The Appeal of Crafting in RPGs

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.

Equipment that grows with you

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?