Wednesday, August 12, 2009



ac·cou·ter·ment or ac·cou·tre·ment
  1. An accessory item of equipment or dress. Often used in the plural.
  2. Military equipment other than uniforms and weapons. Often used in the plural.
  3. accouterments or accoutrements Outward forms of recognition; trappings: cathedral ceilings, heated swimming pools, and other accoutrements signaling great wealth.
  4. Archaic The act of accoutering.
Accoutrements are a sadly neglected tool in RPG design. They are defining aspects of a setting, and the primary means by which a character interacts with the setting. Let's define a setting using three accoutrements; Grav-bikes, Mind-tricks, and Light-sabres. From these three accoutrements alone, one can see a pattern emerge - StarWars, of course. Let's try another: Boarding axes, Uniforms, Cannon - Master and Commander (or some other Age of Sail) this time. Most settings can be defined by just a few well-chosen iconic accoutrements.

As well as defining a setting, accoutrements are the tools of the player characters to interface with the setting. A Jedi uses his Mind-Trick to confuse the Stormtrooper - the same operationally as a Plumber uses his wrench to fix the sink. The player - through the character - uses the accoutrement to perform an operation on the environment of the setting. A naval captain can use his uniform to gain admittance to a party to which he was not invited. It's the use of the item as a tool which makes it an accoutrement.

Settings need accoutrements to work, but accoutrements are defined by the system - even if the definition of musket is the equivalent of "works like a musket" as in some very light systems.
Too often, accoutrements are lumped in with color. The only accoutrements which consistently tend to be well-defined in RPGs are weapons and armor, but with a range of well defined and operational accoutrements, one doesn't need an actual setting. The accoutrements do the work for you by implying the setting. Wearing clothes is color. Wearing the right clothes for the right situation is using an accoutrement.

Mike Crow once wrote an article about accoutrements in which he listed three degrees of accoutrement. I can't find it now - the blog has apparently died - but these levels were something like "usual" - the accoutrement is standard and easily found, like a uniform; "limited" - the accoutrement is not easy to find, and more powerful in it's effects, like a grav-bike; and "defining" where this item alone can define a setting - like a Sandworm. Sandworms are monsters, but since the Fremen use them for transportation in Dune, they are actually accoutrements. Neat idea!


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