This is part 20 of 23 of the series: Hacking New Rules

Crafting Away from the Table

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Crafting. Remember that? Remember how, a few months ago, I announced my bold plan to develop the conceptual framework for a crafting system that you could shove into D&D or Pathfinder? And how I said it would be difficult and complicated and take a long time? Well, it has been a long time. So, I guess it’s time to get to work, huh?

Yeah, when I said it would take a long time, I meant it would take a long time for me to get back to the project. I’ve had a lot going on. Leave me alone. Look, I’ll make it up to you by not doing a Long, Rambling Introduction™. Okay?

And, just a reminder, this article is for people who are interested in how to design rules systems and for people who want to add a crafting system to their game. If you’re not one of those people – specifically if you hate crafting systems and don’t want them – neat. Get lost. Go read one of my many other articles. No, don’t bother leaving a comment. No one cares that “you will never understand why people like crafting” and that you think “all crafting systems are boring and grindy and repetitive.” Least of all me. And what I don’t care about, I delete. And then I get resentful. Because I hate moderating. So, I shut off all comments and start banning people.

Okay? Cool.

What Was Crafting Again? And Why Do We Want It?

I realize it’s been a long time since we talked about crafting. So, I’m going to review some of the stuff I’ve said before. At some point, I’m pretty sure I ironed out what makes a crafting system desirable and therefore what things we want in a crafting system. I can’t be bothered to go back and check, though. So, we’re just going to run through it again quickly.

Crafting is a system whereby players can create and customize gear for themselves and their party. Simple, right? Well, not really. Because the ability to create and customize gear isn’t enough. If you simply allow players to, for the most part, just create the same gear they can buy from the equipment lists in the Players Handbook – as the baseline crafting system in D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, and 5E allow – you’re missing a big point. Yes, I know those systems also allow you to create magical items that you can’t just buy. I’ll come back to that half of the system in a second.

See, the key to the whole thing is customization. While different players engage with crafting systems for different reasons, there are basically three major motivations. First, creative expression. Some players want to outfit their characters a certain way to match a vision they have of their character. Second, supplemental advancement. Some players want to outfit their characters with a set of new abilities and bonuses to push their character’s advancement in certain directions. That’s basically the mechanical equivalent of creative expression, by the way. In fact, those two motivations can often get smooshed together for precisely that reason. Third, there’s overcoming challenges and solving problems. Basically, players can use crafting to overcome specific obstacles in the game or make those obstacles easier to deal with. If the party is planning to fight a volcano dragon, for example, frosty arrows and potions of fire resistance can make the fight a lot easier.

Let’s call those expression, advancement, and preparation. And, to be fair, those are all forms of empowerment. Even creative expression. That empowers the player to take an active hand in the story of their character. Crafting is empowering.

But it doesn’t work for everyone, right? Because crafting implies a certain amount of work. And I don’t mean work for the character. I mean work for the player. The player has to choose between the different crafting options and figure out how to spend whatever resources need to be spent. And even if it isn’t a matter of spending resources, it’s still similar to picking feats, spells, or character abilities. There’s a choice to be made and you can’t have everything. The problem is crafting is more complicated. Because there’s so many different kinds of equipment and combinations and people can carry lots of bits of equipment even if they can’t use it all at the same time. So, crafting has to be an opt-in kind of thing. It can’t be required. It’s too much work to demand of every player. Instead, if there are players – or groups – who want to engage with crafting because of one of the aforementioned motivations and find it worth the cost, they can play the crafting the game. The other players don’t have to. And they can’t have their time wasted by the craftsman at the table. At least not substantial amounts of time.

But now, let’s talk about resources. Because crafting does provide rewards. It is both intrinsically and extrinsically rewarding. That is, crafting is fun because it is crafting and it is fun because of the items you craft. Because of that whole creative expression thing, some players will get a warm fuzzy just from the idea that they have outfitted themselves – and their party – entirely in stuff they have made themselves. That’s the intrinsically rewarding part. Because there is a reward, there also has to be a cost. Crafting has to use up resources. But this is where things get interesting…

See, even though crafting has to be something players opt into on an individual level, the actual benefits are group-wide. If a group has a craftsman who can make magical potions or magical weapons or whatever, they can make stuff for everyone. Everyone in the group can benefit from the craftsman. And, most groups will take advantage of that. I can’t imagine any group with an alchemical brewmeister refusing to be kept well-stocked with healing potions. That’d be crazy.

The point is, even though individual players have to opt into the busy work of actually crafting stuff. That is, deciding what to craft and how to spend resources and all that crap, the entire group has to be able to opt into spending resources because the entire group can benefit. And once the entire group does opt into that, you’ll also see the group participating in some of the decisions about what to craft. And that’s good. Because you want a system like this to drive group choices and group behavior.

Now, this is where D&D 3.5 screwed up. Because there were two costs associated with crafting. The first was money. That’s fine. Because that can be divvied up as both a group resource and an individual resource easily. That is, the group can pool their resources to allow the crafter to create a stock of potions or the crafter can use his personal share of the treasure to make a personal item or any other player can give the crafter his personal share of treasure to make a specific item or the group can invest in a particular weapon that will make the next adventure easier even though it will be wielded by only one person. That’s a perfect example of the type of group resources I mean.

But 3.5 also required the crafter to spend their own XP to craft any item except those on the PHB equipment list. And that was terrible. Seriously terrible. Not only was that a personal, not a group, resource, but it was also a personal resource that the crafter would have to spend on behalf of any member of the group. And it was an expensive and powerful resource to waste. In general – and I don’t care what the Numanuma fans are going to shriek at me – spending XP is pretty much always terrible. Character advancement is pretty much THE most valuable thing you can earn in the game. So, having to trade off any amount of that advancement for anything else is pretty much always a terrible proposition.

Now, Pathfinder fixed that by making it entirely about money. No other resources were required. Now, this is actually a big mistake too. But I’m going to save talking about why until we talk about crafting resources. I’m just going to say this: if the only crafting resource is money, you aren’t crafting. You’re just buying equipment. And, more importantly, you’re also detaching crafting from the game. Now, I promise, I will explain all of that in more detail when we finally get around to crafting resources. We’re dealing with a different piece of the puzzle.

But here’s the other issue with Pathfinder. It was a complex system that required a die roll, multipliers, and tracking partial progress over long periods of time. Basically, you figured out the cost of the item, spent a fraction of that on raw materials, rolled a skill check, and if the check was successful, you multiplied your result by the DC and compared it to a threshold. If you overcame the threshold, you made the item in a week. If not, you made progress and had to keep going to finish the item. That’s a lot of steps. And, most importantly, it involves a GM. Because the minute a player is rolling a check, an action is being adjudicated. And that means the game is on. And that means the GM is overseeing it.

Yes, a GM could trust a player to make the appropriate rolls at home, but that’s a hot issue that rustles a lot of panties and gets a lot of people’s jimmies in a wad. And, frankly, I understand why. I mean, yes, at its core, it’s a trust issue. Do you trust your players to make die rolls away from the table and report them honestly? Especially when failures will cost them resources? It’s a tricky question and depends on a lot of factors outside of the game. Personal factors. And therefore, it’s a question the game design should shy the hell away from.

So, you have two options. Either you have to confront the trust issue, or you have to use table time and GM time to resolve crafting. Which means that it no longer becomes a question of a single player or group opting into the system. The moment a player chooses to use the crafting system, they are demanding the rest of the group and the GM go along with them. And the more they use the crafting system, the more of the GM’s and the table’s time they are going to use.

And that is the problem I’m going to solve today. The issue of allowing one player to opt in without requiring the rest of the table to get dragged along for the ride. And isn’t it convenient that our review of the needs of a crafting system ended pretty much right there?

Yeah, I know. I’m frigging amazing.

Does This Sound Like Anything Else?

So, we need a game system that allows players to create and customize equipment so that they can express themselves creatively, customize their character’s powers and abilities, and prepare for upcoming challenges. It needs to be something that a single player can do on their own with no participation from the group. Or the GM. Does that sound like anything at all?

Why yes. It actually sounds like three different things. And I’ve already mentioned two of the three in this very article.

First, it sounds a lot like just buying equipment, doesn’t it? Well, sure. And that makes perfect sense. Buying mundane equipment from the Players Handbook equipment list is the sort of things that GMs often let players do on their lonesome. The players have all the information they need. And the actual process is pretty simple. Mark off the gold – which has been divvied up from party loot – and add the piece of equipment you want based on its cost. Most GMs don’t get too involved with equipment purchases. I know I personally let my players buy anything they want between sessions provided their characters ended the session somewhere where they can reasonably buy goods.

Now, this is where we are going to get very abstract. And it’s important to get abstract here because, when you’re designing new systems, you have to be able to look at them in very abstract terms. What we call buying equipment isn’t really buying equipment at all. And this is why numbnuts who refer to anything that happens in the game as “an economy” need to get smacked in the head. Buying equipment isn’t buying equipment. The player is literally creating equipment for their character by destroying money. It’s not as if the money is going to an actual craftsman who is going to use the money partially to buy supplies to make more goods and partially to cover his living expenses. It’s not as if there is anyone in the game world actually creating value out of their labor and entrepreneurship and being compensated. It’s not as if there are limited resources being allocated in a free market. There’s just a list of game mechanics you can add to your character and a resource cost.

Remember that distinction. Because it’s going to be very important.

Second, this whole crafting thing also sounds a lot like leveling up your character. Now, obviously, leveling up your character varies a lot from system to system. But in the abstract, it comes down to the same thing. You’ve earned a certain amount of resources through gameplay. Once you have enough of them, you’re entitled to add a specific mechanical element to your character. For example, when you hit level 4 in D&D, you get to increase an ability score. Every other level in Pathfinder, you get to add a feat. When a spellcaster gains a level, they gain new spells and extra spell slots. And so on.

Now, if we abstract this enough, we can make leveling up sound exactly like buying equipment. You gather a certain resource through play. And eventually, you can convert that resource into a specific mechanical element and add it to your character. Hopefully, you can see how close they are. But to really make them identical, we’d have to ignore a few things. Like the fact that XP, unlike GP, doesn’t go away. You don’t expend XP. It’s just that, when you cross a threshold, you get a benefit. Does that matter? Well, no. But yes. The reason XP doesn’t have to go away – the reason it doesn’t have to be spent – is because the players don’t really have any choices when it comes to XP and levels. When you gain a certain amount of XP, you gain a level. And when you gain a level, you gain a certain number of resources. You can’t choose how to allocate your XP. And once you gain a level, it’s gained. You can never ungain it. And you can never gain the same level twice. Effectively, XP can only be spent gaining levels, they have to be gained in a specific order, and it’s all completely automatic. If that weren’t the case, you would have to spend XP.

On top of that, gaining a level is a much more complicated affair. Actually, level doesn’t mean anything by itself. Usually. I mean, in some sometimes, you add your level as a bonus to certain rolls or you roll a number of dice equal to your level or whatever. In those systems, level does mean things. But level in D&D doesn’t mean a lot. But when you gain a level, you also gain other stuff too. You gain feats and ability score increases and class abilities and hit points and skill points and spells and numerical bonuses and whatever else you gain in your particular edition. Leveling up is a complicated process. You gain XP, the XP becomes a level, and then the level becomes a bunch of other choices. A bunch of other resources. A feat choice for example. Or a spell slot. And those benefits are prescribed by the level you’ve obtained and the class you’re playing. Or the class you’ve multiclassed into.

So, buying equipment and leveling up both involve customizing your character by adding or customizing mechanical elements to your character by spending resources you’ve earned through play. Buying equipment is fairly straightforward and pretty open. There’s lots of choices and you can spend your money lots of ways. But the effects are pretty minor and pretty limited. Even if you’re buying a powerful suit of magical armor, the effects are pretty much limited to a defense bonus and maybe a single, unique ability. If you want something big, you have to save for it. If you want something small, you can spend for it pretty much whenever you want. And very rarely is any piece of equipment game changing.

Leveling up is complicated. You will make a lot of changes to your character. But those changes are dictated by the system. You’ll have a list of specific options, usually constrained by choices you’ve already made, and you’ll choose from amongst those options. In some cases, you’ll simply be given mechanical benefits flat-out. And those will be based on choices you’ve already made. Choices like class and sub-class and build. And in some cases, and in some systems, if you want certain options to be available, you will have to plan for those and meet prerequisites at early levels. Leveling up has a much bigger effect on gameplay and it changes a lot. As a result, it happens infrequently, at specific intervals, and it involves a lot of constraints.

Now, the third similar thing is actually very closely related to leveling up. And that is character creation. Creating a character is basically the same as leveling up. It’s just amped up to eleven. Basically, it’s like gaining a foundational level. It’s even more complicated and it requires the establishment of some mechanical stuff that’s never going to change – like class and race and background and stuff – but it also only happens once ever. So, it can afford to be complicated. It’s also less constrained than gaining a level. In fact, in a lot of ways, character creation actually sets many of the constraints that will be imposed on all future level gains.

So, what do these things have in common? Shopping for equipment, leveling up, and creating a character? Well, they are all things that can be done outside the game and away from the table. Without the GM’s direct involvement? And while the players can collaborate and work as a group – deciding how to spend party funds, for example, or discussing what character who wants to play – they don’t have to.

And I’d like to raise an interesting point here – well, at least I think it’s interesting, and I’m right, so I’m raising it – it’s interesting to note that as time has gone on and rules and editions have evolved, the amount of die rolling in character generation has been minimized. Now, D&D’s creators have cited a number of reasons. Game balance. The downsides of bad rolls far outweighing the benefits of good rolls. The decreased focus on playing characters dictated by random chance over characters you’ve carefully designed for yourself. And so on. But one thing I haven’t heard them mention is that as character generation has become a longer, more complex, more protracted, more involved process – you used to be able to have a complete character in ten frigging minutes when I started playing this stupid game thirty years ago – as character generation has become a more complex process and the amount of complexity varies from player to player, it’s become increasingly important to allow players to create – or at least finish – their characters independently. I mean, as a GM, I will absolutely NOT sit through a character generation session unless I absolutely freaking have to. That crap is boring as hell. And it doesn’t need me. Come up with concepts as a group, sure, if you want to. I do that. But the actual character generation? Go home and do it yourself. Come back and show me what you did.

The point is that, once again, there’s the trust issue. And I think that one of the secret reasons for emphasizing non-die rolling – APART from the game balance thing – has been to avoid the trust issue altogether so that GMs don’t feel the need to even wonder whether they should be overseeing character or not. And, again, I’m not weighing in on the trust issue. I think giving any absolute, universal answer to whether you should trust your players to roll dice on their own is just stupidly naïve. I’ve had players I could trust. I’ve had players I couldn’t. And I’ve had players I wasn’t sure about. The problem isn’t the trust or lack thereof, it’s having to decide. And having to say to some players, “I’m sorry, I don’t trust you to generate ability scores on your own.” That’s a bad thing for the rules to make you say. Even if it’s true.

What’s It Look Like to Players?

So, what does all of this tell us about what our crafting system has to look like? Well, I don’t know about YOU, but I know what it tells ME. It tells me that the crafting system needs to be an out-of-game, away-from-table system. Like buying equipment or gaining levels or making characters. And that means it can’t involve die rolls or GM oversight. Which means, it basically comes down to exchanging resources. Which, when you get down to it is what crafting is. Turning ingredients into stuff, right?

But by looking at the differences between the three systems I cited, I can also determine a few other important facts about crafting. First, notice that each of the systems above uses its own resources. Well, character creation is a notable exception. But buying equipment uses money. And gaining levels uses experience points. But, though those two resources are different, they are gained in the same way: they are gained by playing the game. Crafting, likewise, should use its own resource. But those resources should be gained by playing the game. That second point is why time is a terrible resource for crafting. By definition, time is a resource that is gained by not playing the game. Using time as a resource means creating a tradeoff between crafting and adventuring. Unless you do something stupidly abstract like have players “earn” downtime by having adventures. That is, you hand out downtime as a reward. In whatever arbitrary amounts the system dictates.

Now, apart from the fact that that’s just dumb and makes no sense in the fiction of the world because the characters can always spend extra time just by spending extra time and so the GM can only take time away – say by interrupting marathon crafting sessions by attacking the town – the problem with the GM handing out time for crafting as a reward for adventuring is that crafting is an opt-in system. Much like buying equipment, it isn’t important for all characters and all players. And much like buying equipment, it’s a system of customization, expression, and empowerment. So, you want the players – not the GM – to have as much control over the system as they can.

Put another way, the GM is encouraged by each system to dole out certain amounts of treasure based on the encounters the players face. But the GM is also empowered to hide more treasure in the world. Put it down optional paths, offer it as rewards for side quests, put extra treasure behind optional challenges, and so on. It’s a reward for engaging in optional content. Moreover, the players can do things to earn extra money. They can gather equipment from their enemies and sell it. Push NPCs to pay them more. Steal from people. Earn money with their skills. And they can horde wealth. They can scrimp and save. The GM doesn’t directly control the monetary rewards. It’s tied more directly to the players’ actions. In much the same way that non-terrible GMs actually use XP systems instead of being lazy and doling out levels whenever they damned well feel like it because why should the players have any sense of agency or connection between their actions and their rewards.

So, crafting must use resources gained during play – resources that can be found during the course of normal play or that can be purposely sought by players or dangled as rewards by a GM for optional content – and it must allow those resources to be converted into useful mechanical elements away from the table with no oversight. Which means no die rolls.

Now, crafting is also something that can happen frequently. Almost as frequently as buying equipment. Honestly, the same constraints exist in the fiction around crafting as exist around shopping. The heroes must be in a civilized location with shops or crafting tools available. It’s an in-town thing. That’s fine. But crafting shouldn’t be as frequent or common as shopping for equipment. That means it should be a bit more complex and more constrained than buying equipment. It shouldn’t be as easy to make a longsword as it is to just buy a longsword. And yes, I see the trap this is creating. Don’t worry. We’ll fix. And if you don’t see it yet, it’s something I will talk about before I fix. Later. Not in this article.

The complexity and constraint are also fitting because the system is optional. It’s opt-in. Groups don’t have to use crafting. Players don’t have to use crafting. They will if they are willing to. It adds depth, but it’s an esoteric sort of depth not everyone appreciates. Or needs. But the people who want the depth are willing to pay for it with a certain amount of complexity. So, again, it’s more complex and constrained than buying equipment. But not too much more.

By the way, not to harp on failed systems – though I do like pissing and moaning – this is where Pathfinder failed to fix the D&D 3.5 crafting system. Not only does it require a die roll, but once you get past the die roll, it doesn’t do anything different than shopping for equipment. That is, you trade money for gear. It’s just the die roll determines how much of a discount you get. Even the constraint of needing certain spells cast during the creation process doesn’t really matter because you can pay for the spellcasting. So, it’s just another way to buy equipment. One with a very complicated bargaining system in front of it.

Anyhoo…

That’s ultimately what our crafting system has to look like in the abstract. From the player side anyway. It’s got to look like buying equipment. But different. More constrained, more complex, and with a completely different feeling. Using resources gained during play, which the players can also purposely seek, and which the GM can use as a way of rewarding different types of optional play as well.

But now we have to look at it from a different side. Two different sides. First, what does it look like from the GM side? And second, what does it look like to the players and GMs who don’t want to use it? And answering those questions – which is what I’ll do the next time I get around to writing about this – will lead us to determine what the spendable crafting resource will actually look like.

Teasey teasey teasey. Aren’t I a tease?

49 thoughts on “Crafting Away from the Table

  1. This is where I’ve been thinking the 3.5 system of converting XP to crafted items isn’t actually as bad as it first seems. But it does require a change in the way we think about XP. Instead of XP being accumulated, it becomes a currency that is spent. You can hoard your XP and choose not to level up and instead craft an item and then expend an appropriate amount of XP. Or you can spend it as you earn it on levels (reducing your XP to 0 as you attain each level). It does mean level 2 is earned at 300 XP instead of 600 XP and has the prerequisite of being level 1 first. In that direction lies the way that GURPS tends to treat and think of experience points.

    Alternatively you can have a “magic item currency”. D&D 4th ed had one called residuum that could be sold to gold pieces. What this effectively meant was that it was just another denomination of coin that needed to be sold before it could be converted to useful things (and could optionally be spent on magic items instead if you so desired and had the appropriate prerequisites to create magic items).

    If it’s monster parts or “dweomer infused ores” or residuum then it becomes very similar to gems and diamonds that players find and then either keep as spell components or sell for gold pieces. Although if you do let players sell these “crafting components” then you need to provide players with the opportunity to buy them as well or else they scream about verisimilitude. At which point gold can be directly translated into the “magic item currency” and it’s just another denomination of coin that has a different type of flavour and requires an extra hoop or two for players to jump through. And if that’s what you end up with it becomes a question of “why bother?”

    I’m very interested to see what your system looks like.

    • I agree that generic ores/residuum/gems/etc are uncompelling; a second currency type isn’t very exciting. Personally, for me it’s a rarity thing. If you’re getting the components all the time for just doing the things you normally do, I don’t find it very different from purchasing with gold. (Maybe I should reread the article before submitting…)

      So I prefer to make components rare, memorable, and reusable. I find giving character to the components fun, because the presence or nature of the reward can become a consequence of the approach the players’ take, and I enjoy putting little puzzles and trade-offs into the game. For example, the players’ encounter with a basilisk might be much easier if they lead it to the mirror from the previous room, but if it petrifies itself, they’re not going to get a working “eye of basilisk” out of the encounter – they’ll just get a lump of rock.

      If you’re willing to get more poetical you can require ingredients that specifically have been gathered or manipulated in a particularly tricky way (“a beating dragon heart”, “the cornerstone of a castle that has never been captured”, etc), but the more specific you get on such items (assuming you’re designing some “reusable, drop-into-any-adventure” system, anyways), the harder it is for GMs and adventure designers to actually fit those opportunities in.

      Another idea is to frame crafting as using the rare component, but not consuming it. (So the crafter, given an appropriate crafting opportunity, can take apart the Mask of Stonesight or whatever to get the eye of basilisk back for use in some other way.) In this way, a cleverly-earned reward like a unique component can be continuously recycled by the party into new and useful capabilities; it’s a permanent addition to their toolkit that can be leveraged in when they successfully anticipate and prepare for a challenge.

    • I introduced recently in my game (but we only did 1 session so far with this new rule, and it did not have the chance to come up yet, so I do not have a feedback on the actual game play) a crafting system based on what you say in the last part of your post: ingredients (monster parts, rare plants, gems…) that can be found during adventures and can be used for crafting, or sold for coin.

      The peculiarity of the rule is the following: when you personally gather ingredients from their source in a challenging context (= in game terms, overcoming a meaningful encounter, an Xp-awarding one), the ingredients develop a sort of “personal link” with you, so that they have an increased effective value when used for crafting, as long as you are the one crafting with them.
      Of course the “link” is extended to the whole adventuring group, not limited to a specific PC.

      So, even if there is the opportunity to purchase ingredients for coin, these which are personally gathered by PCs are much more effective if they want to craft with them, and this is a benefit that cannot be purchased.

      As a matter of fact, this is very similar to the 3.5 style of letting players use Xp for crafting: in fact, the added value of the “link” is something that is awarded more or less together with regular Xp.

      In my mind, the difference (maybe negligible) is that:
      a) While Xp would be a flat and neutral currency, like gold, these ingredients can have individual properties that make them more suitable for “crafting this” than for “crafting that”; so, the system provides more variety.
      b) When I was using 3.5, long time ago, players were not enthusiastic about crafting because the “crafting guy” of the group ended up having a lower Xp total than the others, while with ingredients we bypass this issue.

      I just wanted to share my current experience but of course I look forward to see Angry’s solution.

    • Speaking to your “its just another denomination of coin”, the game Shadowrun allows for a limited conversion between money and xp between missions (either you “worked for the man”, slaving away in an office type job trading xp for money, or you went philanthropic “working for the people” to trade money for xp). Though like your GURPs example it was a game that has you spend xp on the particular thing you wanted (ie boost an attribute, boost a skill, or take an ability, including spells)

      This made sense as some character archetypes depend more on cash for gear, and some depend more on xp for abilities, and conversion leveled the playing field between archetypes.

      In this way I could see the three currency types being inter-tradable (as long as its in a limited amount at any one time) being an appealing option, as it would allow for better customization of the character that the player wants more exactly, which ultimately is what crafting seems to be about much of the time

  2. Something that was just casually thrown in that I did like: the idea of putting higher then ordinary rewards behind optional content. It helps reward the behaviour of PCs searching for those extra content areas (so long as you do it in a way that doesn’t reward investigating every 5 foot square for 10 minutes, which can be done by having a ticking clock of wandering encounters). And it also makes finding such optional content even more enjoyable then normal by giving them a higher then normal reward.

  3. I like that you pointed out the “materials must be obtained during normal play”. I was thinking about how Warframe handles it’s crafting and that’s pretty much how it handles the materials, 90% (except rare resources) are obtained just by playing.

    I dislike that you didnt mention the ABSURD ingame time it takes to craft things. Like in Pathfinder, a longsword taking a month? WHY? By this rule, wizars must rule the world since they’re magical just by existing while martials must wait for their gear to appear.

    And last, “Creating equipment by destroying money” is literally how Starfinder handles crafting. Easy and simple: Use UPBs (the only, basic resource without counting things like adamantium) to make an item. It takes 4 ingame hours and that’s it. Cost wise, it’s literally the same as buying equipment. Why add this, then? To allow for deep space exploration far away from civilization.
    It’s unobstructive, simple, and it just works. There’s also a tiny benefeit where your crafted gear has more resistance butit’s a bit meh.

    • I’ve already written extensively about the failure of using time as a resource. And comparing crafting to shipping and leveling as something done outside the game removes it from time considerations. I like to think people can extrapolate a few things themselves.

      Don’t worry. I’ll talk about why Starfinder fails eventually.

  4. In my one experiment with a crafting system, the idea was that players could accumulate body parts, like hides and bones, while hunting monsters during adventures. Accumulating parts involved random rolls, but using them was a flat, procedural conversion system based on the monsters cr and abilities. Parts were spent alongside a small amount of money during crafting. A red dragon hide, for example, could be spent to create fire resistant armor. While it was originally designed to be the core gimmick of a campaign, the fact that harvesting parts was a voluntary action means it could, theoretically, fit anywhere.

    • Yeah, I did a similar thing in 5E, using a minor magical items table to make items with small benefits. I always set it up that players couldn’t get enough components from the monsters they killed to make a bunch of stuff, so they had to choose who got what.
      Of course, the players ALWAYS butchered the creatures they killed, so I didn’t put in a tradeoff for gathering the components.

      I think this might deserve some consideration: should there be a trade-off and/or consequence for either crafting or gathering the materials required for crafting? It essentially is a way to further customize and improve PCs after all. If so, perhaps the materials require searching for/risk. Given that Angry said “it uses the resources gathered during play” I think he might address this issue.

      • I’m adding in a tiered cost to how I handle monster components. Weak monsters give out weak components for basic stuff and progressively stronger monsters give out the rarer materials. So, all weak monsters give out a basic tooth (below CR 5 or equivalent), but a troll has a feral tooth (tier 2). But, since this is a troll, it has a rare part that helps in crafting healing specific items as well. It works in a gate that makes a risk reward choice and a exploring the world choice. So if they want that fire resistant plate mail, they need to start hunting red dragons or fire giants, etc.
        Good name by the way!

          • I imagine it would benefit from having a few general keywords that appear on lots of different materials.
            So crafting a “potion of greater fire resistance” would require herbs of “greater” quality (or perhaps just a greater number of them) and some number of crafting materials with the “fire” keyword, whether they be dragon teeth or fire giant hairs or whatnot.

            Be generous in which materials have which keywords, try to get the most out of the fewest keywords. I once saw a passable system with only 6 keywords in total (4 elements, sun & moon).

            There’s a lot to be said for whether to use specific ingredients or general “x gp worth of herbs”, or a mixture both, with different benefits to different styles, but a lot of it comes down to preference and how involved the players want to be with the ingredients side of crafting (and gathering).

            One player of mine didn’t care much about ingredients, he mostly wanted the preparation aspect of choosing which potions to have on hand (and also to roleplay a potion salesman when they stopped in town), whereas another player just wanted to forage for stuff during their travel time, didn’t so much care what he found as long as it was valuable.
            In this scenario, I went with a simple “x gp worth of generic herbs”, and I let them set up an alchemy lab in the back of the wagon, so during travel time the Ranger would gather herbs and the Rogue would turn them into potions, some to save for their own use and some to sell when they reach the next town. I also allowed buying/selling the herbs, but they didn’t seem interested.
            That said, occasionally when they killed something notable, they would ask (unpromted) if they could skin it or harvest its organs or whatnot, and upon a successful ability check I’d give them some dragon scales or a flame sac or something that can be substituted for x gp worth of crafting materials on a relevant item.

          • Basically what Mumbo said. My players have a base amount of resources they are gathering (No base civilization in region and barter or salvaging is all they have). The basic resources are gathered by the townsfolk they are allied with and it represents the gold cost, but the townsfolk have other things they can do as well. So, it becomes a trade of what resources are getting gathered.
            I set up some recipes (some still not found yet) that require rarer things and, as Mumbo said, they just use a keyword and strength. So, a weak fire newt will just have basic [fire] components, but a fire giant would have rare [fire] components. The rare components just make a more advanced recipe. Basic, improved, advanced, etc.
            Working well so far and doesn’t take too much recording on my part. Just the initial set up of keywords and providing a recipe list.

  5. One of the interesting things I found out while experimenting with different crafting systems, is that if not all recipes/plans/crafting schemes are available from the start, acquiring new recipes becomes a progression of its own and often gets more attention from the players than gathering the ingredients themselves.

    Also, a neat trick I’ve adopted for single-use items (potions grenades, bombs, traps) is to write down the modifier for crafting roll at the time of crafting, but not making the check right away. Instead, players retroactively make their crafting checks when using the item. So they don’t know for sure if their healing potion will heal or turn user into a frog unless they actually drink it.

    • I’ve often thought that acquiring recipes should be part of the system.
      I’ve previously likened it to a wizard’s spellbook, where you can choose x number of recipes to know already, but you can add more during play (and maybe even invent your own). That way the choice of what to make is narrowed somewhat by your previous selection.

      Although it again depends on what kind of players you have. I tried to introduce this type of recipe system and my players didn’t really care for it, so I ended up just giving them a much smaller list that they could make any of.

  6. Two thoughts:

    1. Could a crafting system have non-random decision points and costs, but an after-the-fact at the table finalization, capable of being adjudicated within a couple of quick – QUICK – rolls? That would jive well with the concept of crafting – you have something in mind, you begin the process, and then the result would be close to what you were after – maybe exact. Something simple like a craft check afterwards with two rolls: one to see how well you did, and a possible second roll for mishap or genius. Set yourself towards a check with a known difficulty, spend the materials, come to the table next session and then roll: massive success give a slight additional benefit (predetermined, perhaps), success means you got what you wanted, and failure means it didn’t come out QUITE how you wanted, but has something quirky about it (roll separately), then done.

    Maybe this is obvious – it just requires a set of tables for reference that indicate material cost, proficiency level, and difficulty.

    2. Let me preface this by saying “This is a tangent, and a thought experiment”, but it was a tangent inspired by the article, so there. I’m thinking out loud (or in text). Its not directly related to crafting.

    Consider an XP system like GURPS (shudder) or Star Wars from fantasy flight games. There, they system has a progression tree but allows you to spend XP as you gain it (or save it). To go up the tree, you need to first buy the lower items with XP, and the better stuff is up top. You can also buy skills. Either way, there are two ways to spend Xp.

    Throw out the current money system. GONE. Instead, put in a grid with compounding costs as you go down. First layer is basic, like 1 wealth. This will be called the ‘lifestyle chart,’ or something. The next step downwards is 5 wealth, 10 wealth, 20 wealth, 40 wealth. Basic would give you something like “You own a basic weapon, and a nice piece of gear.” Moving down the grid gets you into obvious uses of wealth – really nice gear, informants, followers, titles, prestige, etc.

    Also, you can spend 1 or 2 wealth on individual items, which is less of a lifestyle progression and more of an immediate benefit for the here and now. OK – off to experiment with this…

  7. I’m not sure what resource Angry plans to use here (not straight gold, not straight XP), but time will still play in it at least as far as the tension pool goes. Is there a tradeoff between harvesting items and dice going into the pool? Do certain skills (survival first in mind) promote resource gathering? Is it a straight up party total in some skills = units of resources gathered from the dead thing? Mutliplied by the dead things CR?

    Anything has got to be better than 5gp of value a day plus material costs.

    • In Skyrim, you use souls of slain dragons to unlock new shouts. To a certain extent, this is completely optional.

      Maybe using the souls of slain enemies for a variety of purposes is an idea. However, I already see a downside to that, mainly that PC’s will try to resolve every encounter with combat…or kill off entire towns for that matter :o)

      • Oddly, my DM told me just today that I’ll need to bring back some souls in order to complete the magic item I’ve been working on.

        As a Good-aligned character with no form of soul-harvesting magic, this is problematic. :/

  8. I don’t know if its similar to what you have in mind, but Stars Without Number revised has a pretty good crafting system. Basically, you can modify equipment with bonuses, but these modifications need to be maintained, and you can only maintain so many, depending on relevant skills. You can “jury-rig” normal equipment for a quarter of the cost, but it costs maintenance. Alternatively, you can craft a piece of equipment at a much higher cost, but install a modification that requires no maintenance. Where it gets interesting is how certain mods require pieces of “pretech salvage” (basically super technology from a bygone age) to install that the DM can offer as rewards for exploration and the like. You just keep track of salvage as units, so you might find 2 salvage units, and you might, for example, need 3 to give your weapon the +2 damage mod.

    It can be done by a single player, allows customization of powers and abilities, allows a player to prepare for upcoming challenges, and seems reasonably distinct from just buying equipment. It seems like it fits the bill for what Angry’s looking for in a crafting system. But I’d interested to hear what some of you think.

  9. I was thinking of a crafting system just yesterday.
    My conclusion was that we can’t have a good crafting system until there’s a good system for player gear. So, I’m trying to see if I can integrate magic weapon powers as properties that you could give weapons.

    Your insight is definitely helpful. A crafting system should add enough to be rewarding but not enough to punish someone for ignoring it. It feels like most game systems fall of the mark on that.

    I’m glad to see that you also think that a crafting system should be made with no die rolls. Personally, I always felt it was weird that there was a character advancement system where luck affected success. Imagine if, after you gain the XP to level up, you were asked to roll to see if you successfully leveled.

    Will you also be thinking about how to create interesting equipment choices for these series of articles or focus on providing a general framework for crafting systems.

  10. Based on the article (and using a Pathfinder model) I think the mechanic would work like this: crafting becomes an optional feat. Crafting XP is earned as a percentage of XP gained, with additional optional crafting XP gained during campaigns. Players can double up (or triple up, whatever) the crafting feat to increase the crafting XP percentage gained. The final piece of the puzzle is the table with crafting XP and materials required to craft an item. Also, if the players opt for crafting, they get an alchemy pot (sorry, I think I had a DQ VIII flashback).

  11. I’m curious what type of gating, if any, you will include in your crafting system. Equipment, XP, and leveling don’t typically have additional prerequisites. DMs can put up gates such as only clerics/paladins can buy holy water, only nobles can buy plate armor, only PCs with black market contacts can buy poison, PCs must go to a class specific trainer to level, etc., but more typically if an item is in the Player’s Handbook and a character has the gold (and are “in Town”) the player can just mark down the funds and add the item. Similarly, if a PC has met the next XP threshold, they level up.

    By removing the at the table die rolling, I’m wondering how your crafting system will interface with things like tool proficiencies. Will item creation require proficiency with an appropriate type of tool, or a minimum modifier that takes into consideration ability modifiers and double proficiency (Expertise, for example)? Will some items be craftable using portable tools that the PCs carry around with them and others require a more stationary forge, lab, studio, etc., beyond the time and resources/ingredients required. Will any or all items/upgrades require a recipe/template/design etc?

    [Side Note: I just played the board game Eclipse this weekend which has some ship upgrades as always available and other upgrades that must be unlocked with a research action (and resource expenditure), which is why this gating idea is fresh in my mind.]

    Hmmmm. I’m looking forward to see what you come up with.

  12. I’ve considered just dropping tracking coins and moving towards an “adventure budget” idea for mega dungeon style games where the party is always in town between sessions. Much like some video games like Thief give you a money budget per level.

    So you don’t save up 800 gold to buy an armor, you budget 80 per session and keep it in good condition while the adventuring company owns it as a party asset. Basically treat those things as party resources that players rent with their “use it or lose it” budget for the session.

    Treasure recovered is XP and your level determines your adventure budget.

    With a growing “party treasury” that unlocks more advanced things to budget towards. With collecting rare resources as unlocking new areas of the “tech tree”.

  13. Does it need to be a whole system in place for the crafting-people to be happy? As long as it is possible with GM adjudication, it sounds like it at least meets the demand for creative expression and overcoming challenges. Not sure about the supplemental advancement, that sounds like people who like playing with the sub-system, knowing the options in advance.

    I just like how things works in 5e; the player say what they want to do, and the GM makes a judgement of how difficult it will be. You can handle crafting the same to make me happy. Say the player has imprisoned a fire elemental, and want to make a flaming sword by binding the elemental to the sword. The GM says sure, or make the player roll a check. Or the player has the incorporal corpse of a ghost, and asks what it can be used for. The GM has the player roll some lore skill for providing som new ideas. Or the player is looking to craft a specific item, and the GM can decide that for that you need to collect the feather of a phoenix or something. As long as the players need some limited resource they get from adventuring and the GM regulates the difficulty, crafting works for me.

      • Yeah, I know. I guess I am questioning if you keep the GM out of it, does it have to be something left for the player to do? Yes, if there’s a system to play around with for those who want that. But for a creative expression/challenge seeker, who just wants a flaming sword, the crafting itself can just happen without any GM involvement anyways. Regardless, I would want a system if it was more a framework than an exhaustive list of all the options.

        The way I would want crafting is for it to be “purchasing with requirements”. It always cost the same GP price as equivalent items, and a system could help determine this price. You also have to pay a magical ingredient that you get from adventures (fire elementals, dead ghosts, displacer beast skin, troll tooths, blessed water etc). There could be a system gating item level with CR monster required. The benefit of crafting over normal purchasing is that you get to decide which item you “purchase” when there is no magic mart with everything available, but you need to have slain certain monsters first etc.

        You could instead make a system where you get magic ingredients as monster loot instead of magic items and cut the GP price when crafting. Then you could build the system as 4 CR 10 monsters is required to make a Rare item, but then it is not opt-in anymore as a crafter gets extra items from scavenging. Paying the same GP cost solves this.

  14. Two thoughts: first, what about “inspiration” as a resource? It avoids the “dagger requires 1 iron, vorpal dagger requires 10,000 iron (and I guess weighs 10,000x more?)” or long lists of obscure crafting elements. Instead, you fight trolls and look at beautiful castles and it all gives you ideas about things you could make and pushes you to try hard and craft something special.

    Second, could you expand this into a whole “between sessions system”? You avoid a lot of balance issues (no crafters? every player is being a crafter?) if everyone gets this resource, and one player spends a weekend fine tuning an axe and the other decides they were lifting weights for +1 str at the start of the sesssion. You could probably do some interesting things with out of session decisions: “here’s a map. Here’s 10,000 inspiration to spend. Here’s the defensive structures and allies you can buy. Set up your defenses and next week the orcs roll into town”

  15. Unsurprisingly, video games had this problem solved ages ago. Whenever there’s crafting involved, you invariably had to collect the required items, hand them over to the crafting NPC (or player in an MMO), and barring some exceptions the process was basically instantaneous and infallible.

    Now, video games are also fond of making you grind for dozens of generic reagents just to pad playtime, but that’s easily dismissable. It’s not like things like basic leather are that hard to come by anyway. And stuff made from common materials tends to be freely purchasable anyway (barring some major economical crisis or something). That’s the difference between acquiring a basic longsword and a +2 flaming longsword of molten death. So, I think if we focus on the exotic materials we should be mostly fine.

    Another difference with video game crafting is that the materials are frequently fairly, uh, generic? despite their alleged rarity. Take WoW, for instance, which has a thriving economy for high level ingredients. People frequently buy and sell dozens of bars of godmetal or whatever they call the new hot shit this expansion. And, ya well, when you have so many different crafting types, it makes sense to have something that’s generic enough that you could use them to craft weapons, armour, gadgets, potions, whatever.
    Compare pen and paper games, which are very fond of requiring, say, the breath of an angel to craft an item relating to air (boots of flying or something like that). Items that evoke a sense of wonder and make the world just that bit more big. However, that creates a bit of a dilemma. Either you make the crafting materials so specific, that the players are basically are forced to use the materials for a very limited selection of items (which limits player agency), or allow the materials to be used for a larger number of items, which makes them less special (when half the crafting table requires the stuff, not only does that make it look cheap, it also implicitly makes it more likely for players to find more of it).

    • What I’m trying to get at is, keywords? I sometimes dabble in Cultist Simulator when I’m bored. In that game, everything has aspects. And everything you do requires some aspects. So if you want to summon something from the Mansus, you require some amount of the Knock aspect. It doesn’t matter what it comes from: a tool, a piece of lore, or even that dork Neville. So long as those things have a sufficient amount of the Knock aspect, it works.
      The same could be done for crafting requirements. You want to make a magic thing that can move large masses of earth? Bring a reagent with the earth attribute, like the heart of a mountain, or soil from the grave of a revived saint. Now you’ve got options what to look for. Conversely, if you find one of these things, you now also have the option to create something else with them, as long as it’s something that requires the earth attribute. And all of this while keeping the possibility of having these reagents be near-unique.
      And you can do so without a pre-generated list of reagents. The GM can just spontaneously decide that those hippogryph feathers that the party looted are collectively a lesser air reagent (or possess the “lesser reagent” and “air reagent” keywords).

    • Video game crafting tends towards to the ‘submission’ type of fun (of the 8 types of fun). Submission of this type is that mindless, repetitive thing – you can shut off your brain for a couple of hours. for an tabletop RPG, I’m not sure how much this type of fun can realistically be used, as we expect everyone at the table to be engaged.

      A slight difference in tabletop games is drop-rate – you can have a 100% drop rate for your players, whereas a MMO will have a small likelihood, requiring repeated attempts. BUT, in that case, crafting turns into a side-quest to gather materials rather than a side-project. That can realistically turn crafting into a just a subset of the adventuring day rather than one of the in-town activities. That might be okay for epic-level items, but the vast majority of crafting should not require this sort of commitment (imo).

  16. The biggest question I’ve struggled with in trying to design a robust crafting system is how to allow some characters to opt in without allowing those characters to be better off than the rest of the party. This means it has to cost something. This becomes especially problematic when you are looking at magic items. You can probably make some mundane crafting system where the only real cost is a skill proficiency or two, in the form of needing a specific proficiency, but when you start to talk about crafting more powerful/complex items then this breaks down quick.

    On the other hand, you can make it cost something of an equivalent level of power. This is why my first thought of something costing XP was good. Then I realized that it sucks for the same reason Angry mentioned, because now even though the party as a whole is stronger the person providing that benefit actually is weaker on account of having taken the hit. I’m addition, the other large problem, in D&D at least, is that the level 2 wizard who spends XP to make themselves an item isn’t taking away from the level 2 powerspike. He’s taking away from level 20. He will never reach 20 now. Given that different levels have different amounts of power, stealing from the more powerful levels is weird and hard to justify.

    The best I’ve thought of so far is feats. Feats are all balanced to each other and to ASIs, regardless of the level they are gained. If you control access to crafting through these then you eliminate that problem. But land back on the one character losing out issue…

    My only thought so far is to provide the crafter with bonus benefits from gear they themselves craft as a result of those feats.

    • At first I thought, “What if the resource is dropped as treasure, like magic items?”
      Then I thought, “What if the resource IS magic items?”

      What if crafting is just a fancy way of customizing treasure?
      If investing the effort to engage with the crafting system doesn’t necessarily make you more powerful, but more versatile.
      You could tweak existing items to tailor their effects to your preferred play style, or you can melt down or dismantle items you don’t want anymore to make something else instead.
      The whole party can reap the rewards, but you don’t really lose much by ignoring it.

  17. I am so hyped!!
    I’ve been praying for Angry to bestow us with a decent crafting system for years!

    Crafting is practically the holy grail of game design, and I’ve been researching it about as much as that analogy dictates.

    Unfortunately I don’t get much opportunity to playtest, so most of my work is hypothetical. 🙁

  18. It’s not entirely clear to me from the article why crafting *should* use resources other than GP or XP, particularly because the amount of XP and GP you earn are often tied closely together.

    I do take the point about using XP in 3e, and I had the same objection to it then. It occurred to me last night though that if you use the XP Pool idea Angry talked about in Who Plays Vanilla WoW Anymore, then some of these objections are overcome. The crafter characters could take awards from the XP Pool before it’s awarded to craft things, and then the remaining XP Pool is shared out among the group as normal. That way, you’re not disadvantaging one player by using their XP alone, but crafting things that empower the group overall are being paid for by the group as a whole by delaying levelling up slightly.

    • But then you have to get the permission of the whole group before crafting something, otherwise you’re stealing XP from your allies that they might not agree to give up.

      • Well, yes. And while that might not work for some groups, I’d rather play with people who can negotiate like adults.

  19. I’m in the middle of creating a simplified crafting system for my players, so I’m waiting with baited breath for the final reveal. Some concepts we’ve played around with include:

    * Using the Sane Magic Item tables for reference: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?424243-Sane-Magic-Item-Prices

    * A Crafting Proficiency table that shows that max GP value a player can craft. +1 proficiency allows up to 100gp items, +2 (200gp), +3 (400gp), +4 (800gp), +5 (1600gp), +6 (3200gp), +7 (6400gp), +8 (12800gp), +9 (25600gp), +10 (51200 gp), etc.

    * A generic “resources” system where our “Survival Expert” can search the wilderness for areas with resources and then the players make up to 1d4+1 crafting resource checks (this limits the time spent in a region, and they have to decide who gets to roll for resources, or how many can be extracted from a monster). Then we roll for how many generic “herbs”, “ore”, and “poisons”, etc.

    * Crafting DC/time/materials/monster_materials (Yeti horn, elemental fire, etc): Common (DC5, 5 days, 5 mats, CR1-3), Uncommon (DC10, 10 days, 20 mats, CR4-8), Rare (DC15, 50 days, 50 mats, CR9-12), Very Rare (DC20, 125 days, 200 mats, CR13-18), Legendary (DC25, 250 days, 1000 mats, DC19+).

    * Crafting rolls: Use the above DCs at the end of a work week. Rolls of 25+ reduce crafting time by 5 days (1 work week). Natural 20’s reduces craft time by 10 days, or you may create 2x consumables, or increase potency for DM approved items.

    * Crafting cost would be 1/2 the items value to start and it’s assumed the player buys the materials in town. However, every X materials gathered reduces the final cost by 25% (max 75% reduction).

    * For example, a Rare item with a value of 10,000 gp would cost 5,000gp right out of the gate. If the player has gathered 50 generic materials for their craft, the price drops 25% to 3,750gp, and with 150 craft materials the price can be reduced to 1,250gp. Then it still takes 50 days (10 non-consecutive work weeks), and if the player rolls extremely well at the end of a week, they can reduce the craft time.

    • * Correction on crafting rolls – Rolls that are 10+ above the required DC reduce time by 5 days (1 work week).

  20. After reading your article the way I see it there are 3 types of crafting.

    Field Crafting “stringing together a solution” – uses resources you have at hand (??adjudicate/narrate this similar to how you adjudicate any action under pressure and possibly extreme circumstances??). Think baudelair orphans / a series of unfortunate events.

    Preparation Crafting “coming with extra potions” – pretty much just spending gold, but if they have skills for it, they might not spend as much gold or resources as long as they have tools available. Either preparing for something specific or being prepared in general, like crafting…. rope. Or something.

    Advancement Crafting “Iron Man Suit” – spending various resources/reaching XP milestones and being rewarded with ‘cool stuff’ that is more permanent in nature. I would file permanent equipment enhancements (i.e. fire resistance for boarhide lamellar) here.

    Time is of course, merely narrated.

    I suppose a system for more-permanent invention could be created but that invites all sorts of issues. It would be Advancement Crafting with loosely defined limitations or maybe a tech-tree…?

    • field crafting in 5e terms would basically be a skill check. Its a creative option to a solution – like a hidden door option to a decision point that any player could engage in, and that some might be better at then others (maybe based on tool proficiencies).

  21. I would say just add a new resource: Crafting XP. Whenever you gain XP, you gain CXP based on any of these things: The type/challenge of enemy defeated, a knowledge check, or something like that. When you are in a town, you can spend CXP (and gp?) to craft items with prices based on rarity. The price may in some way be reduced by proficiency in relevant tools.

  22. Raw materials like ore, flexible wood for arrows, skins for leather are easy enough to throw in. It’s especially important though to mention how they could use them when they run into them. Otherwise crafting never happens. When the party is travelling, I have a roll chart for useful raw materials that they could run into during the day. Makes for some good encounter fodder when there’s some ore halfway up a cliff by the trail.

    After that I daintly sprinkle in funky doodad treasures that suits the enemy they fought, chest they opened, forest the foraged or whatever. The party enjoys picking up this stuff and may find uses for it in its raw material state. You know, Roc’s feathers, goblin urine, poison ivy, ghost whisps (cream puffs); any sort of item that might have a potent property. But if they don’t find a direct use for it, then a spell caster can do a 10 minute ritual, or somebody can put the stuff in an alchemical pressure cooker to refine it down to its essence which can be stored in bottles or gems (an underused item that all of the sudden became super important when we started doing this).

    Essences are building block elements/ideas such as water, fire, electricity, itchiness, rage, silence, impotence etc.

    I have a nice little dictionary going of these. Dimension door? That’s a 4th level spell so 4 etheral essences.

    I personally think every spell in DnD would benefit from having an essence recipe, but some are more difficult than others.

    Then craftspeople can soak the essence into gems which can then be embedded into weapons to add properties. Or people can mix it with ink to make scrolls. Or somebody can lace arrowheads with it. Or somebody can try to eat it. Or you could just sell the essence and trade it for others.

    Depending on how much essence you require to make magic items, and what kind of barriers you have (Need to have a passive Proffesion Score of # before you can craft with 2 essences, need a special quill to write scrolls with 3 essences or more), you can control what and how much is created.

    But hey. Magic items. Magic items everywhere.

  23. Another thought: If you’re doing a system with magic items, and it’s intended to be a universal system that any GM can use, then it needs to be extrapolatable to cover both “magic items as technology” (i.e., magic items are understood and integrated into society, and challenges are built on the assumption that the PCs can freely obtain magic items of appropriate price. Powerful magic items are like private jets or Ferraris: rare and expensive, but obtainable from the right people and at the right price) and “Magic items as wonders” (i.e. magic items are rare marvels that break the rules. Every magic item is unique, and if you want to craft a new one you’ll need to get the GM’s permission and it will probably involve a whole sidequest to collect special ingredients and create new rituals). Both are legitimate styles, and both have their supporters, so a universal system must be able to work with both.

  24. “Unless you do something stupidly abstract like have players “earn” downtime by having adventures.”
    errr I am guilty of that one.

    • So is the official 5e Adventurers League rules, which I think it was aimed at.

      It kind of works if every adventure has some kind of urgency that prevents downtime, and the downtime “earned” is just the arbitrary number of days that happens to pass before the next adventure starts, but in that case it could probably be framed better.
      Less “you earned 10 days Downtime for completing that adventure”,
      More “10 days pass uneventfully, what do you do during that time?”

      I see the idea of saving the downtime up to spend later as just a game mechanic, so the characters have already done whatever activity it was during that time, but the player hasn’t yet decided what that activity was, or you otherwise don’t want to hold up the game up by resolving it now so you wait until later.
      The issue of spending downtime doing something you wouldn’t have been able to do at the time of earning that downtime, I saw as a purely mechanical exploit with no basis in fluff, just because the obvious solution would require more bookkeeping than it’s worth.

      You could easily say that players have to choose their downtime immediately upon receiving it, although you’d probably get a lot of “I dunno, kill time until the next adventure, I guess?”, or even worse have people agonising far too long over the decision because they don’t want to waste their character’s valuable time.

      Personally, I think there needs to be more “carousing”-related options that don’t suck, so that people have a good fallback if they can’t decide what to do. I remember being annoyed that my only real options (in 5e) were “go to church for very little benefit”, “get super drunk and gamble and probably get thrown in jail”, or “get a job that exactly covers your living expenses, effectively just wasting time”.

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