Build, Buy, Bestow, or Bereave: Equipment Acquisition in RPGs

03 Oct 2012

Jay "Rampant Coyote" Barnson has penned yet another editorial-like blog post, this time focused on equipment acquisition in RPGs. In it, he writes on the evolution of crafting in RPGs, from essentially absent to almost mandatory element, and also chimes in to give his own preference.

Here's a snip:
Most old-school western CRPGs, following the lead set by Dungeons & Dragons, generally stocked the stores with little more than starting gear for low-level characters. Over time, as Eastern console RPGs started building up steam, stores tended to be stocked with progressively more powerful gear, generally equivalent to hard-earned gear you could have obtained in the previous area.I guess that way there was a minimum baseline of gear, but it felt weird that the ultimate ubersword of the dungeon near the previous city was just sitting on a store shelf in the next.

At some point, crafting became a thing. I blame Ultima (starting with Ultima VI, circa 1990). However, crafting in Ultimas – at least as I recall – was pretty low-key. You either crafted simple weapons that you could easily buy in a store, or crafted as part of a quest to create an uber-item. Otherwise, it was pretty much baking bread and milking cows for personal consumption. As the 1990s came to an end and we started getting cross-pollination between fledgeling MMORPGs and the single-player RPG genres, we got more and more instances of crafting – though still more often than not quest-based with very specific recipes

D&D 3.0 came out, and … well, things changed. Effectively, magic items were put in the hands of players, rather than the Dungeon Masters (or, for CRPGs, the game designers). Go to a large enough city, and you could buy anything short of artifact-level that you wanted, according to the rules. Alternately, you could craft your own, for an expenditure of experience points and gold for the requisite materials. Easy-peasy. I was not too fond of this latter change, as it really turned what I’d always treated as an in-game reward into little more than a revenue source. In other words, instead of being thrilled with a really cool magical item found amongst a dragon’s horde, any item that wasn’t exactly what the player wanted was simply thrown into the ol’ Bag of Holding to be sold in town for cash to buy a specific item. It also seemed to take what was once a source of mysterious and … well, magical… possibilities (at least to less experienced players) and turn it into little more than a shopping list.

Jay is also interested in hearing your opinion on the subject, so don't forget to comment, either here or on his blog.