Crafting Weapons & Armor in Pathfinder

Another Lego Blacksmith
Another photograph of a Lego Blacksmith

Building on what I determined last week, I’d like to move on to actually producing a working craft skill for Pathfinder. I have a lot of ideas for how to proceed, but for this particular system, I’m working within two important design constraints.

  1. The the resulting craft skill must use the Pathfinder skill system, without circumventing or subverting it. Regardless of how far this system strays from the game’s original design, it must involve rolling a d20, modifying the roll with the character’s skill level, and comparing the results against a DC to determine success or failure.
  2. Feats should not be necessary to craft an item. If a character invests skill points in a crafting skill, they should receive the benefits of that skill without needing a feat to turn it into a useful ability.

Unfortunately, due to the titanic level disparity between moderately invested, and focused characters, I’ve needed to abandon the third of my original criteria; that the difficulty of crafting an item would be determined by the DC, cost, and crafting time alone. Unfortunately that’s simply not feasible when a focused character at level 10 has the same crafting ability as a moderately invested character at level 20.

Were I to insist that the number rolled represent the absolute quality of the item being crafted, then either:

  1. The 26-45 range allows characters to craft the highest level weapons, in which case everyone should focus on crafting, because it allows you to make a +5 Vorpal Sword at level 10.
  2. The 26-45 range allows characters to craft weapons appropriate for level 10, in which case no one should ever bother with crafting, because it requires a lot of investment, and stops being useful at mid level.
  3. A middle ground is attempted, which would only mitigate the problem slightly; not fix it.

None of these alternatives are acceptable to me. Which is why I think the system should also take the character’s level into account. By limiting the power of crafted magic items based on level, I keep the focused character from leaping too far ahead of the game, without simultaneously forcing the moderately invested character to fall miles behind. Both heavily focused characters and moderately invested character will always be able to make the same items as one another (assuming they are the same level). But while a focused character will almost always succeed in making a magic item on their first try, a moderately invested character will likely fail a few times first, perhaps creating cursed items.

In Pathfinder, weapons and armor can have two different kinds of magical properties. There is the common numerical bonus, which ranges from +1 to +5; and the special ability, which can take many forms. Perhaps it’s a “Flaming Burst” weapon, or “Shadowskin” armor. These special bonuses each have a numerical equivalent listed in the book, to help determine the item’s pricing and the maximum power of the weapon. For example, “Arrow Catching” armor is equivalent to +1, while “Spell Resistance 19” is equivalent to +5. Each item can have a maximum of +10 effective bonus (only five of which may take the form of a numerical bonus). This is all standard Pathfinder stuff, which can be found in chapter 15 of the core rulebook.

Using this method of determining weapon and armor ability values, a craftsperson can create an item with an effective item bonus equal to 1/2 their character level. But only 1/4 of their character level may be numerical bonuses.

So at level. 1, a character can craft masterwork armor. At level 2, one half of their level is 1, allowing them to create Arrow Catching armor. However, since 1/4 of 2 is still less than 1, the character could not create +1 armor. They can’t do that until they reach level 4, at which point they can create armor with an effective bonus of +2, so they could create +1 Arrow Catching armor if they so chose.

(Note: For those familiar with Pathfinder’s item creation rules, you will notice that I’ve removed the requirement that all magic items must be at least magically +1. I don’t think that’s necessary)

The base DC for crafting a masterwork item is 20. The DC for the crafting check increases by 2 for each effective item bonus added to the item. So a set of +1 Arrow Catching armor (an effective item bonus of 2) thus has a DC of 24.

Here’s a chart of how this would break down over the course of the game. Under bonuses, the numerical bonus is listed on the left, while the special ability bonus is listed on the right. Though, of course, there’s nothing to stop characters from ignoring the numerical bonus entirely, and simply using all of their available effective item bonuses to add special abilities to the weapon.

Crafting Skill Table

I think a week of crafting time for most items should be sufficient, though I’d rather leave that up to GM discretion. Gold pieces required to craft the item should be equal to 1/2 the items value. And any special materials would need to be acquired separately from that. If a spell is called for, a scroll will be sufficient, though if the character wishes to avoid that route, then they can seek out a special reagent at the GM’s discretion. (“Want to skip the scroll of Darkseeing? Then you better bring me a Drow’s eye!”)

If a roll is failed, then the character has a 10% chance to create a cursed item. Otherwise, they’ll simply create the best item their roll would have allowed for. So if they’re trying to create a +3/+4 sword, but they roll a 31, then the GM should roll first to determine if the sword will become a cursed item. If not, then the player has successfully created a +2/+3 sword.

I’m not convinced that this is the best way to handle crafting, but it’s the best way that I can come up with which still uses the Pathfinder skills system.

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8 thoughts on “Crafting Weapons & Armor in Pathfinder”

  1. This is excellent. I’m guessing this is last night’s breakthrough? I love that the influence is on magical effects rather than the plus paradigm, and will be using this for my games.

    1. Elements of this idea have been stewing in my head for the past week, but the rest of it only really became clear to me when I sat to try and force the system to come into being.

      Of course, there’s still wondrous items, magic rings, etc which will need to be dealt with. But now that this has come together, I think I’ve got some ideas about how the more complicated items could be crafted.

  2. I like this; it’s a good treatment of the problem at hand. I also like that it ostensibly encourages players to create things more interesting than a +2 Longsword.

      1. I haven’t done the footwork to check; I’ assuming the math works out? Is a +2 weapon appropriate for Level 10? Is a DC 30 reliable for a moderately-focused Lvl 10 PC?

        1. They actually only have a roughly 25% chance of succeeding at hitting a DC 30 or higher. That’s okay with me, though. In this system, a moderately focused character will fail to create their best weapon more often than not. That’s the downside of not being a focused character. I think it’s an acceptable drawback (and there should be SOME drawback), as opposed to a crippling one.

          At what level your players deserve a weapon of a certain power level is largely dependent on how the GM drops treasure. This system keeps things roughly in line with the wealth-by-level guidelines.

  3. I’ve been trying to find rules that say whether or not a character could use his craft skill to create his starting equipment. Eg a warpriest in the group has both craft weapons and craft armor. The player wants to use his craft abilities to create his starting gear to lower the price and give him a bit more starting gold to work with for other gear. what are your thoughts? should it be allowed?

    1. Certainly that should be allowed; so long as the crafting rolls are successful. The crafting skill can be a little useless at low levels. If the player can eke a little bit of joy out of it before they get high enough to start crafting magic items, then good for them!

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