On Crafting Skills

Posted: 31 January 2013 in Game Structure
Tags: , , , ,

LS over at Paper and Pencils has been doing some great stuff at re-inspecting Pathfinder, much of which I’m still catching up on.  And seeing as last night was a “no sleep for daddy” night and this morning has been a “coffee weak as water” kind of morning, this probably isn’t the best time for me to try digging in to such a topic.  But I go where the spirit moves me!

Both 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 works within the bounds of the Skill System (skill points, roll d20+bonuses against a DC to determine success or failure, etc). But LS and I are working off of a different set of assumptions; he wants to balance Crafting PC-to-PC (focusing on game balance and utility), and I’m interested in balancing PC-to-NPC (focusing on in-world modeling and meaning). I think LS and I had words over this difference of opinion before, but it’s mostly a matter of taste and interpretation.

LS draws up a table comparing a moderately-invested PC (we’ll call him Min) versus a heavily-invested PC (he’ll be Max), level for level. Min has a +2 attribute bonus, has the skill as a Class Skill (+3) and takes a point in the skill every level (+lvl); Max has a +5 in the attribute at level 1, adds to his attribute at every chance (+1 at 8 and 16), takes Skill Focus (+3 at Lvl 1, another +3 at Lvl 10), has the skill as a Class Skill (+3) and takes a point in the skill every level (+lvl). Right off the problem is clear, as Min has a score of 5+Lvl and Max has a score of 11+Lvl at Level 1, 12+Lvl at Level 8, 15+Lvl at Level 10, and 16+Lvl at Level 16. Max starts out essentially double Min’s effectiveness and has several hops in his progression where Min increases linearly. LS concludes that crafting can not be balanced, I conclude that we’re trying to balance the wrong thing.

Based on my assumptions, I think there are three characters to consider when determining how we should treat the skill: the Amature NPC (Al), the Professional NPC (Paul), and the Master NPC (Matt). Like most people in the world, they are all level 1 and do not advance. Al has an average attribute (+0) and no formal training (not a class skill), just what he’s able to pick up by doing (+1 skill point). Paul is talented (+1 attribute) and has been trained (+3 class skill) in addition to applying the skill (+1 skill point).  Matt is truly gifted (+2 attribute) and has been not only trained (+3) but focused on his craft (+3 Skill Focus) in addition to applying the skill (+1).  So we have three flat values that most of the world will conform to: +1 for Al, +4 for Paul, and +9 for Matt. With an assiatant (+2 help) and taking their time (Take 10), they can respectively hit DC 12, DC 16, and DC 21. Reaching beyond their skill (ie, rolling the die) gives them the chance to hit DC 22, DC 26, and DC 31, but risks ruining the whole effort.

Player characters will start out as an amature, professional, or master – possibly with some variation and potentially with much more raw talent (if the GM allows high ability scores). But unlike most of the rest of the world, PCs perform deeds that gain them Experience and raise their level, gradually becoming more than mundane. Higher level NPCs may exist, but just like PCs they are suitably Heroic, Mythic, Legendary, or God-like as well.

Masterwork items should have a DC of 20, so that a talented Master can create them reliably. The entirety of mundane crafting should be achievable within DC 30 or less, noting that these crafts are beyond the normal ability of a Master. Beyond that (and I might even say beyond DC 25) we enter the realm of crafting things that are more than mundane.

LS tosses out this notion, concluding from his treatment of Min and Max that there’s no good way to make the skill useful for Min without being broken by Max if item quality alone determines the DC. But this is because he’s comparing players to players in a competative sense, where as I’m comparing players to the world being modeled with the understanding (or even expectation) that players will quickly outshine all others. (That’s part of the point, isn’t it?) I also think that there’s a component of Skill bonuses that LS is neglecting – yes, it determines maximum range of the feats you’re able to pull off, but it also determines the complications that you can cope with and still be successful. Crafting an item without proper tools, in an unsuitable environment, or clandestinely (such as creating weapons in a jail cell without the guards catching on) might heap on a bunch of penalties, andit would take a suitably talented and skill individual to pull it off.

As-written the Crafting skill uses time, cost, and DC in an interconnected way that leads to non-intuitive results and/or absurd crafting times.  I’d like to address that, probably just by de-coupling the three of them.  But I’ll have to say that for another time.

  1. LS says:

    We did in fact have words over this before, which resulted in the only time I’ve ever pulled a fully completed post from being published.

    You present some very interesting points, but I don’t think one can completely ignore the problem of balance between players.

    Should Min be able to craft level-appropriate magic items? If the answer is no, then why should Min pursue the skill? If the answer is yes, then what’s to stop Max from crafting items appropriate for a character 10 levels higher than he is?

    (I’d also like to note, briefly, that both Min and Max are characters who could easily exist using basic game rules. Min is not a gimped character, and Max is not a minmaxed character.)

    • Jack says:

      Yeah; if I haven’t before, I’d like to apologize for any offense caused by that argument.

      I’ve written and rewritten this reply three times now, and I think the long-and-short is that there’s no answer I could give you that would be both quick and satisfying. No, balance can’t be completely ignored. Yes, the game allows both Min and Max without complaint. No, despite my tongue-in-cheek naming convention, Max is not min/maxed.

      Yes, these issues need to be resolved. No, the game-as-a-game is not my foremost concern, the game-as-model-of-reality is. As we build up the model it should be checked against the game to see if it breaks things; if it does, then we need to look for ways to fix it.

      I’m not that far into my thinking yet, and my base assumptions (namely that someone like Max is a once-in-a-millenia occurence, etc) are very different from yours (any player can be Max in any game). If once in a millenia a man of legendary ability can craft a weapon to rival the gods… well, maybe I’m OK with that. That doesn’t mean I ever want to play a game with him.

      • LS says:

        Absolutely no offense was taken. This is an exchange of ideas, and I’m more than happy to have someone tear my ideas to pieces so that I can better refine them in the future.

        And while I agree that game balance should not be our primary concern, I think it’s bad if we allow the game to become so unbalanced that players feel obligated to play the game in a certain way, simply because not doing so would mean they were gimped.

        (Remember, of course, that I play the game as a game. I don’t play it as an “exploration of character,” or an “immerse fantasy experience.” My players will never decide to voluntarily gimp themselves, nor should they in my opinion.)

        The crafting system I posted over on P&P is a patch. It’s my attempt to make crafting work in Pathfinder without abandoning the skill rules. But those skill rules are holding crafting back. It could be a lot more fun than the skills system allows it to be.

        • Jack says:

          Good to hear it; opinions can get heated and it’s impossible to read tone on the Internet.

          And I agree entirely as far as game balance still being an important consideration; it’s all well and good to say certain choices are made for character reasons, but those choices should still be meaningful. No one should feel like they’re intentionally gimping themselves unless that’s their direct intent.

          (And many people play the game as a game; it IS a game, and far be it for me to tell someone they’re having fun wrong. That being said, it’s not really my kind of fun if the game-as-game is primary, so I tend to prioritize the bits I prefer.)

          I like your patch, such as it is, and I agree that as-written the system is very limited. I’d be curious to see what kind of a system you’d put together for crafting if Skills weren’t an assumption. I think I can cobble together a workable patch of my own here, but it’ll be based off my assumptions of what attributes and levels and difficulties mean.

          • LS says:

            I’ve been developing a skills-independent crafting system alongside the one I recently posted. Once I’ve finished playing with the skills system (I think I have 4-5 more posts planned on the subject) I’ll move on to getting the other system wrapped up.

  2. Brendan says:

    Shouldn’t taking their time be take 20, not take 10?

    I speak d20 less than fluently, but that’s how I read the SRD.

    • Jack says:

      No, Taking 10 is when you have no distractions and can take your time to Do It Right the first time. Taking 20 is doing it again and again, and failing again and again, until you get it perfect. Pretty sure the rules talk about how Taking 20 costs 20 times whatever a regular attempt would cost, in terms of time, material, etc.

  3. Brendan says:

    with the understanding (or even expectation) that players will quickly outshine all others. (That’s part of the point, isn’t it?)

    Obviously this is a matter of taste, but I would most emphatically say that that is not the point. Personally, I’m more interested in the exploration of the world and development of the characters, with no built in ideas of heroism or PC superiority.

    • Jack says:

      So am I, but that doesn’t really work if you allow characters with a 20 Int, etc… I’m not sure it works if you allow characters with more than one or two attributes at 12+. Statistically they ARE superior.

      • LS says:

        Of course, that’s Pathfinder, with it’s 4d6 drop the lowest, arrange to taste.

        If I may be so bold as to speak for Brendan, he prefers 3d6 in order. And he’s converted me to his way of thinking in that regard.

        • Jack says:

          I’m a fan of that, too; or else use a Standard Array (arrange to taste). I like people who are closer to the average, generally, and I’m sympathetic to people who don’t want to play a game with a “crappy character.” That is, if he wants to play a strongman, let him play a strongman.

          • LS says:

            While I can certainly understand the desire not to play a ‘crappy character,’ I think our standard for ‘crappy’ has risen to an unrealistic degree.

            A Pathfinder or 4e player will look at a character who doesn’t have at least one ability score of 18 and think the character is ‘crappy.’ Playing OD&D has taught me that a character who has just one ability score of 15 or higher is good. And a character with a 17 or higher is amazing.

            • Jack says:

              Oh, I completely agree! When I say Standard Array, I mean the one from the DMG, which is 15/14/13/12/10/8 for ‘heroes’ and 13/12/11/10/9/8 for regular folk. When *I* say crappy, I mean a character with 10 Int when I want to play a Wizard, or 8 Cha when I want to be a smooth lady’s man. Or worse if we’re doing 3d6 in order, since the odds are fair that I’ll have a 7 or something lurking around.

              • LS says:

                Part of that is later editions, where your ability scores have a greater impact on your class abilities.

                I’ve played several OD&D magic users with ~10 int, and not had any issues.

                But I do take your point. One solution I’ve seen is that stats must be rolled in order, but the player may switch two of them around. (Want to be a fighter but you rolled poor strength? Switch your strength score with the really high wisdom score you rolled.)

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