Broken Crafts

Posted: 2 July 2012 in Game Structure
Tags: ,

I decided to start this blog when it occurred to me (thanks in great part to Justin from The Alexandrian) that the majority of the difficulty and frustration I’d experienced as a GM was due to the fact that I didn’t have all the tools necessary to run a complete game.  The Hexcrawl was and remains the missing structure that I’m most interested in (mainly because exploration was the most interesting and least supported facet of the game), but there are also a number of broken structures that I want to repair or replace.  High on that list is the system for Crafting.

Here I’m talking about the Pathfinder/D&D3.X system for the Crafting Skill, since that’s the system I use.  Amusingly, Justin Alexander used the Craft Skill as a basis for his Calibrating Expectations post, which has been foundational to my paradigm shift.  And for the purposes of that article I think the system works out pretty well — as Justin demonstrates, a skilled Blacksmith performs roughly as would be expected under the system.  But when I looked closer at the skill (prompted by my desire to run a game where PCs started off as smiths, coopers, masons, and other Craft-based professions) it seemed to break down rather quickly.  In particular, it struck me that the system is such that, all else being equal, items with a higher DC are easier to craft.

Here’s how 3.X Crafting works: find the item’s price in Silver (where 1 gp = 10 sp), then find the item’s DC based on it’s type (a table is provided at the SRD).  Collect raw materials equal to 1/3 the cost of the finished product, then make a roll each week to determine progress on the project.  Failing by 4 or less is simply no progress; failing by 5 or more ruins the project and half of the raw materials (apparently regardless of how much progress you’ve made).  On a success, multiply the check result by the DC and record the number; it it’s equal to the cost-in-silver, you’re done; if it’s equal to 2 or 3 times the cost in silver, you’re done in half or one-third the time (etc).  If it’s below the cost-in-silver you make more checks in following weeks until you reach that threshold.

I like crunching numbers, and when I started chewing on this one it stopped making sense.  There are three components to the formula: the cost-in-silver, the creation DC, and the skill roll, or Success=Cost/(DC*Roll).  Given the timescale we’re working on (measured in weeks by default) it seems to me that you’re never going to need to do anything but Take 10, so everything here is actually a constant, not a variable.  So, let’s pick it apart.  If cost goes up and the rest is constant, then it takes longer to create the item — that seems reasonable.  If the roll (our Take 10 result) goes up and the rest is constant, it takes less time — so a more-skilled worker gets the job done faster; that makes sense, too.  But if the DC goes up — if it’s HARDER to create — and the rest stays constant, it takes LESS time.  That is: a simple item that costs 200 silver and has a DC of 5 will take more time (apparently 4 times as long) as a complex item that costs 200 silver and has a DC of 20.

Now, I’ll admit: there’s nothing published (that I’m aware of) that costs 20gp and would qualify as a simple item (the example given in the Skill table being a spoon).  And in fact, it seems that generally higher-DC items cost more gold, so the decrease in time from a high DC is probably offset by an increase in time from the cost.  But I can tell you that a Heavy Pick (12gp, DC 15) is likely to take less time to craft than a Morningstar (12gp, DC12).  Is it a big difference?  Does it make sense?  I don’t know.  But I do know that it’s counter-intuitive that higher DCs make for shorter crafting times.

On top of that, this system is completely different from the rules for crafting Magical items.  For magic items, it takes 1 day per 1000gp (or fraction thereof), and a single roll is made (usually Spellcraft) to determine success at the end of the process.  To compare, progressing by 1000gp in a day for Crafting an item would require a (Roll*DC)/7 equal to 10,000, or a DC 7000 if we assume a roll of 10 (requiring a bonus of +6990).  Since a lot of the magic item’s value has to do with magic and not crafting per se, maybe that makes sense.  But the systems aren’t even similar.

I haven’t found a good fix to this issue, and so far I haven’t had a strong motivation to work one up — players don’t generally want to spend time crafting items.  But I think that fact in itself is a god reason to want to get a better system in place, so that crafting things can be a desirable thing to do.

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Comments
  1. LS says:

    Hah, that’s funny. I’ve been talking about my fix for the system for awhile, and a couple weekends ago sat down and made a solid attempt at putting it into practice.

    It was an abysmal failure, which will be detailed in an upcoming post of mine on P&P.

    • Jack says:

      I’m really curious to hear about that; I like the *idea* of the D&D system, but the details are implemented… poorly, I think. And I’m pretty sure it’s because they were trying to keep Players from making money.

      • LS says:

        My goal is to make crafting an adventure. I’d split weapons and armor into sub types (just cuz you can make plate mail doesn’t mean you can make cloth armor), and you wouldn’t need to be a caster to craft. The higher you rolled, the better item you would be able to create (essentially) so there would come a point where you could never fail at crafting lower-level armor. Instead of spells, magic items would require rare components which would need to be quested for (or, sometimes, just a spell scroll) and treasure hordes would include ancient diagrams for constructing long forgotten magic equipment.

        The detailes are *far* from worked out yet. As I said, attempting to fit it into the skills system was an abysmal failure. I’ve since decided that it will be far more fun to implement in a future game without a skills system. But until that happens, I’m just going to need to work out some method of making the system work in PF.

        • Jack says:

          I like the idea; thematically, it meshes with my desires.
          Personally, though, I’m still not on board with skill-less systems; my only real taste has been in the 5E playtest, but I’d rather have to rule on the odd-ball exceptions than make everything from whole-cloth, and skills add that little “training and education matters” that I like.

          • LS says:

            I hung on to skills for a long time myself. But after doing my analysis, as well as some further investigation, I’ve concluded that Pathfinder’s skill system is fundamentally broken and cannot be fixed.

            And while a system with a better rule system might function better, after looking through the skills I had left, I honestly feel like all of them could be represented better. I’m not saying that mechanics shouldn’t exist; they should. I’m also not saying that none of those mechanics will look like skills: they can.

            What I do think is that a big ol’ list of skills which players put points into is not a concept which works well in tabletop.

            • Jack says:

              “What I do think is that a big ol’ list of skills which players put points into is not a concept which works well in tabletop.”

              That I can probably agree with, but I’d want to think about it more. Do you have thoughts on it in your blog archive somewhere?

              • LS says:

                Aside from the big-ass analysis which you’ve already read, I do have an upcoming post.

                It’s not live yet, so I can’t share it in public. But if you email me (my email is listed under ‘contact’ over on P&P) I can send you a preview link detailing some math I recently did on the subject.

                • Jack says:

                  Actually, I think I’m still working on getting to your big analysis; see also: Drowning In Content. I got through your into but then decided to read -C’s series first, and I’m trying to decide on hecrawl and mapping systems to use for a game I’d like to start… It’s all crazy.

                  • LS says:

                    With so many good bloggers out there, one begins to wonder if there’s any hope for getting noticed by the industry. =P

                    • Jack says:

                      -laughs- I’m generally ambivalent toward the industry. It’d be great to have some impact on them, but I’m really more interested in influencing my peers in the hobby; I don’t think the Industry and I agree on what’s best for the hobby, mostly because I’m not trying to earn my living off of it.

  2. […] LS and I agree that D&D/Pathfinder Crafting skills are pretty much useless as-written. We both think there should be a way to re-cast the crafting system so that it still […]

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