Making a basic crafting system.

Today in “I became a game designer out of spite”. We’re making a basic crafting system for players to engage with, and for GMs to build upon. I’ll make two quick points here. First, this has probably been done elsewhere. Someone’s made a “basic” crafting system, which allows you to make the thing. Congrats, and I don’t even mind someone tossing it in the comments section. This is just my particular stab at it. Second, this “basic” system works (I think) best with Alchemy. Alchemy (to my mind) has the largest number of unprocessed sediments you can gain without shooting something. That’s it.

Recipes

First thing’s first, this is a recipe based system. I bet you’re groaning in disappointment, this was supposed to be basic! But this is basic, because we’re not listing ingredients. Instead, your given “recipe” for an item is going to be region-locked. Regions or biomes take the place of material components for the recipe. If you manage to get the recipe for a healing potion in a forest, congrats! That doesn’t mean you know how exactly which components you can use for a healing potion while you’re in the desert. Might your character have a sneaking suspicion the pulp of a black tar cactus (known for its use in salves) could functionally substitute for the potent mistal stalk? Maybe. But they don’t know for sure until they research in the particular biome.

This a list of biomes. It’s not exhaustive or made for Goodall or Whitaker, it’s a list. For you. Funnily enough, the Ranger in 5e gets a list of favored terrains he can choose from. You can use that in place of this. Or use this in place of that (don’t).

  • Forest

  • Tundra

  • Desert

  • Jungle

  • Grasslands

  • Savanna

  • Marsh

  • Swamp

  • Caves

  • Underdark

And for marine biomes:

  • Freshwater Bodies

  • Saltwater Shallows

  • Saltwater Shelf

  • Saltwater Depths

  • Coral Reefs

The rule looks something like this.

The player must researches components for an item in a particular biome, and acquires components for that biome’s recipe in the specific biome.

Research

Now we come to research! How does this come about? The character spends time looking for ingredients, which they can screw around with when their long rest comes around, or during a work day. The player makes a research check each day they travel, or twice if the player spends their workday researching. During this time, the player is asking locals for tips, scouting out ingredients, grabbing everything they can carry, all so they can mash them together in ways that hopefully resemble whatever they’re looking to create.

The player needs 6 successes while in the biome they’re looking to pillage for this biome’s particular recipe.

Yeah, basic, but it probably doesn’t hurt to have a vague idea of what your player needs to hit to succeed. Here are the DCs according to item rarity:

  • Uncommon: 15

  • Rare: 20

  • Very Rare: 25

  • Legendary: 30

These DCs are universal to the system, btw. Item DCs.

The rule looks something like this:

The player makes a research check once per day while travelling through the biome, or twice while spending a day’s work to research while in the biome. Upon a number of research checks equal to the item DC, minus the player’s bonus to whatever tool is used in crafting the item. Spells and other features that grant advantage on skill checks with a cumulative duration of fewer than 8 hours have no effect on this process. If enough successful checks are accumulated, the player adds that biome’s recipe next to the item description.

Two additional thingies, just to give you an idea of how stupidly easy it is to scale this upwards.

If the player fails no research checks, they may also mark one set of components next to the biome’s recipe, having wasted little to nothing of what they gathered in the recipe’s discovery. If the player has some feature which grants advantage on knowledge or search checks related to the terrain, they may make the research check with advantage.

Eat your heart out PHB rangers, you poor, serially abused bastards.

Acquisition

Now we come to actually getting the ingredients. This is a very simple process. The player can pick up an ingredient while travelling, or can go out hunting for them during a work day. They need to pick up a number of ingredients, determined by the item DC.

The rule looks something like this:

The player collects ingredients by rolling a search or research check once while travelling, or twice by hunting for them during a work day against the item DC. Each successful check nets one ingredient. The player must collect a number of ingredients equal to the item DC, minus the player’s bonus to whatever tool is used in crafting the item. Upon collecting the necessary number of ingredients, the players marks one set of components next to the recipe (consumed in crafting).

Creation

So, we move on to item creation. Your player has their components, tools, and they’re ready to set up. The player needs to spend some time working on the object, and then they get the object. I wish I had more to say in these last few sections, but I did say basic.

The rule looks something like this:

The player can begin crafting by expending a set of components.

The player can make a crafting check once per day while travelling, or twice during a work day. The crafting check’s DC is the item DC, minus the player’s bonus to whatever tool is used in crafting the item. If the player succeeds a number of checks equal to the crafting DC without failing three checks, the item is considered complete. If the player fails three checks, the components are wasted and the player must start again.

Full Text/Modifying the Sytem

So here’s the full text, cleaned up, edited, etc. We’re introducing two official terms here; Item DC and Crafting DC.

The Item DC used when the player is engaged with stages of crafting in which their individual skill has less sway compared to the limits and rules of the world, tied to the item’s rarity. The Item DC’s are as follows:

  • Uncommon: 15

  • Rare: 20

  • Very Rare: 25

  • Legendary: 30

The Crafting DC is used when the player engages in more refined processes over which their individual skill has greater sway. The Crafting DC equals the relevant Item DC minus the player’s bonus to whatever tool will be used to craft the item.

Recipes: the player must researches components for an item in a particular biome, and acquires components for that biome’s recipe in the specific biome. Recipes successfully researched and components successfully aquired are written next to the biome in which they researched/acquired.

Research: the player makes a research check once per day while travelling through the biome, or twice while spending a day’s work to research while in the biome. Upon a number of successful research checks equal to the Crafting DC, the player adds that biome’s recipe next to the item description. Spells and other features that grant advantage on skill checks with a cumulative duration of fewer than 8 hours have no effect on this process.

Aquisition: the player collects ingredients by rolling a search or research check once while travelling, or twice by hunting for them during a work day against the item DC. Each successful check nets one ingredient. The player must collect a number of ingredients equal to the Item DC. Upon collecting the necessary number of ingredients, the players marks one set of components next to the recipe (consumed in crafting). Spells and other features that grant advantage on skill checks with a cumulative duration of fewer than 8 hours have no effect on this process.

Crafting: the player can begin crafting an item by expending a set of components. The player can make a crafting check once per day while travelling, or twice during a work day. If the player succeeds a number of checks equal to the Crafting DC without failing three checks, the item is considered complete. If the player fails three checks, the components are wasted and the player must start again.

Short. Sweet. Simple. Doesn’t take much time away from the table. A dice roller could handle each stage in one go. Doesn’t even need to happen at the table, can be rolled online/away. But we can flesh the system out a bit more, I think.

Rule (Well Travelled Adventurer): For each biome already known for the recipe the player is researching, the DC for the research check is diminished by 1.
Reason: This reinforces the prowess of the craftsman engaged in research. They’ve confirmed the link between the Eshin’s Wood’s variety of mistal and the Necronir Desert’s breed of black tar cactus. Because of what they’ve learned already, it’s easier for them to narrow down more reliable leads. To a less experienced alchemist, the delocke fish might look promising for the next biome’s recipe, but our more advanced player knows the vorus coral it lives near is the proper ingredient.

Rule (Favored Terrain): If the player has some skill which provides advantage on search or knowledge checks for a specific biome, the player has advantage on checks made to research and acquire ingredients in that biome.
Reason: As mentioned before, PHB Rangers. If you’re willing to use outside content though, they should be playing a Revised Ranger or one of the many other reworks (like mine).

Rule (Batches): The player can attempt to make multiples of a given craftable item. This increases the Crafting DC by 2 for every additional item attempted. For each additional 2 components spent on the process, the DC decreases by 1. For each separate biome the components come from, the DC decreases by 1 again.
Reason: Allows more skilled craftsmen to make more stuff! Who doesn’t love it?

Rule (Composite Parts): A recipe can be designated as needing multiple sets of components to craft, specifically from multiple biomes. The recipe must be researched and ingredients must be acquired in as many biomes and in as great a quantity as designated before crafting can be attempted.
Reason: Incentivise travel, more restrictions on higher quality items, just a way to delay access without spending game time itself on jumping hoops.

Rule (Prerequisites): A recipe can be designated as needing one or more recipes to be researched and crafted before this recipe can undergo the crafting process.
Reason: Lead players into crafting specific items, which should make sense within the game world to begin with. You need to research a basic healing potion before you craft a greater healing potion, unless you discover a formula to it.

Rule (Unique Components): A recipe can be designated as needing specific, named ingredients in order to be considered complete. Acquiring a named ingredient counts for at least one check in the acquisition process, though it may be designated as counting for more.
Reason: You need dragon scales for Dragonscale Armor.

Final Thoughts

Why did I do all of this? Because I hear this constant shit about “We left this space blank for you to make the game your own!” But that’s not the case. Because making a crafting system is actually kinda difficult! Most games we encounter nowadays handle crafting by virtue of handling inventory management and ingredient lists in the background. They’re large and obtuse, and don’t translate well to tabletop games. Not when the first instinct is to copy those systems. Not when the GM isn’t a game designer. Not when you’re asking someone who has a job, has other things to worry about, who hoped it would be in the damn $50 book to begin with. Guess what; designing the system and keeping it constrained and easy to manage takes thought and experience. Preferably, the experience of people who designed the whole damn game to begin with!

You CAN go off and start designing specific recipes for specific items, because that’s actually intuitive thanks to the video games we play. But it also keeps people from designing a crafting system, because they come up with 3 fantasy names for ingredients out of the four they want a healing potion to required, realize they’ll need to design recipes for every item they want to be craftable, and stop designing the crafting system. There’s a Goldilocks Zone for encouraging additional modes of play without doing all of the work for the GM. “Blank space” isn’t it. Hell, you literally can’t get worse.

Anyone who looks at this system can say “this is BS, this needs to be changed” or “that’s cool, but I’d like to change this according to the type of item (alchemy vs mechanical equipment)”. They can introduce more modifiers. They can introduce unique ingredient requirements. It’s just big enough that you can experiment with it, it’s trivially easy to alter and scale upwards. Know why? Because it’s there, in writing! This is a lot less difficult to do for designers, and look how short the whole damn thing is! Was this really too much page space? Was item creation so far outside the expected norm? You’d think the “World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game” would have more modes of play than the occasional satisfying combat.

Hell, it’s not even the best edition of D&D.

Maybe a designer says “That’s great, our system allowed you to make this!” That’s wrong, first off. You can use this for any check based system, and the more work needed to create a subsystem, the more that mode of play is discouraged. Second, I’d rather no one know my fucking name and this be in the game to begin with so others could have a better time, explore new frontiers, run more creative games, inspire better art! I think teams like WOTC’s need help from outside sources who are better at spotting legitimate player/GM grievances without getting dragged down in poorly worded criticisms.

Or that’s how I started designing, at least. Nowadays, I’ll be eating my cake after I bake it. Speaking of baking my cake, my fantasy novel Eyes of the Forest is now available on Amazon. If you found this helpful and want to support my work, or just want an action-adventure pulp novel for an afternoon read at a low price, consider buying it!