What’s Wrong With Crafts

Posted: 7 February 2013 in Game Structure
Tags: , ,

So I mentioned before that the Crafting rules in Pathfinder as essentially useless as-written. I went through the whole of it in my previous post, but here’s the cliff notes: success is practically guaronteed given time and materials (if you’re bad you’ll waste a lot of money on ruined materials), and how much time is inversely related to the DC of the item being crafted, so more difficult items take proportionally less time to craft than simpler items (of the same value).

That’s actually the only complaint I can really level squarely at the system, I think. I have a little bit of concern about impractical craft times (my calculations show a Master smithy taking upwards of 9 months to make a suit of plate armor, but I have no notion of how realistic that is) and the fact that there are several different systems for crafting common items, traps, magic items… But each of those things are mechanically different in the game as well, so having different mechanics for crafting them isn’t absurd of its face. I think I’ll need to address both of these, but it’s more a matter of argument and investigation, whereas my primary complaint is simply math.

Of course, the fly in that ointment is that it takes less time to craft a more-difficult item of the same price, and in general it looks like more-difficult items tend to cost more, so the otherwise-wonky math just offsets the escalation, so that it doesn’t take a hundred years to forge plate armor.

Here’s a comparable pair: hook hand (DC 12, 100 sp) and a short sword (dc 15, 100 sp). Assuming a Master of moderate talent we have a Take 10 score of 18 (10 base +1 attribute, +1 skill, +3 class skill, +3 skill focus). His weekly crafting score is 216 for the hook and 270 for the short sword; in each case it’s double-but-not-triple the target (100), so they each take a half-week to complete. Huh. That doesn’t tell us anything.

If instead of a Master we assume a craftsman of minimum capable skill, with a Take 10 of 12 and 15 respectively, the hook will score 144 for the week and the sword will score 225, so the hook is done in a week and the sword is done in a few days… but the sword was done by a better craftsman. But that same craftsman would score a 180 on the hook and take a full week!  Aha!

I’m… not sure what this proves. Maybe hooks are harder to make than swords? Maybe the abstraction is good enough, without getting into the minutia of every item’s form and composition?

One more.  A Dwarven Longaxe (DC 18, 500 sp) and a Greatsword (DC 15, 500 sp). Our Master would get a weekly score of 324 for the longaxe and 270 for the Greatsword, so it would take two weeks (648 and 640) to complete each. Again, doesn’t really tell us anything, I think.

So, here’s the question that I’m left with, given a flawed system that seems to work out alright in practice: why are we doing this?  What are we trying to accomplish? LS at Pencils and Papers was actually looking to change the Crafting skill, he said so deep in his first post on Crafting: “If characters are to be able to craft magic items using the crafting system (as is my goal)…”. As-written, D&D3.X/Pathfinder Crafting isn’t intended to create magic items, as those are covered by a Feat and a separate system that (if I recall) requires no roll. By declaring that Craft should allow players to create magical items and then declaring that Crafting is broken because you can’t find a hapy medium where Decent Characters and Focused Characters can co-exist, he’s kind of making his own problem. (Sorry for the slight, LS.)

Crafting in D&D is meant to model, to some rough level of “good enough”, mundane craftsmanship. A first level character with moderate talent and training can master all but the most difficult of crafts – Alchemy has DCs in the 20 to 25 range, but most other items top off at DC 18; a Master craftsman with a few apprentices (or high-quality tools) can Take 10 on a DC 26. I propose that it is mostly a tool for guaging the efficiency of NPC craftsmen – it’s deep enough that it can be applied to PCs because NPCs and PCs exist in the same world and abide by the same mechanics.

I think this comes down to a difference in philosophy: why have a skill in your game system if it’s only really meaningful to NPCs? One of the things like I like about D&D is that, for the most part, it is a complete system. That is, it can model the whole world. Others don’t like this, and there are game systems designed with minimal mechanics, or mechanics that only pertain to PCs, or rely on GM fiat to cover anything that the designers didn’t think was important. And although I think Craft (and other skills) are mainly intended for NPCs, that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful for PCs. It’s unlikely that a Player will have the time or opportunity to forge plate armor while on an adventure, but if the group uses downtime well (and I propose that all groups should use downtime, and use t often) he might have a few months to put some together. Will it be better than the magical gear he can find while adventuring? Probably not, unless the DM decides to fudge things the way LS intends to.  But is it a pointless endeavor? Again, no – it’s cheaper to forge your paladin a new suit of armor (if you have the time and talent) than to buy a new one, and it can be used (if you have the time and talent) to pad your coin purse a bit if you can find an interested buyer. It’s not directly related to dungeon crawling, but I propose that it doesn’t need to be, and it doesn’t even need to be directly related to PCs. The power of the D&D system is it’s completeness.

(As an end note: this isn’t where I expected to be when I started the post, but in investigating the actual application of the Craft rules I don’t think it’s as broken as I thought.  Wonky? Sure. Perfect? No way. But definitely meaningful and workable.)

  1. LS says:

    I wouldn’t call it a slight, Jack. You said I’m creating my own problem. Your reasoning for that is the problem I’ve encountered is one which doesn’t exist in the rules as written. You’re right about that.

    You’re not insulting me; you’re stating a fact.

    Personally, my view is that a crafting system which doesn’t support the creation of magic items is a useless crafting system. I think that’s best handled by some small piece of character backstory. (What did you do before you became an adventurer? Carpenter? Cool, if you ever need to make a chair, you can. No roll needed.)

    • Jack says:

      Fair point; I guess anytime someone says “you’re making your own problems” it strikes me as a little offensive.

      I guess the thing is that 3.x/Pathfinder *has* a mechanic for creating magic items, but it isn’t the crafting skill. Making the crafting skill produce magic items makes it far and away better than pretty much any other skill in the game — even if you could balance Magic Crafting between moderate and focused characters, anyone who put points into Swim (or anything else) instead of Craft would be a fool.

      Lots of people and lots of systems do the whole “what’s your background/you can do that” method you mention. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not my style – too much GM fiat for my tastes. Using the Craft Skill the way I propose (heavy use of Take 10) essentially does the same thing anyways – DCs for simple and typical items are 5 and 10 respectively, so you need to just be not-brain-damaged to Take 10 and make a workable chair.

      As with most other things in the 3.X system, being a Skilled craftsman means something more than what most people seem to expect – kind of like how you, me, and Brenden all recognize the Attribute inflation where everyone expects that they need a 16 or 18 (or more) to be ‘good’ at anything.

      I have more respect for the Craft skill than I did two days ago, before I started this investigation. It feels to me like everything I look into an apparent-flaw with 3.X I just end up liking the system more because it makes sense and is immensely powerful and flexible.

      I think next I’ll look in to Magical crafting, to see exactly how I feel about that system. And I will say that I still think Feats and (to a lesser extent) Prestige Classes have been abused terribly, and need to be reformed.

  2. LS says:

    After our numerous conversations on a variety of mechanical topics, I think it’s fair to say you and I have a significantly different perspective on tabletop. On this issue, I don’t think we’ll reach a consensus, but that doesn’t mean either of us are wrong. It’s a matter of opinion, not fact.

    Remember that my foray into crafting came out of my assessment of skills early last year. An assessment which dropped the skills I would call pointless, like climb and swim, leaving only a few skills in the game.

    I also really dislike how crafting magic items works in Pathfinder. I don’t think the player should need to take a feat to craft magic items. Which is why I’ve dropped the magic crafting feats, and rolled them into the crafting skill. Yes the crafting skill is now overpowered, but skills have never been balanced. Look at Acrobatics v. Swim. There is absolutely no balance between those skills.

    • Jack says:

      Yes, we’re definitely looking for different things in our games, and that’s OK. We can still both learn things from discussing this stuff.

      I do remember your Skills culling, and… actually, I’m of two minds on the issue. On the one hand, I would do like 4E did and combine Climb, Swim, and others into Athletics, so that we’re addressing capabilities at the same level of granularity. On the other hand, I could see an argument for breaking the skills down again the way they were, with tumble and balance and so on… I think the issue of balance is a question of mismatched granularity, and rolling-up or rolling-down can fix it (Swim is balanced against Balance, Acrobatics is balanced against Athletics). The catch is just to make sure that Skill Point allocation across classes works out right. Rogues should be the kings of utility skills, but they shouldn’t be other only ones who ever take Skill X or Skill Y because skill point economy is too tight for other classes. I donno…

      And I agree, I dislike the magic item crafting in Pathfinder, especially because of the feat taxes involved. I would probably loosen that up by removing the feat reqs — after all, isn’t it already restricted to Wizards as well? I haven’t started looking at the system itself yet.

  3. Alchemist Jem says:

    So here’s a thing. A set of interactions done in a campaign where the DM scrapped the whole Crafting skill and enchanting rules as was and wrote his own.

    A level 12 party came into a town, Pathfinder system, for a few weeks off. The campaign had dead months where we could improve relations with the town, roleplay and all that. Enter the sorceress with her fighter cohort. She sells a set of magic armor for a massive profit, high interpersonal stats to barter up a good price. She then uses an insignificant portion money to forge up new armor in a week with her cohorts skill, she enchants it and sells it for massive profit. The cost to do a raw forge was still at a third base cost item but with out any time cost it just flew by. With one set of armor a week, plus free enchantment, over six weeks the sorceress made enough money to buy the town off of trade caravans.

    Pathfinder again: An Alchemist, see above name, level five just takes the feat that allows the player to not convert gp into sp for the purposes of crafting alchemical items. And when you talk about Max, I really was that guy. +5 for level, +3 for class skill, +5 for int, +3 for skill focus, +2 for Prodigy, +2 for businessman equaling out to a total +20 at level five. In addition I had swift alchemy, which allows me to cut the time in half. So in three days I could make any alchemical item, if I had the ingredients.

    • Jack says:

      Not entirely sure what kind of point you’re trying to make here. Your DM scrapped the crafting system, removed crafting times, and mythic-level characters were able to buy a town? If anything, I think your DM failed at verisimilitude several times – not accounting for crafting times, not accounting for supply and demand of raw materials, not accounting for the difficulty in finding a buyer for all this armor (what does a farmer need armor for, especially with a Level 12 Sorceress watching over the town?)…But if Level 12 characters are concerning themselves with buying a town, I’d say they’re thinking too small… (And, wait a minute, what dopes “buying a town” mean, anyways?)

      The second bit, the Level 5 Alchemist who can Take 10 on a DC 30 check is slightly more notable, but when a Level 1 Alchemist can Take 10 on a DC 26 check it’s not especially surprising (or necessarily broken). Making an item in three days (if you’ve got the ingredients) sounds fine (maybe even a little slow) to me.

      This probably sounds more aggressive than I mean it to be.

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