Crafting System

I am in need of a crafting system for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. When one of my players wanted his character to be a very good cook, I worked with it by just adding a separate skill. When I had an additional player who wanted his character to dabble in alchemy, I did something similar. And this solution worked fine when the skills just added a bit of flavor to the characters. Things became a more complicated when the cook figured he should be able to learn alchemy, too, and started seeking out specific recipes. This raised a lot of questions: how difficult is it to learn a recipe? Does the DC of potion brewing go down with experience? How much do ingredients cost? Are powerful substances always more difficult to make?

My players initially solved the problem by just multiclassing into the class Alchemist, which is available via Vecna. I allow homebrew from Vecna, because it’s well-considered stuff. But I have my reasons not to particularly like adding new classes to the game, and moreover there is no way to add such classes to D&D Beyond, where I administer my games. So I needed something else.

Fortunately for me, The Angry GM wrote a series on crafting a crafting system and it is pretty good. The only drawback of this series is that I don’t agree with his premises and he did not arrive at a concrete conclusion. You see, unlike him, I am certainly not looking for an off-table system, because my players can rarely be arsed to even level up outside of gametime. Now I figure the system he envisions could still be used at the gaming table, but in such a case I would like to give the players some opportunity to roll dice. Foraging, prospecting and all the other resource-gathering activities involve a pretty broad probability distribution, and I want this to be reflected in the crafting system.

But Angry GM made some excellent points that I need to consider in my system:

  • Items come in categories, with the rarer categories only accessible to the higher levels
  • Resource gathering should be balanced with finding treasure
  • Instead of being part of arbitrary recipes, ingredients should have a systematic purpose for crafting

He probably made other points, but they didn’t stick. Anyway, I want to follow the above advice when detailing my own crafting system.

Abandoning the skill system

As I mentioned, I no longer want crafting to be skill-based. I also don’t want it to be a class, or a subclass, or anything like that. Making crafting skill-based ignores all the nuances that make crafting fun, and turning it into a class makes it way too central to any character. Moreover, classes should be archetypical, not job descriptions. So what to do?

My solution is simple. My crafting system will be feat-based. Once a player chooses a crafting feat, she is opting into an underlying system that makes the creation of items possible. There is an opportunity cost in doing so, and that is by design.

Item categories

The Angry GM put together a really useful table in this article. It lists the minimum levels for different categories of items, as well as the Challenge Rating of monsters that could supply the resources for these items.

Item categories by character level

CategoryMin. PC levelMonster CR
Common11 to 3
Uncommon34 to 8
Rare69 to 12
Very rare1113 to 18
Legendary1719 plus

Now you could use these to decide what kind of resources you are going to hand out. Resources for legendary items should not be handed out to a low-level party. But since I am looking for a system that incorporates dice rolls, I could also make sure that low-level characters cannot find resources that allows them to craft rare items. Or maybe I can just make it very unlikely.

One way to do this is to introduce crafting dice that scale by level. Let’s say 1d6 per character level for now. Each day, the players can use their crafting dice pool to find resources, skin a monster, gather herbs or whatever is relevant. And the total of their roll will determine the quality of the resources they find. So, the player of a level 4 character would have 4d6 crafting dice and might roll all of them. The resulting resource is shown on the following table.

Tentative resource table for level-four characters

Roll 4d6Item
1Common resource
2Common resource
3Common resource
4Common resource
5Common resource
6Common resource
7Common resource
8Common resource
9Common resource
10Common resource
11Common resource
12Uncommon resource
13Uncommon resource
14Uncommon resource
15Uncommon resource
16Uncommon resource
17Uncommon resource
18Uncommon resource
19Uncommon resource
20Uncommon resource
21Uncommon resource
22Uncommon resource
23Uncommon resource
24Uncommon resource

Now there is something weird about this approach. As you roll more dice, the distribution of outcomes changes and shifts away from the common items, making it more likely to find rarer resources. This is not a problem in itself, because a player can always decide to roll less dice, as a tactical decision. But it is something that I need to make more explicit later on. However, I can only do this if I have a systematic description of recipes. So that’s next.

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