Devising the Difference Between Devices and Equipment
Hello heroes! Thank you for popping by the Round Table for one of my posts, grab a snack and settle in. I wanted to take a crack at answering one of the questions I see most often from the M&M community. That question being, “How do you differentiate between Devices and Equipment?” It’s a fair question, especially with the difference in Power Point cost between the two, and one that I feel every GM has a different answer for. This isn’t a bad thing, because more often than not if someone asks me is this a Device or is it Equipment my answer is, “It depends.” In the following post, I’m going to share some of my rules of thumb for telling the difference and offer some advice for when it inevitably crops up at your table.
Basic Rule of Thumb
When trying to decide if a player can purchase a certain gadget with Power Points or Equipment Points, I start by asking myself if that item is able to be bought in an appropriate store almost anywhere in the setting. If this item is something that everyday people use in their profession (from laptops to 9mm handguns) then it should be Equipment in terms of the rules. Equipment is often mass produced and lacking in unique characteristics. The setting of your game can have an impact on this basic rule of thumb. If your M&M campaign is set in deep space 3,000 years from now it’s going to have different items that can be considered equipment. A laser rifle is probably a Device if your game is set in 1986 but that same weapon with the same stats could be standard issue for soldiers in 3576 making it Equipment in my opinion. One thing you have to do as Gamemaster is sit down and world-build some of the standard technology in your setting. Usually, if I’m setting a game in a place or time wildly different from present day, I’ll create a uniform list of different weapons, items, and armor that I consider to be Equipment which I share with my players. It also bears noting if the heroes’ mundane tools of the trade—for example swingline launchers, motif-inspired boomerangs, smoke bombs, body armor, and fancy wrist mounted computers—are provided by the same benefactor, consider making it Equipment instead of a Device. We’ll go over this idea a little more in depth later.
This is my Rifle, There are Many Like it, but This One is Mine
Once you’ve determined the availability of a given item, the next thing to ask the player is, “How unique is your version of the item?” If their hero has an assault rifle with a laser sight and a recoil stock, it’s probably still in the realm of Equipment. However, if that gun is only usable by someone who is worthy and has tendon-seeking buzzsaw bullets it’s more likely to be a Device. Keep an eye out for the unique features the player hopes to bring to the object and let that guide your decision between Equipment and Devices.
Another thing I advise GMs to look out for is how easy it is to destroy a specific item. Equipment is meant to be disposable. You can smash Equipment with impunity and not even give the player a Hero Point for the inconvenience! This cavalier attitude is due in part to the points they saved during character creation and in part due to how easily Equipment can be replaced. Devices, however, should be treated with more care as it’s possible the destruction or removal of that Device can rob a player of a large percentage of what makes their character viable. Always give a player a Hero Point if you decide their battlesuit has run out of power or they have used the last of their awesome trick arrows. This leads into my last point.
How Integral is this Tool to the Character Concept?
This is the highest-level question I ask myself and the player when deciding if something is Equipment or a Device. Heroes need tools at different levels depending on concept and archetype. A Green Lantern ring, for example, is an object that is uniform and handed out by the same benefactor as a mentioned earlier, but it is 90% of what makes that character a superhero in pure mechanics terms. As such I would consider it to be a Device and charge the full Power Point cost it incurs. I would do the same thing to a gadgeteer or a character flying around in a mech suit. Characters who use their tools as peripherals to their core concept, such as a Crime Fighter, are at the other end of this spectrum. They will have a lot more Equipment than Devices, because most of what they do, mechanically speaking, doesn’t rely on their gear. There will be some gray areas, such as Archer characters, and there’s no reason you can’t declare some of their tech to be Equipment and some to be Devices. An Archer might have standard broadhead arrows, swing line arrows, and explosive arrows as Equipment while statting up their acid arrows, disintegration arrows, and the good old boxing glove arrow as Devices.
As I said at the beginning of this post, the answer to what is Equipment versus what is a Device, depends. That is the most succinct way to explain the difference. Now that you know to look for that basic rule of thumb, the features of the object, it’s disposability, and its importance to the character you’ll be able to trust your gut the next time this question comes up. And if there’s anything I know about M&M Gamemasters, it’s that you have a lot of guts. Thank you for reading and have a great day!