Gear Points: Your D&D 5e Characters Know What to Bring
The guttering torchlight throws strange shadows in the depths of the Shalebridge Mausoleum as our heroes enter the catacombs. Somewhere in the darkness the crackling sound of settling bones sets their teeth on edge. The smell of dryrot and desoltation plays counterpoint to the damp nitre odor of a tomb long undisturbed. Nim takes point, her sharp halfling eyes scanning the darkness for trouble. She doesn’t catch sight of anything other than a small brown rat which rears on its hind legs, hisses, and then dashes for the gap beneath an aging ironbound door. Nim waves her companions forward as she runs her dagger around the frame of the door, looking for hidden traps. No telltale pressure, no snaps of hidden tripwires. She tries the door, rattles the ancient pullring, but it sticks in the jamb. Time and neglect have worked their subtle spells on the door. It’s warped in its frame and is now stuck fast, keeping secrets as surely as the tongues of the dead men beyond. She curses. “I don’t think I can shift this,” she says, looking back. “I think we could us a wee bit of leverage,” says Torbik as he slings off his pack and rummages around within. With a triumphant grunt of approval, he passes over a heavy iron crowbar to Nim. “Brothers and sisters,” he says with a wink, “let us pry.”
This is a mechanic that I have been tinkering with for my home-game for a little while. I thought, for a while, that I’d come up with something unique and creative to really stress that characters are living, breathing professionals in the dungeon delving arts, and not masses of accumulated stats and notes drawn up by farmers, accountants, engineers, and other folks who have no business fighting orcs. But it turns out that the various Powered by the Apocalypse games beat me to this idea quite a while ago. Oh, well. It’s still a great way to drive the fiction of the game forward, keep momentum high, and book-keeping to a minimum.
The central conceit is that your characters buy a certain number of “gear points” of equipment in town. I use a 10 to 1 ratio for gold to gear points, but you’re free to monkey with that if you tend to reward more or less gold in your game. I don’t let anyone take more than 10 gear points worth of stuff per adventure unless they’re willing to consider themselves lightly encumbered for the journey. If they’re taking a cart or somesuch, I’d allow 20, but the amount of times I’ve had PCs actually want to deal with vehicles in the wilderness can be counted on one hand with several fingers missing. Yours might be different. Again, tinker and tailor as you will.
During the course of the adventure, characters can exchange gear points for items that they “just happened to pick up in town.” Torbik up there didn’t have any tools marked on his sheet, but he asked me when they were faced with that jammed door if he could exchange a gear point for a crowbar. I ruled that since a crowbar is a common item, one gear point would let him pull a crowbar out of his pack. If he’d asked for a bunch of chain, a climbers kit, or some ink, it might’ve been two. If it had been a healing potion or a vial of antivenom, it might have been five. Whatever seems narratively appropriate. The point is that the characters are spending “preparation” as a resource.
This does two things for your game. First, it makes the characters feel like experts who plan ahead for situations that might get sticky. Your players will have some flexibility to show that mastery of the dungeon delving arts in some pretty creative ways. That will make them feel clever, and players who feel clever are generally having a better time than players who are cursing the darkness for want of a candle. Second, it brings those terrible “lets all go shopping” sessions down to a couple minutes of book-keeping rather than dominating time that could better be spent kicking doors, solving mysteries, stabbing orcs, and acquiring treasure. You know, adventuring stuff.
There are a couple of caveats to the system that probably don’t bear mentioning, but I’m going to anyway. First, any gear points that are left over at the end of an adventure–which is kind of an arbitrary delineation in and of itself– will carry over to the next adventure. Your characters paid for them, they get to keep them. Likewise any items that they trade for, they keep. Torbik marks the crowbar on his inventory, and will probably never have to worry about having one on hand ever again. Secondly, there are no circumstances in which magical items can be gained through gear-points. D&D 5e is built with the conceit that magic is somewhat harder to come by than in earlier editions. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll see that +1 sword by level 5 like it was in editions gone by. Buying and selling magic items is an adventure in and of itself, and so it seems a little chintzy to trade in gear points for magical gear.
So there it is. Don’t let your heroes, and by proxy their adventure, grind to a sudden halt all for want of a length of rope or a handful of iron spikes. They’re adventurers, they know what to bring even if Carl from Accounts Receivable doesn’t. Spend a gear point or five and get back to kicking evil right in its big dumb face. Try it out in your next game and let me know how it works for you.