Wow. I haven't written one of these since last July.
"Just Nod Your Head And Smile:" No matter how big that big-ass sword is, you won't stand out in a crowd. Nobody ever crosses the street to avoid you or seems to be especially shocked or alarmed when a heavily armed gang bursts into their house during dinner, rummages through their possessions, and demands to know if they've seen a black-caped man. People can get used to anything, apparently.
The above cliche certainly applies to hundreds of videogames produced in the last ten years, and mostly occurs because game designers feel that 'people' make nice scenary, but they're too much trouble to program. I would argue that the cliche occurs to a greatly lessened degree in non-video RPGs ... but it still does occur. Most parties, I think most any DM could argue, sincerely fail to recognize what they must look like to NPCs.
What player doesn't argue that their character is in full armor, along with every weapon in their personal arsenal, when they drop down to the local tavern for a drink or two? Yes, that's right, every individual sitting at the bar is in plate mail, shield on their arm, bristling with three or four weapons - including a four-foot long heavy crossbow on their back - just in case a fight breaks out. And the bartender, obviously, doesn't mind at all.
Don't believe me? Instigate a fight of some sort, involving a player character, when they're in the middle of shopping. The moment you hear the fighter say, "I buy two weeks' rations," have a cow or something break loose in the market and make a rush. Ask the fighter for AC, and I promise you he or she will include their shield. Because, you know, it is permanently strapped to their arm, all the time.
It is a power player's headspace. They don't want to get caught with their pants down, ever, and they don't like their armor class being even slightly below full power. Attack them in their sleep, attack them while they're taking a crap behind a tree, attack them while they're bathing ... that armor will be no more than an arm's reach away. Along with everything else they possess. You just never know when you're going to need that scroll of protection against lycanthropes; it brings a special comfort to drum your fingers on the scroll case, day and night.
I can't blame the characters. There's nothing worse than being attacked by six wereboars and having the DM point out that the scroll and case (along with your other scrolls) might either be in your saddle bag, hanging on a hook somewhere in the stable downstairs (we don't store it on the horse!), or possibly in one of the sacks in that pile of articles you stacked in the corner several hours ago ... and not exactly on hand at the moment. Just about every player I've ever met would argue that no, they'd never leave a magic item in some random location, even though they've had the item for two years of game time and they've never needed it.
Therefore, if the player is to be believed, they travel everywhere as a group of profoundly encumbered persons, and this phenomenal encumberance never bothers anyone. Not the enormous mace hanging from the player's side, nor the sharpened khopesh, nor the odor of the many flasks of oil the player carries in their pack, nor anything else.
Sound, of course, is a biggie. The world is phenomenally deaf. Enemies stand at readiness while the DM waits for the party to decide what to do, as they call each other names and argue and make suggestions. I have taken it for granted that my offline party never surprises anyone - they haven't in an age - because they never stop talking, they never consider what they're wearing as they lope down corridors or streets, through forests and glades and up and down hills. I love that my players are excited and involved with the game, that they are loaded up with energy and thrilled to be out and adventuring ... but stealth is not in their playbook.
In reality, my players - and probably yours too, if the gaming club I attended a few weeks ago is any evidence - should be a kind of monster-pulling gravity well, so that as they move over the landscape the monsters find themselves helplessly drawn in to find out what in hell is making so much noise. But reality is overrated. It is troublesome, inconvenient, and makes poor drama. I mean, I like a strong dose of real and all, but the facts are its easier not to have to roleplay every stranger standing around a 5,000 population town. Yes, I could describe the townspeople staring at the party, or have people ask the players to please put their shields down. It is never a good thing when I have to explain that there's no armor allowed inside the town walls, or that weapons can't be carried. I do actually do this. But it never goes over well. To the players, it seems to feel like cheating, somehow, that I am merely looking for an excuse to take away their weapons, so that I will be able to kill them more easily. I don't know why they don't trust me.
I can't give out advice on this - I'm as guilty as anyone. I think every DM just has to accept how far this goes to the extent that makes them comfortable in their worlds ... and beyond that, not worry about it very much.
I have to get up now and take a walk. If I sit too long with these greaves on, it just kills my legs. I'm not as young as I used to be.