A Defense of Crafting

A caricature of a debate. Original source unknown.
A caricature of a debate. Original source unknown.

Shortly after posting the first iteration of my alternate Pathfinder crafting system last week, I was perusing the blag-o-cube, and encountered a relevant essay over on 1d30. The post is primarily about the general pointlessness of NPC classes (something I heartily agree with), but briefly diverges into an argument against the very idea that players should pursue crafting within the game. It’s written in a very amusing fashion, and I recommend you take a minute to follow the link above. Upon first reading it my own feelings were conflicted. On the one hand, I’ve always enjoyed crafting within the game, and to have that pursuit demeaned bruised my ego a bit.* On the other, I found the author’s comments (forgive me, I do not know his or her name) compelling. They’re not just spewing vitriol at something they dislike; they’re making strong points against the inclusion of crafting.

Add to that a twitter exchange which occurred the next day on my personal account, after I shared Jack’s analysis of my crafting posts. My good tweep @Grimnir_, it seems, shares the opinion of 1d30.

Twitter Screenshot of Grimnr_ and LinkSkywalker

It had honestly never occurred to me before that there were people who didn’t think crafting was a good part of the game. It would seem that a defense of the crafting skill is in order. There are several issues which have been raised, so I’ll address each in turn.

*Only for a moment, mind you. It’s a fool who ties their ego into the game they play; but that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of foolishness.

Crafting is a distraction from the game.

It’s true that crafting is not a core element of D&D or its descendants. It’s difficult to define precisely what the core of D&D is, but if I were to attempt it, I’d say that “D&D is a game where the GM describes an environment containing challenges and rewards, which must be navigated by the players, who each control an individual character.” A lot of different scenarios can fit within that description, but crafting items is not one of them. So it would follow that if crafting items is not part of the game’s core element, then it either supports the game’s core element, or distracts from it.

Obviously, items and equipment support the game’s core. Swords and armor are required to overcome certain types of challenges, while rope and 10′ poles are required to solve other types of challenges. Further, I would argue that modifying those items, or coming up with new items entirely, is very much a core element of D&D. Navigating the challenges of the game environment is an exercise in creativity, and creating new tools to accomplish tasks better is a big part of that. For example, my 10′ poles often have a small pocket knife mounted on one end, and a large hook mounted on the other, because I’ve found that modified version of the tool to be much more versatile than a 10′ long piece of wood. Of course, an NPC in town can take care of that for me for a handful of coins. But I, like many players, prefer to be self sufficient when possible.

At this point I’m dangerously close to constructing a straw man, so lets be clear. Crafting rules aren’t about adding a hook to your 10′ pole, they’re about creating rings of invisibility and swords that shoot lasers. But aren’t those, also, tools? If a player comes up with a great plan which they’re really proud of, but it requires a magic item they don’t have, then should that plan be abandoned? I’d prefer my players didn’t abandon an interesting idea just because they lack one of the necessary tools. Should I then support them by placing the item they need in a treasure hoard? I’d prefer not to do that either. I don’t think players should be able to dictate what items are found. The problem could potentially be solved if players are able to purchase magic items off the shelves in a magic item shop, but I have no interest in allowing such shops to exist in my game.

That leaves only crafting; either by commission from a craftsperson, or by the player’s own hands. The former method is great, and I’ve used it many times myself. But if the player wishes to be more involved in the process, I can’t think of a good reason why I would deny them the right to try.

All of that being said, though, the argument that crafting is a distraction is a strong one.

Crafting takes time away from other players.

I’m not certain if this argument is based on a difference of GMing styles, or a misunderstanding of when crafting would be handled, but it is not a problem. The other players generally aren’t around when crafting is going on. In my games, there are set periods of ‘down time,’ which normally take place between gaming sessions. Unless a session ends in medias res, then the next session will begin a week or so later. Adventurers need time to rest and recuperate, after all. This is particularly useful for wizards; who even in the absence of crafting have a lot of time consuming tasks to perform; Scribing scrolls, researching new spells, etc.

I like to use this time between sessions as a resource which the players must manage. They have a number of tasks available to them, all of which will take at least a day or more to complete. These tasks don’t require the player’s direct involvement, so there’s no need for more than a sentence or two letting me know which task their character is engaged in. Perhaps they’re carousing, or searching for a new hireling, or trying to learn a new language…

…or crafting.

Regardless of what task the character engages in, I can say from experience that it does not take up undue game time. And, in fact, it has the added benefit of keeping players in thinking about the game during the time between sessions.

Crafting requires a great deal of study and practice; study and practice which an adventurer should not have time for.

Strictly speaking, this is true. Adventurers are not ‘weekend warriors’ who delve into dungeons deep and caverns old on Saturday/Sunday, then ascend to the surface so they can return to their tailoring shop the other 5 days of the week. Learning to be a master craftsperson is a major undertaking which can require a lifetime of dedication. It’s not something an adventurer would have time for.

And I’m going to be very blunt: I don’t care.

If others do care, that’s fine by me. Different people are comfortable at different levels of verisimilitude. For myself, I can suspend my disbelief and accept that a 12th level fighter also has mad swordmaking skills.

Players who are trying to make money with crafting are bogging the game down with pointless, boring minutia.

Honestly, I’ve never once encountered a player who wanted to use the crafting skill as a means of making money. But personal experience is only anecdotal evidence, and I’m sure such people exist. And wherever they are, I’d like to tell them to stop being stupid.

If your players are actually trying to turn D&D into a manufacturing business simulator, then you can slap them with my blessing. Just once though.

Allowing players to create items unbalances, and reduces the importance of finding treasure.

This is an entirely legitimate concern. If crafting allows players to gain access to items too easily, then the entire dynamic of challenge/reward which is at the game’s very core could be upended. Fortunately, a solidly build crafting systems can avoid this pitfall in a number of ways:

  • Crafting is a huge money sink. Players will need to adventure for a long time in order to afford the materials for their fancy magic sword.
  • Each individual crafting skill is limited in its range. A fighter can be an armorsmith, so they can make plate or chain armor for themselves and their allies. But they can’t make weapons, nor can they make leather armor for the rogue, nor can they make magic rings, nor any of the other things adventurers need.
  • Make crafting at least partially dependent on treasure. In the next treasure hoard, the players find schematics for a marvelous weapons. If they are not craftspeople themselves, they can commission the sword from a sufficiently talented NPC.

I think that just about covers the arguments I read on the subject. I hope everyone feels that their views were represented fairly, and that my responses were soundly reasoned. After thinking about these arguments, I can see why someone would want to exclude crafting as an option from their games; even though I have no interest in doing that. I still think crafting is pretty fucken’ awesome!

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7 thoughts on “A Defense of Crafting”

  1. I love having characters that build things in games and sometime that means crafting things, but not always.

    As a GM, who am I to tell people what their characters should be doing with their time and money. If a player wants to have a character who is also seeking to be a master swordsmith, who am I to say no? Make the character you want and we will have fun working out the consequences in play.

  2. The thing I like about crafting rules (within which I would include scribing scrolls and spell research) is that they give players something useful for their hard-earned gold. Especially in a GP = XP game, I think this dynamic is very valuable (and much better than the taxation approach that Gygax seems to suggest within the AD&D DMG).

    It is true that one should be careful to not make crafting too potent when compared to adventuring (or, as you say, make crafting require resources that you have to adventure for, whether that is specific components or just general wealth). My significant other, for example, was very into Skyrim for a while, until he realized that he could get magic items more easily by crafting than by adventuring, at which point he got bored of the game.

    One good way to do this I think is to limit the categories that any specific character can make. AD&D does this with artifacts, but there’s no reason to not restrict some of the more powerful “standard” magic items to treasure hoards, remnants of the lost arts of the past.

    1. Pathfinder 3.X use the same artifact system. And, in fact, artifacts are specifically defined as “Magic items which are either unique, or which nobody knows how to make anymore.”

      I think this comment could be safely added to the post above, and it would still represent my opinion.

  3. I would argue the point about crafting not being a core part of DnD. In the original editions it was absolutely the focal point of any character level 10+. Each class had its own rules for building castles, gathering armies, maintaining a fief, creating artifacts and magic items, etc. As Brendan notes above, it gives players something to do with their hard earned wealth.

    In that sense, its not “introducing loot” as Grim says, but transforming the “flex” portion of loot into those items and goodies that players want.

  4. Hey, thanks for the tweet!

    I think I half agree with both of you, actually, and I confess to only skimming either post (I promise to come by and give both my full attention when I’m not dodging my boss…). I think that NPC classes and skills and so on are really important for the game because I expect to be able to model NPCs reliably. I think Craft and Profession are great for NPCs, but they’re also good for when PCs have downtime (which I think should happen more than it does; I LOVE the way Ars Magika did downtime… hmmm, “Downtime Abbey”…).

    I don’t think it’s a distraction or takes time away from other players any more than, well, anything else players might want to do. “Political intrigue,” “romantic trysts,” and “dungeon crawling” could all be accused of the same depending on the group you have and the style of game you’re doing. I do think that Crafts and Professions are questionable for an adventurer, but I don’t think there’s a problem with playing a butcher-turned-adventurer or playing a group of non-adventurer (in the traditioal sense) PCs. If you’re doing a city-based intrigue game, a standard adventurer would be out of place. And if one thinks we shouldn’t be able to play a game based on non-adventurer PCs, then he and I have very different ideas on what an RPG should allow.

    I do think that crafting CAN take away from finding treasure, and that’s part of what I want to address with my investigation into the system. Obviously, it’s only a problem if you can make anything you can find (or suitable equivalents), and only if the making doesn’t involve some other kind of treasure finding (sure, I can make that sword, but I need some rare materials…). I’m not sure either of those should be true (or is true in D&D 3.X/Pathfinder rules as written).

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