The case for and against equipment lists.I'm sure if you've GMd more than a few games you've had this happen. A player says something to the effect of "Um, I don't have [insert item here] on my sheet, but it seems reasonable I would have one, right?"
I'm sort of a jerk when I GM. My traditional answer to this questions is, "What are you asking me for, I just run this game." It's not to say that I don't care about the answer on some level, but I think the players should be able to answer a question like that most of the time. But there are all those rules and equipment lists!
Scarcity, genre conventions, a figuring out what works.The issue of equipment really comes down to is it important for the genre and the game you're running. In a post apocalypse game I think a detailed equipment list is part of the genre. When scarcity is an important part of a game, then knowing what you have should be an important part of the game as well.
If you're playing a game set in a modern world and the players have access to all the modern conveniences it seems less important. But it would and should still have limits otherwise you might have players circumventing a challenge with a previously unknown piece of tech that they just decided they have because it makes sense.
If the game requires the players to keep track of everything, then that's what they're going to have to do. You see this a fair amount in D&D and other fantasy genre games. Players are often out away from civilization on perilous adventures in exotic locations, so it's sort of important to keep track of gear. You might hand wave things like water and food unless survival is part of the adventure.
Consistency is optional.You don't have to be consistent about this either. If you, as the GM, decide that the trip from town A to town B will be an interlude where nothing happens, tell the players and move forward. If, on the other hand, you intend the journey to be arduous and require keeping track of food and water, perhaps requiring the party to loose time to hunting and gathering food or water, then make sure you make that clear to the group. They might just say, "We buy extra pack animals and make sure to bring along more rations than we need." If they can afford to do that, there isn't any reason to prevent them. But, I'm told some monsters find horses to be delicious! Just say'in.
An economy of equipment.Sometimes though, you might want something that's not quite hand waving and totally not a detailed equipment list. My solution, which is a solution I have used for a number of things over the years, is the poker chip. Now, I ordered mine online with custom lettering. GEAR in gold letters. It was for a modern day super hero game, and we were reaching a point where some of the players were asking that question "You think it's okay if I have one of those things on me?, It seems like I might have one, especially after that one time last month."
This also applies to the larger world. "Is there a fire extinguisher in here?" Might come up. As a GM I like to let the story surprise me sometimes (I'll get into that in another post) but there is a trend now for game systems that allow the players some agency over the world so I wanted to use these chips as a way of giving them that agency.
For most characters in the game I gave them 2 GEAR chips. If it seems reasonable a character might have more (gadgeteer, rich, kleptomaniac) then give them more. There might be a mechanic in your game you could piggy back off. an example might be like Luck in some games. Make a gear related version that allows the character to have more chips.
They get spent to have something. "Is there a fire extinguisher in here?" To which you might answer, "Do you want there to be?" and the player then nods, tossing a gear chip into the pile. They now have the fire extinguisher they always wanted. This lets them change the world a little, or just quantify that they have something that isn't what you might think of as an everyday item. Mobile phone, car keys, Swiss Army knife, quantum stabilizer....wait, what?
You don't have to go out and buy special lettered poker chips, you can use little glass beads (my wife calls them slow marbles because they roll VERY slowly), or any other kind of marker. When you get into games that have many markers, then color coded or labelled ones make more sense, but if you only need one kind of marker you have a lot of flexibility.
I hope this idea can inspire you to solve the sometimes prickly problem of equipment and characters. What are your ideas for handling this particular issue? What have you done that worked, and what have you done that failed? Share with us in the comments below and until next time, keep playing.