Controlling the Availability of Arms and Armor

There are non-cheesy methods by which game masters and designers can encourage the use of inferior types of arms and armor in a campaign without resorting to increasing their effectiveness unrealistically.  The realistic solution is to limit the availability of such items in the milieu to players, using rationales like expense, rarity of materials, difficulty to construct, requirements in social standing, etc.  This is fairly easy in a pen and paper setting, where the GM is regulating the activities of a small party of players in a world he has complete control over.  In the computer-driven game it becomes more difficult, and in an MMORPG it has not been done effectively to date.  This is because of the exploitability of a computer referee, and the inability of an MMORPG to control its economy effectively.  For now, we will focus on the MMORPG, as it is the most daunting of the environments to restrict, and its solutions may be applied piecemeal to other milieus.

The most widely-used barrier to the availability of powerful items in an MMORPG is expense.  Plate costs a lot, right?  This is also, coincidentally, the most useless concern in any MMORPG to date.  No MMORPG has ever managed to control its cash economy effectively.  If money is easy to get by killing monsters, players will repeatedly kill those monsters until they are millionaires.  If there is a craft-related way to make money, players will tailor and lumberjack for days in order to buy their keeps.  If money is just scarce all-around, players will dupe and cheat their way to riches, and the expensive advantages money will get them.  Controlling game economy is a whole other section.

Another barrier to powerful types of arms and armor craftable by player smiths is a high skill requirement.  Ditto here.  As long as players can see the numbers, they will quickly figure out how best to raise those numbers to grandmaster status or better, and then this information will be published on the web.  Shortly thereafter, someone will figure out a system for automating the process with a macro or bot, and (using Sphere as an example) you will soon have an unusually large number of clients connected who are making daggers endlessly for days.  Removing the numbers is a semi-effective barrier to this sort of nonsense, and is also covered in another section.

Requiring players to travel to some far-off location to get their hands on decent equipment is an overused and often cheesy method of arms control.  It also has a low rate of success.  In many cases, these sorts of provisos make no sense at all:  in a world where adventurers use about 12 towns as base camps, why then is all the plate mail coming out of one town?  A skilled smith capable of fitting and crafting plate or fine swords would do well to move into an area where there was no competition, or to sell his non-custom wares like claymores to travelling merchants who could then sell these items at a profit elsewhere.  (This never works either, as players will always find away to cheese their way into the cheap town, usually with magic if it is available.)  If the reason all these smiths are in one place is just because there are only one small group of smiths who can do it, then these individuals would most likely be pressed into the exclusive service of the local NPC monarch to give his troops the edge.  They would also be likely targets for kidnapping and assassination.

Worse yet, despite the fact that this "travelling to get your stuff" idea never ever works, it gets used again and again with respect to better and more unbalanced weapons and armor.  "Hey, there’s this (super item) you can only get at the bottom of (some dungeon)!"  First of all, super items are bad.  (See the balance section.)  Second, what the hell are they doing at the bottom of a dungeon?  Third, it doesn’t matter, as proven in EQ and AC… players will set up a camping conga-line at the spot where the crazy axe spawns, and so much for rarity.

The only conceivable methods by which this hyperinflation can be controlled are as follows:

  • Expense:  Expense only works in a campaign or setting where the economy is under control.  Therefore, the referee/developer must address issues of economy before hoping to use it as a controlling factor.
  • Skill:  Removing all the numbers from the players’ clients can help to control the process of botting to godhood, and encourage a more natural progression to high skill by usage for players wishing to create these items.  This means that the referee/developer also has to make the mercantile aspect of the game solid, with reasons and fun factors for merchants of all skill levels, before using this as a controlling factor.
  • Location:  The only resonable way this can even be considered as a barrier to arms procurement is through logical considerations.  Maybe the town of Crag maintains strategic control over the richest iron mines in the area.  Maybe the local smelters in Nihon have secret tempering methods.  Maybe it’s simply illegal to manufacture war implements in most places without a license.  Having said this, all of these considerations become meaningless if black box cheeses like magic are used to quickly go wherever one wants without inconvenience or expense.  Game design is a holistic process, and if any one of the relevant factors to a process is badly implemented, everything it touches is likewise poisoned.
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