Crafting in RPGs


Stick with me, folks, this is going to be meandering, but I’ll hopefully reach some kind of point by the end!

I think about crafting in games a lot. Part of that was designing a crafting system for an MMO that was seemingly well-loved by the small playerbase (which owed a lot to Brandes’ work on Fallen Earth and the crafting systems in Elder Scrolls and Star Wars Galaxies). Part of it is that I’m an avid hobbyist crafter myself (all available surfaces in my house are presently largely covered with miscellaneous resin and woodworking experiments as I try to get to the point I feel like I can make a resin river table without wasting hundreds of dollars of supplies). Part of it is that I just love to tinker on customization in games when I’m a player. This week, though, it’s because the Angry GM wrote a big article about crafting.

Angry’s system is a pretty big advance on the common, afterthought D&D crafting system. After all, it’s very similar to my system for Pathfinder Online, and likely draws inspiration from the same sources (such as Elder Scrolls). But even if it’s interesting, I’m not sure it feels like crafting.

Crafting systems (like those used in virtually every MMO) where you put one or more components into a recipe and get out a predefined item are basically just optional quests. If an NPC in town offered you a mission to collect five iron ingots and turn them in to him for a basic iron sword, that would have no difference other than fiction to “crafting” that same sword using a recipe that requires five iron ingots.

The last MMO crafting system I remember feeling like it wasn’t just a quest was in Star Wars Galaxies (which was why it was an inspiration for PFO). But that worked by virtue of having lots of extremely granular and important stats such that minor variations in materials and skill could produce items with meaningful differences in use. That’s a hard enough sell in a video game (where your programmers don’t want each item in the game to be a complicated special case record and the other designers don’t want to make an extremely complex system just so items can have a bunch of things to adjust) and it’s an even harder sell in tabletop (where you don’t have a computer to run all these complex calculations for you).

Angry is right that what a lot of players seem to want out of a crafting system is a way to customize their characters. I have some reservations about that, particularly in D&D, revolving around making found treasure seem less interesting because everyone just wants to have nothing but flavorless, specialized items. But I also don’t know that you need a crafting system to achieve it: players seem just as happy to turn over custom treasure coupons to the village blacksmith or guild quartermaster and get their items, independent of the fiction that they, themselves, are crafters.

In my personal experience, particularly as a hobbyist, crafting is never like putting in a few items and getting a standardized result. While to a certain extent it is probably like that if you make the same thing repeatedly as a profession, my experience with people on reality shows and skilled crafters in real life is that even full-time creators are interested in opportunities to make something special and unpredictable. When you’re working at the edge of your skill, it’s a long fight with your materials to get them to make what’s in your head: sometimes it’s not as good as you hoped, and sometimes happy accidents make it even cooler.

This means that, despite Angry’s reasoned points about it, some kind of randomness is probably essential to coming close to being “crafting” as opposed to quest (though Ars Magica makes a good argument that you can do something interesting as a between game system… by virtue of, like Star Wars Galaxies, having a lot of complexity). And I did a one-off crafting system in my Beyond the Wall game where a PC had one shot at making a cool magic weapon and made a lot of rolls, testing multiple traits, to find out just how cool, so I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that one PC making gear has to be boring and time-consuming at the table.

But randomness isn’t enough. The randomness, like most randomness in RPGs, is largely about capturing the variations in skill, circumstances, and focus that can’t be measured at the level of granularity most games sit at. When one of my resin projects doesn’t go the way I want, it’s not really random so much as my lack of complete understanding of the chemistry and problems with the environmental conditions (turns out there’s a reason serious resin-crafters invest in a vacuum chamber…). What really makes things feel like crafting is watching as raw materials become finished product one step at a time.

I… may have spent a lot of time this weekend making this and have boxes on the brain.

Let’s just look at a simple wooden box (of the kind that MMOs would say involves throwing a bunch of one raw material type together):

  • You have to measure out all the boards carefully, and cut them to size. Minor variations in measuring, starting board standardization, and tool precision can make things not line up, having you sanding furiously just to keep there from being obvious gaps when you’re done.
  • You have to fasten and/or glue everything together. Even if you cut the pieces exactly right, it can be challenging to get corners at exact angles and joints pushed closely together. There is a lot of clamping and waiting involved. And if you get glue that leaks into the inside of a corner, it can be really annoying to sand out later.
  • You have to sand down the whole thing and do any detailing you want to make it look interesting, and getting impatient can result in accidentally adding flaws that you then have to sand even harder to get out. If you’re going to add paint, stain, varnish, or other protective finish, you have to figure out how to apply it evenly and keep it from pooling up due to gravity.
  • You have to apply hinges and fasteners. At this point, any imperfections in the alignment of your pieces becomes really obvious when it’s hard to get the hinges to bend straight. And if you made a small box, trying to add fasteners can wind up splitting the wood and ruining everything at the last second.

And that’s one of the simplest things you can make. Once you’ve made a few, at each stage you start to get a sense of how it’s going. Early successes can lead to later despair as you make an error at the last second and ruin what was shaping up to be a really good piece. Early failures might be something you power through, something that causes you to adjust your final plan/expectations, or something that causes you to cut your losses and scrap the project entirely.

Does every crafting system in an RPG need to be multiple stages heavily informed by simulation? Not necessarily, but there is probably some juice in breaking it up into increments to increase anticipation. Each stage could carry over a modifier to the next stage based on how well it went, or grant a fraction of the final score that will be used to judge how good the final result is. Either way, it means multiple rolls, which is often a good way to bend dice luck towards the average (whereas one-roll systems make extreme results happen a lot of the time). It will vary from game system to game system and crafting type to crafting type how you capture the thrill of a stage turning out better than you hoped or the pain of deciding to make due with a mistake and continue forward. You might even save this for the really big projects (like how Fallen Earth had vehicle crafting happen in stages).

Ultimately, as Angry points out, if what your players want is a system to customize their gear loadout and you want something that’s not a distraction at the table, a recipe-based “quest” system is a fine solution. But if you want to capture the feel of actually doing crafting, I believe you have to capture the variability and sensation of chasing a masterpiece.

Only cooking and baking really use recipes anyway, and there’s a reason (other than not being able to taste it at home) why cooking shows spend hardly any time on “mixing together the recipe” and so much on all the parts that aren’t the recipe. There’s so much there there, when it comes to crafting, it seems a shame to relegate it to mixing A, B, and C to get an item off the gear list.

D&D: Another Magic Item Creation System

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The magic item creation system in 3.x/Pathfinder remains one of the things that I obsessively try to revise until I’m happy with it, so here’s another attempt.

As a restatement of principles, my problem with the default system stems from several source.

  • First, it tends to devalue found treasure. Since you can sell most things for half value, and craft for half value, interesting items that weren’t exactly what the players wanted get sold and converted into something flavorless that does exactly what they want.
  • This is the second problem: the system seems to assume that a significant portion of character magic item wealth will be in situationally useful item and consumables. However, too-custom crafting means that everything a PC is wearing is laser-focused on that PC’s goals. Cool utility items never get kept or used.
  • Finally, odd breakpoints in the creation math mean that letting players have the ability to customize precisely can result in items that are underpriced for their benefit. The classic example is the wand of cure light wounds: it heals half as much as a wand of cure moderate wounds for one sixth the cost, and it is almost always the most cost-effective way to heal up out of combat (though I hear that the new flavor of the month is a first level spell that gives Fast Healing 1 for ten rounds).

The following systems are another attempt to address these perceived weaknesses.


No permanent magic item can be created without first having a “recipe” for that particular type of effect. The simplest recipes are gained upon learning to craft a particular type of item, while others must be researched. The shape of the item (including the weapon or armor type for arms and armor) can vary, but the effect must be learned (e.g., once you’ve learned the Flaming enhancement, you can apply it to any valid weapon, but you still don’t necessarily know how to apply Frost).

A combined item does not require a special recipe, just having the recipes for each effect and paying the normal additional costs to combine multiple effects in one item.

An aside: I’ve chosen to minimize the use of Spellcraft in these systems, as the potential range it can take at even mid levels is huge and makes setting DCs almost impossible. A Wizard with high Intelligence, Skill Focus, and a +5 item has Character Level +20 or more in the skill, while a more skill-point limited, non-Int class might have significantly less. DCs impossible to meet for a Cleric might be basically unfailable for a Wizard. I think a lot of the default magic creation and research rules in Pathfinder suffer from this problem; making a Spellcraft check to accomplish something is a negligible cost for some characters unless you make the DCs insurmountable by others.

Default Recipes

Each crafting feat comes with a set of default recipes. All others must be learned separately:

  • Craft Magic Arms and Armor: You can add any level of straight enhancement bonus (assuming you meet the normal prerequisites) to weapons or armor.
  • Craft Rod: You can make any metamagic rod for which you have the matching metamagic feat and meet the other prerequisites.
  • Craft Staff: Pick three medium staves; you have the recipes for those items.
  • Craft Wondrous Item: You can make any ability-score-boosting item for which you meet the normal prerequisites.
  • Forge Ring: You can make rings of protection for which you meet the normal prerequisites

Learning Recipes

There are three ways to add recipes to a character’s list of options:


If you assist in the crafting of an item that you would be able to craft if you had the recipe and are there for the full duration of the crafting, you add that item’s recipe to your list. This can be assisting another PC or an NPC (and NPCs may charge a fee of their own devising for learning their secrets).

Reverse Engineering

If you obtain an item that you would be able to craft if you had the recipe (and which is not somehow immune to dissasembly), you can dismantle it to gain an understanding of how it works. This takes about the same length of time as it would take to craft in the first place. When done, the components can be sold for approximately 25% of the item’s value (instead of the 50% you can usually sell an item for).


You can take approximately as much time as it would take to craft a particular item (that you could craft if you had the recipe) to attempt to work out how to make it. This consumes money/resources (but not XP, if you’re using 3.x) equal to the crafting cost of the item (and an item is not produced at the end of the process) and has a small chance of success. The GM sets the chance of success depending on how obscure the item is and how little she wants it in her campaign. Suggested chances are:

  • Item from the core rulebook: 30% + 1% per CL the character has above the item (e.g., a 10th level caster researching a 7th level item has a 33% chance of success).
  • Item from other primary sourcebook: 20% + 1% per CL above item
  • Item from non-primary sourcebook: 10% + 1% per CL above item
  • Item from third party book or player-suggested: 0% + 1% per CL above item

A failed roll doesn’t mean the researcher goes away empty handed. Roll on the standard treasure table that most closely approximates the item being researched (e.g., if researching a medium Wondrous Item, roll on the medium Wondrous Item table). Through some fluke of research, the character learns the rolled recipe instead.

Other Changes

Brew Potion

While the change to Craft Wand below may bring them closer to parity, in general I’ve seen players profoundly uninterested in making potions: they cost over three times as much per use as a wand, they take more actions to use, they’re slower to create, and they’re less versatile. So I’d suggest:

  • Potion value is equal to Level x CL x 15 gp (instead of 50 gp; this brings the cost for 50 potions equal to the cost for a 50-charge wand).
  • If you’re making several of the same type of potion, you can make up to 1000 gp worth per day (instead of four per day if under 250 or one per day if between 250 and 1000).

Craft Wand

Wands have a minimum CL of 5. (This means that a wand of Cure Light Wounds should have a much more consistent comparison in cost to wands of higher-level healing spells.)

D&D: The Magic of the Skilled Crafter, Expanded

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I’ve been thinking about the original post, and wanted to turn it into a bigger system. The intent of this system remains to produce fewer powerful magic items, to create a downtime-heavy system, to keep players from having a precisely optimized gear loadout, and to bind items more to natural results of superior craft. However, I’ve added back in some more achievable ways for PCs to make items.

Read the original post first for context.

Base Cost to Craft DC

For items that don’t cleanly map to + equivalents, here’s a chart to figure out the craft DC for a particular item. Unlike the note in the original post, this is using quite high DCs with the assumption that you’ll be playing in a game where a dedicated level 20 character could reasonably have a +50 (+23 from ranks, +6 skill focus, +5 ability, +10 magic, and +6 from Aid Another), with certain crafters scraping together even higher bonuses for even more powerful items. If this isn’t true in your game, but you still want high-end items to be available, bring down the DCs accordingly.

Find the highest DC where the item’s base cost is equal to or greater than the entry (e.g., an Onyx Dog Figurine of Wondrous Power is 15,500 GP, which means it’s still DC 30 because it’s not quite 16,000 GP).

There are obviously a lot of Wondrous Items that have a cost below 4,000, and it’s up to the GM whether 30 is the minimum DC, or whether those can be crafted at DC 20.



30 2,000 1,000 4,000
40 8,000 4,000 16,000
50 18,000 9,000 36,000
60 32,000 16,000 64,000
70 50,000 25,000 100,000
80 72,000 36,000 144,000
90 98,000 49,000 196,000
100 128,000 64,000 256,000

Item Creation Feats

The feats and crafting system for consumable items (scrolls, potions, and wands) works normally.

The other crafting feats for permanent items do two things:

  • If an item is one of your cultural items, if you have the appropriate creation feat you can choose to lower the item’s creation DC by 10. Note that this will make it take longer to craft, as you have a smaller multiplier for the week’s work, so probably shouldn’t be done when you can meet the DC easily.
  • If an item is not one of your cultural items, the feat allows you to learn to make it. You must assist someone who can already make the item (either a member of the culture or someone else with the feat that’s learned it) in the creation of an example of the item. You must be present for the full crafting and be taking the Aid Another action. You cannot reduce the DC of the item once you’ve learned it.

Powering Up Items

Since items output by this system tend to be personal, you might still want to have the additional of simple pluses to be something that can happen from heroic deeds, one-off magical events, or just as a natural result of characters leveling. They don’t necessarily gain new special powers in this state, but just increase in + value so players don’t feel the need to constantly retire their works of major craft.

Shadowrun 5 – Crafting

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The SR5 core rules don’t have much more than a paragraph and a chart for bonuses on crafting (p. 146). Notably, it doesn’t really give any guidelines on costs or difficulties. I’m sure that information is coming in a later supplement, but my players want to start working on designing robots now. Hence, this represents my pass at a homebrew crafting system for my game.


The Base Threshold of an existing item is equal to its Availability rating x Legality factor (x1 for unrestricted, x2 for restricted, and x3 for forbidden). If the availability is –, this is equal to the digits in the price +3. For example, an Ares Predator V is availability 5R, so has a Base Threshold of 10, a Ford Americar is availability — and 16,000¥ so has a Base Threshold of 8, a flashlight is — and 25¥ so has a Base Threshold of 5. This is a rule of thumb based on the complexity of items often tracking with their availability; the GM is encouraged to adjust the Base Threshold for things that seem like they should be easier to find schematics for and create than their legality indicates.

The Build Interval for an item starts at Short (10 minutes) for items that cost less than 10¥ and increases by one step per digit of the cost (e.g., something that costs 300¥ is three digits and thus has a build time of 1 hour). See the extended test intervals chart on page 48. All crafting rolls are extended tests. It’s up to the GM whether long builds consume all your waking hours for the whole period, or whether you’re only doing them around your ‘runs and other errands. For really long builds, it’s probably best to let the crafter take breaks without harming the project.

The Base Cost of an item is based on the cost within the gear lists for existing gear, and pegged as closely as possible for new inventions. If you have existing items that are being repaired or used for parts, they contribute their individual cost based on how damaged they are. For example, the GM rules a Ford Americar from the junkyard is nearly totaled and only worth 20% of its price of 16,000¥, so contributes 3,200¥ toward any attempts to repair it or use it for parts.

In general, you can double the effective Threshold of an item to reduce the Build Interval by one step, and halve it to increase the Build Interval by one step. For example, a Ford Americar normally has a Base Threshold of 8 and a Build Interval of Exhaustive (1 week); by increasing the Threshold to 32, the Build Interval becomes Long (1 hour). This cannot reduce the Build Interval below Quick (1 minute) or over Mammoth (1 month).

There are four ways to use the crafting system:

  • To repair or tinker with an existing item: This does not require schematics (but they help), and is based on how damaged the item is.
  • To create an item from the existing gear list: The primary reason for doing this is that you can’t manage to get it through social channels or you want to make sure it’s made from untraceable parts.
  • To create something based on existing gear but improved/altered: This lets you get a little more punch out of your gear, make it more concealable, or otherwise create something that’s similar to an existing item but not really supported.
  • To create something totally new: This lets you make something that is totally unsupported by the existing gear list but within the possibilities of the fiction, like robots and power armor.

Repairing and Tinkering

Use the rules on page 228 for Matrix Damage.

For repairing physical damage, the GM should come up with a rough approximation of how close to totaled the item is; how much of the structure of the item remains intact vs. fully functional? For example, a heavily damaged but still driveable car might wind up at 50% totaled:

  • The Base Threshold is equal to this percentage (e.g., if the Base Threshold was 10 and the item is only 20% towards totaled, the effective Threshold is 2).
  • The Build Interval is based on the price of the item. As noted above, the effective Threshold can be doubled to reduce the Build Interval by one step (e.g., that Threshold 2 item can become Threshold 4 to reduce the Build Interval from a day to an hour).
  • The Base Cost is equal to this percentage of the item’s value (e.g., something that is 20% damaged will cost 20% of the item’s cost to repair to full). Any additional parts for the inefficiency of repair are assumed to be rolled up into the lifestyle or kit costs; PCs that are doing a lot of repair work out of a non-lifestyle based kit or shop might be expected to rebuy that item periodically as spare parts are used up.

For example, the GM rules that the player’s Ford Americar is heavily damaged and is 50% totaled. The effective Threshold is 4 (50% of the base 8) and it would take a week Interval based on its 16k cost. But the player chooses to reduce the interval by two steps to 1 hour, making the effective threshold 16 (doubled twice), and now we have the example from page 48. The car only contributes half of its 16k cost due to being 50% damaged, so will cost 8,000¥ to repair.

Use the modifiers from the Build/Repair Table on page 147. See the next section for how to determine if you have the Plans/Reference materials.

Tinkering allows the user to install upgrades or switch between standard options. It assumes that the crafter has all the parts required and is just trying to put them together.

  • The effective Threshold is equal to half the Base Threshold of the highest component. For example, an Armor Vest is Availability 4 and Fire Resistance is Availability 6, so the effective Threshold is 3 to add Fire Resistance to the vest.
  • The Build Interval is based on the total Price of the combined items. That Armor Vest is 500¥ and the Fire Resistance is 250¥ per level, so it takes an hour to apply level 1 but a day to apply any stronger coatings (since they increase the price above 1,000¥). As usual, the crafter can double the Threshold to reduce the Interval by one step (e.g., at Threshold 12, the interval on that vest upgrade can be reduced to half an hour).
  • The Base Cost is 0, assuming all components are on hand and the crafter is just putting them together.

Creating an Existing Item

This item will have exactly the same stats as an existing item. Cosmetically, it may look a little different, but you’re really just trying to get an existing item; maybe because you can’t afford the corp’s markup, you don’t want it to be traceable in any way, or because you don’t have a good enough Face or contact to get it through proper channels.

To make such an item you need the proper schematics (you’ll still get the plans/reference materials bonus):

  • The effective Threshold is equal to the item’s Base Threshold – 10 (if the result is 0 or less you can assume the item is so common that the plans are easily available on the Matrix).
  • The Interval works normally. There is no cost other than standard bribes and fees that come out of your lifestyle.
  • Roll Computer if you’re searching for the plans online, Negotiate if you’re tracking them down through contacts, or some other skill that you can convince the GM makes sense.

For example, you’re trying to create a deck that’s equivalent to a Novatech Navigator. It’s Availability 9R so has a Base Threshold of 18 and an effective Threshold of 8. It has a six digit price so it has an Interval of 1 month. You can double the Threshold normally to reduce the Interval (and you should; ferreting out complicated deck schematics isn’t a fast process).

You can also acquire schematics through in-game actions; the extra gravy on a ‘run might be grabbing plans for miscellaneous items the corp makes while you’re already grabbing the paydata.

Once you have the schematics:

  • Base Threshold works normally (Availability x Legality) and is not further modified.
  • Build Interval works normally.
  • Base Cost is equal to the normal Cost of the item. You can double the Base Cost to halve the Base Threshold. You can halve the Base Cost to double the Base Threshold. You can only double or halve the cost once.

For example, now you have the plans for your deck and want to build it. It’s still 9R so has a Threshold of 18, an Interval of one month, and a Cost of 205,750¥. If you were really trying to get a deal on it, you could reduce the cost to 102,875¥ if you think you can hit a threshold of 36.

If you end the extended test without meeting the Threshold (either because you ran out of dice or out of time), the GM might rule that you have a Prototype (see below).

Improving on an Existing Item

The existing gear lists are incredibly comprehensive, so it’s probably difficult to find a modification to the stats of one item that aren’t very similar if not identical to another item. In that case, you should just treat it as creating the other item using the rules above.

If you’re trying to make modifications that the existing gear won’t cover, the GM should first have a good long think about whether those modifications might make the item too good. An item with the stats of a sniper rifle and the concealability of a pistol is probably better than intended, for example. This is all very dangerous territory, so try not to be offended when your GM denies something that feels like a blatant attempt to break the system, even if you didn’t intend it that way.

Once you and the GM have agreed that what you want is reasonable, the GM will come up with an Availability rating and Cost for the item based on the most similar other items. If the GM feels like the modifications are especially complicated to implement, the Availability should be increased by a point or two (and, thus, increase the ultimate Base Threshold).

In addition to having the schematics for the base item (see above), you need to design the modifications. This is an appropriate Knowledge test with the same Threshold, Interval, and Cost as finding the schematics (again, see above).

Once you have the schematics and the modification design, use the rules in the above section to actually build it.

Creating Something New

Once you’re in the realm of something that isn’t really all that similar to anything in the gear lists, you’ve begun a delicate negotiation with the GM. Ultimately, you’ll describe what you want and the GM will try to give it stats, Availability, Cost, and even rules based on what does exist in the gear list.

Unlike building a standard or modified existing item, at this stage it’s as much about the design as the build. Make an appropriate Knowledge test to create the schematics as above, but without the -10 reduction to the Threshold; you’re not just modifying something here or getting by on common Matrix knowledge. If you don’t think you can make the Threshold to start with, you can use the Prototype system (see below).

Once you’ve gotten the design worked out, you can start building as per the normal rules. As with other builds, if you don’t quite get it done, you might still have a Prototype.


If you end any kind of build before getting the required hits, you might be left with a prototype: a version of the item with worse stats, a high chance to Glitch, and the ability to teach you how to improve your next attempt at the item. When creating something new, if you don’t get enough hits on the Knowledge check to create the schematics, you can attempt to build toward whatever hits you did get to deliberately create a prototype (e.g., if the Threshold was 18 and you only got 9 hits to design, you can’t get more than 50% of the build threshold either).

A prototype should have its stats reduced based on how close you got to your target (e.g., if you only got 50% of the necessary hits, the item is reduced by whatever 50% means to the GM). Additionally, a prototype has an increased chance to Glitch; when using the item, treat the wielder as having Gremlins 1 (or +1 if you gave your prototype to someone that already had gremlins; see page 81). Finally, the item’s effective Cost is reduced by the same factor for purposes of using the prototype toward another attempt to make the item.

Whenever a prototype Glitches and the crafter is in position to make note of what happened (i.e., is wielding it, is close by, or is getting a detailed after-action report), make a mark. Every time the item gets Glitch marks equal to its Base Threshold, you get a +1 to your skill total on the next attempt to design or craft that item (to a maximum of half the Base Threshold). For example, a prototype gun similar to an Ares Predator V has a Base Threshold of 10; for every 10 Glitches, the crafter gains +1 to the next attempt to build/design the item (to a max of +5).

D&D: The Magic of the Skilled Crafter

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I stopped allowing PC crafting of permanent magic items in my last few campaigns. In general, I found that the system made it very easy to sell off quirky, interesting items and use the proceeds to craft laser-focused upgrades of doom. That is, why keep an item that’s not exactly what you wanted when you can sell it for half value and craft for half value, essentially transforming anything into a more desirable item of the same value? Sure, you can patch the problem from a different angle by just making it much harder to sell magic items, but creating was the fix that I found more interesting.

But one solid consequence is the inability to get the bare minimum magic that the system expects. Being able to get a +1 weapon/armor or +2 stat booster in what you actually wanted was never really at issue, it was items completely, blandly optimized to be useful against the widest variety of situations for the lowest possible cost (e.g., a Composite Shocking, Holy, Longbow +1… you know what you did). In my current campaign, I feel very sad every time the mighty, heavily armored paladin whips out his fancy rapier because he hasn’t actually found a magic longsword yet.

I’ve also always liked the cultural assumptions of magic item creation. That is, wouldn’t it be cool if Cloaks and Boots of Elvenkind were the natural output of the great elven artisans rather than something any Wizard could knock out when the Rogue wants an upgrade?

All of that leads to the following system (for 3.5/Pathfinder):

Exceptional Craft Skill is Magical

A character can use the Craft skill to make permanent magic items without needing an item creation feat. These items must be:

  • Relevant to the particular crafting discipline (e.g., magic weapons for a Weaponsmith, magic cloaks and clothing for a Tailor, etc.)
  • Of the minimum value for the Minor examples of that class of item (e.g., you can only make +1 weapons or armor, +2 ability bonus items, +5 skill bonus items, etc.)
  • From a single type appropriate to the character’s culture/race (e.g., elves make Boots of Elvenkind while an arctic culture makes Boots of the Winterlands)

That last point may cause the GM to need to invent some new variations of similar value for different cultures, or just declare that a culture can’t make magic items of that type (e.g., dwarves have no particular interest in magical footware). In general, the goal is to make sure that PCs that want to craft items have some cool things they can make with any given Craft skill type, and that items from the core item lists have clear places or peoples you have to visit to reliably acquire them. If you want an Efficient Quiver, you have to visit the elves, but a Handy Haversack can only be purchased from the dwarves.

Once you’ve determined the item you’re making, use the Craft rules normally, except that the output per roll is in GP instead of SP. The DC is 30 for all such items.

To unpack that a bit, it means that technically you could get a magic item by paying only 1/3 of the value instead of 1/2, but until you have a +24 bonus to your skill there’s always a chance that you’ll fail a roll by 5 or more and ruin half the raw materials (which should push the average cost of creation back up toward 1/2). The change to GP does have some weird cases where the Masterwork component of an item would take longer than the magic component, but in general it keeps the system from taking months of downtime to output an item (you’re welcome to switch it back to SP if you want magic creation to take months).

Not-So-Minor Magic Items

Now the new Craft system has output some minor items. What if you’d like to have a method for determining whether and how more powerful items enter the world? I’d suggest one of the following options:

Ancient Remnants

All of the powerful items in the world are leftover from fallen societies whose secrets are lost to time. Adventurers sometimes find them in ruins, and they tend to pass from owner to owner once found (until they are destroyed or once again entombed).

Very rarely, adventurers happen upon strange items of power that can improve an existing magic item, granting it new functions (of the GM’s devising).

Magical Forges

Items of greater power are still created in the modern world, but to do so requires immense artifacts, which can only be found in the greatest of palaces, cathedrals, or academies. Their creation is an expense that could pauper empires, and the realm’s greatest powers are quite likely to wage war to claim any they think they can capture and hold.

These forges can only produce a single item at a time, and only the most powerful and most trusted crafters are allowed to work them, so the number of powerful items in the world remains small. Sometimes, as a rare honor for great service, adventurers may be allowed to use the forge for a particular project (using the above Craft rules, a time limit set by the owner, and whatever other limits on what types of items are available to make that the GM thinks is reasonable).

World’s Greatest Artisans

Just as great artisans can make items so well that they are magical, the greatest artisans can turn out even more awesome feats of craft. (Medium items can be made at DC 40 and Major items can be made at DC 50. The GM is encouraged to come up with cultural limits on which options are available just as with Minor items.)

Heroic Deeds

All powerful items are named regalia of former heroes. When an item is integral to the deeds of a hero, it sometimes takes on new powers or changes them entirely in accordance with the role it now plays in that hero’s legend. This can happen at any time a great deed is accomplished, and is especially likely if the hero dies in the course of the deed (i.e., the GM can upgrade items whenever desired and with whatever powers make sense to the deed in question; existing non-minor items that enter the world should have a name and history to explain how they came to be so potent).

Pathfinder/D&D: Tradeskill Reputations

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(Originally Posted May 2009)

One of the changes to 3.5 that carried into the new Pathfinder RPG is the simplified tradeskill mechanic. If a character is trying to make a living at a trade, the GM is encouraged to give out half the check result in gold pieces. Unfortunately, this simple-to-remember system has a few problems:

  • The scale of this income is linear, while the scale of a character’s adventuring income is exponential. A character that specializes in a tradeskill will make an average of 10 gp a week at first level, and an average of 20 gp a week at 20th level. The extra 10 gp is probably not enough to justify sinking a skill rank into the skill for 20 levels.
  • Perform is on an entirely different, much harder to remember chart.
  • Crafting is actually on an exponential scale if you can convince your GM to let you craft specific items for sale rather than taking the ad hoc award.

This last point is the most troublesome. Once a character can regularly hit a DC 20, it’s far more profitable for a Crafter to make masterwork items than to use the ad hoc award. For example, a blacksmith that regularly rolls 20s can make a masterwork weapon in around 7 weeks. This weapon is worth over 300 gp with about 200 gp of that being profit. Meanwhile, if he’d been using the ad hoc award, he’d have made around 70 gp. If he can sell his masterwork item for at least 60% of its price, it’s far more profitable to craft individual items. In theory, there’s a chance of failure that means that invested materials cost more, but a canny player can figure out the risk-reward ratio and make far more money.

Professionals don’t have this option. Taking a Profession is far less useful than a Craft under the default system.

The easiest way to fix this would be to institute a system of raises: when just trying to earn money, the base DC is 10; failing earns nothing. For every extra 10 points the player adds to the DC before rolling, the income is doubled (e.g., a roll of 26 would earn 13 gp with no raises, 26 gp with one raise to 20, and no gp with two raises to 30).

But we can do something with that to add color to the setting.

Tradeskill Reputations

If this optional rule is in effect, tradeskill users develop a reputation in their home cities based on the quality of their work. This represents how widely known their work is for quality and what kind of prices their creations can command in the market or with patrons. For this system, all three tradeskills earn money in downtime in the same manner.

When attempting to make money from a tradeskill, the character’s check result is compared to a DC equal to his or her current reputation. If it equals or exceeds the check result, the character’s reputation increases by one. If it does not equal the result, or the character does not craft for a given period, the reputation might go down. As a character’s reputation in a skill increases, he or she becomes known for it and earns more income for practicing the craft. This income is commensurate with crafting items for sale at higher DCs.

Reputation Levels:

  • 0-9 (Unknown): The character is barely known in the city for his or her work. He or she only earns half the standard result (Check result x 1/4 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every week in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill or does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 10-19 (Known): The character has developed a reputation for quality, and can command normal prices for his or her work. He or she earns the standard result (Check result x 1/2 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every month in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill, or every week he or she does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 20-29 (Respected): The character’s reputation is shining within the city, and his or her goods or services are highly requested. He or she earns double the standard result (Check result x 1 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every year in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill, or every week he or she does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 30-39 (Master): The character is known throughout the city as the preeminant master of the skill. He or she earns three times the standard result (Check result x 1.5 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every decade in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill, or every week he or she does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 40-49 (Grandmaster): The character’s name is spread far and wide as the first choice for those that can afford it. He or she earns four times the standard result (Check result x 2 gp per week). The character’s reputation is reduced by 1 for every century in which he or she does not engage in the tradeskill, or every week he or she does not meet the reputation DC with his or her crafting.
  • 50+ (Legend): The character’s fame at the skill will be written into the history of the world. He or she earns five times the standard result (Check result x 2.5 gp per week). The character’s reputation will never fade.

These reputations mean slightly different things based on the character’s tradeskill:

Craft: As a crafter’s reputation improves, his or her maker’s mark becomes more commonly known and more and more individuals come for masterwork crafting. Even the crafter’s simpler wares command higher prices as they are known for quality or as objects of art. Eventually, all the character’s time is spent creating works for the richest individuals in the city, at commensurately high prices.

Profession: As a professional’s reputation improves, he or she becomes known as a worker that is more effective than a team of similar workers. Employers or patrons go out of their way to hire or patronize the character, and the character easily performs at a quality far beyond what would be expected from a normal member of the profession, ensuring future work. Eventually, the character works directly for the richest individuals in the city or has them as patrons for his or her service.

Perform: As a performer’s reputation improves, he or she becomes famous for the quality of his or her art. Whenever the character announces a show, the audience becomes more and more packed. Eventually, the character regularly sells out huge venues or plays directly for the richest individuals in the city.

Reputation is somewhat transitive: nearby cities may or may not have heard of the character. Depending on how much commerce of goods and information occurs between two cities, reduce the reputation of the character by 5-10 for each “step” between a home city and a new city until the character is once again starting from 0. For example, a crafter with a reputation of 25 might only have a reputation of 15 in the next big city and a reputation of 5 in the next city beyond that. If a character sets up shop on a more permanent basis in a new city, the reputation begins improving again from this level.

Characters may improve faster than one level of reputation per week with exceptional check results or relevant roleplaying, at the GM’s discretion. A character that can regularly create master quality results may not have to wait the better part of a year to grow back into his or her reputation.

Other skills might be tracked for reputation in a similar manner to determine how well known the character is for the use of that skill. Even if the skill does not offer income during downtime, it may affect roleplaying scenarios. For example, a character known as a master Diplomat may come to the attention of the local nobility for purposes of negotiations, while a master of a knowledge may be considered the preeminent scholar of that field.