Equipment used to be a core concept of Dungeons & Dragons. Buy more stuff so you could use it to delve deeper to find greater rewards. Not so much anymore. Yet tables upon tables of choices remain in the Player's Handbook. You can make equipment interesting again with a few simple tweaks to your game.
Remove Equipment from Character Creation
Most characters choose the type of weapon they want during character creation. From there, they wait for a magic version of it to drop into their narrative lap. No more. Tell your players to skip adding equipment during character creation. At most, give them a few coppers and a dagger. Now it's part of their first adventure. Loot the bandits to upgrade your dagger to a rusty short sword. Not only does this make equipment finds more exciting, but it also encourages player creativity. Solving problems becomes more interesting when the "default to combat" option becomes less desirable.
A great example of starting without equipment is the Prisoners of Molach encounter designed by Runehammer.
Get Rid of Equipment Packs
Keeping track of an ever-growing inventory of obscure items is tough. But when you package those items into a "kit" or "equipment pack" as 5E does, it's even tougher to remember what you have at your disposal. Allow players to buy the specific items they want. But skip the convenient yet forgettable packs.
Reduce Shop Inventory
In my experience, players stock up on everything or nothing during shop visits. If the shop offers everything in the Player's Handbook, it will be overwhelming. Let's be honest, shopping isn't that fun. But it can be enjoyable. Offer a select few items at each shop. And limited quantity. If everyone has torches and pitons, no one has torches and pitons. Add some flavor to the items through descriptions, lore, and even artwork. Here's an example:
The Noble Flame's Inventory
- 1 black candle. The candle appears to have been lit at least one time before.
- 1 ornate mirror. An adventurer sold it after swearing Count Vyreal couldn't see his reflection in it.
- 2 rusted shovels
- 1 (fake) gold chain. Found near the graveyard.
- 1 vial of antitoxin
Spotlight the Equipment
Now that we have a basic framework, we need to follow through and put the spotlight on the equipment. When a player gets a new weapon or armor they're excited about, showcase it. A runaway bandit might recognize his former boss's armor on the fighter. Or a goblin might recognize the blade that slew his brother. In the case of magic items, they might even change the course of the story. A local marauder might back down once they see a moonblade. Or an evil wizard might covet a player's arcane focus.
Introduce the right equipment at the right time. Discover a dead adventurer with pitons and rope at the base of a mountain wall. Find a vial of holy water on an altar amidst an onslaught of the undead.
If a character isn't using some piece of equipment, offer a trade. This helps refresh their inventory and keep it from going stale. A local might offer a hooded lantern in exchange for your mirror. Or a set of iron spikes for a good shovel.
Equipment can be interesting without becoming the sole focus of our games. Using the above tips helps bring back excitement without changing your entire approach to play.