I’ve been thinking about the Angry GM’s ongoing series about crafting systems in RPGs. He’s been working through the creation of a crafting system that avoids the pitfalls of the thousands that have come before.
One of the tenets of the system is that it’s optional. Players can use it if crafting appeals to them, but the system doesn’t create hardship for those who opt out. This is a noble goal.
Loot allotments are currently the purview of the DM, whether they pick specific items or choose to roll on random tables. But a crafting system puts it (optionally) in the hands of the players. I know some of my players who would be all over crafting, and some who definitely would not. It appeals to the kind of player who wants mechanical control over their equipment the same way they pick spells or multiclass.
Even if your players don’t buy in, I still think a crafting system is useful to DMs. It’s a mechanical way to generate cool custom loot.
Matt Colville’s setting has a set of legendary swords called the Teeth of the Dragon. They promise cool abilities when the right character wields them, and even more abilities are unlocked as the character levels up.
I think this is a neat idea. It can make magic equipment as meaningful to players as it would be in-universe. Each sword is unique, and its story is told by game mechanics in a fun way. It also incentivizes the character to use this magic item for a long time. And each notable thing the player does with the sword adds to its mystique. This can be very cool.
I can think of a drawback though. When you bestow a Tooth of the Dragon upon a player, it’s a fantastic piece of loot. You’re basically rendering all other weapons moot in comparison. Why try to find a monster’s specific weakness to blunt fire weapons when your +4 Sword of Reckoning is specially crafted to destroy everything in its path?
If this legendary sword is the best weapon out there, why use anything else? It’s kind of like the DM telling you which feat to take. But what if I don’t like swords?
I often have NPCs who end up being party allies. In order to keep track of their combat stats I want the condensed information of a monster stat block and the flexibility of a full character sheet. I found some other options online but none of them suited my needs and sensibilities. So I designed my own.
(I happen to be a former decent-ish designer, so I know my way around information design and Adobe Illustrator.)
How can a design system be created to solve a specific problem? I find one-size-fits-all systems like Google’s Material Design too restrictive and too ambiguous at the same time. How can we develop a solution to the problem at hand?
Define the problem
Use our brains to solve it
Think real hard
Assuming the person designing the system is not the person to implement it, how can the system be communicated completely?
How can the system be implemented? What assumptions are made, and how are they documented? Who is the user of the design system?
How can the system be applied? How can it provide evidence of itself, its intended usage, and ultimately solve the problem it was created to solve? How can it make people’s lives easier?
How can the design system be modified and used in ways that were not originally intended? How can the intentions behind the system be encoded for future designers?
The party saves or meets a highly-skilled crafting NPC, or someone who employs one. This person owes the party a favour. So they tell the party about a bunch of legendary items that could be crafted… if only they had the final component. If the party can retrieve this component, the crafted will give them the item (a couple weeks later).
So it’s a promise of loot. Personalized loot.
And a setup to a (fetch) quest.
Of course, the component is used up in the process and there’s only 1 in the nearby area, so the crafter can only make one of the items on the menu. The party gets to negotiate and make appeals to each other before going on this quest. And, of course, they can always change their minds after.
Another option: each of the items needs a different component, so there are multiple plot hooks. If that’s what you want.
In writing adventures for my own use, I often find it helpful to include stat blocks in my notes. The benefits are obvious: I avoid spending the time to look up a creature in the Monster Manual, I avoid having to flip back and forth between entries when a battle includes several different types of creatures, and if I want to modify the creature from its MM entry I can easily to that too.
In the interest of saving space on the page I usually also abbreviate the stat block. So what do I include? And what format do I use?
Well, here’s what a typical orc might look like in my notes:
**Orc.** HP 15. AC 13 (hide armor). 100 XP.
Str 16 Dex 12 Con 16 Int 7 Wis 11 Cha 10
Aggressive. Dash as a bonus action.
Greataxe. +5, 1d12+3 slashing.
Battleaxe. +5, 1d8/1d10+3 slashing.
Handaxe. Thrown 20/60. +5, 1d6+3 slashing.
Just the important stuff!
Something you might do if you’re using this format is use the ability modifiers instead of the scores. (Instead of Str 16 you’d have Str +3.) I’ve also experimented with punctuation on that line — it comes down to taste.
I removed a lot of detail from the block, but there are a couple things I added. More axes! I like to include alternate weapons for a creature so I can mix it up within a group.
The impulse, in creating a setting for a home game, is to include every possible character option. You want your players to be able to do anything in the book: any race, class, background. And you want to leave it open for stuff from other books as well.
That’s perfectly fine. It’s also pretty generic. The setting where anything can happen is also the setting where nothing is supposed to happen. IE there is no underlying theme tying characters together. No inherent story engine.
I’ve realized recently that the setting I’m creating for my next campaign should have a built-in story engine. That means that the major conflict in the campaign is 100% tied to the setting, the characters, and the character options.
The more Standard Fantasy you apply to your setting, by making all races available, all classes available, all everything available, the more generic your setting becomes. Settings are differentiated by its core assumptions. Those all determine what kind of adventures are taking place.
So in restricting character options at the beginning, and by creating locations that have histories of specific conflicts, you’re making a more thematically cohesive campaign. The characters, the locations, the adventures all feed into each other.