Roger has commented from time to time that RPGs are a different story form than plays, AV, or the written word, and require their own conventions, structures and matter. This is a topic that I wish he (or someone) would develop at length some day.
This morning, as I was skulking on the SJ Games forums, it occurred to me to wonder whether compendious lists of kit and personal effects are one of the things that RPG requires, or at least makes good use of. I used to think that well-thought-out lists of my characters’ everyday carry and inventories of their kit for special circumstances were pretty clever, and take pride in doing them thoughtfully. As recently as 2011 I made a list of everything that a character had in his pockets and highlights of his luggage; casting my gaze more widely for a moment, I note the popularity of compendia of equipment, such as GURPS ~-Tech. I gather from playing Munchkin that some popular dungeon-bashing games require the player to plan in which hand or on which donkey his or her character is carrying each item. On the other hand I can’t actually think of an example of an equipment-list however carefully written actually having an effect in play, and I do note my relief at game mechanics such as in Night’s Black Agents that amount in effect to “character’s have what they would have, plus whatever they can justify having prepared specially using the Preparedness mechanics”. I don’t recall a GM ever taking any notice of my ammunition supply or care in equipping with a pistol and carbine that both fired the same .44-40 cartridges.
On the other hand, I am sure that there must have been a technothriller or survival thriller on some screen or on the page in which a character’s kit was itemised, and indeed in which the kit he or she prepared (rather than salvaging or being caught with) was itemised. But I can’t call it to mind, and might never have seen or read it. Is pixel-bitching the equipment list one of the unique conventions of RPG?
It occurs to me more generally to wonder whether the activities that surround play (even occurring outside of game sessions) — ostensibly supporting it and preparing for it, but seldom actually affecting it — ought to be recognised as part of the content and appeal of RPG. How often have we met the player who chatters happily about the detail of his character design that he fervently hopes will not come up in play? How often have we ourselves enjoy telling people about the preparations and plans that we made but could never quite bring off in play? Is wrestling with an equipment catalogue, a price constraint, and the Knapsack Problem one of the special joys of RPG? Are contrivances to mentioning kit in play — such as NBA’s manoeuvres involving pool refreshes for technothriller monologuing — actually a desirable thing: do they substitute for the enjoyment of knapsack optimisation, or do they obviate them in pursuit of the superficial form of a movie moment?
There are still some points there I’d like to discuss.
I suspect that there are some activities surrounding role-playing that correspond notionally to mere chores in screenwriting — or that writers don’t even do — and to nothing that is seen to happen in stories in other forms, and which some game designers have striven to minimise and eliminate, but which are sometimes and for some players either not merely a drag to do, but that can be an engaging activity that some players get enjoyment and satisfaction out of. Optimising character design, for instance, fantasy shopping for guys, pixel-bitching the budget and load-out, designing vehicles, rolling up worlds. These aren’t always and entirely chores and yak-shaving. They are some times and for some players a worthwhile, albeit gamist, part of the activity of RPG.