One of the topics that frequently enters my mind when playing different tabletop roleplaying games is the question, “Why is crafting not more popular or commonly used in tabletop roleplaying games?” There are a lot of parallels in tabletop RPGs to their digital kin massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs). In MMORPGs, crafting is often an included, and sometimes almost necessary, component to the game. But this is not the case with tabletop RPGs. Why is that?
I think one of the main reasons why is that cool items are often just an adventure or kill away. Why should you try to roleplay some way to use your blacksmith and alchemy skills to create an awesome magical sword, when in most fantasy games you’re simply one kill or one adventure away from an equipment upgrade?
Depending on the setting, there may be magical items or better technology available on every street corner. You simply have to find the right NPC, the right creature, the right dungeon, to defeat and loot a shiny new object you can prance around with for a few adventures before upgrading that one as well.
Most players, this one included, would rather battle their way up a dangerous mountain fighting off hordes of orc and goblins to claim the legendary sword at the top of the mountain over trying to purchase the necessary items and take the necessary time to build a cool item.
On top of crafting being boring, there is usually no mechanic in most tabletop RPGs for players to wrap around their heads. If I don’t have any sort of rules or guidelines on how to build something that I want as a player, I have to rely on the gamemaster’s improvisation to come up with a cool idea or mechanical system to do so. Often, creating a crafting system for a game isn’t what most gamemaster’s have in mind when they sit down at the head of the gaming table.
One way crafting could be interesting is if it was used to drive a story forward in-game. One REDDIT post I read had an interesting suggestion that could be used with any game setting or system. In order to craft a specific item that the player wants to build, the game master picks between one and four challenges that the player must face in order to build the item. Here are some examples of what one of these challenges, tasks, or requirements might look like:
– It is going to take your character hours/days/weeks/months of work.
– You’ll have to get/build/fix/figure out something related to the item.
– You’re going to need someone to help you with it.
– It’s going to cost you a certain amount of currency.
– You’ll have to expose yourself or your group to danger.
– You’re going to have to add something to your workplace first.
– It will most likely take multiple tries to complete.
– You’re going to have to take something else apart to complete it.
For example, if your character fancies himself a weapon smith in your favorite fantasy game, perhaps he wants to create a magical dagger that does extra damage against a certain type enemy. We’ll say that the specific enemy he wants to defeat is dragons. The gamemaster may tell him to do so, he will need to accomplish the following:
– Locate enough of a certain type of metal, known for harming dragons, that the crafter will be able to completely forge the blade out of that material.
– Acquire the help of a high level magic user to enchant the blade with magical properties. This requires a ritual that may take several days for the magic user to complete.
– Have the finished dagger blessed by a high level cleric of the character’s chosen deity. This requires good standing in the player’s religion and furtherance of its causes.
Accomplishing these three tasks could take the player and their group a significant amount of time to achieve. They may have to travel to a remote area to obtain the blade’s material. They may have to complete a task for the high level magic user as trade in order for that person to enchant the material. And, they may have a complete some sort of pilgrimage for his deity before the high level cleric will bless the item.
That example right there could lead to three separate adventures, or more, just to forge this item.
This is a good way for the crafting of an item to add value to gameplay. It pushes the story forward and offers a memorable reward for the group, something that all players involved will fight to keep. It’s also a way that crafting can be included into any system or setting without creating a bunch of rules to govern its use.
Everything you do in the game should push forward the fun, the satisfaction, and the story that the group is telling. Whatever method you use to add crafting into your game ask yourself, is what I’m doing satisfying the players in the group who want to create something? Is this process pushing forward the story that the entire group is telling? Is everyone at the table having fun with what we’re doing? If the answers to those questions are “Yes”, then you’re probably on the right track.