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

Theorycrafting an Unsummary

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Once upon a time, I took a course in critical reasoning. Apart from learning the entire suite of Kepner-Tregoe problem-solving methodologies – to the point where I swear the course was frigging sponsored by the Messers Kepner and Tregoe, whoever the hell they are – apart from a bunch of KT problem-solving stuff, we mostly spent our time solving logic puzzles. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I have always loved puzzles. Especially the ones where you have to read a passage and then answer true-or-false questions based only on exactly what it says in the passage and which everyone always gets wrong because the passages are designed to trick off all sorts of assumptions and preconceived notions. And I have especially always loved those puzzles where five different people at a dinner party eat five different entrees while wearing five different ridiculous accessories and you have to figure out based on a serious of ridiculous clues like “the person who wore the cowboy hat didn’t care for the anecdote that the woman who ate the prawn told” that it was Mr. Dupree who spilled lobster bisque on his ascot. So it was nice to get course credit for that crap.

One of the very earliest problem solving discussions we had in the course – this was during the introductory part of the class when we were still just dicking around with logic puzzles to make sure people had at least two brain cells that could fire at the same time without electrocuting them – one of the earliest problem-solving discussions we had was the old classic whereupon you assume you’re stranded on a desert island and, for some inexplicable reason, can only bring three small items with you. What items would you bring? And I said, “I would bring a deck of cards.” “Why,” my teammates asked. “Because,” I explained, “whenever you take out a deck of cards and start playing solitaire, some idiot will always turn up behind you and tell you what move to make next. And then that idiot can rescue me.” And then I would get a bunch of blank stares because it was 1996 and I guess analog solitaire wasn’t as big a pastime as it used to be. Whatever.

These days, though, my answer would be different. I’d bring a notebook. Because whenever you start designing game mechanics, a thousand idiots will turn up behind you to tell you everything you’re doing wrong.

No, but seriously. I love all y’all. I kid. I kid. But here’s the thing: although I am READING all of the comments on these magic item crafting posts and I will call out anyone who has a good idea, especially if I steal it, I’m not going to respond to them anymore. No clarifications. No expounding on why I did the things I did. I know why I’m doing what I’m doing. And I’m going to keep doing it because I know the end result will be pretty much the most awesome slapdash crafting system you could ever cram into a game that wasn’t designed to handle it. You all feel free to talk amongst yourselves. I’m just going to go work over here. Though, if I hear any more people being major assholes, I will delete their comments and kick them out. And the ban on discussion of why crafting systems are a bad idea or why these articles are pointless remains in place.

Okay, that’ll serve for a Long, Rambling Introduction™. On with the show!

The Story So Far

So far, we have decided that the basic gameplay loop for our Dungeons and Dragons 5E runs like this: during their adventures, the heroes will turn up raw materials. Then, outside of gameplay, they can combine those raw materials into a finished mundane or magical item. That’s the actual crafting part. Obviously, a lot of details need to be filled in yet. Remember that, because we’re going to come back to it. The fact that we have that summary and that details need to be filled in.

The raw materials will be classified in three ways: rarity, type, and optional additional descriptor. Rarity corresponds to the rarities for magic items that exist in D&D already: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Very Rare, and Legendary. Type describes the physical form that the raw material takes: metal, precious metal, wood, herb, hide, bone, fluid, mineral, gem, and essence. Those are all just working names. Placeholders. We can adjust them later. Additional descriptors will primarily be used to describe which magical effects the raw material can be used to power. We’re not going to try to list them right now. We’re going to circle back in and see what we need based on the list of stuff PCs can craft. But, as a starting point, we’re going to assume that all of the various elemental damage types will be there, along with a few others for magical effects that aren’t damaging. Like lifegiving and glamer and corruption and stuff. Like I said, we’ll circle back around to populate that last list.

And although I am currently LISTING the raw material descriptors as [rarity] [type] [quality] because that’s the logical way to think about them, in the text they will be WRITTEN as [rarity] [quality] [type]. Rare fiery fluid. Common frosty wood. But, frankly, we don’t CARE ABOUT THAT CRAP AT THE DESIGN STAGE. WE NEED A WORKING SYSTEM FIRST!

People have asked why I’m not just using the schools of magic as the descriptors. And here’s the answer: because they are unintuitive as hell and create all the wrong overlaps. They are a terrible way to classify magical items in a way that won’t come naturally to players. Under such a system, a person could find a crackling energy crystal (rare evocation mineral) and it would serve as an ingredient for a flaming longsword, a prismatic gem, or a cure light wounds potion. And the average player wouldn’t know any of that off the top of their head. Because healing items and flaming swords don’t belong in the same class of item. But a fiery crystal instantly tells you exactly the sorts of game affects you could fuel with that. As does a life-giving crystal. And also, since most magical monsters tie to some sort of magical effect rather than a magical school, it’s easy to figure out that if you want to make a staff of frost, you probably want to kill a white dragon. The spell school system is utterly nonsensical. That’s why the cure spells have changed schools in every frigging edition of D&D. Did you know once they were in the same school as the summon monster spells?! HOLY CRAP!

Okay… I just realized I already broke my rule of not responding to the comments. And now you see why I said that. Because it riles me up when I respond and then my blood pressure rises and my new doctor is very concerned that I routinely peg the needle on his sphygmomanometer. And he thinks the sheer act of taking my blood pressure will shove me over the brink and into a stroke. And this poor, mild-mannered, midwestern doctor can’t handle something as stressful as a patient keeling over on his table and spraying highly pressurized blood with the consistency of maple sugar out of his every facial orifice.

And that imagery is precisely why YOU don’t want me to get worked up. Because then I talk like that instead of talking about magical item crafting.

So, having now effectively summarized our previous work, let’s get started.


Do you remember the part above – before all that blood stuff – where I said, “remember this, I’m coming back to it?” I hope so. Because I’m going to show you a helpful trick when it comes to designing a system. Here’s the trick: once you get to the point where you can summarize the way something will play out in your game, write that summary down. Like this:

The players will acquire raw materials during their adventures. Outside of play, they can combine those raw materials into mundane or magical objects.

No, that’s not the trick. The trick is now to read through every single word – or phrase – and sentence and question the hell out of it. Basically, explain or define each piece of that process in detail. Expand the definition as much as possible.

We know who the players are. And we know what it means to acquire. So, we get to the phrase raw materials. What are raw materials? Well, in the context of our system, raw materials are consumable items that can be used to craft other items. And they have a rarity, a type, and maybe a quality. Fine. And then we come to the “during their adventures” part. And… how? How will the players acquire materials during their adventures?

If you read the comments, you’ll notice that a lot of people are making assumptions that raw materials will all be stripped from monsters. Kill a monster, take its stuff, then take its guts and turn its guts into more stuff. Fine and dandy. But that’s an assumption at this point. I never said that. The only thing I ever said was they acquire raw materials during their adventures. And I did qualify that by saying that the finding of raw materials needs to be incidental to adventure, not a distraction from adventure, though it can create a motivation for adventure.

But now you can already see we have some questions to answer: what are raw materials, how are they acquired during adventures, how do we avoid the acquisition of materials becoming a distraction from the adventure? And we’ve already answered the raw materials question.

But that raises another question. Is there any way to acquire raw materials aside from turning them up during the adventures? You might be tempted to say no. But there’s no reason to assume that’s the case. For example, suppose the heroes really want to make a magical fire sword for their next adventure against an ice dragon. And they have most of the ingredients. Most important, they have the most interesting ingredients. They have the fiery gem that will serve as a pommel stone and the rare metal that will infuse the blade with magical energy. But they are just a little short on plain old ordinary, mundane iron to fill out the recipe. Do you really want to stop them from making the fire sword for want of the simplest ingredient in the recipe? Do you really want them to take a detour from fighting the ice dragon so they can adventure through an iron mine and get some plain iron to finish the sword? No. You’d have to be a moron to want those things. And, hell, that would count as a pretty serious distraction from the adventure. So, do we want the players to be able to acquire ingredients in other ways? Yes. Yes, we do. But we need to keep those ways under control.

Notice what’s happening now as we think through and question each part of the summary. We’re figuring out the bits of the system we need to develop and the questions we need to answer. We need to define raw materials. We need to figure out how raw materials are acquired during adventures. We need to allow for the players to acquire limited raw materials outside of their adventures. And we need to do so without distracting from the adventures themselves.

Now, let’s look at the second part of the summary. The actual crafting part. Outside of play. We know what that means. It means that we’re not going to stop the game to let one player craft items while the rest of the party watches someone do paperwork. And it also means that the system has to work without GM adjudication. The players have to be able to make all of the choices about crafting and executing crafting away from the table. But, just because something is outside of play doesn’t mean it’s not dependent on play. That doesn’t mean it’s not conditional.

See, the issue with crafting is that it should take some amount of fictional time in the game world to craft something. We don’t want situations wherein the players can end one play session in the middle of the dungeon and then start the next play session with a bunch of newly crafted magical items that they crafted instantaneously. It’s okay – desirable even – to set conditions on this. Just like you don’t want players buying new gear if the heroes are currently in some dungeon somewhere and just like good, smart GMs don’t want players leveling up in the middle of an adventure, you don’t want players crafting in the middle of the dungeon. So that’s something we need to address. When is crafting available during the game in a fictional sense?

Nothing Says “Thanks” Like Clicking that Tip Jar

Speaking of “outside of play,” we’ve said we don’t want the party sitting around watching one person do a bunch of crafting when they should all be playing a fun game of D&D. But does that mean we should forbid players from ever crafting anything during the game? Imagine this: the party travels to a mine because a bunch of people disappeared there. Some menace is killing the people in the mine. They discover that the mine is infested with trolls. The party’s alchemist happens to have the ingredients for potions of fire breath already in their bag. So, it occurs to the party to slap together some potions. But if crafting can only happen away from the table, they don’t have that option. That’d be stupid. We want the players to use crafting as a problem-solving tool. That’s one of the three major reasons we think crafting is a fun idea for the game.

But we also don’t want the game to be bogged down with players kitting out their whole damned party in the middle of the game, smithing new suits of armor and weapons and magical implements and all that crap. Players will do that. They will optimize the fun out of the game. So, just like with acquiring ingredients outside of adventures, we want the players to be able to craft stuff during play, but we have to find a way to limit it. To keep them from doing so much of it that it ruins the game.

Then we get to the part where they can combine the raw materials into mundane or magical items. And man do we have a whole bunch of questions there. How do they do that? What’s the procedure? How do they know what they can make? Can they make every possible item in the game? What are the prerequisites for crafting? And so on. And this is a case where we realize that our summary is insufficient to even tell us all the questions we need to worry about. But we’re going to leave that alone for now. We will have to revisit this part of the process.

And then we get to the period. That means the summary is over. They find ingredients, they make stuff. But is that really all there is? No. Because there’s a big glaring unstated thing that is coming from our lack of precision that could create a huge problem. Let me demonstrate by adding a simple clause:

The players will acquire raw materials during their adventures. Outside of play, they can combine those raw materials into mundane or magical objects to use during their adventures.

See that extra bit? Why do we need it? Because there is something we absolutely do not want the players to use crafting for: opening a magical item shop and turning a fricking profit. That is not a game of Dungeons & Dragons anymore. We don’t want them just making stuff and selling it for a profit. We don’t want item crafting to be done for any reason other than to make useful gear the party actually intends to use. And we have to spell that out. Why?

Because other than GM fiat, there’s nothing that says the players can’t sell the fruits of their labor. The PHB allows players to sell mundane goods like weapons and armor for half the market price. Gems, jewelry, art objects, and trade goods sell for their full value. The PHB also totally cops out and says the selling of magic items is “problematic.” I swear. It actually says that. PHB 144. But the DMG then says, “well, okay, maybe you can sell magical items, but we’re going to make it needlessly complicated and time-consuming and make the result random.” And that system is optional.

By the way, this system is a load of utter crap. Because the DMG also advises the GM to feel free to use random tables to dole out magical items. So, what happens when a party in which no one is proficient with heavy armor – or chooses to use – finds a suit of magical plate mail? Are they supposed to throw it away? “Well, we can’t sell this. No one would pay what it’s actually worth. So, we’ll chuck it away.” I mean, come on, it’s completely useless to the party. Even if they found someone willing to pay the 1,500 g.p. for a standard suit of full-plate armor, they’d still come out ahead. More importantly than just straining credulity though, the game talks a big game about magic items are special and how everyone loves finding magical items and how they are limited things that the party only finds so many of during their adventures. Fine and dandy, but how exciting is it when one of those rare and extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime finds is something you can’t use.

And sometimes this happens too. When you’re working through a system, you find a spot in the base game that’s already a problem and that problem will be amplified by your system. Our system has to address the question of buying and selling gear because we don’t want to create a system of for-profit crafting. And in answering that question, we’re coming dangerously close to something in the main system that’s, well, totally borked up the wazoo. So, if we really want to, we can take the opportunity to address it. Especially because…

Now that we come to think about it, this whole idea of unwanted items is a bigger issue than we might have originally thought. Look back at the acquisition of ingredients. The party finds these raw materials incidentally to play. Fine. Now, obviously, a GM who doesn’t want any crafting in the game won’t use the system. But if there’s a group that does want crafting in their game, it’s unlikely they will be able to craft everything. Right? I mean, you’ll have someone who can make magical weapons, maybe, and someone who can brew potions, and that might be it. So, what happens when the party finds a bunch of magical fiery hides? You can’t make weapons and potions out of hellgoat skin. Now they have these hellgoat skins that are useless. And if we’ve balanced the doling out of ingredients with the treasure acquisition already in the game to keep everything fair, the party that finds the hellgoat skins is just the party of skirmishers and wizards who find the magical plate armor. They are screwed. And that’s a big problem because crafting is supposed to be about empowerment and customization. It’s supposed to give the players control over the items they find rather than subjecting them to the whims of the GM and random magic item tables.

And now, the whole scope of this project has expanded. Because now, this isn’t just about crafting items, it’s about revamping the entire system of item acquisition – including buying and selling – in the game. Not only do we need a system for acquiring raw materials and crafting them into useful stuff. We also need to account for what the party can do with raw materials and items that aren’t useful to them. That is, they have to have a way to convert the stuff they don’t want – raw materials and finished goods – into stuff they do want – other raw materials and finished goods. If they find a suit of magical platemail they can’t use during their adventures, what can they do with it? Can they sell it? Can they break it down into raw materials? If they find raw materials they don’t need, can they sell those? Can they then buy raw materials they can use? We have to account for the conversion of stuff into other stuff.

And that brings us to a new question: can a group that doesn’t want to have a craftsman in the party still benefit from this system? If the system is just about turning raw materials into finished goods, the answer is no. But if there’s also a conversion system in place, maybe they can. If our rules allow for the selling of magical items, can it allow for the buying of magical items? If you have the ingredients, but not the skill or tools, can you have an item made? Why not? Just pay a craftsman to do the crafting. And if you find an item you don’t want, instead of throwing it away or selling it wholesale, can you pay a craftsman to break it down into raw ingredients? Why not?

The only thing we have to make sure of is that our system doesn’t break the game balance by allowing the players to get more magical items than they would under the core rules and that that the system doesn’t allow people to game all of this crap into a profit.

And now we’ve come very far afield. But we have a lot to think about. It turns out this crafting thing is much more complicated than we thought. But, we can at least now summarize what we’re going to have to figure out to make it work. So, let’s expand our summary to take into account everything we’ve so far discussed.

The players will acquire consumable raw materials incidentally during their adventures, in limited quantities outside of their adventures, or through the conversion of items or other raw materials. These raw materials can be converted into mundane or magical objects for use by the players. Such conversion normally takes place outside the game but can take place during the game in a limited fashion. Nothing in this system can distract from the core gameplay engagement of adventuring, though it can provide the occasional motivation for adventure. And this system cannot allow the players to unbalance the game by acquiring more magical items than they would be able to obtain under the core rules, nor to earn a profit.

Without any unwanted extra assumptions, that spells out all the possibilities in the system. The players get raw materials primarily by adventuring, but can also acquire them by other means outside of their adventures or convert the items and raw materials they do have into the ones they want. They can then convert the raw materials into wanted items. Note that convert does not mean they have to use their own crafting skills. They can pay someone else to craft the item they want if they have the ingredients. And now we have something to work with.

Now, as we run through the summary, we can highlight all the things we need to figure out: what are raw materials, how are they acquired during adventures, how are they acquired outside of adventure, how are items converted to raw materials, how are raw materials converted to desirable items? And we can highlight the important limitations: raw materials are mostly acquired during play, they are mostly converted to items outside of play, there are limits on finding raw materials outside of play, there are limits on converting raw materials to finished good during play, the system cannot become a distraction from the fun parts of gameplay, the players can’t show a profit by engaging with this system.

That’s our checklist. And we’ve already hit the first one: raw materials are consumable objects that come in different rarities and types, which may carry different qualities. We say consumable because, once a raw material is used in the creation of a finished item, it’s gone forever.

I realize it seems like a lot of this is just rehashing old ground and I’m sorry if that pisses you off. Again, you wanted to see the design process. And, if you didn’t, I’m sorry. If you’re waiting for the end result, you’d still be waiting because I have to work through all this crap whether or not I actually share the thought process with you. The point is that something like this is a very big system. And if you don’t go into it very clear about what you’re trying to do, you’re going to miss something important. Or, worse, miss an opportunity to do something even better than you initially imagined. Because, in the end, what this system is really going to do is revamp the entire treasure and magical item system in D&D. Yeah. I know, because I’ve worked ahead and I’ve seen where this is going. I kid you not. You can already kind of see it in the revised design statement.

But I can also reassure you that this is actually the hardest part. That’s design. Stating the problem and analyzing what the solution has to look like is the hardest part. Ask Kepner and Tregoe. They know. That said, I don’t want to leave this on a sour note. So, I’m going to start analyzing part of that summary from a different angle just to show you what’s coming next. Because, next, we’re going to have to do a lot of math and figure out what we can get away with.

Non-Profit Crafting

Now that we have our summary safely written down, free of assumptions, and as clear and precise as we need it to be, we can start looking at different parts of it and thinking through it in more practical terms. And since I have about 700 words left in my allowable word count, I’m going to tackle the issue of buying, selling, and conversion a bit. This is just a bit of brainstorming, but it is the brainstorming that will lead to the basic assumption around which we can build all the systems.

Pay attention. I’ve only got 600 words left, so I’m going to move quickly.

The issue is conversion. We have stuff that’s found during adventures and stuff that’s useful to have and we are trying to build a way to convert from one to the other. Well, there’s already a system in the game that handles that. Players find treasure during their adventure and convert it into useful equipment. Treasure consists of gems, art objects, and gold. Useful equipment consists of weapons, armor, supplies, ammunition, healing potions, and whatever else the party can buy. And there’s also lifestyle costs in there and other stuff like carousing and buying transportation between locations and so on. But let’s focus.

The medium of exchange for all of that is money. Coins. GP. And here, I’m going to purposely capitalize GP to indicate that I’m not referring to actual coins. I’m referring the value measure on every object in the game. Every tangible, physical good in the game – every piece of treasure, every equipment, even every magical item – has a value in GP. The coins you find in the treasure, the g.p., are each worth 1 GP, but GP – capital – is a game concept. It’s a measure of the value of any item relative to any other item. And even though magical items can’t be bought and sold, because that’s “problematic,” they still have GP values. The values are vague, they cover a range, but they are there. And the game does offer the OPTION of buying and selling magic items. So they are roughly accurate to what the designers THINK was the expected wealth and equipment progression. Again, we can argue about whether the designers got it right or not and I know there’s other systems out there for pricing magical items which do work pretty well, but I’m not relying on that to build a system that is supposed to lay on the core rules. I’m going by what’s in the rules.

Point is, GP provides a medium of exchange. Treasure is measured in GP. Items are measured in GP. And more interestingly, when the PCs find items in their adventures, they can convert them to treasure, but it’s inefficient. Weapons and armor sell at half their value. And magical items can’t be sold at all. Unless they can. In which case, the suggested system in the DMG also makes it very inefficient. That is, most of the time, you’ll get half, a quarter, or a tenth of the value of the item. Or you’ll get offered the full price by a “shady buyer” which is just giving the GM permission to screw the players for having the gall to try to sell a magical item that the GM purposely picked out just for them by rolling on a random table somewhere. Seriously, check out DMG 129-130 if you don’t believe me.

Anyway, this gives a hook on which to hang our own system. GP is the medium of exchange. Raw materials and finished goods all have values in GP. But the actual efficiency of the conversion – how much g.p. you actually spend or receive to make the exchange – varies depending on what you’re doing. If you’re using treasure to buy items, that’s perfectly efficient. You exchange the treasure for the items at a one-to-one rate. You convert 1 GP of gold, gems, and art objects into 1 g.p., which you can then use to buy 1 GP worth of arrows or rations or whatever. But, if you try to sell rations or arrows, the process is inefficient. You convert 1 GP worth of rations or arrows into ½ g.p., so you need 2 GP worth of rations or arrows to buy 1 GP worth of lamp oil or crossbow bolts.

We just need to fit the raw materials and the conversion process into that system. The rules already tell us how much GP worth of treasure the PCs should find. And it tells how roughly how much GP worth of magical items should be available throughout play. So, if we can set the value in GP on raw materials and set the GP value on finished goods, we can balance it against the existing system. And the way we keep it under control is with the rules of exchange.

Next time, we’re going to be doing just that. We’re going to figure out the basic values we have to work with and the rules of exchange within our system so we can pin down just how much of what the players should find when and how and how much they should have to use to make what they want. At least, we’ll be starting that process. Because that’s going to be a tricky, mathy, complicated process. But at least you can see where this is going.

37 thoughts on “Theorycrafting an Unsummary

  1. Maybe players can also salvage items into resources, or to transmute one kind of resource into another, perhaps at a loss. If you find a suit of magic plate and no one ends up wanting it or being able to use it, even if you can’t find a buyer, perhaps it can be disassembled into three units of magic metal (but would take four units of metal and one of hide to create). And maybe three spare hellgoat skins can be boiled down into one essence of something related to fire, goats, or hell? You could also throw a GP cost into converted resources, but a party with a craftsperson can maybe reduce or even skip the cost? You can also award characters with items that improve this conversion (magic lab converts 2 to 1 instead of 3). You could also embed a system for upgrading resources, like 5 uncommons can be boiled into a rare, so old stuff doesn’t “spoil” by outleveling it.

    • The ‘Essence’ system is exactly what I was thinking of.

      Say any item can be downgraded into its essence type (Common Fire Essence) for use in other recipes. This allows 2 things.

      First you can create more expensive recipes that don’t require a ton of grinding. The fire sword requires an uncommon ore, a fire gem, and then 5 fire essences that can come from wherever. (fire goat skins, another fire gem, mephit ash). This way, you’re forced to pick a few things you actually want out of the crafting materials you get, but you’ve actually got a variety of choices in what to make because all the recipes have built in abstract material slots.

      Second, you can create less expensive consumable type recipes. i.e. making fire arrows only costs a single fire essence, so anytime you get a fire type craft item, you can burn it to get a fire arrow.

    • I’d agree components should be convertible between themselves. Given some of the design purposes here I wouldn’t make them convertible via GP.

      Reason being: if I understood it right, one of the big concerns with old D&D crafting systems (D&D 3.5 GM here) was that it amounted to nothing -but- a GP conversion exercise, that is to say, a purchase exercise: in that instance, the conversion of GP to downtime. (Pathfinder introduced a couple of interesting skill roll mechanics to making a magic item a little more special, but the core mechanism was still “Give this amount of GP and this amount of time, and you get a magic item at the other end.”)

      Allowing components to be convertible to GP and back adds one layer of complexity to the process, but makes it pretty much the same: I maybe have to calculate that I have to earn a third or a half more GP than I would if I had the exact materials to hand, but the conversion process is otherwise meaningless because all I’m doing is shuffling components around in the infinite space of away-from-table-between-sessions. All I am doing is a few extra GP calculations to make the components fit the item I want. Which is nice and all, but to what purpose would one create such a subsystem? Why not just give someone a table with GP values and items and say “Off you go, you can build this stuff with this amount of gold?”

      (Also, within the game itself: what stops a silly DM from providing (on players’ insistence, of course) a Component Exchange and letting the players visit it to bore the hell out of most of the party with the ensuing discussion? If GP is a means of exchange, why isn’t it being used within the game?)

      Components convertible between themselves, though, forces you to a different medium of exchange. Is it more complex? Yes. Does it avoid turning item crafting into essentially a purchase exercise? Yes.

      • Personally, I wouldn’t make the components convertible so much as deconstruct-able as a one way action.

        It reduces the overall potential design space.

  2. Your specs are impressive. So impressive, I’m starting to look at this in fear of the conversion cost of learning the system. How is it possible to create a system that I can pass off to my players that is simple enough that they can do it away from table AND be at LEAST as complicated as a cubic equation (three variables, possibly all first degree, likely much higher than that)?

    Can you design a system simple enough to tack on to DnD, simple enough for players to do on their own, complex enough to recreate most of the known magic items, flexible enough to create new ones, balanced enough so it maintains the GP valuation, and all of it auditable by a DM in a few seconds to make sure the players did it right?

    If you could do that, why would you even bother doing it for DnD? Just stash it away for the AngryRPG. WotC will never reward the genius of it.

  3. I apologise if you have already had this recommendation, but perhaps looking at the Etrian Odyssey series could be an idea for inspiration. It seems to me that you are already covering some ground dimilsi to their system.

  4. On the subject of acquiring ingredients during adventure:
    What if the ability to acquire raw materials was limited on having proficiency in the crafting skill wich is going to be used to convert said materials in finished goods? e.g. Only an alchemist (proficient with alchemy supplies) would be able to extract alchemy reagents and ingredients and then turn them into potions.

    This might simplify the whole process and make it more accessible for players and GMs:
    It would remove the possibility of finding useless materials, limiting the risk of awarding too much treasure (though I’m not fully convinced about it).
    It would let the players and the GM focus on just a handful of craftable items at a time, since it’s unlikely for the whole group to be proficient in all the possible crafting tools.
    It would help limiting a potential problem that’s not yet been addressed (I’m not sure the wording is right, but google translate says it is): how many ingredients should the characters be able to extract from a single source and how many different types of ingredients should a single source contain?

    Of course this isn’t a perfect solution and I’m not sure it’s even the right one, the biggest problem I find is that it would deny the chance for the players to opt-in after character creation, but I also wonder if limiting the players choices and simplifying the system would actually be a good thing or just make it less fun and engaging.

    • I also understand this is not the way Angry seems to be going with this whole system, I just wanted to share a thought.

    • For those that don’t have the book, it’s basically you can get a +1 to a roll per week spent or 100gp to a max of +10, then you roll a d20 a few times to see what handful of magic items are available to choose from. If the player wants a specific item, it’ll show up in the list of items on a particularly good roll.

      Which in my opinion isn’t the worst way to simulate a grey market magic trading thing, except that downtime is free (so why not just always get your full +10) and you’re not really crafting.

      I’d make it so that you spend much more gold to get those +1 values, rather than ‘uh I wait 10 weeks cool’, as *something* to spend gold on.

      But the core problem is it’s not really crafting, it’s buying. Which is fine but I think crafting can fit into campaigns more naturally. Like … we’re fighting some evil blue dragon as our campaign, let’s talk to the wizard’s guild and take a side trip into Ye Olde Volcanoe to gather lava mephit spleens so we can have them make fire arrows and big flaming hammer for our barbarian. And your players will know that hmm, they found a few luminous flaming spleens, but maybe they should push their luck and try for a radiant flaming spleen.

  5. In my experience, a lot of the time when a GM says “you can do this and this between sessions, but only if it makes sense, such as you’re resting in a city”, the GM will very rarely end a session in a town or city. It’s always in the middle of the wilderness, in the middle of a dungeon, or even in the middle of a combat encounter… Cities are always visited, glossed over, sometimes if you’re quick you can say that you hop off the bandwagon for a minute to buy arrows or whatever. Even if you spend a week of in-game time in them.

    I think the crafting system should avoid paperwork, but the paperwork part of the game could be separate from the physical crafting part of the game. Like, if a player already has the stuff for his Adamantium Exoskeleton of Frosty Jump, he can just write down the details of the process between sessions, and as soon as he’s in town, even in-game, he can just say “BTW while everyone is at the bar seducing the pet sheep or goat or whatever I spend the next couple of days making my Awesomantium Armor Of Horizontal Climb+10” which then takes zero time at the table because it’s already planned out…

  6. Angry, first of all, thank you and congratulations for the excellent system that you are developing. I think that you are doing an impressive work.

    I am one of those people initially advocating for the usage of schools of magic as descriptors. Now I see your point, but I would like to clarify mine just a little bit. I am not trying to reject your argument: I just want to share a few thoughts.

    I think that the trade-off is between intuitivity and coverage (forgive me if I am oversimplifying).

    At the start I was looking at the problem only from a coverage perspective. The variety of magical effects available in the game is very large. Schools of magic (or schools + domains) are designed to cover more or less all this variety: given any one magical effect or magic item, usually you should be able to figure out the corresponding school, at least by looking to the more similar spell. In some systems the school associated to a magic item is even written in the item description.

    But you are right that schools / domains are counterintuitive. Well, this is particularly true for a couple of (very common) effect categories: energy-based effects, and healing / restoration effects. Saying that a flaming sword and a freezing sword require the same ingredient descriptor simply does not “feel” right: I agree with this.

    With your proposed categories (damage types + healing, blessing, corrupting, summoning), which are much more intuitive, you brilliantly solved that problem: now a flaming sword requires a “fire” ingredient, a freezing sword require a “cold” ingredient, very easy.

    I was just a bit concerned about the coverage. For example, what about an invisibility cloak? A protection ring? A teleport helmet? A pair of spiderwalk shoes? I might be wrong but, with the exception of “blessing” and “summoning”, your list seemed very energy-oriented / damage-oriented.

    But I know that the list was preliminary, and I am curious to see how you will address this problem in the final one.

    (Personally, in my game, I use a modified set of schools / domains, where the elements (like Fire) and Healing have their own individual category, while other schools like Illusion, Transmutation and Abjuration are unchanged. But I totally understand that this modification does not fit your goal of building a plug-and-play system.)

    Thank you again, I look forward for the next chapter of this intriguing series!

  7. This is very exciting. My only thought during reading was related to your example of the players needing to find more iron to make a flaming sword; that the limit on acquiring materials outside of the game could well be rarity. You said yourself that reusing existing game concepts that achieve the same effects is a good idea, and I see no reason not to use rarity in this case. For instance, you could declare that any item with a rarity above uncommon must be acquired in-game.

    • I don’t think it’s a bad rule, but it could lead to deviation from the adventure at higher levels. Like “I’m a level 20 wizard but I can’t just buy a ‘rare, wood’ for my new staff, instead I need to hunt and kill a treant that doesn’t actually pose any threat to me”.

      It would be better to tie what rarity you can buy to what actually is dangerous to you.

      “So, you are a 5th lvl wizard? Yeah, you can buy cockatrices beaks (CR 1/2), but not a sacred herb harvested from a treant’s garden (CR 9), because the cockatrices are an easy encounter while the treant is a deadly one.”

      “Oh, you are at level 11 and the treant became an easy target for your party? So you will probably find someone willing to sell this to you. You are powerfull enough to know the people that are selling this.”

      • This would actually work better using a way to track the “rarity threshold” of the party, and you can buy anything with a rarity lower than your group.

        Lvl 1-2 (common): You can’t buy anything. You are the people a cleric will hire to search healing moss inside a cave.
        Lvl 3-4 (uncommon): you can buy common things. The wizard will buy you displacer beast hide if you have it.
        Lvl 5-10 (rare): you can buy common or uncommon things. The thieves guild want to steal the frost giant beard you just shaved from the giant king, and you don’t know why.

        …and I’m tired of tying this to adventure ideas.
        Lvl 11-16 makes a very rare group, and lvl 17 and beyond are legendary stuff.

        This way you can never buy legendary stuff, only find it, but if your level is high enough, everything else is easy to get.

        And, note that the rarity is actually about the tiers of play (making lvl 1-2 a tier of they own because most characters aren’t even flashed out before lvl 3).

        • The best way to do it is to use the
          Levels that you get a +1 to your proficiency modifier. So levels 1-4 you can only get common ingredients, levels 5-8 you get uncommon ones and so on

          • Not really. You get uncommon itens before lvl 5. It doesn’t make sense to get an uncommon material when you are supposed to get rare magical itens.

            Also, the level range for magic itens is linked with tiers of play (1-4, 5-10, etc), with common and uncommon itens both on tier 1-4. But the distinction between 1-2 and 3-4 is relevant, because a lvl 1 character is specially frail when compared to a lvl 4, but a lvl 5 isn’t as frail, comparing with a lvl 10 (and you can see this on the encounter building table).

  8. I’d also tie each type of thing (fire resistance) to a single rare component so that, as a DM, I could keep track of what I was (potentially) handing out via only tracking a handful of components. The market could easily be for everything else (i.e. the non-restrictive components). It also reduces player analysis paralysis by constraining the amount of things that could legitimately be built with the materials at hand. This makes the question more : ‘We have the materials to make one ice imbued weapon, what type should we make’ rather than : ‘We can make a fire sword, or a lightning bow, or boots of speed, or a book cover of intelligence’, but if we make the bow, we also have almost enough components to get a ring of water production.

    This also sets us up to get crafting materials as a generic reward that’s universally useful (and ties into the global market), while also setting up a situation where players can choose to pursue adventures based on the high end crafting item they’ll get at the end.

    As a final benefit, it reduces the complexity of the craft grid so that players won’t really have the option to put together massive amounts of items they don’t really need or plan to use. Each high level crafting item represents a constrained choice rather than another blip in the bucket.

    Obviously this should be somewhat disguised from the players (4-5 options for everything, low level consumables requiring 0 elite items, and don’t call out the elite options as such in the descriptions)

    • This is similar to system I’ve used.
      Every ingredient had one “signature” recipe, so if you get dragon fang, you know you can make a Flaming sword, and if you get displacer beast’s tentacles, you know you can brew potion of Mirror Image. Also, each component had generic qualities that boosted or modified other recipes.
      Ultimately, whenever you got an ingredient, you could either use it as a “core” ingredient for a recipe, or add it to another recipe as generic component.

      It worked pretty well.

      • Yeah, my only edit to that would be to make the dragon tooth useful for making, i.e. a flaming sword, or a cloak of fire resistance, or spear of wyrm slaying, or a wand of fireballs, and forcing the party to pick which one.

  9. I think I see what you mean when you say this is going to revamp the whole magic item system. I have been working on my own (infinitely inferior) crafting system, and I realized that some of my frustration was coming from the fact that a lot of the items were not really the kinds of payoffs I wanted for crafting. There’s a bunch of specific items, with no room for customizing them, and there’s no sense of progressing with your particular weapon or shield or what have you, which I think is something crafting systems should be able to deliver on. How many adventurers put in their backstory that they take up their father’s sword or have a family suit of armor? But D&D seems to require that you ditch that item or else be stuck with a mundane weapon all game?

    The system I am working on right now allows players to upgrade existing weapons, armor, and shields. I am working on a series of traits for these items, many based on existing magic items, but some new ones. The players will know some from the start, and others will be discovered as we go to keep things fresh. A weapon, suit or armor, can have one trait, plus an additional trait for each + it has. Costs actually haven’t been to hard to math out. I figured out about how much of this stuff I think players should have at each tier, using the magic item reward info from Xanathar’s Guide as a starting point, and basically reverse-engineered the costs and crafting material rewards from there. The tricky part will be figuring out how to reduce gold rewards appropriately.

    I look forward tremendously to further articles on this topic.

  10. Seems to me that a good way to handle the cost basis for converting unwanted crafting items would be to base the offered price on the items’ rarity. You get 100% percent of their purchase cost for the Common ones, 80% for Uncommon, 60% for Rare, 40% for Very Rare, and 20% for Legendary. Or something similar.

    • So the most rare and sought after materials are worth 20% of their value? It should be the other way around.

      • You can think of it like cars. The best cars to steal and strip for parts are Camrys and Corrolla and Civics, because the parts are the easiest to trade and you can sell them anywhere. If you wanted to strip and unload the parts from a Bentley, you’re going to lose a lot of the original value because demand is so low.

  11. I think this is a promising line of design, although I probably wouldn’t end up using it myself. I actually did a ridiculously simplified version of this when I ran Tomb of Annihilation. The players wanted magic weapons and/or armor, so they went off on a jaunt to a red dragon’s lair, and killed the red dragon. And then, they looted some suitable dragon parts from the dead dragon. Conveniently, killing the dragon was doing a significant favor for some local dwarves, who then crafted a magic weapon or armor for the characters to use. These were all fire related, and basically added a fire-related property to a standard item: armor with fire resistance, weapons with a d4 of fire damage, or whatever. So there had to be a crafter (grateful dwarves), mundane components (which the dwarves had lying around the forge), and special components (gathered by the party at great risk).

    The difference is that the special components weren’t just gathered up during the course of normal adventures, but gone after deliberately and with a particular goal and intended use in mind. Granted, I could have just given them those same magic items in some hoard or other, but going through the rudimentary crafting process was rewarding, because they had earned those specific rewards by tailored action.

    But, I didn’t have to spend any time or effort on coming up with component types, or remembering to have them dropped by the right sort of creatures or gathered from the right locations. The players knew that something powerful and fire related was needed, so they went and found it. Ad hoc crafting worked in that case, and it didn’t need a system, or to be integrated into the rules very much. At most, I just had to make sure that the crafted items weren’t overpowered for the characters to have. The whole exercise was just a way for the players to say what kind of magic items they wanted, and then to use their agency to make it happen that way. Simple, but it worked.

  12. Just wanted to say these articles are really cool! I’m in a semester-long design project/class and we spent the first 5 weeks (of 16) just defining a problem and all the weights + constraints on our solution. I have very much enjoyed seeing many of the same thought processes going into your system-building, and am excited by the prospect of both learning more relevant stuff from your writing and using the stuff I’m learning to be a better GM.

    • Wow, it’s actually kind of gratifying to know this process I am basically pulling out of my ass as an amateur no-nothing actually has something to do with what they teach real designers in real design school. Maybe I do have half an idea of what I’m doing. That’s a relief.

      • The above comment is actually not sarcastic and one-hundred percent serious. I know I speak with authority, but it is important to remember that I’m an accountant and everything that isn’t accounting has been self-taught and hard won. It’s nice to know that I seem to bet getting stuff right once in a while.

  13. Crafting Materials and Effects on le Booty Economy

    le Booty (B): Total treasure for an encounter level
    Mundane items (m): chess set, chalk, string
    Important adventure items (i): Potions, swords, rations
    Luxury items (l): lower liquidity: statues
    Ka-ching (k) : high liquidity: coins
    Crafting materials (c): Bile most foul, Biting Frost, Dried Poison Mushrooms

    Current system:
    B= m+i+l+k
    System with crafting:

    So in vanilla DnD, le Booty value is mostly coming from Ka-ching, Luxury, and Important Adventure items. By adding in crafting materials, the amount of Ka-ching, Luxury, and Important Adventure items should decrease or else le Booty Inflation. Depending on the rarity of the item drop, a lot of value gets added. Adventure/Mundane items are often kept by the party and have terrible resale value, so we should boot some Ka-ching and Luxury Items out of the Booty.

    Seems logical to hang price on rarity; legendary being the most expensive and common being the least expensive.
    Sell Value=Buy Value/2 . Divided by 4 might also be a good option to prevent economic shenanigans
    Arbitrary numbers example:
    Common (buy 6 gp/sell 3 gp)
    Uncommon (buy 20 gp/sell 10 gp)
    Rare (buy 200 gp/sell 100 gp)
    Very Rare (buy 600 gp/sell 300gp)
    Legendary (buy 1,200 gp/sell 600 gp)

    It’s a balance between having the materials too expensive and having the players sell everything, and having materials be too cheap and the players can go out and buy whatever they want, make magic items and then sell those for full value.

    However this looks a little flat. All items of the same rarity have the same price. I like that, but other people might think that looks weird. Maybe I care too much about what other people think. This crafting system focuses on the combination of descriptors, right? Are materials that have more descriptors more valuable?

    “Legendary Fire Crystal of Burning” VS “Legendary Halo of Burning, Brightness, and Justice”.

    r= Rarity
    d= Number of Characteristic Descriptors
    V= Value of crafting material


    Fire Crystal=1,200gp. Halo=1,480gp. Value per # (here 20%) of descriptors can be adjusted. Excel sheet

    Keep on doing your thing man! I like the approach you are taking, working through defining the ingredients before jumping into how to combine them.

  14. Usually, I learn exciting things about TTRPGs here, but this time, I learned a useful tool for dissecting requirements and end goals, which, as a software engineer, isn’t a bad tool to have. Thanks a bundle on honing my critical eye.

  15. Pretty sure someone by now has suggested this, and it’s inspired by RTS games (and thus doesnt make much sense here) but, what about limiting the amount of raw, gathered resources to very few ones, like 4 or 8? Then, you combine these resources into compoumd ones, and use those to make the items in themselves.

    This would avoid (or try to) the problem of a party obtaining useless raw resources, and avoid having to micromanage 30 different materials with barely any use each

    • Another way to solve this would be to make most ingredients expire in a couple of days. Either you use them, sell them or lose them.

  16. Thanks for this series on crafting, Angry. I don’t know when it is going to be ready to use, but I’m seriously thinking of giving raw materials as treasure and hoping it will be soon enough so that my players will actually make something out of the wolf pelt and kobold scales.

    Until then, I will “mathsturbate” a little (and I must say I love your jokes on mapsturbation). For those that actually like to see this kind of thing.

    I started on the assumption that cafting an item should require around 5 raw materials of it’s tier. For example, a potion of healing could use 4 common herbs. Let’s suppose common raw materials are worth 10 GP; the herbs value would be a little less than the value of the potion. What seems fair to make crafting better (if only a little) than buying.

    But, if I put these herbs and my players don’t want to craft they will sell for 20 GP. So I must replace 20 GP from the treasure with the herbs. The problem is, now if the players craft the potion they are making a profit. Or, saying it another way, I can’t be sure if I’m giving 20 GP worth of treasure (they sell the herbs) or 50 GP worth of treasure (they craft a potion). And this only gets worse with higher rarity itens.

    So, I would probably make the common raw materials worth 20 GP. This way I remove 40 GP from treasure. Or require 8 herbs to craft the potion, so that I still remove 40 GP from treasure.

    I imagine that this also stops players from buying materials to make a profit. If buy 80 GP worth of herbs to craft a 50 GP potion, they are wasting money.

    Also means that if they have found only 3 herbs while adventuring, they can buy the last one with no worries.

    While I know you have already thought about this, and will possibly have a different view or implementation, I find it a good creative exercise. At least it got me thinking about higher rarity itens and other stuff.

    For example, I just realised that according to the cost of magical itens on the DMG, plate mail would be a rare item (which is funny because it actually makes some sense, given its usefulness when compared to a +2 weapon or +2 shield).

  17. This system looks exciting! I have been looking for some other choices besides, here is a magic item that makes you stronger, here is a magic item that is useless, here is some mundane loot (have fun figuring out what to do with the gold), or here is some consumable magic. And yes I am aware that the players not having anything to do with their gold is at least partially, if not almost entirely, my fault as the GM, but I’m new at this.

    Angry, on the note of you not commenting on this stuff. I just wanted to say that I have found most of your comments to be clarifying and useful. Someone will say something that seems to make sense and then you will respond with a comment about who wrong they are and it will give me an aha about what you meant in the first place, or further clarify it. I often just scroll the comment sections for your responses to people to get a better grasp of what you write, so please don’t stop responding to people in the comments altogether.

    Also, have you thought about making another book? I only discovered your site a couple weeks ago but I enjoyed having a way to support your, frankly lifesaving, work in a way that results in me having something to show for it and would definitely buy another book if you made one. Maybe one that includes your series on running combats and building encounters among other things?

    Also, as I mentioned, I am very new but enthusiastic about this whole DM thing and would appreciate advice on a few things. Namely, how to get less worser a little faster (I get overwhelmed by all the advice and end up doing none of it well) and how to get buy-in both before and during games from people who are skeptical about D&D (namely my girlfriend and my 10-year-old son who would mostly rather play video games or watch youtube)

    • While I’m not Angry, I can tell you what I’m doing to get less worse a little faster.

      1. I try to always remember that Angry has been a GM for a long time. He achieved his current god-like skill (ahem, cof cof) after spending time and effort. I’m not going to become a less worse GM in one day. Not even in a year.
      (This is valid for everything, of course. There is no Royal Road to learning.)

      2. I try to run as many games as possible. Well, as many games as I can schedule at least. Practice makes perfect.

      3. Every session I focus on doing something right (or not wrong at least). One day is encounter building, the other is bringing life to a NPC, the other is setting the tone for the adventure… Little by little it becomes easier and I run games that are less worse in more ways.

      4. I realized, the very first tries are always garbage. The first time I tried to handle the combat pace less worse? It sucked. Took me a while to get the gist of it. So, back to step 2 (practice makes perfect).

      I don’t think I can suggest an order of articles to read, it will be heavely dependent on your preferences and experience… But I strongly advise for “Jumping the Screen” and “5 Simple Rules” as your starting point, even if you have already GM’d before (you can find both at the GMing basically submenu).

    • As for buy-in from people that doesn’t really wan’t to play… I can see where you are coming from, because I am there myself. But, why would you want to play with someone that is not really commited? Look for someone that wants to play. Actually this has always been my main problem: lack of interested players (studies and work are always priority). You can try an online game. Or see if your local gamestore has a weekly game, they usually do.

      Now, my wife sometimes accepts to play, but she does so basically because divorce is not an option. Haha.

      Seriously though, my wife gets bored really fast. With anything, from games to movies. So when I run for her, I try to make the adventures a little shorter (I aim for 3 hours instead of 4-5), and I’m working on speeding the pace as well. It doesn’t make she more willing to play, but makes the game a better experience for her. Maybe this will work for you, at least a bit.

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