I thought I had published this post four hours ago. Turns out, no. So below it, the reader will find a post called 'Half-Life' . . . which was actually written after this post. FYI.
I wrote earlier this week about the amount of coin to be found in dungeons versus seeking entrepreneurial success . . . understanding, as nearly everyone does, that dungeons are far more lucrative that anything to be found on the surface.
This got me thinking about the overhead in starting a business venture as opposed to starting a dungeon adventure . . . and along those lines, I found myself thinking about the preparations explorers and spelunkers take before starting out on their journeys - proper helmets, lamps, protective clothing, lamps, ropes, ladders, picks, food, water, medical gear, a means to make fire, a whistle, padding for the knees and elbows, an extra dry set of clothes, good shoes, alcohol, flags, a knife, anti-venom, twine and so on. A standard kit.
Of course, no D&D player has an electric torch or nylon waterproofing, not to mention most of the medical gear we can take now, but some of that is compensated by magic. Still, the purpose for having these things is that without them, injuries happen, people get hypothermia or they lose their way and starve to death.
So you want to take enough gear. And you want to take back-ups for all your gear. And you want that gear to be brand new, because if the gear is old, it is sure to give out on you.
When was the last time your players replaced the same rope they've taken into other caverns and dungeons? How many times has the party been suspended by that rope? How often have your players had to replace their lantern? How often as a waterskin broken, just from scraping against a series of sharp rocks? How long has it been since your players bought a new pair of shoes? Does their clothing ever wear out? Hell, when was the last time your characters lost a hat in a high wind? Or a helmet that rolled off while they were scaling some mountain; or a lost a weapon because a belt broke?
For that matter, how many scrapes and cuts and bruises has the party collected during their adventures? I'm not talking about immediate, life-threatening gashes, I mean the sort of thing that's nothing more than a scrape or a small cut? I expect that, like me, you're not keeping track of that sort of thing. There are no rules for it. From experience, however, I've never gone into the wild, hiked through woods, climbed the side of a mountain and plumbed into a cave without damaging something. The body is soft and it's very easy to take hold of a rock in the wrong place or slit a finger while grabbing onto an old tree branch. Even the hardiest boot soles split on sharp outcroppings of shale or limestone. And let's not even start on dry socks and blisters.
Well, let's a little. Has a party of yours ever had to turn back because of blisters?
In the short story I included in How to Play a Character, I pointed out that the character's scabbard never grew stained, that the leather seemed as good as the day it was bought. This is a fairly standard role-playing trope.
Before adventuring at all, a party ought to equip itself from scratch, every time. And the price for doing so ought to be quite high. Most goods that we buy, even at the standard price, show themselves to be junk in the wilderness. The good equipment costs. Even then, it gives out long before we'd like.
Tell your party that every time they suspend more than 100 lbs. with this rope for 2 g.p., there's a 10% chance the rope will break. Then tell them they can buy this rope for 20 g.p. - but the chances of the expensive rope breaking is 5%. Then watch the party spend their money.
What's needed are proper rules to take into account the of breaking of equipment - so that when the party clambers out of the dungeon with their four thousand gold pieces, they've lost a fortune in lanterns, broken weapons, armor that they've wore into fetid water and that smells to the point where it's unwearable, torn pants, a helmet that's been dented and because of that doesn't fit now (or fits uncomfortably), cuts from the vial of holy water that broke their hand, etcetera, etcetera.
I can think of a very, very simple way of managing this. Every time that the players lose a hit point, assign a cost. Call it 5 g.p. in equipment that's wrecked when an enemy's sword or claw or bite crushes the backpack as well as 2-12 of the character's hit points. Assess this damage at the end of every fight.
Perhaps, count up the items the character is carrying; divide this number into the character's hit points. Say Bob had 20 hp and is carrying 30 things. He takes a hit point of damage and thus ought to lose one and a half objects. Roll randomly to destroy one thing, then allow a 50% chance of the second thing surviving.
Or roll a 5% chance for everything on the list breaking. Yes, some things will be stronger than others, but we can get around that by saying that it isn't the sword that breaks, it's the handle. Or we could establish a heirarchy for some things over others - always remembering that the more damage Bob takes, the more things are smashed or ruined.