Back in ye olden times when dice were marked with crayon, notebooks were spiral-bound, and the bombs were going to drop any minute now, what a player character purchased in town was often more important than anything else on her character sheet. Various tools and gear were used in creative ways while we pillaged our way through dungeons, from our 10′ poles locating pit traps to our 50′ of rope we needed to get out of said pit traps (I have a sneaking suspicion the various “oozes” were created to slip under those doors the PCs spiked shut so that they could rest peacefully in Room 24a for the night).
While often fun, at times this micromanagement could become tedious, especially when key gear was forgotten. Amongst my groups, the “adventuring pack” was born, a set of pre-determined items that could be bought at once (IIRC AD&D 2e had something similar). Later, even that became too much and we went with a “if you are likely to have it then you have it” approach.
It’s worth noting that, by this time, we were moving out of the dungeon and even into different games. Some players went so far as to demand, as part of the social contract, that they shouldn’t have to waste time picking out equipment (or it’s close ally, “figuring out encumbrance”). I’ve hardly ever insisted on an equipment list in most of my games, especially ones where the PCs are modern students or professionals.
In my experience, there are two axes involved when it comes to equipment:
Listed or Assumed: On one end of the spectrum, if your PC wants to use something, it better be on her sheet or you must specifically state that she has it on her person. On the other end of the spectrum, PCs have endless pockets so long as the item isn’t too outrageous (Bennie the Cop will probably get away with having a Swiss Army knife and a roll of pennies in her pocket, but not a bazooka). In the hazy middle is a “standard assumption;” the PC has what you’d expect to find on a person in her situation, along with anything related to her profession and personality quirks (Bennie the Cop probably has a smart phone and handcuffs; as she’s known for her sweet tooth she has several chocolate bars stashed in her pockets).
Purchased or Free: On one end of the spectrum, the PC must purchase anything she wants to use, whether listed on her sheet or acquired in game. On the other end of the spectrum, the PC can have anything she wants, within reason, without having to actually pay for it (it’s assumed she bought it in game). In the middle, the character is assumed to have particular equipment on her person, in her car, in her castle, or in her starbase quarters, but anything she wants during the game she has to pay for.
As I’ve implied above, I’m usually sitting somewhere in the middle, but I do find that Listed/Purchased can be extremely fun while playing through an old school dungeon crawl and Assumed/Free works well in superhero campaigns, where equipment definitely takes a backseat to powers.
So how about you? Where do you fall on the equipment graph? Do your players agree or do you sometimes butt heads over it? Have you ever encountered any problems with using a particular point on the equipment graph?