I was just reading through the old Forgotten Realms Grey Boxed set which was released for AD&D in 1987 I think. Under the section for mercenary companies, they list the uber company "The Flaming Fist" which was lead by a 20th level fighter, who was also a ruler of a large city. The Fist cost 10,000 gp per day to hire. The guy who owned it was super rich and powerful, and could afford the very best of all gear. His gear was:
1 Greenstone Amulet
Plate mail +2
Displacer Cloak +2
Ring of Absorbtion (750 spell levels left)
Ring of Anti-venom (absorbs poison, 22 charges left)
Girdle of Storm Giant Strength
Gauntlets of Ogre Power
Silver Dagger +2
Silver Longsword +2
An Intelligent shortsword +1 with some minor detection abilities.
A bracelet that alows him to commnicate telepathically with 2 specific people.
Compare him to the iconic 15th level fighter Redgar from Enemies and Allies:
+5 Full plate
Amulet of Natural Armor +2
+2 Mighty composite longbow
20 +1 arrows
Bag of holding
Boots of Striding and Springing
Bracers of Health +4
Cloak of Resistance +4
Gloves of Dexterity +2
Headband of Intellect +4
Belt of Giant strength +6
9 potions of cure moderate wounds.
Keep in mind when comparing the 2 equipment lists that the AD&D guy is the leader of a major city, and head of the largest richest most successful mercenary company in the entire world. And it says of his gear specifically:
"Eltan is probably the most heavily loaded of the normal high level types, such as successful PC's, shouldn't be walking around with quite so much stuff. Eltan has it because his mercany company represents the ultimate in equipage, ...and because Eltan is a very rich man who has tried to prepare for every eventuality, such as powerful adventurers trying to knock him off with ease."
When comparing him to the 15th level, yes, 15th level, Redgar, who as Enemies and Allies states is "...an average representative of their race and class."
I'll probably have more to say on this later, but as for now I am still in the WTF!?!? stage.
Does the core mechanic of 3.x push such a reliance on gear? Or does the CR system designed monsters/XP awards drive the race for gear with plusses next to their name?
I know this is probably an old argument and an old topic for debate, but I don't think I've ever seen a better example of how the gear drives the gameplay/character builds as this one. I know they're different systems, but still...