Upgrading PC equipment (not the Christmas tree effect)

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

daniel_ream

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2017
Messages
460
Reaction score
529
So as a result of a discussion elsewhere about the history of the F-4, F-14, F-15, F-16 and F-18 and their upgrades, I got to thinking about this in an RPG context. We all know about the Christmas tree effect from D&D, where PCs end up with a staggering array of magic weapons, armor, bits and bobs over years of play. This is not that. What I'm talking about is when the PCs have some significant bit of equipment, like a vehicle, a starship, a mech or battlesuit, that gets upgraded or entirely swapped out during the campaign.

Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles do this - as part of the setting, PC Gear or Exosuit pilots will get new Gear/suits as the timeline of the war advances. Mekton does it as well (but then both Mekton and JC are drawing from Gundam's mech-of-the-week format). The Australian TV show Sea Patrol did it, replacing the somewhat outdated patrol ship in second season with a new high-tech Armidale-class. Superhero comics do it all the time with everything from high-tech jets to entire headquarters. The D6 Star Wars Tramp Freighters guide had a lot of modifications you could make to your piece of junk.,

Have you ever played/run a campaign where this happened? Or, aside from complete replacement, where the PCs had the ability to significantly modify or upgrade a large piece of campaign equipment over the course of the game? How did it go? Did the players take advantage of the option, or keep their existing thing out of familiarity or sentiment?
 

Leon ap Hywel

Lord of Misrule
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
923
Reaction score
1,202
The only games that pop to mind were d6 SWrpg and Alternity...only seems to be a factor in our sci-fi games.

*unless you DO include PC's buying better equipment when they can afford it in D&D. Not so much magic item acquisition though just good old cash for plate :smile:
 

TristramEvans

The Right Hand of Doom
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
28,735
Reaction score
79,981
FASERIP had a pretty robust system for this. I seem to recall it coming up in Shadowrun pretty often as well.
 

daniel_ream

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2017
Messages
460
Reaction score
529
*unless you DO include PC's buying better equipment when they can afford it in D&D.

No, that's the Christmas tree effect. I'm specifically not talking about that. I'm talking about "here's your new fighter jet/exosuit/scoutship from the boys in R&D" or "if we chop out the third ion thruster we'll have enough space for the capacitors for the ventral blaster turret - I know a guy in Smuggler's Drift who can get us military-grade hardware" or even "in gratitude for your service in revealing this traitorous Marcher Lord to me, I grant you his lands, manor and chattels in fief"
 

Leon ap Hywel

Lord of Misrule
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
923
Reaction score
1,202
No, that's the Christmas tree effect. I'm specifically not talking about that. I'm talking about "here's your new fighter jet/exosuit/scoutship from the boys in R&D" or "if we chop out the third ion thruster we'll have enough space for the capacitors for the ventral blaster turret - I know a guy in Smuggler's Drift who can get us military-grade hardware" or even "in gratitude for your service in revealing this traitorous Marcher Lord to me, I grant you his lands, manor and chattels in fief"

Seems like a fine line but I think I get you. The biggest example for me would be the Alternity game I ran for my players then. Constant shop upgrades.
 

Sosthenes

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 16, 2017
Messages
491
Reaction score
981
The closest fantasy games get to sci-fi's group starship is the base/castle/hideout. Which I've seen improved in some games, although it often wasn't a labor of love, but more about fortifying it for an upcoming event or something like that. A vehicle tends to be more anthropomorphized and thus worth of actually being liked. Whereas buildings...

I think some recent video games also had this plot line. Neverwinter Nights and one of the Witcher games (or was it Dragon Age?).

And then there was the Pathfinder Kingmaker adventure series, where you had a build-a-village subsystem. And you've never facepalmed until you facepalmed about the resident Cleric of Lawful Good proposing building a brothel because it min-maxes the happiness quotient or suchlike.
 

daniel_ream

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2017
Messages
460
Reaction score
529
It occurs to me that Traveller is the original "free trader" game, but the ship design system there is so granular that there's little meaningful modification that you can do. Plus the prices on ship components are so high it's practically impossible to do so anyway.

The OSR domain management system certainly has elements of this in it, and I remember Back In The Day drawing up castle maps and then costing them according to the DMG's component price list.
 

Tommy Brownell

Legendary Member
Joined
Apr 30, 2017
Messages
3,430
Reaction score
8,691
Apologies if I'm misreading the intent, but would Midnight's magic items that grow in power level and effect over time fall into that thought process?

The idea wasn't that the PCs would have a ton of magic items, because the more magic you had, the more you lit up like a beacon for the bad guys. Instead you'd find, say, a short sword +1. And at level 5 it would become +2. And at level 8 it would gain the ability to boost you armor class by 1. And at level 12 it would radiate sunlight on command and so on, but it was ever only one sword.
 

Necrozius

Legendary Member
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
3,147
Reaction score
6,695
Adventures in Middle Earth (5e-based) has magic items that grow in power as you level up. You discover new abilities the longer you own the item (and get to know it).

For example, that elvish sword you found "just" glowed when spiders were near. A few levels (months/years) later, you discover that it is a Bane weapon against giant spiders. Even later, you realize that it can cause fear in such creatures when you shout out the blade's secret name.

I like this a lot, but then again, I dislike high fantasy settings with commonplace magic item shops and +X swords galore. I want magic items to be special and rare.
 

Tarot70

Active Member
Joined
Sep 14, 2017
Messages
55
Reaction score
71
Earthdawn had legendary items that improved as your (connection to/investment in) them did, often requiring specific Deeds to reach higher tiers.

And there were the nemuranai in L5R. Which were also present in Oriental Adventures (3e). In our game, we just did away with money and found treasure in OA and awakened characters' axes, or armour or belt or what have you, levelling them up with the characters, although this might not have been exactly RAW.
 

Stevethulhu

Studiously Indifferent
Joined
Aug 16, 2017
Messages
3,494
Reaction score
5,264
Earthdawn had legendary items that improved as your (connection to/investment in) them did, often requiring specific Deeds to reach higher tiers.

And there were the nemuranai in L5R. Which were also present in Oriental Adventures (3e). In our game, we just did away with money and found treasure in OA and awakened characters' axes, or armour or belt or what have you, levelling them up with the characters, although this might not have been exactly RAW.
L5R nemuranai are either extremely vague in effect and power, or completely and utterly over the top ridiculously powerful.

If I ever run that game again, I want to use 3rd edition in all it's gozo glory. And bring in stuff from Prayers and Treasures to take it to new levels of silly.
 

daniel_ream

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2017
Messages
460
Reaction score
529
Earthdawn had legendary items that improved as your (connection to/investment in) them did, often requiring specific Deeds to reach higher tiers.

I'm fairly certain this is the ur-example. There was a D20 sourcebook called Legacy Weapons that did the same thing.

I suppose that counts. For some reason I'm fixated on ships, vehicles and buildings though. I think it's because it's a "no one person owns this" kind of thing.

But nonetheless: have you used legacy weapons in your campaigns? How did it go? Did the players engage with it or did it make no difference?
 

noman

Inactive
Joined
May 14, 2017
Messages
1,327
Reaction score
2,039
This is actually something I like to do in my games. Half the goodies are Christmas items, but the other half is the opportunity to upgrade and reengineer existing tools.

I'm not familiar with any rules for doing this. I usually create on-the-fly rules to handle more detailed option packages (with assorted costs, installation time, etc). It's very handwavy, but it usually works.

Player response has usually been favorable. I tend to be stingy about items, so I've had some grumbling about that. "Why are we getting our vehicle upgraded? What about the BFGs and Super Power Armor." That kind of thing.
 

Leon ap Hywel

Lord of Misrule
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
923
Reaction score
1,202
I'm fairly certain this is the ur-example. There was a D20 sourcebook called Legacy Weapons that did the same thing.

I suppose that counts. For some reason I'm fixated on ships, vehicles and buildings though. I think it's because it's a "no one person owns this" kind of thing.

But nonetheless: have you used legacy weapons in your campaigns? How did it go? Did the players engage with it or did it make no difference?
We used legacy weapons once. It was great in the sense you didn't feel like you were just holding on to the flame tongue till the Sun sword came along but it also emphasised the flaw in D&D magic items in its need to 'level' with the character. I'm fairly sure Narsil or Excalibur weren't gaining powers as they went along.
 

daniel_ream

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2017
Messages
460
Reaction score
529
I'm fairly sure Narsil or Excalibur weren't gaining powers as they went along.

Well, Narsil did gain the "actual working sword" upgrade ;-)

But yes. I think this is why I was thinking in terms of Gundam's mech-of-the-week format or the rapid pace of fighter plane development during WWII. There's a good reason for the rapid upgrades, there's a bloody war on.
 

Leon ap Hywel

Lord of Misrule
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
923
Reaction score
1,202
Well, Narsil did gain the "actual working sword" upgrade ;-)

But yes. I think this is why I was thinking in terms of Gundam's mech-of-the-week format or the rapid pace of fighter plane development during WWII. There's a good reason for the rapid upgrades, there's a bloody war on.
Good point :grin:

I think unintentionally or not the entire upgrade mechanic works better with technology (archaic or new).

There were definitely more attempts at, enthusiasm for and acceptance of upgrading in our sci-fi games or domain management (building kingdoms).

Possibly due to our gaming background (D&D) we don't think twice about turfing the +2 sword when a flametongue comes along. Which is a bit naff really.
 

Sosthenes

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 16, 2017
Messages
491
Reaction score
981
I've been out of the loop a bit, but I think several video games were rather focused on this. With weapons having "slots" for gems and the like. On the other hand, they also took the D&D item affluence to the extreme with Diablo and its ilk (even more than previous rogue-likes).
One has to be careful of frequent switches, though. A bit of commitment doesn't hurt, and forces players to make some choices.

On the other hand, permanent integration of magical powers just postpones throwing away Balmung for Excalibur.
 

daniel_ream

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2017
Messages
460
Reaction score
529
Thinking about this some more, I think some of the problem with legacy weapons is that when everyone has one they lose a lot of their cachet. I think there's an underlying expectation that magic weapons or items are special, and unique, and A Big Deal in a way that isn't there for the newest fighter plane/mech/starship class. We expect mass production from technology.
 

Belle Sorciere

Legendary Member
Joined
Aug 27, 2017
Messages
337
Reaction score
284
Starfinder has this written into the rules for starships. You get a starship designed based on the party's average level, and as it increases, the ship can be improved or replaced with a better ship.

I think items do this to some extent as you can upgrade them over time. I don't think Starfinder's abandoned the christmas tree effect entirely, though.
 

Leon ap Hywel

Lord of Misrule
Joined
Aug 13, 2017
Messages
923
Reaction score
1,202
Starfinder has this written into the rules for starships. You get a starship designed based on the party's average level, and as it increases, the ship can be improved or replaced with a better ship.

I think items do this to some extent as you can upgrade them over time. I don't think Starfinder's abandoned the christmas tree effect entirely, though.
It's built into the firmware of most d20 games.
 
Cthulhu Mythos - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
Top