social stealth they’re after in any given situation.
Exotic equipment means exotic NPCs
Third, and most important to me, with exotic stuff being rare I have a new tool to make NPCs and monsters special.
The normal NPCs will be using non-exotic items. Any NPC who uses something exotic will therefore stand out from society. The NPC will be special. This is great for building personality, differentiation and encounter seeds with.
I’ll put extra flair in descriptions and actions for any NPC using an exotic weapon or fighting in exotic armour. In most cases this is a signal the NPC is important to the game world or campaign, which helps gameplay and communicating such things to players without resorting to out-of-character chatter.
For monsters, I can brand them according to the strange weapons and armour they use. One tribe of orcs might use serrated double orc axes, known as butter knives to the locals, and another orc tribe uses black painted double orc axes, which the locals call black kisses. Where possible, I’ll do this for each monster group in encounters and in the setting.
Lots of choices
Fourth, I have inspiration for new encounter seeds.
The group agreed to stick with just the core rule book for character creation, plus the two supplements. I let my players know that NPCs and monsters will not be under such restrictions, and they were fine with that. This means I have all my D20 books to tap for bringing in unusual equipment!
Not only can I enhance NPCs with exotic items, but I can also make loot and picking pockets special by occasionally dropping something exotic into the mix.
It will be up to the PCs to figure out how to use strange items found. This should create some good roleplaying and gameplay from trial and error activity plus puzzle solving.
Hopefully, unwanted items from the PCs will also make it into merchant hands and a few gambling game pots, so the strange items begin to pass hands and spread.
This opens up new encounter seeds. If some items give the user a new ability or advantage in a fight, then this will be noticed by the powers that be. Where are these items coming from? Where can I get more? How can I stop my enemy from getting their hands on these?
How will the PCs react when a friend is robbed of the strange new tool the PCs gave him? What will the PCs do if they fail to keep their exotic inventory a secret? How will they react each time they discover their rooms ransacked or defenses triggered by would-be thieves?
Throttled to start
My aim is not to make exotic equipment the focus of the campaign. As the main treasure distributor, I can throttle up or down the amount of exotics offered. Tribes and clans and factions will be out of the box, though, once they are encountered. If the PCs wish to go back and target specific foes for their equipment, then they will be free to do so. So, I need to be careful who I give the very good stuff too and in what quantities.