Thursday, August 18, 2016

Brand Loyalty

Buying cool gear that gives your character an edge up, whether it be tools, armor, weapons or vehicles, has long been a staple of role playing. Most of the time though it's handled by the player just unceremoniously glancing though the systems gear tables and picking what they want. Pretty much the pen and paper version of a going to a video game RPGs static background shop and hitting the X button to confirm your purchases.

Now in a dungeon fantasy style game (whether in an actual dungeon or the musty corridors of a derelict space craft) or a “action” one, this is just fine. Knowing how the gear effects your character or how much damage they can do per turn is actually pretty important and it's very much in genre (especially for action games!) for such minor details to be handled “off camera”. The only time gear should be given any kind of flavor or character is when your players come across that +1 magical sword of badassery, that precursor tech dark matter disintegrator or that government black-op prototype.

But I think in a more down to earth game, where the “role” playing is just as or more important then the “roll” playing, then just going through gear tables is a missed opportunity for some good role playing as well as world building.

With real people I notice they tend to end up trusting a few piece of gear that works for them and end up with a sense of brand loyalty. We're also all a lest perk level loyal to one brand or another if not out right fanboys. Hell if you're coming here from the GURPS forum... well... I think you know what I mean. You just don't find that in a lot of RPG campaigns. Gear ends up being just a means to an end, just "this number is bigger then that number" and you almost never head a character turning into a  fan of company Y or brand X after tending to like their gear unless the game is take places in the "realworld" and the character is a fanboy from the start (for example of this check out a character break down Douglas Cole did creating a FN fanboy... I will admit... I to am a total FN fanboy.... don't judge me!).

I also think that it kinda cheapens the perceived value of the gear. Since the players know what the best gear is right away and don't have to earn it (outside of coming up with the cash and maybe having a little trouble finding the right shop), it, generally speaking, has less importance to them.

However giving your players a reason to care about their gear, make them work to get it and having them take a leap of faith to see if it works as advertised helps to create immersion. And Immersion helps to makes the gear they have more memorable. Even if it turns out that its not as good as they thought it was, well that in the end is still a story to tell. And that's good since even if your players don't consciously realize it, the more you make your world immersive, the more detail and bread crumbs you add, the more memorable the game is going to be for them. And then the more things are going to stand out and the more likely you're gonna have return business as a GM heh.

Getting Started
So how do you make buying gear more immersive?

Well, first I should note that getting trivial stuff like food or toiletries should never warrant more detail. It should only be when you buy important adventuring equipment like climbing spikes, weapons, get-away cars and the like since these are the kind of things that can put a PC's health, friends, wealth or reputation at risk, the same things GURPS suggest that  are important enough to warrant rolling dice!

That being said, there are three basic steps to doing this.

The first is go over the often over looked “Buying Equipment” sections on page 13 of Ultra-Tech, page 7 of High-Tech and page 13 or Low-Tech. This post is pretty much just an expansion on the concepts that are covered there.

The second is you have to make the gear more interesting. This is achieved through two things, using equipment modifiers and quirks and perks (more on this later) to make make the gear standout from each other and adding “fluff”-background detail like why it was made (or at lest the what the ads have to say about it) and especially who made it. These two factors are probably the most important but also the most complicated and time consuming to come up with and I will break down some ways of doing this in more detail below.

The third option is pretty simple. Don't show the players the gears in game effects!

At lest... not right away.

Just think about how most real people shop for things. They hardly ever know the what kind of real life “bonuses” a given tool is going to give them. Instead they have to either just make a blind purchase, slog through what ever slanted data the company that makes the item puts out, look up others opinions on it, try to find some (often hard to find) unbiased review of it, go by how it looks or just trust plain old brand loyalty.

There's a good bit of roleplay opportunity here as you now given your player two avenues for getting their gear. They can just go in blind and trust either the brand or their gut. Or they can do some research and plan out what they get.

If they go in blind give them a list of options to choose from and and maybe a shot blurb about what their supposed advantages are. Whatever they pick, that's just what the get.

At first you should handle any rolls for the player involving that gear. Keep them in the dark about its effects, don't let them know if the gear is helping them or hindering their rolls. After about three or so normal success or just one critical success or a normal success by 10 or more feel free to give the player the low down and reveal its in game effects. Alternatively if the player decides to play it smart and spends some time testing out the gear before using it he can figure out its in game stats by spending eight hours testing it. After which make a relevant skill roll (Guns for a gun, Driving for a car or a relevant Connoisseur roll) for them, as always the time spent rules apply. If they succeed they have figured out how good it is. If they fail the roll they're not quiet sure and can spend another eight hours trying to figure it out. If they critically fail however, lie! Tell them they figured it out but given them false stats!

Now when it comes to picking the gear they can choose from be sure to be fair. Don't punish a player if they don't want to go through the extra hassle but at the same time don't pamper them either. I'd say pick at lest six options to choose from since this lets you give them a good range. Pick one really good options and one really bad options, one slightly better then average options and one worse then average but not the worse options and two average options that pretty much have the same stat line. This way they got a good range to choose from and they might get lucky. If you don't have it in you to come up with five different variations for each type of gear then give them only four chooses, this way you only need to come up with three variations.

Now if they choose to put a little work in and research their gear options first have them make a Research roll with a base time of 8hrs. Relevant modifiers for this is +/-0 for average gear, -1 for gear that's a little better average, -2 for good level gear, -3 for fine level gear and -5 or more for the best gear available for the settings TL! Another -1 to -2 might be warranted for really niche items that don't have a lot of public data available or are purposely restricted. If the player has a relevant Expert or Connoisseur skill they can make a complementary skill roll. On a success the player finds what they're looking for and knows what the gear does, on critical success or success by 10 or more they find gear that's one step better (if they were already looking for the best gear for the TL then either let them find it for a third cheaper or some other perk). If they fail then they don't find what they are looking for and can try again but if they critically fail then they find a cheaper item thinking they found what they are looking for!

Of course once they found what they're looking for, actually getting to where it can bought or found can be an adventure hook in its self (you located a functional IR seeking 4th generation man portable surface to air missile.... but the local terrorist groups that's currently holding it isn't interested in selling....).

There is one important exception to holding back the in game stats of gear, don't do this with starting gear! Since gear can help define a character and it can be assumed that most of this gear is something they had time to figure out, letting your players see the stats of their starting options is pretty important.

Corporate Lens
As I said in point number two, using equipment modifiers to add variety to gear is a great way to life to gear. Adding background detail and fluff also helps with that. Now while you can just go and add modifiers on a case by case bases, there are methods to streamline the processes a little bit.

Remember how I also pointed out *Who* made it can especially help?

Well, in real life a good deal of corporations tend to have particulate qualities. A good deal of the stuff they make tend to have certain characteristic that tend to be something that their known for- Lexus makes reliable but boring cars, Nintendo makes neigh indestructible gaming systems (seriously, have you seen the old skool Gameboy that survived a bomb blast and still works?!), Verizon Wireless has a reliable cellphone network and so on . Basically there are certain modifiers these companies tend to give their products.

To that end, I find it easier to come up with some corporations, give them some fluff and assign them equipment modifiers that they give most of their gear. I then use these corporations kinda like character lens to differentiate my gear to be easier and quicker then doing it case by case (though don't be afraid to mix methods). In effect they become Corporate Lens.

So, how do I stat up these companies? Below is the standard “flow chart” method I used to come up with the Company Lens I use.

Company Name
First, just think up interesting names, whatever comes to mind. Make homages to favorite works, pick concepts and ideas, go to google and find out how to write them in other languages and so on. Once you got a decent amount, go over the list and pick at lest four or five or so names that really stand out to you.

Don't get rid of the ones you didn't choose though, keep that list handy.

  • Any idea you don't use in your current campaign can always be fodder for a future one.
  • More importantly, they can be used as variants: any number of smaller, some times local, corporations that might make gear in a given region or just make generic knocks off of better brands that often only having a vague marketing buzz word to differentiate them.

Company Type
This is what kind of role the company plays, on a narrative level. Think of what this company makes and how its going to effect the kind of gear it will provide the campaign.

There are three kinds of Company Types:

  • The Baseline. This is the type of company that should produce most of the balanced, baseline gear you pick or stat up for your campaign. They should have the safe but boring gear.
  • The Niche. They should be the type of company that make gear that has more flavor and character. They should also tend to have more draw backs such as being more expensive or having some small annoying quirk that can cause issues every now and again. You should also note what niche they serve. For example, if they're known for making rugged and reliable gear that tends to be at the pricier end you should note it as Company Type: Niche-Rugged and reliable but expensive.
  • The Variants. These will cover the countless other brands out there. To make things easier make them "pallet" swaps of your other companies, maybe a small difference, so you can fill out the world a little more and not slap the same few names on everything. These companies don't need to have a lot of detail about them unless your players start liking them for some reason.

Standard Modifiers
These are the equipment modifiers that most of the gear made by this company are going to have. When coming up with what modifiers to use, just think about what kind what kind of company you want them to be and what standard feature their gear should known by.

Once again, it helps to think of tweaking the gear in the same terms you would use coming up when designing a character. Treat the equipment modifiers in the same way you would come up with advantages and disadvantages. Pick a concept and run with it though don't go to over board. Try to keep the number of equipment modifiers no more then three per company or item.

Also don't be afraid to come up with little perk or quirk versions of of the equipment modifiers to give the gear! These should follow the same guidelines as normal quirks and perks and only given minor advantage, no more then a +/-1 or a +/-2 in limited or minor situations, or perhaps a 10% increase or decreases in something.

To get you started, here a few gear appropriate perks and quirks for you to use.

  • Each perk and quirk either adds 5% to the items cost or reduces it by 5%. At most a piece of gear should have no more then two or three perks and or quirks tops. For items with multiple modes of operations each mode can have its own separate set of perks and or quirks but if multiple modes have the same option, only modify the price once for it.

Lighter: The device is 10% lighter then standard versions.

Well Made: It has +1HT.

Good Ergonomics: When doing long tasks with this piece of gear, its intuitive design lets you ignore up to -1 in penalties from taking less time to do a task (in effect you can use the skill 10% faster).

Information Efficient: The way the device sends data to the users HUD is arranged in such a way that you always seem to get the data you need when you need it. This gives you +1 to situational awareness rolls in situations such as making sure you don't target the wrong guy, need to keep track of ammo/energy levels, to notice error reports and so on.

Easy to Maintenance: This devices design is either simple or was made with repairs and upgrades in mind. This perk can be bought twice. If bought once it gives +1 to rolls to repair and upgrade the device and if bout twice it gives +2 instead.

Energy Efficient: This device has slightly better wiring and efficient circuitry then most models. Increase its duration or number of shots for energy weapons by 10%.

Annoyance: This item has some minor characteristic that may give -1 to minor tasks every now and again (1 in 6 chance), gives false error messages that force you to make uneeded repairs (also 1 in 6 chance) or perhaps it becomes uncomfortable to wear after prolonged use (make a will roll every hour you wear it, if you fail you get a -1 to IQ rolls till you take it off or you succeed your next will roll).

Heavier: The item is made from slightly less advanced or cheaper material and weights about 10% more then normal.

Poorly Made: -1 to HT.

Poor Ergonomics: When doing long tasks with this piece of gear, its badly designed layout gives you -1.

Information Overload: The way the device sends data to the users HUD is poorly coordinated and gives you -1 to situational awareness rolls in situations such as making sure you don't target the wrong guy, need to keep track of ammo/energy levels, to notice error reports and so on.

Hard to Maintenance: This devices insides are a complete mess! This perk can be bought twice. If bought once it gives -1 to rolls to repair and upgrade the device and if bout twice it gives -2 instead.

Energy Inefficient: This device has cheaper wiring and circuitry then most models. Decrease its duration or number of shots for energy weapons by 10%.

This hardly a complete list! Don't be afraid to think of more.

Now keep in mind that not every thing a given company makes needs to have the same modifiers. Feel free to mix it up but do try to keep it rare (otherwise you should rethink what their standard modifiers should be or come up with a Variant) and make a note of it in the items fluff write up.

Also be sure to diversify the modifiers you give your companies, try to avoid overlap if you can. Otherwise you just have the players shopping for the combinations they like and you're back to square one!

Background Fluff
Once you got an idea of the type of company you want and the kind of gear they make its time to create a history for them. Don't think you need to go into pages of detail, just go as in depth as feel comfortable with, A paragraph or so should do it. For inspiration, looking up the Wikipedia article of a similar real world company can help.

Quick List
Lastly create a quick list that consists of a companies name, company type and its standard modifiers and any notes you might want to add that you can easily copy and paste so you can have a simple list of the companies you are going to use on hand.

While you can handle this list anyway you want, I find that this format works the best for me: Company Name; Company Type; Stand Modifiers; Notes.

Once you got all that down write them down in a common format like this:

Company Name
Background fluff, blah-blah-blah.

Company Type:

Standard Modifiers:


Giving Gear a Little Life
Now that you got a list of companies to give a reason why a given piece of gear has any given modifiers, we still need to give the gear a bit of background itself. For this just use the same guidelines for coming up with background fluff for the corporations. For inspiration, once again Wikipedia is a good source as well as the write ups in various GURPS Tech books!

Now despite the rather wordy backgrounds I gave the guns I've stated in my last two posts, I'd actually recommend keeping the backgrounds for gear short and sweat, no more then a sentence or two covering what its supposed to do and why the company says it rocks. This will not only help with your work load but having too long winded break downs tend to cause information fatigue in the players; it can get overwhelming if every time they want new gear they have read a paragraph or two per option!

Welp, I hope I gave you guys some good food for thought here. While this kinda of stuff isn't always needed or what everyone wants from their game it might be interesting to give the gear players love to hoard a little more time in the lime-light. 

I do have to mention that this method is not without its draw backs. Tweaking gear, adding fluff and comping up with corporations does add a good deal of extra work to setting up a campaign and not every player is going to want to deal with the logistics of getting good gear. Also there are other ways of adding depth to your campaign this so just keep in mind this, like a lot GURPS rules, is just an extra option to keep in mind. 

To wrap this up, here's a list of 5 corporations to help start you out, a base line, three niche and a variant. Feel free to use as is or just take bits and pieces and mix it up to taste.

Macrotech Technical Interstellar Cooperation
Originally a business alliance formed by a coalition of international corporation set up to handle mega-scale projects such as building space elevators and O'Neil style space stations. Over time it became a conglomerate and then its own corporate identity.It has since become the prototypical “omni-corp”, you're just as likely to find a washing machine with the Macrotech logo stamped on it as a main battle tank!If Macrotech products have one flaw it's that their products are hardly ever revolutionary. The company plays it safe and follows trends. However, despite that they always seem to know which trends to follow and while the gear might be basic they always deliver a good, quality product right out of the box.

Company Type: Macrotech is an example of a baseline.

Standard Modifiers: As a baseline Macrotech gear has no standard modifiers on their gear.

Notes: Their gear is simple and safe but balanced.

Quick List: Macrotech; Baseline; No Standard Modifiers; Their gear should be balanced and simple.

Fortschritt Gewehr Betrieb
The colony of Mała Ziemia, located around Xi Scropii C, was once the farthest off world colony from Sol. Populated mostly with colonists from Eurpoian powers, the land was harsh with many dangerous indigenous fauna and being so remote at over 90ly from Earth meant that what supplies it had, had to last. A colonist of Germanic origins named Adalard Schmidt started the gunsmithery that would become the megacorp now known as Fortschritt Gewehr Betrieb. Originally known simply as the Schmidt Büchsenmacher Unternehmen, it got its start upgrading firearms for other colonists to be more rugged and reliable. As more avanced protection technology became avaible he started designing his own guns from the ground up to survive everything the planet had to throw at them. Shortly after his death and his daughter taking over running the business, FTL travel advanced and travel to and from the formerly remote colony become common. It was through this, Schmidt made firearms become known on the galactic scene. They quickly become sought after by special forces, survivalists and anyone who wanted or needed weapons that would almost never jam or fail. With the increased demand and the interstellar acclaim and over all progress her company now had she rebranded her fathers company Fortschritt and became one of the largest firearm manufacturers in the know galaxy.

Company Type: Fortschritt is an example of a Niche. Niche-Rugged and Reliable.

Standard Modifiers: Rugged and Fine (Reliable).

Notes: Basically a scfi H&K, their weapons have a “elite” reputation and tend to be no nonsense.

Quick Line: Fortschritt; Niche; Rugged and Fine (Reliable); Elite reputation, no nonsense design.

Oosthuizen Ltd.
Originally a rather normal and conventionally firearms company, Oosthuizen Ltd. had a rather severe brand shift after its current CEO, Wanwisa Bunyasarn, had a near death experience when he was one of the only survivor when a micro meteor impacted an orbital clipper he was on in-route to a business meeting on a orbiting L-5 space station. He developed a fear that his company would fade into irrelevance and that firearms industry had become too conservative and was doomed to failure if nothing innovative was being produced. This started the company down a rather controversial path were the company began prizing “innovative designs” over market needs. While some interesting advancements have been made, a lot of their designs either are too quirky to be taken seriously by military and other major buyers despite whatever benefits they have or are outright junk. Despite this media and games have latched onto their designs do to their uniqueness which in turn has made them popular with novice shooters who tend to buy “cool guns” and collectors.

Company Type: Oosthuizen is an example of a Niche. Niche-Quirky and innovative... somewhat... design.

Standard Modifiers: Compact and quirk (Hard to Maintenance I).

Notes: Their guns should be quirky and fun as an alternative for players who want something a little less serious business.

Quick Line: Oosthuizen; Niche; Compact and quirk (Hard to Maintenance I); Quirky and fun.

Hughes - Martian Fire Arms Inc
Originally started up as an out of the garage operation by Jefferson Hughes a technical engineer originally working from Kromm Industries to help the Free Mars! Military arm themselves. Despite never designing a gun before in his live, being equipped with only basic fabricators and not having unlimited funds, Hughes was sympathetic to the cause and had to make the most of his limited resources so he designed his guns to use off the shelf materials which made them cheaper but heavier. Thankfully he was a natural and also had a knack for making guns that seemed to be almost indestructible. A handy trait for a weapon meant for guerrilla warfare! After Free Mars! fought its rebellion and won its independence from Earth decided to turn to gun design full time and set up Hughes- Martian Fire Arms Inc and continued his trend of building low cost but well made firearms. While at first he only had success on his native world do to at first embargoes and later bad blood from Earth. Over time as tensions cooled and trade opened between the worlds again his firearms found a market among poor nations and individuals alike and even found a market in special forces that needs a inconspicuous but reliable gun for black op missions.

Company Type: Hughes is an example of a Niche. Niche-Simple, low cost but heavy weapons that are hard to break.

Standard Modifiers: Cheap (Heavy) and Perk (Well Made).

Notes: Hughes makes basically make AK like weapons, heavy, low tech but you can run them through the mud and they'll still work.

Quick Line: Hughes; Niche; Cheap (Heavy) and Perk (Well Made); Low tech but well built.

Mitchell & Winslow
A maker of quality firearms, Mitchell & Winslow, mostly operates in the heavy military grade market. Founded on the colony of Ambitions VI, its current biggest seller is the HPB M-23A .

Company Type: Mitchell & Winslow is an example of a Variant. Notice how quick and simple its background is compared to the others, this is pretty much the ideal length for a variant company. Variant-Of Fortschritt but not as all out as ruggedized.

Standard Modifiers: Perk (Well Made).

Notes: Makes decent and well made heavy weapons but they tend to be very conventional.

Quick Line: Mitchell & Winslow; Variant; Perk (Well Made); Well made but conventional.

Coming Next Time: Better Living Through Superior Firepower.

Edit: Fixed  a goof-up in my write up for Hughes - Martian Fire Arms Inc were I refer to him as Mitchell a few times. Originally Hughes was going to be known as Mitchell and Mitchell & Winslow was going to be Hughes & Winslow. I ended up doing a name swap since Mitchell & Winslow sounded better to me. Originally I had this corrected... but then I pulled a dumb and deleted my draft. I then copy/pasted a backup copy and forgot to re-fix it >.> 

I also added a line about making the modifiers between the main companies distinctive and diverse per ericthered's suggestion.


  1. Good stuff! I like the idea of roleplaying someone who sticks to their guns on why they pick what they do - something I've done with characters in the past.

    I also like the idea of not telling your players 100% what the thing in question does. Ties in with Peter Del'Ortho's post on the fog of war from the other day, too. If the players are willing (and aren't just going to check the splatbook anyways), perhaps they should just add the "Glock 17" to their inventory, without knowledge of things like dice, range, RoF, etc. Some stuff's obvious - 9mm should inform them of a ballpark for damage, magazine capacity will be very obvious, and actually RoF will be as well - but some stuff, not so much.

    I'll definitely reference this in some way in an upcoming equipment article I'm putting together.

    "Giving life to equipment" reminds me of some of the weapons and armor posts I've done. If you're interested, check the "Armor", "Guns", and "Grenades" tags on my blog - I do basically what you're talking about here, giving background story and some bits-and-bobs that set that specific example out from others and (for some) offer the potential for task bonuses.

    1. Sorry for the late reply, work has pretty much consumed my life atm.

      Thank you for the praise!I'm glad that you like the post!

      Also yeah, I do see what you mean. I've been checking out your stuff. I've read your write of the AR-10 (Forgotten Weapons does rock, bro first!), you over view on ballistic vest and your post on grenades so for.

    2. Cheers! I'll likely have more coming like those over the next few months. I'm trying to do more setting design, enemy design, and encounter design but even now I'm making notes on another couple of weapon articles (and I'll have to look at finishing up a few vehicles as well, since it's been more than a year since I did mine on the Bradley).