This is part 22 of 23 of the series: Hacking New Rules

Crafting in the Raw

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This damned crafting thing.

Honestly, the crafting thing isn’t the hard part. Once I came to terms with the fact that I essentially just have to let players buy custom equipment with resources earned through play, I was pretty good. Because now it’s just a matter of a systematic approach that can hang off of the existing systems in D&D and Pathfinder. Because now it’s just coming up with the system and then doing a lot of math.

No, the problem is the feedback and the arguments and the discussions. You know, all the crap that comes from designing something publicly for the internet instead of just quietly toiling away and then one day announcing you have a system for everyone to rip apart without trying it once at the table. Now, to be clear, I don’t mind discussion. I don’t mind feedback. I thrive on argument. The problem is you can only have constructive discussion, feedback, and arguments if there’s actually a commitment to being constructive and if you at least agree on the goal.

And on that front, we have a problem. See, I THOUGHT I spelled out my goals clearly. I THOUGHT that was kind of the point of the thousands of words that came before. But I GUESS I didn’t. Because damn has the feedback and argument and discussion been exhausting. But, here’s the thing, I’m not going to comment on any of it. I don’t think that’s constructive. The only thing I will say is that “yes, every solution is easy and obvious after someone meticulously spells out the entire problem and all of the constraints the solution must meet.” If I get one more e-mail from people telling me how simple and obvious the system is, I’m going to start beating people unconscious with a copy A Thousand and One Craft Projects for a Rainy Day.

What I am going to do, though, is make really sure you understand exactly what the hell I’m trying to accomplish here before I go any further. Because, there’s a lot of people who are not only not on the same page as me, but they are in a completely different library in a foreign country that speaks a different language.

The End Result of All of this Crap

When I say I want to design a crafting system for D&D, what do you think I mean? And let’s just stick with D&D for the moment. I’ll get back to Pathfinder later. Well, as I’ve already spelled out, I’m designing a system whereby players can spend resources they earn in the course of their adventures to customize their characters’ equipment or to acquire new equipment that would otherwise be unavailable. That part is obvious. But that’s also only the surface answer.

Let’s look at treasure and equipment acquisition in D&D for an example of the deeper answer. What does that system look like? Well, first, it’s got the resource itself. That’s money. Cash. Coins. Dough. Moolah. Loot. Spondulicks. Lucre. Dinero. Second, it’s got the stuff the players can buy. Weapons and armor and toolkits and animals and inn rooms and meals and spellcasting services and all that other crap. And it’s got all of that organized on a convenient list. But is that all? No. If you duck into the DMG, you have treasure tables. Those tell the GM how much treasure to give out for each encounter or over the course of an adventure or whatever. Yeah, D&D’s are kind of loose, but they are there. But even that’s not all. You also have costs for items the PCs can’t buy, but which some GMs might allow them to buy or sell at their discretion. That is to say, you’ve got suggested magic item costs. And that’s also not all. Because you’ve also got alternate uses for money as well. You’ve got a bunch of big-ticket cost sinks that might serve as the focus of a campaign or side activity or whatever. Costs like building castles or running businesses or constructing airships. And on top of that, cost also serves as a soft limit on certain things. For example, there’s spells that require costly components or costly focuses or whatever. Those are a balancing factor.

Even though I’ve criticized D&D 5E for not doing much with money and being all loosey-goosey about anything it does do with money, it still has a very complex system around money. And that system is designed around delivering a particular play experience. Obviously, first-level characters aren’t supposed to have full plate armor and, a quick glance at the suggested treasure progression tells you that castles aren’t low-tier purchases. And even though magical items aren’t supposed to be bought and sold, they still might be. And because magical items are expected to have limited availability based on level – that is, no third-level character with a +3 flametongue greatsword – those costs tie into that. And those costs also tie into the treasure tables so that a GM – or adventure designer – who just follows the guidelines won’t end up accidentally giving the party enough gold to arm themselves with a bunch of +3 flametongue greatswords if he DOES allow them to buy magical items.

Now, I am not going to argue about the quality of the balancing system and the guidelines in D&D. I’m just pointing out they are there. And they are there to give the GM some guidelines. As long as the GM sticks to what the DMG advises, the expected play experience probably won’t get broken. At least, that’s what D&D promises.

Why am I explaining this?

Well, because I’m not just designing a simple craft system I can use with my own discretion at my own table. That is NOT what I promised. I promised a system that any reasonably GM and group of players can use in their game without demanding too much extra work. Or too much effort. And the amount of discretion such a system is allowed to rely upon is pretty small. But then, a lot of people seem to have no idea of the difference between GM discretion and just asking the GM to make up half the damned system himself.

In D&D, for example, if a player suggests an unusual course of action, the GM can use their discretion to determine which ability score governs the action, whether a proficiency modifier for a particular tool or skill is appropriate, and whether to apply any bonuses or penalties to the roll. The GM can also decide whether the action is the sort of thing that can be done in a combat round. And the GM can decide if the action requires special training. And so on. That’s GM discretion.

GM discretion involves providing a set of useful tools, instructions for how to use those tools, and guidelines for how far to bend those tools in unusual circumstances. D&D, for example, very strongly guides you to restrict bonuses and penalties to plus or minus two or use Advantage and Disadvantage. It tells you what range DCs should exist in. It defines the Ability Scores and the skills and the lines between them. The number of situations in which a GM has to invent anything out of whole cloth is vanishingly small. Which is good because – whatever you say about your own personal preference which I don’t care to hear anyway – most GMs don’t want to be asked to make up anything out of nothing. They want guidelines. They want tools. And most importantly, they want to know they won’t break the expected play experience by using their discretion.

Yes yes, “not all GMs,” shut up. The thing is when you’re writing for the biggest possible group of GMs, you don’t write for the exceptions. You write for the most.

So, it’s not enough to just say “okay, here’s are the ingredients and here are the recipes and here’s what you have to do to turn one into the other.” There’s all sorts of things that already exist in D&D that a crafting system has to hang off of. And I – yes, I’m talking specifically about ME and the way I’M designing this crap – and I don’t have the luxury of patching any holes with “well, the GM will figure it out.” Basically, the crafting system I design has to be as rigorous as anything that already exists in D&D. And it has to be as integrated into D&D as everything else that exists. Insofar as that’s possible.

If a GM is making an adventure for four, second-level PCs and includes an encounter in a volcanic cave with three magmin, exactly what crafting resources should that GM include in the adventure for the PCs to find? And when the players gather up those resources, exactly what can they make? And how many? And if the same adventure involves a non-combat encounter for which the party earns treasure, should the party also earn crafting resources? What resources? How many? And if the PCs sell those resources rather than use them, how much are they worth? And if the PCs come up short and what to buy some resources to finish a crafting project, how much do those resources cost? Are they even available? At what level are what resources available? Can the GM substitute resources for treasure when creating the adventure? What resources are appropriate?

You can’t ask the GM to make up the answers. At the very least, you need to provide guidelines. Strong guidelines. But, honestly, most of those questions should have pretty precise answers. And absolutely none of the answers to any of those questions can disrupt the expected play experience promised in the core rules. Which is to say, you can’t let players get a hold of items that the game wouldn’t want them to have to begin with. No +3 flametongue greatswords at fifth level and no plate armor at first level. But that’s not the only disruption. The disruption isn’t just about balance. You also can’t change what the game is about.

For example, the game can’t become about grinding or farming resources any more than the game should ever be about slaughtering hundreds of boars just to earn XPs. An adventure can be about gathering resources for a particular item, sure. But gathering resources is not, in itself, an adventure. And if there is an adventure about gathering resources, it has to include appropriate encounters for which the resources are the reward. Just like if there’s an adventure about finding treasure.

Moreover, the game cannot become about running a potion shop or magical item business. So, however you balance the costs of everything, you cannot let the PCs show any sort of substantial profit from making magical items. The items are valuable because they are useful to the PCs. They can’t just buy resources and sell the items they make. This is not Recettear. Or Moonlighter. Which is basically just Recettear without the charm and humor.

Absolutely every design decision has to keep all of this crap in mind. You can’t fall back on GM discretion except in small, manageable chunks that don’t matter too much mechanically. You have to be precise. You have to integrate your system into the existing game. You can’t change the intended play experience. Basically, the whole thing has to be a nearly effortless, plug-and-play system. A GM and group should be able to start using the system tomorrow and it should feat as seamlessly as is humanly possible into everything else without breaking anything and without putting any demands on the GM that the game doesn’t already demand of them.

And that is why I’ve had so many arguments. But that is also why a small number of you who have commented, e-mailed, or cornered me in a dark alley have shown some real, keen understanding of everything and should be damned proud of yourselves. Anyway, with that clarified, let’s talk about ingredients.

Having a System for Everything

Here’s what we decided about our crafting system: heroes would find ingredients during their adventures and they would be able to turn those ingredients into custom equipment and upgrades. And they’d have to do that away from the table. With no die rolls.

In the past two articles on this subject, I’ve talked about both sides of the concept of abstraction. Abstraction is basically about stripping away everything except the basest, rawest concepts and ideas at the heart of something. It’s like how George Carlin taught Keanu Reeves to see the world in code so that he could stop Skynet from sabotaging his history exam. And, the way we were doing it – because there’s different ways to abstraction – we were stripping away everything except the game’s mechanical systems to see what things already existed in the game that looked like crafting. And that helped us figure out what crafting had to do.

But abstraction also didn’t give us a very good answer when we tried to look at the other side of the problem. Instead, the obvious solution only jumped out when we looked at the shared hallucination that is a role-playing game. When we looked past the rules and mechanics and realized that crafting really is about taking raw materials and turning them into a useful, finished product. And if our system doesn’t feel like that’s what’s happening, it won’t FEEL like crafting.

See, a role-playing game exists in an odd middle ground between the fictional and the mechanical. There have to be rules because it’s a game, but those rules have to fit within a narrative framework, because it’s also an exercise in imagining hypothetical situations and playing with the outcomes. It’s okay if you just want to abbreviate that with “story.” I won’t yell at you.

Now, lots of board games have stories and lots of fictional, story universes have rules. But neither teeters on a knife’s edge of balancing the two quite like a table-top role-playing game. Yes, games like Pandemic and Arkham Horror and whatever other games you kids play these days tell stories. But the rules are highly mechanical and if there’s a rule that seems arbitrary and makes no sense in the universe, well, the game isn’t going to get broken. And most stories can get away with violations of their own rules. Even something as exacting as Star Wars can survive if Captain Picard defeats the Daleks by using the gamma override on deck B even if online blueprints clearly state the gamma override is on deck C. Or whatever. Yes, there ARE breaking points, but there’s a lot of bending before things break.

But we’re talking about a role-playing game. And that means we have to anchor our story in the rules and our rules in the story. They all have to work together. And there’s a lot of different brains that have to be synchronized in order for the game to remain consistent and engaging at the same time. That is to say, in order to make sense as a game and to be satisfying as a story. The players have to understand the world to visualize it and to make good choices and they have to see how the rules work in order to make good choices. And they can’t be asked to resolve conflicts between the two because they won’t know how to react. And the GM also has to understand all of that. But he also has to resolve conflicts between the two. So, does the adventure designer. He has to figure out how to use the mechanical systems to represent the story he’s trying to tell without one tripping over the other. And he has to avoid leaving any conflicts between the two for the hapless GM to resolve. And at the top of all of this is the game designer. The game designer has to create a system of rules and a fictional world that mesh together with a minimum of conflicts and provide enough information that adventure designers and GMs can use the system to tell stories and run games and resolve conflicts as they arise and make things as easy for their players as possible.

And one of the ways to pull that crap off is for the game designer to use a systemic approach. A systemic approach is a way of seeing the game in an in-between state, somewhere between the illusion of the story and the mechanics. It’s about coming up with ways to describe the fictional stuff in your world in a way that defines how it mechanically interacts. And then using those interactions to design the systems. In a sense, it’s kind of like coming up with a series of metarules. The rules under the rules. And then building the rules in terms of those metarules.

For example, let’s say you’re designing a magic system. And you define this attack spell: fireblast. It does 10 damage to any target it hits. Of course, in the fiction of the game, it’s a big, powerful blast of fire. But it still just does 10 damage. That’s the rule. Everything else is just imagination and graphics and stuff. Easy peasy.

Now, later on, you have a frost dragon in the game. And you’d like clever players to be able to do bonus damage against the frost dragon if they are smart enough to throw fire at it. So, you add a little note to the frost dragon that says, “and if it gets hits by the fireblast spell, it takes 20 damage instead of 10.” Still easy right?

Okay, look, we’re modern gamers and I’m not going to pretend we don’t see the problem we’re careening toward with that sort of approach to design. Every time we want to add another ice creature, we need a special exception. And every time we want to add a fire creature who is immune to fireblast, we have to add a special exception to the creature. And every time we want to add a new fire spell, we have to add a note to every ice and fire creature that they are also vulnerable to THAT new spell.

Blah blah blah “fire” descriptor. Yeah. We all saw it coming.

But that’s the origin of systemic design. And honestly, it’s a direct consequence of role-playing games that systemic design is even a thing. Once upon a time, a fireball spell really did just do a certain amount of damage. Mechanically, that was the begin and the end of fireball. But there was also a GM and players. And they had brains. They KNOW what fire is. And how it works. And so, it was only a matter of time before someone at some table asked if they could set a pile of oily rags on fire with a fireball spell. Or if they could increase the damage by dousing a target in oil first. And so on.

Systemic design is really just about seeing that crap coming and being ready for it. At least, in table-top RPGs, it about seeing that crap coming in places where human brains can’t be relied upon. Think about it. GMs know how fire and oily rags work. You can trust a GM to figure out how the two interact. But what about divine magical energy and devils from the lower planes.

See, systemic design is all about defining how things interact. When a thing that is fire hits a thing that is flammable, what happens? The difference between a table-top RPG and a computer system is that in a TTRPG, a human brain already knows how fire and flammable things interact and it can project that understanding onto the game. A computer doesn’t know anything. It doesn’t know what fire is. Or what flammable is. But it does know that anything flammable that touches fire becomes fire. As long as it’s programmed to know that anyway.

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The funny thing, though, is that RPG designers are very inconsistent about systemic design. Yeah, sure, when it’s about damage types and vulnerabilities and stuff, they are all over that. And when it comes to weapon types and proficiencies and character abilities, there’s usually some systemic stuff too. Because it’s an easy way to group stuff together. But then you look at some places where good, general rules about how things work and interact would be really really nice, and lots of games are all “fuck if I know” about them. And D&D 5E – which we’re looking at first for the whole crafting thing – goes that route a lot.

But there are actually a lot of hidden systemic designs in D&D. At least, there seem to be. Take, for example, weapons. A weapon can be ranged or melee. It can be simple or martial. It has a specific damage code. And it can have a number of properties. Now, that’s not the systemic part. The systemic part is that there are actually patterns to how all of those things interact.

For example, simple weapons do 1d6 damage and martial weapons do 1d8 damage. If the weapon is a light or finesse weapon, it does a smaller die. If the weapon is a heavy or two-handed weapon, it does a larger die. Ranged weapons do a larger die worth of damage if they have the loading property. Most of the weapons are consistent with those patterns and if you look carefully, you can match up other patterns to the way the damage die is set. And, of course, there’s a few weapons that break the patterns. But the patterns are there.

That’s an example of systemic design. I think. I can’t prove that the designers actually designed the keywords and damage stats first, then described weapons in terms of keywords, then figured out what the damage die should be. But I’m pretty sure that was part of the process. And that means a few things. It means the designers can add new weapons to the game easily just by defining its traits, damage die, and so on. And they can keep the weapons in balance by following the same patterns. And I, as a very clever GM, can set the stats for any new weapon I want to add simply by following the patterns already established.

And that’s the key to designing ingredients for D&D crafting. First, come up with ways to define the ingredients that tell you everything you need to know mechanically about that ingredient. Then, use those descriptors to actually define the ingredients.

…Or Don’t

At this point we can imagine a system in which an ingredient has some number of properties, right? For example, let’s just throw some random words together for an ingredient: organic, quickening, dry, holy. I just threw out four words. Don’t think too much about them. And we can look at those descriptors and decide that obviously describes an angel bone. Bones are organic. Angels are holy and life-giving. And bones are dry. Blood would be organic and wet. Doesn’t matter.

And once we have a list of descriptors, a list of traits, there’s no end to the ingredients we can create. Heck, I could have a different organic, quickening, dry, holy ingredient. Powdered Eden-tree root. And angels can yield up organic, quickening, wet, holy stuff too. That’s angel blood. And this is where things rapidly get out of control.

One of the complaints with ingredient systems is that they have too many damned ingredients. Pages and pages and pages that read like:

blood, dragon, blue
blood, dragon, green
blood, dragon, red
blood, dragon, fairy
blood, dragon, turtle
blood, dragon, -ette

And the problem with assigning each one a bunch of arbitrary qualities is that every time the players find some red dragon blood, they have to record it as:

red dragon blood (organic, fire, wet, draconic)

That gets to be a giant pain in the ass. And every craftsperson’s equipment list becomes unmanageably long and confusing. And we don’t want to do that.

Now, we could always go the “let the GM make it up if they want to” route. Basically, that’s the Grade X Art Object route. Mechanically, the players find a Grade 1 Art Object which is worth 50 g.p. because all grade 1 art objects are worth 50 g.p. They don’t have to care what it is. Neither does the GM. But the GM can decide it’s a jade harmonica or one of those hangy-ball desk sculptures or whatever.

But there are two POTENTIAL problems with that route. The first is that you make it so abstract that it stops feeling like crafting. Remember, abstraction ruins the connection between the rules and the fiction. And many crafting systems have failed for being too abstract to feel like crafting. The second is that that Grade X Art Object only works because there’s only two things – Gems and Art Objects – and there’s only a few grades of each. So, they can be lumped together easily. If everything can have between one and four keywords and there’s, say, fifteen different keywords, there’s 54,240 possible items in that system. The odds of finding two that are the same and just being able to increase a quantity are, literally, one in fifty thousand.

But Systemic!

On the other hand, with the right combination of descriptors, you can avoid those two potential pitfalls and you can use them as the basis to define a whole system. Because, after all, now all you’re doing is defining interactions. And you can build on those interactions. For example, you can decide the recipe for a martial bladed weapon – a sword, say – is five metal ingots. To make a magical sword, you need to add one magical metal ingot. To make a magical flaming sword, you need one magical ingot and one fiery ingot. Or, in theory, one fiery magical ingot. I’m just giving an example. That isn’t quite how it has to work. But notice how there’s a logic to it. Even though you might have a list of recipes for swords, magical swords, and flaming magical swords, the recipes build off of each other. Scrolls might always require one unit of magical fluid as the basis for the ink. Magical qualities can be added via other ingredients, but only certain ones. Like, you can add bone to ink because it can be powdered and dissolved. But you can’t add animal skin because it doesn’t powder and dissolve properly.

There’s a lot of advantage to that. It makes it easier for players to understand, remember, or guess at recipes for items they want to make. Or to understand how certain ingredients might upgrade certain items. And it makes it easier for the GM to invent new items. Or to adjudicate experiments or alternate formulas. But we’re just going to keep that crap in the back of our head for now. Because we’re not figuring out recipes yet. We just want to know what our ingredients look like? What are they?

What Do Ingredients Have to Do?

What we need to do is figure out how we’re going to define ingredients in mechanical terms. In systemic terms. And to do that we need to figure out what qualities need to be defined for our ingredients.

First, if we want to avoid the level of abstraction ruining the feeling of crafting, we need a simple way to say exactly what the ingredient is in the fiction. An obvious way to say what the character is actually seeing when they look at the ingredient in question. Dry and organic doesn’t say anything. So, our descriptor must unambiguously define the item in the fictional game world without being so specific that we need a thousand descriptors.

Second, the descriptors have to hook into the adventure design tools. That is to say, somehow, the descriptors have to say how the players might acquire the ingredient. Is it the sort of thing that might be found in the environment? Is it something that would be included in a treasure horde? Is it something that can be harvested from monsters? That’s going to be important because we’re going to have to tell GMs when and where to make these ingredients available. And if we’re systematic about it now, that can save us a lot of work. Because we’ll be able to use general rules.

Now, a lot of people have thus far assumed that all crafting ingredients should be harvested from monsters. But there is no reason to assume that. PCs come across lots of crap in their adventures. Not every treasure comes out of a monster’s pocket. Some stuff should be harvestable from monsters. But others should be part of the adventuring environment like any other treasure. Breaking off an exposed magical mineral from a vein of ore is no different from finding a gem in a treasure chest. Of course, we will have to work out the specific details of how items can be recognized in the adventuring environment and how they might be harvested. But that’ll come later. And we’ll make sure we don’t turn our PCs into miners and flower-pickers instead of adventurers.

Also, remember that it’s not enough to say, “this thing comes from monsters and can be found in any adventure that includes that monster,” or “that thing comes from veins and can only be found in natural caves,” or whatever. We also have to say which heroes are allowed to find what ingredients. That is to say, if the adventure is meant for third-level heroes, we don’t want any ingredients that can be used to make rings of wishes. And that brings us around to third…

Third, the descriptors have to tell us how the ingredient interacts with the other systems in the game. Specifically, we have to be able to decide how much the ingredient is worth. That way, we can balance it against other treasures, and we can allow players to buy and sell it.

Finally, the descriptors have to define limits and restrictions for their uses. Remember, that’s important. If you can just use any ingredient for anything, first, you don’t have a system, you have a blank piece of paper. Second, the system doesn’t feel like crafting anymore. We’ve talked about that already. Specific ingredients must be used to produce specific things. And the descriptors must provide enough hooks that we can build good recipes for various items around them. If all the recipes look the same so that all magical weapons have the same recipes, that’s kind of dull.

Drumroll Please…

So, how are we going to define ingredients in my system? At least in D&D? Because remember, we’ll come back to Pathfinder. The specifics are just different enough that each needs its own system. As you’ll see.

First of all, every ingredient can be described by a minimum of two and a maximum of three descriptors. Three is a good top number. But each of those descriptors does a specific job. This isn’t just combinatorics here. None of that 50,000 combos horsecrap. Each one does a specific job.

The second descriptor is a very simple one. Yes, I’m skipping the first one for a reason. The second descriptor describes exactly what the ingredient is. Like, in the world. Basically, it classifies the ingredient. And that becomes a pretty loaded descriptor. Because it defines where the ingredient can be found and how it can be harvested and all the crap. And to keep things under control, we’re going with two hands of them. Ten total classifications. As a general rule, it’s always good to stick with a number of options that be counted out on one hand.

First, because we’ve got weapons and armor going, we need to cover that stuff. Metal, hide, wood, and bone. That’s the stuff you make weapons out of. Next, we need stuff that comes from monsters. Bone and hide, obviously. But we can also have blood and flesh. Stuff that grows naturally includes wood, already, but we haven’t covered herbs. Those are separate from wood. And then we can take minerals out of the ground. But, that list doesn’t quite do it.

First, we want stuff to be recoverable from pretty much every monster. Even the ones that don’t have bodies. Where are you going to get your good acid-based components if you can’t harvest oozes? And what about all that good stuff that comes from purely magical or incorporeal creatures? Sparkly ghost dust or whatever. I don’t know how you harvest it, but that’s not my problem. So, what if we broaden blood to be any sort of fluid. It doesn’t even have to be a vital fluid. And then we can add essence or ephemera or some crap like that to account for ectoplasmic residue or soul or fairy dust or whatever.

Second, both metals and minerals need some expanding. See, you don’t make rings out of iron and you don’t make swords out of gold. Admittedly, that’s a flavor problem. But there is also a mechanical problem here. And that mechanical problem is the cost of the stuff. See, in the end, we only have three descriptors to somehow figure out a cost. And this descriptor, the actual type of the stuff, should be pretty central to figuring out the cost. Precious metals and base metals should have very different costs. So, it’s necessary to break them down. Likewise, we could break down mineral and gemstone for the same reason.

But now we have just a few too many things. And I really want to stick to the “ten types” rule. So, if we have a way to handle blood, bone, and hide, do we need flesh? I mean, yes, I know it covers vital organs and vital organs are a really evocative crafting component, but fluid covers more work and hide and bone pretty much have to exist. Hide is necessary for any non-metal armor. Bone is necessary because some monsters are nothing but bones, various items can be made of bone, either whole or powdered, and because it also covers things like shells, horns, antlers, and all that other bony crap.

So, the list of types of items runs like this: metal, precious metal, wood, herb, hide, bone, fluid, mineral, gem, and essence.

Now for the first descriptor. That second descriptor, the item type, defines the item in terms of the world and also in terms of what recipes it can be used in and also helps set a base cost. But we’re ignoring something pretty big. We’re ignoring the “level” of the item. We have to be able to match up these items to specific experience levels, CRs of monsters, and to the power level of the magic items they can create. Fortunately, though, D&D has already provided us with a list of descriptors.

The DMG defines magic items as being common, uncommon, rare, very rare, and legendary. And better than that, it prescribes a specific cost range and a range of levels at which each of those items become available. And since we’re going to hook our ingredient system into all of that crap, we can save ourselves a lot of work just by using that same descriptor.

And already we have a pretty decent system: common bone might be skeleton bones or deer antlers. It’s any bone that comes from a CR 1 to CR 3 creature. After all, that’s the range at which PCs encounter common items. Rare ephemera might come from a CR 5 fire elemental. The eyeball fluid from a beholder would be very rare fluid. And so on. And already we have a very easy way to go through the list of all the monsters and say what should come from what monsters. And it’s already aligned with monster CRs.

So, what about that third descriptor. Well, so far, we just have a bunch of stuff. Basic ingredients with a rarity. And while it’s easy enough to say that a +2 sword, as a rare magical bladed martial weapon, might require five ingots of rare metal – or however we finally work out the formulas – shouldn’t most magical stuff require a little more than that? I mean, shouldn’t a flaming sword need something that has some flash and sizzle?

Any ingredient might have a special quality. And those qualities are keyed to various magical effects. So, your magical flaming sword might be mostly just rare metal, it needs at least some fiery ingredient to bring it to life. So, your flaming +2 sword might be made of five ingots of rare metal and one unit of rare fiery fluid. Say the blood of a young red dragon. Obviously, again, we’ll work out the details of the formulas as time goes on.

So, now, the party might stumble on common healing flowers, or harvest rare acidic fluid from an ooze, or discover some very rare icy gemstone in a vein of minerals in a frozen mine. As for the list of possible qualities?

Well, we don’t want too long a list of traits. Otherwise, things will just balloon out of control. But we don’t want to pin ourselves down too much right now. Because there’s a lot of magical items we’ll ultimately need to define. And other magical effects we might want to consider. After all, we should always keep one eye toward extending our system. We could hang a system off this like some kind of metamagical material components system wherein, if wizards expend the right components when casting the right spells, they can have enhanced effects.

For now, it’s a good idea to keep a working list of possible qualities. And for mine, I’m using the damage types from D&D 5E along with healing, blessing, corrupting, and summoning. Those seem to be the basic sorts of magical “energies” at play in the world. Off the top of my head anyway. But that list won’t be finalized until we figure out exactly what traits we need.

And that’s it. That’s ingredients. Three dimensions: rarity, which is hooked directly into the rarity, value, and CR guidelines already in place; type, which defines what the ingredient is and therefore explains where it should be placed in the game world; and special quality, which provides the differentiation needed so that items with different qualities require different ingredients.

And that’s it. Simple. Right?

59 thoughts on “Crafting in the Raw

  1. How do you plan to reconcile the desire to provide GMs with a crafting system that doesn’t require them to exercise too much discretion with the desire to limit the number of qualities (i.e., damage types, healing, etc) available for crafting?

    I ask because I imagine players will assume the crafting process available to them is the same process that was used to create the magic items that are otherwise found in the game. The list of magic items in the DMG is fairly large, and they have all kinds of different properties. If the properties are specific and limited, the pairings might seem counter-intuitive. I.e., though you’re clearly just brainstorming above, what property makes an Invisibility potion? If the properties are general enough that 10 could accommodate all the magic items in the DMG, that could also appear overly forced. It seems like a tricky balance to strike.

    Alternatively, perhaps the crafting system available to the players can only create certain types of items, not the full range available in the DMG. I could see this easily being applied to individual games; the DM just says, “Sorry players, the means used by ancient races to create many items has been lost to time, but crafters have come up with these new formulas.” But again if it’s supposed to by systemic and link up cleanly with the setting-neutral core rulebooks, this might be more difficult, and it might be less feasible to divorce crafting from the existing magic items lists.

    Food for thought.

    • I’m guessing you decided to go with “healing, blessing, corrupting, and summoning” instead of schools of magic is ambiguity. For example, it makes sense that “essence of ghost” should be necromancy. But it also makes sense it should be able to make a potion of invisibility (illusion) or a potion of etherealness (conjuration?)

    • Well without having to create too many descriptors wholesale. you could also borrow the names from the schools of magic for use in the third property, in place of Angry’s 4 additions since there is a lot of overlap in the two.

      this does balloon our list to 21 (20 if we combine necrotic and necromancy) entries which is a bit large but does come with the advantage of using only keywords that already exist in the game

      Abjuration, Acid, Bludgeoning, Cold, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Fire, Force, Illusion, Lightning, Necrotic, Necromancy, Piercing, Poison, Psychic, Radiant, Slashing,
      Transmutation, Thunder,

      This would cover a much broader spread of situations i think (at least it better for the complexity cost)

      invisibility potions could be made with Invisible Stalker Blood (uncommon, fluid, illusion)
      +weapons could be made with material with the Evocation property.

    • The problem with deciding on the qualities is that they need to reflect both the crafting and the gathering.
      Both what you make with it, and where you get it from.

      The crafting side leans toward damage types or magic schools, but the gathering side leans toward creature types or terrain types.

      If you can’t reconcile them, you might have to just decide which is more important.

      Personally I wouldn’t add the extra four that Angry suggested (I think they already overlap enough with the damage types), but I might add Earth, Water and Air instead.

    • The answer is that PCs are not craftsmen. Or at least not master craftsmen whose primary job is crafting. Some items are beyond the abilities of someone who spends more time adventuring than making stuff. PCs with a craftsman background or training can make some things, but not all things. The GM is allowed, and even encouraged, to say “you can’t craft a Staff of Power with the basic crafting rules; that’s something you need to Quest for to earn the knowledge and items necessary.”

      Also, ‘blessing’ is easy enough to abstract into “any beneficial/buff status”, while ‘corrupting’ is the same for debuffs.

  2. Adding this because I legitimately think this might be helpful to some people. Not intended as a “My way is better that yours” or “You’re wrong, here’s how to really do it”. I think your system has a lot of merit, and, once fully fleshed out, will be an awesome tool that I will likely start using.

    I currently use a system based off of the types of monsters and tiers of play. It can easily be extended to not just monsters, but I rarely feel the need to do so. There are 14 types of monsters from Aberration to Undead. I tend to take out humanoids cause some people get squeamish about that, but it can be left in. So 13 or 14 types. 4 tiers of play based on player level/monster cr. 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20.

    This gives me 52-56 crafting materials. Enough to fit on one chart. It’s also easily organized with the Tier 1, 2, 3, or 4 system. Which fits well with the Uncommon, Rare, Very Rare, and Legendary. I leave out common because well… they’re common. I assume that if the game is high magic enough to include a crafting system that common magic items are just purchasable easily.

    I like this because it allows me freedom with selecting or presenting things. You want to produce a Very Rare item? You’ll need an appropriate Tier 3 crafting component as well as half the money for an item of that tier. The money goes to the other goods and services used in the crafting.

    Obviously this is much more bare bones than what you’re putting together. But it’s pretty quick and efficient and doesn’t cause a lot of muss or fuss with the players. I figure people might make use of it until yours is done. If not, that’s ok too. Thanks for all the hard work Angry.

  3. My take on environmental ingredient gathering would be to tie it to the time pool mechanic ( ).
    so maybe it takes a chunk of time to gather all of those ethereal daisies (uncommon, herb, psychic) and would add dice to the pool, or it would be very loud and draw a lot of attention to try and break that burning opal (very rare, gem, fire) free from the cave wall in the dragons lair and mean that the pool gets rolled.

    As always great work Angry.

  4. Brilliant as always, Angry.
    A lot of people were indeed very close, but this just fits together so elegantly.

    I can’t wait to actually use this in a game! 🙂

  5. Very simple. I had forgotten the importance of using, as much as possible, existing terminology from the system, so using the magic item rarity values was a nice eureka moment.

  6. One thing that I missed from this system was an association with the creature type. Other than that, nice job!

  7. As Angry once said, “Look, you wanted to see how the sausage was made. You can’t stop me while I’m still slaughtering the pig, the cow, and the cat and tell me ‘that pile of dead animals doesn’t look anything like a sausage.'”

  8. A mechanic to avoid “harvesting” and “mining” and generally “punching wood” could be borrowed from the video game of the name “MINESHAFT” in which killing or grabbing the target does not necessarily renderer the expected ingredient. So killing the red dragon does not give the rare fire liquid (three categories) everytime. Easily explained by fouled or substandard ingredients and/or improper collection methods. And there’s your skill: Identifying and Collecting Crafting Items. Speaking to quantities: not all the blood is good, only the blood from the fire breath organ of the dragon will do, and the dragon can yield only one unit of the ingredient. Now we don’t need to fret over how much rare fire liquid the dragon can yield. Just like shell cordovan leather comes from the rump of a horse—there is only so much, you have to collect it properly, and even at that it might not be good enough to make the grade.
    Now red dragons can sleep on their pile of treasure a little more soundly.

    • Not sure if making up new skills is the way to go. If you want that kind of uncertainty I’d suggest Nature/Survival checks for gathering from plants and beasts, Arcana checks for gathering from unnatural or supernatural things. Maybe Religion for gleaning stuff from divine entities. As for actual crafting, your character probably already has proficiency with the necessary tools – blacksmith’s, alchemist’s, calligrapher’s, etc.

    • While I like the idea of tying ingredient gathering to skill checks, because it rewards character creation choices, it might actually make the ‘farming’ problem worse. Humans are more likely to keep doing something when the outcome is uncertain, which is why many video games have begun using the loot crate model. So by making the resource gain uncertain, players may be more likely to farm monsters.
      Let’s say your players need one rare fire liquid for their Awesome Ring of Being Pretty Hot. If all red dragons drop exactly one unit of rare fire liquid, you can have an epic adventure about seeking out a dragon. But if the outcome is uncertain, they have to keep seeking out and farming these dragons until the dice are on their side.

      Unless your talking about the GM deciding that this dragon is spoiled, and this over isn’t, but that would probably feel like a screwjob

      • I hear what you are saying. I guess i’m trying to avoid the video game effect of “monster you killed disappears in a cloud of smoke and look! There is a vial of dragon blood on the ground. Or ghost bone. Or angel’s food cake. Or an Orc tooth. Whatever. I want make to reward a crafter for gathering a resource or treasure and to avoid every creature providing a crafting resource without an effort above slaying the creature. Also i was seeking a way to define a “crafting resource unit”. How many units for a ring of fire protection? One. Flaming sword? Three. Armor? Five. The skill helps to define the resource, the units, and how much from which monster. More than a nature check would provide. We are designing a whole, new system. A new skill and kit isn’t too much to expect! (And now the crafter knows Salamanders provide twice as many goo units—stronger tie to elemental plane of fire. Sleep on, Smaug…)

        • Making a new skill might conflict with Angry’s goal of being as plug-and-play as possible. If you make a new skill, first of, you can only use the system in a new game, or have to switch around skills mid-game. You also have to go through every class and decide which ones can choose this skill and which ones can’t, and you might have to make some new backgrounds as well. That’s if you can limit it to one skill. Mining ore, gathering herbs, skinning a dragon and harvesting Beholder Blood are very different skillsets.
          Having it be a tool proficiency (or several) is more reasonable. The tools in 5e are not that well implemented in the first place, and at DM’s discretion you can learn them during downtime (PHB 187).

          I do agree that there should be more to gathering resources than slaying the monster. But I don’t know if an ability check to see if you get resources is the way to go. It doesn’t really drive interesting decisions, it’s just die rolling. Maybe skinning a Fiery Dire Rat takes half an hour, but you can try to speed it up? So if the skill check is good, you only spend 15 minutes, but if you fail the skin is ruined. But then we get the problem of time not being a resource in DnD, unless the DM makes it so.

          Maybe Angry won’t have any skill checks or costs involved in gathering resources, and have all the interesting decisions be in getting to the resource (aka the adventure) and in the crafting. Or maybe he’ll do what he always does and come up with some genius solution that solves all the problems 🙂

  9. “Ephemera” is a way more evocative word than “essence”.

    “Fluid” is also, ironically, kinda dry. Maybe, like, “ichor”? That’s a word with a lot of good fantasy weighw, but without a lot of baggage. It’s definitely some sort of bodily fluid, but since it’s not real, it can be any sort of fluid.

    • As seen on Angry’s calendar design threads, jargon for jargon’s sake does not add to gameplay, only to complexity.

    • Personally, I think I’d classify blood and other fluids under “essence”, greeting up a category slot for organs. That would include things like goblin meat and basilisk eyes for their nice evocativeness.

  10. At the risk of misunderstanding what Angry said in the preamble, there’s one part of this system that still bothers me: the scope. What items are on the table for crafting, and which are not? This really matters, at least from a “plug-and-play” system to drop into 5e or the like. To keep my explanation short, crafting systems that allow players to make permanent magic items or items that create a permanent bonus are usurping the role of the XP system or the treasure system. If you consider 5e (somewhat) tuned towards a certain math or mechanical cohesion, the game already assumes a certain numerical progression because of leveling and treasure “finding” based on level. Crafting magic items, by its very nature, increases the mechanical progression of the characters, unless a DM specifically reduces the magical treasure found (thereby making crafting “necessary” to make the numbers correct). A DM could just up the encounter CR to account for this, but now we are changing the fundamental balance of the system.

    It seems to me that, in order to get this right, crafting needs to be limited in scope and effect, as well as in ingredients, to preserve the mechanics. Otherwise, the system is not “plug-and-play.” Perhaps temporary magic items (one use, expiring at the end of day, advantages on only a certain creature, etc.) would do less to unbalance the math…

    • The DM maintains complete control over the distribution of magical items at all times, just that some come in the form of ingredients. The players will never go out to murder the first 12 Fire Elementals they find to harvest “Elemental Essence.” The DM will allow one Fire Elemental to contain usable elemental essence when he or she decides to give one to the players and any other Fire Elementals they come across will have ruined essences (or none). So that solves the problem of players being able to manipulate the system to gain unreasonable amounts of magic items.

      As to adding extra magic items to the loot system, the DMG doesn’t have any kind of rigid rules on the amount of magic items players get. The loot tables often list 1d3 or 1d4 magic items, and if giving out 4 items to one group and 1 item to another group doesn’t break the system, then I wouldn’t think that handing out an extra magical ingredient would ruin the game. If you hand out one magical ingredient on average per treasure hoard, and make it so that consumable items require 1-2 ingredients and permanent items require 3-5, you aren’t really adding a ton of new items. And if you control what recipes they have access to, you can make sure that they are getting items like Boots of the Winterland instead of Brooms of Flying or Plate Armor +2.

      • Perhaps my point was made inarticulately, so let me expand on it. Angry’s stated goal, in my understanding, was to create as system that worked with the mechanics of the game as it is, rather than requiring a re-write of the mechanics, adventures (at one point he specifically mentions this desire to not force DMs to have to refigure published adventures), and math of the system. While not explicit in the DMG, 5e does have an expectation of magic items built into its math. You can see this on page 135 of Xanathar’s. So, even if you restrict your characters to +1 objects at first tier of crafting, you are adding a lot more +1s than the mechanics of the system were designed around. This means you can either change the awarded treasure or up the CRs to compensate, but you will have to change the math of the system to avoid it getting out of whack. So, unless you are just going to replace one type of magic (found with created) for another, this system is not a “plug-and-play” system. Adding magic items is the equivalent of increasing a character’s proficiency, attribute score, etc. There is no difference between gaining a level and getting a +1 item. A plus one is a plus one, regardless of where it comes from.

        This is even more so with Pathfinder, which has an even more explicit wealth by level…

        • Crafting exists as a means to allow players – who normally get no control whatsoever over anything but the most basic possible equipment they can obtain because the GM assigns all loot from randomized tables – to steer the development of their character to an extent. Loot tables given you six +1 daggers but not a single +1 flail? Fix that!

          Some players thrive on this sort of thing, and in fact some players NEED a level of input/direction/control over their gear to be fully satisfied with their character. Yeah, the game offers for randomly determining loot and gives a general sense of how much loot is appropriate at any given time, but unless your game is a low magic one specifically designed around magical equipment being extremely rare and esoteric, at some point a GM either needs to fudge the loot rolls or let those players that need to steer their equipment the way they steer their spell selection or other class feature choices find a way to do it.

          If you’re afraid of players breaking the system because they have the ability to pick their gear to a GM-controllable extent, run your encounters a little harder. if you’re running STRICTLY by the book and can’t figure out how to adjust encounters or loot drops to account for players being able to acquire basic magical equipment of their choice rather than your choice, then don’t use crafting rules of any sort. Simply run the module you’re working with as written and go. ANY hack will require someone to do some adjustment work; Angry’s just trying to make it as easy as possible while prototyping for his own game.

      • Or Angry can just control the number of Fire Elementals that the players fight before they enter the level range for the next tier of ingredients. The XP to level up, the XP per encounter at each level, and the number and type of treasures won from each encounter are all governed by meta-rules of varying explicitness. All that’s needed is some clever and attractive GMing sage to do the maths for you. Yes, the players might end up with the wrong materials and get 3 flaming swords instead of 1 sword and 6 potions, if one game has too many monsters, but that’s actually probably a slightly unusual game if it deviates too far from normal. And that’s also why players can buy and sell ingredients (at a loss so they only do if they really want to).

    • You make a good point Eirikrautha, and I have a feeling Angry is going to get around to addressing this in a later post. Maybe we can wait and see?

    • If the materials can be sold for gp, then you could just subtract their gp value from the loot.
      That way if players don’t want to interact with it the ingredients become essentially art objects.
      It’s not a perfect solution, but it is an easy one.

  11. From this, I think I have an idea of what crafting recipes/blueprints might look like. Whatever you decide quantities will look like, the bare minimum you’ll need are a “medium,” which determines what kind of item you’re making, and a “power element,” which determines what kind of effect it has. Some recipes might need extra components like a binding agent, solvent, or something else. Different materials could fill different needs for some items than others. Like, you could use bone as the medium for a spear, but maybe some potions could use powdered bonus as their power element.

    The part that’s beyond me is figuring out what you can make with those. I can see two approaches. One is making up a ton of prefab items and recipes, and that’s what you can make with crafting. The other one is saying that X material has Y effect of Z magnitude based on tier when used as an A component to make B type of item. The latter involves a lot more work at the developmental level, but I can see it being easier to add onto in the future and fun for players who are into experimentation.

    I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  12. I really like this system, the idea of a magic sword requiring five ingredients, some of which are rare metal ingots feels like exactly the right balance of abstraction to feel like crafting but not have to deal with the fact that a suit of armor weighs 55 pounds and a sword weighs 3 pounds. I keep thinking of notes for your system but by the time I write them out I’ve thought about it in a new way and figured out how your system already addresses my concern. Very clever stuff here.

    I’ve been working on my own non-magical crafting system to fill the gap between the items available for sale in the PHB and the magic items available in the DMG and it feels very compatible with your magical item crafting. I’ve been mostly focusing on armor and weapons since nearly every class except Wizards and Sorcerers are interesting in upgrading their equipment.

    So far I’ve got a list of rare materials and worked out most of their properties (example, adamantite weapons deal +1 damage and mithril weapons might either gain the Finesse or Light property) and a list of modifications the players can customize their equipment with such as Perfectly Balanced which would add the Thrown property or Grooved which would let a weapon hold more poison and impose some sort of penalty to the enemy’s saving throw. I haven’t really figured out the right gating method to limit what combinations a player can have yet though. I’d like a player to be able to create items that combine a rare substance and a customization early and let them combine additional modifications at higher levels but I don’t want the players rolling dice to see if they succeed or not at crafting. I’m thinking that items have an inherent DC to build, and each customization increases the DC by +2 and then use passive crafting scores to see if a player can build something. A mithril sword might have a DC of 13 but Barbed Wytchelm arrows with Grooved Alchemical Glass arrowheads would be a DC of 19.

    • Using static scores to limit what level of complexity you can or can’t craft, I think, is a rather good idea.

  13. I like the framework you’ve laid out, but I think you’ll need a more reliable way of gating access to over-powered items than just material rarity. For example, players could easily come across a recently-killed beholder with usable eye fluid.

    If you’re not already planning to do so, I suggest including a minimum level (or proficiency bonus) requirement on recipes, as well.

    • They can come across a recently deceased beholder with usable eye Helly if the DM puts it there, sure.

      If the DM us doibg things like that, though, I’m not sure why you’d think they wouldn’t just ignore minimum level.

      • There are plenty of story reasons why characters might come across resources that exceed their level – a dead, high-level creature was just one such example.

        Similar problems arise when you start to consider things like the max level of a creature that can be dispatched over the range of party sizes . For example, 5E CR guidelines suggest eight 5th-level characters can defeat a beholder (CR 13), while a party of just 3 5th-level characters would face similar difficulty taking on a CR 7 creature. That’s a pretty big spread in resource access.

        Given these parameters and Angry’s stated goal to deliver a drop-in system requiring minimum GM-discretion, I maintain that recipe-specific level requirements will make the system more robust.

        • That’s a valid point. If a large party can kill more advanced creatures, they would gain rare items earlier and thereby increase in power more quickly than a smaller group.

          Item rarity should not be dependant on group size.

    • “For example, players could easily come across a recently-killed beholder with usable eye fluid.”

      Yah it happens all the time.
      I could see it get real annoying to the GM when we keep stopping to cut out the heart of all the dead dragons we pass on the way to the next town or something.

  14. I like the system of three descriptors, but I’d change the third quality to something else. I’d suggest Rarity-Element-Form

    I think this works well for alchemy; I’d label things like “Common Fire Essence” or “Rare Void Gas” or “Uncommon Water Crystal”, where the first descriptor is rarity the second is element and the third is form.

    For smithing ingredients could be “Rare-Durable-Chunk” which describes adamantine, or “Rare-Light-Shard” which describes obsidian

  15. I’m partial to a categorizing system that follows the “opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun” order of the English language, but have settled on this triad: “Rarity-Essence-Form”.

    So alchemists tend to look for “Rare-Fire-Herb” because they need something with that description to create alchemist’s fire.

    And artificers look for “Uncommon-Ether-Gem” to incorporate into a blade to make a magical sword, using the gem as a “battery” of magic.

    I plan to experiment with the solution you suggested; looking forward to more articles on this 🙂

  16. I’m so, so angry right now. I was working on a similar system to yours, but I fell short on implementation.
    I wasn’t sure if I was on the right track, so I gave up after pages and pages of analysis, and I think I just got a bit lost in it.

    This definitely gives me hope though. Maybe I’m not an idiot after all.

    I’ll pick up my quill again and see if I can predict a bit of your next entry in crafting. I’m looking forward to it.

  17. I like where this is going, although I think I still prefer the idea of two special qualities per material.
    First reason, it establishes a choice. Use it to make A at the opportunity cost of B, or vice versa. Or make a specialized item AB at the risk of being overspecialized. Second reason, it forms a basis for adding unintended secondary abilities to items. I find these fun, from both sides of the table, and possibly worth the cost of making each entry slightly longer.

    I wonder what the results would be if, for a given recipe, only one of the materials had to meet the minimum rarity requirement, with the rest allowed to go one tier lower. This might be a solution if requiring a certain rarity across the board proves to be too grindy.

    Separating gems and precious metals is a good move. In addition to having a different function and value, they also count as trade goods, not subject to the usual ‘barter penalty’.

    • You can still have a lot of choices and unintended side effects from just one special quality per ingredient. The items effectively already have two qualities, one of which is the special quality, and the second of which is the form it takes (liquid, metal, herb). You have each magic item recipe require two (or more) properties, for example a Potion of Superior Healing requires a magical liquid and the healing property. If you happen to have a magical liquid that already has the healing property (Troll Ichor maybe?) then you are set, but if you have Beholder Eye Juice then you’ll need to add the Healing property to it, such as with magical herbs that have the healing type. If you have the Heart Blood of a Red Dragon, which is a magical liquid with the Fire quality, you could use it to create a Potion of Firebreathing, or add Giant Eagle Feathers to make a Potion of Flying, or save the Dragonblood to use with the Magical Metal Ingot to make a Flame Tongue Sword (the sword would take extra stuff too since a permanent magical item takes more than a potion to make). And the unused quality of your base ingredients could add unintended side effects. If you used the brine from a Mindflayer Elder Brain pool with the Psychic type as the base of your Potion of Flying, maybe in addition to flying it would allow you to communicate telepathically with other flying creatures.

  18. I was thinking that the next step might be to apply some “rule of thumb” or systemic recipes to the basic forms of magic items; like weapons requiring some number of wood, bone and/or metal in general. That might make sense, but when I started thinking about potions it got trickier.

    Assuming potions have some sort of base alchemic medium (water, pure alcohol, whatever), the rest of the ingredients could come from almost any of the material types you specified. Herbs, of course, demon juice is a great fantasy standby, powered dragon bone, why not… aspirin is made from tree bark, gunpowder is made almost purely from minerals and I’m sure there’s some potion that could use gold filings or powered gems, so…. could be almost anything!

    Would it just be a matter of combing different materials with the right special qualities and mostly ignore material types? What about poultices versus potions? Or sunrods, they wouldn’t need the base alchemic fluid, or would they? Would it be better to have a short list of different recipes calling for different combinations of material types?

    Great work Angry, I can’t wait to see what you have for us next!

    • I think some forms would be mixable with other forms but not with everything. Anything that could be ground up into a powder, like bone, herbs, gems, could be added to a liquid, but probably hide couldn’t be. A sword would take a magical metal and anything involved in the smithing process could probably be added, like Dragonblood to get the Fire property could be added to the water that the sword in quenched in, and magical gems could be set in the pommel, but I’m hard pressed to imagine how herbs would be used. I’m sure someone out there could come up with some sort of justification for it, but like you said, you could just apply general rules of thumb to see which pairings make sense.

      • I could absolutely make powdered leather, and rare woods, bones, and herbs could be either incorporated into a weapon’s grip or added to the forge fire or smelting crucible. With a smidgen of creativity and a bit of knowledge of how things are actually made, you can get a bit of just about any ingredient into just about any recipe.

        • If you wanted, you could even make this a reward for player creativity (if that’s your style); make it the player’s responsibility to justify how they’re able to transfer the qualities from herbs or hides into their magic sword.

          Of course, this increases GM adjudication and therefore decreases both player autonomy and the consistency expected of a published system, so it’s probably not what Angry is going for, but depending on your group it might be fun.

  19. They say anger is the most creative emotion when used properly. Hopefully the comments show you what you want and what you don’t want in your system.

    Keep at it! I’m all for an Angry Crafting table. If you make, I’ll run it, and tell you how it goes. I added the TIME POOL system to the current dungeon we’re playing and it really made the dungeon much more realistic. It mixes very well with GATHERING MATERIALS for crafting. When the adventurers are in an area, I give them the chance to SEARCH the area for materials and add a die to the TIME POOL. Very fun decision point: stay here and search for more valuable materials, or move on as quickly as possible to avoid conflict. Not sure if this is how you intended for it to be used, but for items that can be gained from certain terrain (not monster drops) this is interesting.

    I’m wondering how you’re going to do recipes. You’ve explained quite a bit of what your ingredients are, it seems natural you’ll get to the recipes sooner or later. Or are you going to go to a more detailed system of distributing/finding materials? Getting the ingredients to the players is something you’ve lightly covered. Either way, both cool topics.

    One thing that causes me trouble with crafting systems is how bulky the recipe lists can get. It can take quite a while for players to find something they want on pages of charts. It can be even harder for them to find something they can make.

    Are you going to limit the number of items they can create, as to make the craftable items index more searchable? Or since this is an “away from the table system” it’s ok if the system is bulky and the player should take their time perusing and getting familiar with it?


    • I’m not sure what the best solution to this is. You definitely can’t just hand the players a list of all the magic items in the DMG for a whole host of reasons. You could give out a few recipes that you are willing to let them make and just have them go out looking for ingredients that could be used to make those things. Or reverse it and hand out magical ingredients and then have them do some research for what could be made from it and give them 3-4 options. My personal favorite option is to let the players come up with their own ideas and let them research what it would take to make that item. I don’t know that it is the best plan for all groups though, just that if I were a player (I am never a player), I would enjoy making up my own magic items and spells.

      • I like the idea of modelling recipes on the Wizard’s spellbook.
        You choose some number of recipes known (possibly based on proficiency), but you can discover more during your adventures.
        You can even store them in a literal recipe book if you want.

      • The way I’d approach it in my game is to make it a goal-oriented process. Put the onus on the players to say what kind of thing they want to craft, and have them do research/make a check/simply know what kind of things they’d need to craft it. Having a framework like this to lean back on would streamline that process to the point where the player could say for example “I want to make a breastplate that shoots lightning at things that attack me!” And I could respond with “That’s a powerful enchantment; normally it’d take 8 steel ingots to make a breastplate, but to hold the enchantment you’ll need to replace two of those with adamantine ingots, and incorporate at least one very rare hard material (bone, wood, metal, etc) or one liquid to quench it in (blood, viscera, ichor) that harnesses the power of lightning.”

        Sounds wordy, but hardly a minute of gametime and can be summed up as 6 common metal + 2 very rare metal + 1 very rare lightning X (use common sense to explain how this material would fit into the crafting process). I’d even let the lightning material count as one of the other components if the other requirements are still met.

        Providing a solid framework is probably the most important part of this process that the game is currently lacking. Granted, I’m talking almost entirely from the context of 5e.

  20. If my math is right, we are looking at 750 different ingredients: 50 ingredients with 2 properties (5 rarity x 10 material) plus 700 ingredients with 3 properties ( 5 rarity x 10 material x 14 or so effects). That is a lot! Let’s see if we can streamline the ingredient list a little bit.

    First, I think we can get rid of the rarity property. It’s role is to limit the power of the crafted item. This role can be fill with the crafter level instead. For example, only 5th level crafter could create Rare items.

    Personally, I would go further and put a lag in the level at which an item of a specific rarity can be crafted. Something like only 8th level character could create Rare items. This way, you can differentiate treasures from crafted items. Treasures would be more powerful, but chosen by the GM, so possibly less useful. Crafted items would be less powerful, but more useful since chosen by the PCs.

    Second, I would go for an additive system instead of a multiplicative system. Instead of having an ingredient serves as both material AND effects, I would make ingredients serves as a material OR effects.

    Basically you have two types of ingredients : Materials that determine the type of items you can craft (metal for weapons and medium/heavy armor, wood for rod/staves/wands, hide for light armor, boots and belts, etc.) and Essence that determine the effect the item can have (fire, frost, holy, etc).

    This way, you have a list of 24 or so ingredients, which make my character sheet happy.

    Hope this help, continue your good work and thanks for sharing your thought process with us. It really helps seeing things differently.

    • The weight of the system isn’t how many ingredients there are, but how many things there are to remember. This kind of modular system only really requires players to learn 29 things, and rarity is already well established, material form is meant to be largely intuitive and effects are based on familiar damage types. No where near as heavy as a 750 item system.

      A 24 item system would be honestly extremely limiting because heavy repetition is inevitable which seems incongruous with the fiction aspect of crafting.

  21. Actually I’ve seen downtime used as a reward. That was campaign in the small town in the middle of a giant magical forest, and party was like only guardians of the town, so every day spent doing something in the town itself meant a day not spent looking for various resources including food, killing owlbears or scaring off young dragon that decided to settle down just a mile away from party’s homes. So PC should earn their downtime by gathering resources and cleaning the forest of monsters. Sounds a bit cooler than it was at the table, but still good idea.

    • Downtime as a reward works best in campaigns where the party wait around for the next adventure to find them, monster-of-the-week style.
      It can be as simple as saying “a week has passed since your last adventure, what did you do in that time?” at the beginning of the session, before providing the hook for the next adventure.

      I think the main issue people have is with Downtime as a resource that can be saved up and then spent in bulk at a later date.

      • That was precisely that kind of resource. Players could spend as much time as they wanted, and without some equipment purchasable and rules for magic item creation they really wanted to, but after each week of downtime the DM added problems — I recall big scary random table for them, maybe even with modifiers from how much time already spent. After first week they short on some supply and can make only certain items, after second there’s hungry bullet to kill like a random encounter, after third some problems with food and variety of effects from this, and if they keep working in town there dragon make nest on the nearby rock and starts raiding the town. Something like that. And if the PCs walked around the town for some time, wiping out any potential threat and stockpiling everything they could, then they can spend more time before something crazy happens.
        Can you say more about issues you said about?

        • Sounds interesting.
          I think the one people mostly complain about is the one in Adventurer’s League:
          After each adventure, you earn X days of downtime.
          Inbetween sessions, you can spend your downtime to do stuff.
          It’s a fun gameplay mechanic, but it doesn’t make sense in-world.

          Firstly, you can abuse the system by saving up months worth of downtime in your early levels, then unlock a new downtime option at higher levels (by meeting a new faction, or finding new crafting materials, or whatever) and spending it all at once.
          If the logic is that you’re doing the task at the time of spending the downtime, then it means you and your allies are moving through time at different speeds.
          If the logic is that you’re doing the task at the time of acquiring the downtime (and retroactively deciding what you spent your time doing), then it means you used resources you didn’t have access to at the time.

          Secondly, depending on the plot-hooks of the adventures and the structure of the campaign, there is sometimes no in-universe justification for why you can’t just take some extra time off to do whatever it is you need, especially if doing so will directly improve your chance of success.
          Alternatively, if the plot is more urgent, there might be no justification for how you are able to take as much time off as you do without dooming the adventure to failure.

  22. [[Comment removed because – and I tried to find another way to say this, but there really isn’t one – the commenter is just an asshole. As I’ve said before, there’s only room for one asshole on this site and that job is taken. – The Angry GM]]

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