Money and Crafting in DnD 5e, a few thoughts

•April 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Well, that’s been an interesting two years. Continuing onward…

I’m trying to learn Dungeons and Dragons 5e. I missed 4e, but I’ve run enough other stuff that I can confidently call myself an experienced mediocre game master. Yeah, not an expert, but I have some idea of what’s up.

This should probably be two separate posts, but my gut tells me there’s a connection. Of course my gut has made a mistake or two (or more) but let’s take it and see where it goes.

First: There’s a pretty good argument that money in Dungeons and Dragons is worthless, even though it’s a frequent treasure item. There are a host of posts (both forum and blog) about this. I like this from the Angry GM, but put “worthless gold in 5e” in your search engine and take your choice of what to read.

Yes, there are a lot of sinks that can take my money. Things like living expenses and ammo. I do not want to play fantasy accountant hero. And bottom line of the argument is that there is pretty much nothing that lets players spend money to their benefit.

Except.

Except, there are actually some things on which I can spend gold that add benefits to my character. I can purchase alchemical fire. I can purchase holy water and poison and healing potions. I can purchase better armor. And these are good because they are things that make me better, sometimes. But they’re only good at the lower levels. Once I top level 10, I can make huge quantities of gold even burning a few hundred GP per fight.

Let’s be fair – that’s why the argument exists. And in fact there are a lot of classes for whom the starting equipment is as good as it gets until the character gets magical replacements.

But still it means that /in principle/ there’s a positive reason for gold-spending, which means for getting gold. It’s just the existing thing isn’t enough.

First digression (because I always have to have a digression). Why is it always poisons that are the great multipliers that run across most levels? Especially since by implication or rule poisons are the weapon of choice for villains?

Especially since a large number of the poisons are non-lethal. I mean seriously, a sap (or club or quarterstaff) with oil of taggit becomes a major game-changer.

And thoroughly confusing the mess is the Truth Serum. It’s a poison. Yeah.

Now poisons are stupid expensive. Basically because the designers recognized how powerful they are and don’t want everyone just going to them by default. But that makes them great things for players: limited resource, not perfect, combat enhancer. (And other encounter enhancers, for some of them.) If only there weren’t that pesky poison mindset. But I digressed. Let’s return to the main thread, shall we?

The thing is there is already a recognized concept that something can be crafted and used by players that is an enhancement. And glory of glories, it eats gold. Several of them also have “must get ingredient” elements.

Thus we have useful crafting. (Caveat here. We have useful crafting of NON-MAGICAL items. Magic items are better. I’ll go into that later.)

OK, stop. Let’s get an understanding here. Crafting needs to meet one or both of two needs for use by players. It has to be fun and/or useful for the player choosing to craft.

No, let me change that. It has to be fun. I don’t care how useful it is. If it is not fun, people are going to tend to not use it – except for the min-maxers who will grudgingly choose it.

So it has to be fun in some way. Maybe it’s the challenge of making it. Maybe it’s the reward of having that extra edge for yourself – or for your players. Maybe it’s a display element: this is MINE.

The problem is, 5e works against it being fun.

First, it’s boring. You declare that during downtime you’re crafting your widget, the GM divides the market value by 5 GP per day, and that many in-game days later you have your widget. Provided you have the skill, of course. (It is, I grant, simple. That’s a point that cannot be ignored.) You might have a challenge in getting components or formulas if you’re making something magic. But the construction? ho hum.

Second, there’s no reward. Nothing intrinsic or extrinsic. It costs you time and it costs you gold, and it looks and acts no different than the widget you purchase from Joe’s widget shack (without the time cost, at that.) No pride in owning something you made. No cost savings. No special knowledge or satisfaction of helping your group. Nothing.

One last problem with crafting: it’s “out of game”. The player starts the process at the end of a session, and at the beginning of the next session the product is done — or if it’s an expensive enough product, the character is unavailable for a few session.

As written, the crafting system for 5e? Feh – hire an NPC and go on.

Now here’s the problem with being a mediocre GM. My solutions are going to be kludgy.

Do I want a bunch of house rules? Not if I can help it. I’m a mediocre GM. I’m already going to have house rules, and the problem with lots of house rules is that they can, and do, work together in unexpected ways. In 30+ years of being a GM I’ve learned that. finally. I mean, I’m going to do so in other places but I want to minimize them. I’m afraid I might have to do so anyway. Bear with me, please.

I’ll start with the obvious question. Do I want crafting of non-magical items besides maybe poisons? Personally, yes provided it can be fun. Because if it CAN be fun, some of my players will want to do it for some of their characters.

So while there are a lot of type of fun, in my opinion most of them collapse to the following list in this case.

Fun is in figuring out how to make it.
Fun is in the making of it.
Fun is in the display.
Fun is in the use.

Now it all of those, whatever is made can’t be “you have the skill, so you hide in a ship for (cost/5) days and pay (cost/5) GP, after which you have the item.” Rephrased, the fun requires some recognition, even if it’s just self-recognition. So let’s get started.

The first thing I’ll note is that the PHB gives us another hint of things that can be done. Page 144 has variant sizing rules for clothing and armor (and perhaps other equipment as well). Now what most folk will look at is the cost of changing it, which of course can feed to the time and such. But what I want to note is the consequence of NOT changing it.

It’s ill-fitting. It imposes an (unspecified) penalty to the bearer. It might not even be usable.So I’m going to assume there is an implied penalty/bonus for quality of equipment.

Let’s keep this simple. The consequence of doing a very poor job or very good job of crafting something is that it subtracts or adds 1 proficiency bonus respectively to a skill that uses that equipment.

But I still want player input, because that’s how it’s fun. So let’s add something and this really is a house rule.

Let’s say a player can choose to just do the normal, cranking out the item at the base rate. But the player has two other options. The player can try to do something ‘quick and dirty’. And the player can put in extra effort to try and have an above-average performance.So quick and dirty, or hasty, or kludge, or however you want to think about it. In this case the player is risking having a poor result to gain the advantage of having the equipment sooner. I need to figure out what the cap for reduction is (it doesn’t matter how much faster you want it, there is an irreducible minimum). But with that noted we’ll make DC 20 to have an average result – failure gives him a poor one.

On the flipside, I want to make an above average set of clothing for the upcoming meeting with the king. Not just fine but head-turning quality. Let’s again use a base requirement of DC 20. Extending the time, increasing the quality of materials used (spending a little more time and gold each) can add bonuses. But it’s still possible to fail which means we end up with an average item.

So I’ve got a declared intent and desired outcome, I’ve got a check with a result of consequences and costs. Yes, that will work. The numbers need tweaking, but it’ll work.

Display? If I’m making masterworks, I’m putting my mark on them. Heck, I can put my mark on them even if they are not masterwork. And as a GM if my player makes it and sells it then at some point I am going to make that pay off for them. Recognition – “Oh, you’re the Beazle who makes those magnificent hats! My daughter, who is one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, thinks they’re wonderful. So, you say you’re needing to get into the palace?” ahem. hint. hint.

The exploration part is going to have to come off the non-standard, non-generic construction. The easy and classic of this is beermaking. Or cooking. Anyone can make a basic beer (well, anyone who has learned how). But if you’re going to make something special you need the formula/recipe, and you might need some special ingredients.

To avoid other issues I’m generally going to rule that this is “average”. If it adds a bonus it needs the appropriate checks.That is basically using the DMG 129 rule: “You can decide that certain items also require special materials or locations to be created.”

So to summarize, I’ve not changed the core construction rule.  It takes (market value/5) days and (market value/5) gold to make something. BUT:

  • I’m using an implied statement to say that poor and fine quality equipment exists and has an impact, which in turn I’m saying adjusts the proficiency bonus by -/+1.
  • You can make it faster or cheaper, and if you do so you risk it giving -1 proficiency bonus in its use. DC 20 to get an average quality item.
  • You can concentrate on making it above average, and if you succeed a DC20 check it will give +1 proficiency bonus to its related use.
  • You can make a non-standard item, which will require time and effort to find or develop the pattern/formula/recipe and may require special ingredients/materials.
  • And it all takes gold and gives a REASON to expend gold. Yeah, this might work.

    Shadowrun 5e: opening salvo

    •November 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

    I’m looking at GMing some Shadowrun games in the future.

    Now, it’s been several years since I played 3d or 4th edition either one. So I decided I’d jump to 5th. I’m aware there are people who love and people who despise it, but since I saw the same thing with 3 & 4 I’ll just ignore that for now. In other words if you’re going to comment and say I should go to one of those because 5e sucks, I’ll just ignore you.

    So anyway, I’ve got a concept in place, and I’m learning the rules in preparation.

    The concept is simple. I’ve got some players who only want to play it once in a while because we’ve got a great GM in another game. And some of those players aren’t sure they will like it, and certainly balk at the thick and potentially complex rules. So… I’m setting up a set of one shots, and I’m building a stable.

    Think of it as setting up a set of demos that tolerate and even reward repeat players and you’ve got the idea. These will form the basis of some later posts. This one is, however, devoted to the introduction.

    While learning the ins and outs of the rules before we play well enough I’m not stumbling as a GM is a trick, I at least have the advantage of the world and concept. Which means I’ve already decided on a couple of house rules.

    House rule one: Everyone’s a sinner. The book mentions several times that every nation, every corporation, pretty much every collective organization identifies its members, with the former two being from birth. So in my world you have to pay to be sinless. It’s “only” 5 karma, but it’s what you have to spend to have either lucked out or made an effort to never get tied into someone’s tax base and ID system. AT THE SAME TIME, it is possible to have more than one sin, or for your sin to be a greater sin. For negative quality purposes in character generation you cannot have more than one of any type, but you can have one of each type at the listed cost (with a second ‘national’ being the allowed exception). Of course, the more you have the better chance of being ID’d after a job. And every SIN carries a tax burden — and nobody gives you a break on that.

    House rule two is more perceptual. The world’s stories as written are written by a particular group of people, and the tone and focus reflect their viewpoint. Think if the history books we read today were all written by, oh, pick group distasteful to you. But in this case the group is anti-social and paranoid, and in quite a few cases amoral at best. It is my opinion that the world isn’t quite as dystopic as painted. This isn’t to say it’s all flowers and lollipops, but rather the aim of pretty much everyone is to make things better for more than just themselves. For some the ‘others’ are just them and theirs, but there are plenty who think the whole world can be made a better place.

    Exhibit a on that is the corporations. Without nations and laws and cooperation, the whole concept of how corporations work falls down in chaos. Frankly, it’s worth recalling that the AAAs only own and employ a (large) fraction of the world. Some of the larger nations could finish off a single corporation as an entity; though it would cost, it is doable.

    With this in mind, a personal element. I know that shadow runners are, by definition, criminals. And I’m aware that this, along with the stories told, tends to encourage some shadowrun players to make amoral – no, immoral psychopathic sociopaths. Torture and murder ‘just because’. I find this attitude distasteful. House rule two means that the further down that road you go the more likely you are to appear on a wanted poster and the target of a bounty team. And when you get down to it, Johnson is hiring a disposable asset, not a wild card. All together this means I will enforce notoriety.

    So, a world where law and order and social structure are given more than a wink and a nod, if for no other reason that the benefit to the bottom line. There are still shadows, it is an awakened world. It’s just not quite the near-lawless dystopia the rule book presents. And in this world, players will engage in a set of apparently unrelated adventures, choosing their character of the event from a stable mostly created by me.

    mostly. apparently. Don’t you love sneaky qualifiers? You’d think I was Mr. Johnson. Or worse, the GM.

    have fun.

    No Eve

    •June 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

    Nope, just can’t cross the threshold. Though I finally figured out why I can’t push the go button.

    Bottom line, I don’t have time. The problem with a pure sandbox is that it’s really a life of its own, and you only get out of it what you put into it. I’m just not going to get enough fun per hour from the limited number of hours I have to put in to justify the payment – low as it is.

    Which come to think of it is a decent test for most MMOs. By their nature they should be encouraging at least some interaction, some sense of community. If I’m going to be irregular, often only managing an hour or two a couple of nights a week, they’re probably not my thing. (Except for the much-disparaged theme park style, and even then the grouping requirements may make them fail for my use. I no longer have the time I did when I played WoW.)

    I want it

    •May 31, 2014 • Leave a Comment

    OK, I’ve been posting a lot of ‘response to Jester’ posts but one more anyway. Jester just listed some things he liked and didn’t like in the current not-a-release patch notes for Kronos not-an-expansion.

    One thing he didn’t like was that micro jump drives (MJD) are no longer just for capital ships. Instead mediums are out. Well, sort of. They only work on a limited number of ‘medium’ ships: combat battlecruisers, command ships, and deep space transports.

    What’s the MJD do (for the non-eve player)? If you trigger it your ship “jumps” a certain distance directly in line with your current movement.

    Now despite my comment on his post, there’s no need for a special jammer. The warp scrambler interrupts the jump as well. Still, I’d rather see a special type of jammer. That’s because unlike him and as I stated in my comment, I’d like to eventually see the device available to just about every ship out there. Some would use it better than others, mind, but I’d like to see it.

    See, I’ve read a lot of science fiction. And once you’ve got any ships jumping, the idea of jumping ships as part of tactics is just, well, full of fascinating opportunities and effects. Right now it’s ‘great’ for sniping ships because it lets them jump out of close range just at the last second. But picture, if you will, brawlers using them to suddenly be up close and personal. Likewise tacklers – who suddenly appear in front instead of behind. Picture cloaked bombers using them to get away on release. Defensively it’s warp to 100 km from the gate, directional scan for problems, then use this to either warp to zero or run away as the situation requires.

    For what it’s worth, I think teleporting ships without external gates already put a massive monkey wrench in eve. In one jump a dozen or more chokepoints go away, if you’re big enough. Since choke points are how small groups can bottle and defeat large groups this gives the large group the big benefit. While giving everybody an in-system teleport doesn’t counter it, it does add a lot of confusion and potential to the mix.

    So yes, I think I want to see it. I want to see something that mostly allows people to escape the big griefing opportunities. But which, with planning and care and practice, can make combat even more devastating.

    Improving Eve?

    •May 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

    Over on Jester’s Trek there’s a post getting a lot of comments. A few things that have come out inspire this post.

    To quickly sum, Jester/Ripard Teg referenced and discussed a Steam review of Eve that says, in simple, the goal of a player in EO is making money and griefing other players. If that’s cool with you, great. If not, find another game.

    I’m not completely sure I agree with the goals – there are other things to do, things to gain. However, I do think the ‘griefing others’ remark is dead on. And if you read the comments there’s that, too. The most interesting thing is not whether players agree or disagree that Eve Online encourages griefing. No, there’s pretty much universal agreement there. No, the big disagreement is whether that’s a good or bad thing.

    I’m going to say that from the point of view of the owning company it’s a bad thing. What the game needs in increasing new subscriptions and sustained players. What appears to be happening, based on careful comments from presenters like CCP Rise, is the opposite. At best they’re flat. At worst they’re declining.

    And ‘old’ players are not good for the bottom line due to an internal peculiarity. Eve Online has a means of being nominally F2P. You earn enough in-game coinage (ISK) and you can use that to purchase another month of play (PLEX). Yes, you can purchase a PLEX with real money and sell it ingame, too. It creates interesting economics and is a specific point of observation for the anti-bot teams. But I’ve digressed again. The point is that the longer you play the easier it is to earn a PLEX in game and so the more likely it happens. Senior players are harder on the CCP’s bottom line.

    From the comments comes an idea, or perhaps it’s a concept, that I think needs emphasized. Notionally, when Eve was created it was expected that both good and bad guys would develop but that hasn’t happened. It seems Eve is designed to let the bad guys not only be bad guys but be rewarded for being bad guys, while the reverse is not so. Good guys can be good guys but there is no reward.

    While I have – and have posted – what amount to theme park suggestions for solo players, I think this is really a much better thing. It reinforces the whole multiplayer interaction ideal. The thing is, I’m not certain how to do it. I just think it’s significant enough to note.

    It might be enough, for CCP to admit they’ve a game full of player villains, and give incentive for ‘good guys’ to come and “clean up this town.” Actually, I think figuring out the incentive might be enough. If, that is, it’s possible.

    Thing is, if it doesn’t happen then I agree with Jester that EVE continue shrinking its player base, eventually reaching the point of implosion (non-profitability).

    Eve’s complex and developed enough I’d /like/ to be involved. It’s not particularly rewarding to the solitary player and does all right for the solo who interacts with others. But the overwhelming attitude of, well, griefing being what everyone does is just more than I care to continue with.

    Is grouping necessary?

    •May 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

    The weakness of picking on any problem in a game like Eve Online is the fact it’s large and complex. What’s good for one tis inevitably bad for another, and in the end either balance or an acceptance of losing the other is needed.

    Let’s take as an example my previous post. It started with some assumptions based on things put out by Eve developers. Specifically, 50% of the people who try Eve leave within the first month. Of the ones who stay 20% (10% of the whole) participate in groups and 80% fly solo. When you get to mid-term retention (say, the six month or one year point) those same devs imply that almost all the group players stay but many if not most of the solo players leave.

    I want to point out a number of the assumptions here that need a bit of buttressing. The very first is asking how CCP determined the players were group (instead of solo) players. My guess: membership in a corporation. The alternate method – looking at combat ‘killmail’ – fails to catch the station groups and the non-combat support (logistics/healing ships, for example).

    There’s the question in my mind, which could actually increase the ‘need to group’ argument, of how many of the so-called solo players are alternate accounts of people in groups? Anecdotally the majority of players with more than a year of experience have at least one other account.

    On the flip side of the issue is the question of what portion of the 50% who quit joined a corporation – a group? It is possible that the need to group is overstated.

    One more thing to ask – how many of the solo players really leave after six months to a year? If 40% are solo players and half leave before a year is out, the solo players STILL outnumber the group players 2:1.

    I’m not convinced forcing or even highly encouraging grouping is really the key to player retention for Eve Online. I suspect, just based on what’s known at this time, that it’s another case of people focusing on what they think is good without actually considering the whole, or at least the majority.

    Eve’s Problem

    •May 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

    I’m almost done with the trial, and came within a hair’s breadth of quitting again. In fact with a couple days left it’s still a possibility. This time, however, a serendipitous occurrence brought light to what I think is Eve’s problem – the reason I keep quitting. And ironically, the reason I may finally scrounge up the coins to pay for membership.

    Let me start with the problem. Eve is a good sandbox MMO. A really, really good sandbox MMO. The vast majority of ‘things that happen’ are player driven. The fights, the events, the economy, pretty much everything is the result of player actions.

    The thing is, making these player actions happen require involvement. If you’re not involved everything just sort of passes you by.

    If you’re going to play Eve you sort of have to immerse yourself. It’s necessary to spend hours moving and fighting, even if you do not follow the recommendation of joining a corporation (guild for the non-eve players. A group of other players who more-or-less help you and do things with you.)

    You cannot be a casual EVE player – a player who just logs in a couple of hours a week. Or at least it’s very, very difficult. And that’s the problem, I think, that Eve has with retaining new players.

    On the other hand it’s extremely immersive IF you give it the time and effort. Even if you’re the other type of casual player – the player who doesn’t really have major objectives, who just wants to play some shoot-em-up in space and maybe visit with a few friends, but who does this a couple of hours a night every couple of days, or spends most of one day out of the weekend, or some other version that winds up doing eight or more hours a week.

    The reason I’m chasing this particular dog is not just my perennial addiction to the EVE trial. I’m also interested in what makes games work. And since CCP’s in another ‘how do we keep all these new players playing’ kick, it’s worth looking again.

    I said I serendipitously found a reason to stay. And speaking as one of the casual-meaning-once in a while players, I thought I’d share. Knowing that the reasons are almost anathema to long-term players.

    For me, it’s “let’s go see the sights.” I wandered to Eve Gate, and it was surprisingly moving.

    Eve Gate is, in the context of the Eve Online universe, the starting point. It’s where mankind arrived from Earth, the route of constant traffic until /something/ happened and the gate closed. There’s still this massive, unstable, and unusable wormhole there, a god’s blind eye staring at this morass of humanity. And there are dozens of little monuments, anchored cargo boxes labeled to provide epitaphs inane and profound. At which point I went, “Hey, I wonder what else is there?” No, not really – I already know /of/ several things. I just never before had the itch to go looking.

    And that gives me my suggestion for CCP of how to get people like me. Give us a hint of goals that do NOT require hours of investment. Something that lets us get something even with only a small handful of hours a week. I’m going to suggest that probably most of us will expand once we’re in. It’s the cliff of commitment that is daunting.

    Does it need an ‘achievement’ – a label that says “I did this”? Me, I suggest yes. It can sit with all the other certificates and job histories. It doesn’t have to be public, though the option might be a hook for some.

    But the majority of those EVE loses are, I suspect, the people who like the idea of flying through space but don’t want to invest themselves in a part-time second job to do so. So if CCP wants to keep them it’s going to have to think about those rewards, at least for the ‘young’ pilots of the game.