Money and Crafting in DnD 5e, a few thoughts
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, 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:
And it all takes gold and gives a REASON to expend gold. Yeah, this might work.