One of the things I'm interested in right now is the fifty-page-long list of weapons in tabletop games. Especially prevalent in futuristic RPGs such as Shadowrun, I find them fascinating. (Yes, I know not all those weapons are canon...)
The world builder in me says, "oh, cool, fifty different kinds of pistol!", but the game designer in me goes, "what the...? Why the...? Who the...?"
There's something inherently interesting about having this kind of variety. It lends a feeling of authenticity and gives you another little minigame: trying to figure out what weapon is best for your character/situation. This means that it adds both depth and immersion: good things.
But there's something inherently dumb as hell about facing a player making a character and saying, "okay, you have $10k, here's the giant list of all possible weapons. Go to it!"
A player experienced in the game will handle it okay: he's already figured out the puzzle. He knows he needs guns A, B, and C, and that he has precisely enough money to cover it. He handles it with aplomb. While that might seem okay, I actually think it's worse, in its way: there is no longer any challenge there, so there's no reason to have them anyway.
This is especially bad in games where the list of weapons is less a choice between tactical options and more a matter of buying the most expensive weapon you can find because its stats are simply better. This is a truism in video games.
Also, many weapons on these lists are dominated: you would never buy them, although it's possible you'll run across enemies armed with them. This is true even of games with much shorter lists: in most versions of D&D, there are half a dozen variants on "sword", and two of them are specifically better than the rest, although not significantly more pricey.
All of this got me thinking: is it possible to have a game (tabletop or otherwise) which features the benefits of this kind of situation without having the problems?
The basic idea is that the player needs to choose between various options, all of which are valid, although perhaps not tactically wise at the moment. Let's avoid dominated/obsolete weapons... and let's avoid price, which is basically just a system of planned obsolescence.
Instead, what we're looking to do is have a list which emphasizes the tactical difference between the options. For example, if we have two kinds of pistol, we'll know that pistol A is a high-accuracy target pistol while pistol B is more about cracking engine blocks from two yards away. There are a lot of factors we could discuss, including ammo use, speed, attack patterns, and affinities (fire vs ice attacks, or laser vs bullet). Weight could be of tactical importance, but only if it actually matters. Usually, any given object of the same class has more or less the same weight. Concealability is also potentially useful, but only if the game actually has a fair number of situations where that matters, which is, again, unusual.
The other issue here is availability. While an experienced player can look at a list of twenty different types of the same basic weapon and come away feeling happy, a beginner is going to get swamped. This is largely a matter of familiarity: an experienced player is much better at comparing stats, and he's familiar with many of the weapons on the list.
What I propose is to create a limited base set of choices - perhaps three or four of any given weapon type. And by this I do not mean three or four holdout pistols, three or four light pistols, three or four heavy pistols, three or four machine pistols... I mean three or four PISTOLS.
Now, if your player wants to be someone who knows his way around pistols, he can buy a perk or skill with character points. The perk will give him access to a wider variety of pistols and give him some customization options - attaching a laser sight or whatever.
This allows a beginning player to get his feet wet, but a more advanced player to have a full range of tactical options. The extra character points the beginner retains (not having to buy the perks) means he will be a more powerful character, partially offsetting the tactical limitations.
Over the course of the game, the player can either buy more access using character points, or he can take weapons from fallen enemies, or he can get an agent to buy him a special weapon he doesn't know how to obtain and customize himself... the GM can even add in supplements that the players can buy access to in the same basic manner.
This sort of system is similar in some ways to the restriction system in Shadowrun, but I'm talking about a whole different level. It's not just that you can't buy that restricted weapon: you have fewer customization options on the weapons you CAN buy.
Another option I like is the "growing market" option, where characters only have access to a few weapons because that's all that they can find. But, like a computer RPG, as they adventure they will find (or create) better shops with a larger variety. The two downsides to this method are that A) advanced players cannot choose to get hit with a whole list and B) the finding or creating of shops will be extremely prone to mismanagement on both sides of the table.
However, the growing market option is quite viable for either short games (4-6 sessions) or generational games (character resets every few sessions).
Anyhow, do you see what I'm getting at? Have you noticed this sort of thing?