(+) Theorycrafting Crafting (and Gathering)

So I'm making this a plus topic, as I just don't have any desire to see the sheer vitriol these kinds of mechanics tend to elicit out of certain people.

But anyway, lately I've been thinking through the theory I've been developing for what will become the overall Crafting and Gathering "Pillar" of my RPG, Labyrinthian. The main philosophy I've taken to when considering these elements is that of volitional engagement. Ie, not merely that you have the freedom to do these things, but that you have a genuine desire to do so.

While one could easily sum up the practical advice in that as "Don't make bad mechanics", I think the practicality comes from treating volition as a constraint. What about your game makes someone want to engage in this specific activity?

And we can measure that by considering if a mechanic or overall design provides for Progression, Autonomy, Competancy, and Relatedness; all four of these are essentially psychological needs we can observe in Players of pretty much any game, and is especially prevalent in RPGs, given the game genre as a whole is laser focused on nailing at least three all at once (Competancy has been contentious in this genre; need only see the war over crunch and the less than stellar taxonomy of GNS and its predecessor GDS to see that).

As to what each refers to, Progression is more or less what you'd think, and easy enough to get right especially with the context of Crafting things.

Autonomy is trickier as though, as thats what we're looking to foster through Volition. Players need to be able to actualize their desires to have Autonomy, but they need desires in the first place.

Competancy is also pretty straightforward. Players will want to demonstrate, if only to themselves, that they grok the system and wield it to their own ends, whatever those they may be.

Relatedness is another tricky one, as this relates to the sort of "internal narrative" of the Player. Players need to feel that their choices make a difference and have consequences, for good or bad, and their choices should feel as though they contribute to the ongoing narrative of their character that they keep in their head.

Presumably, if your design can satisfy all or at least most of these psychological needs, it will be successful. There is, however, no clear cut way to just do that reptitively, so while I could probably go into a long post trying to formulate a methodology, I think it'd be more useful to instead illustrate by example, if only because I just like doing things that way.

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The Core Mechanic: Sequence Roll

This part I have actually tested, and it does work. The idea is you roll nDice, with n going up to 7. The number determines, in order from smallest to largest, what dice you roll out of a standard polyhedral set. Ie, 1Dice is just a d4, 3Dice is a d4,d6,and a d8.

From here, each die corresponds to a specific step in a given Sequence, such as the steps to Smithing a given object (which are understandably abstracted to fit within these limits), and will give you a base number that you can either stick with or modify using a pool of points derived from character stats.

If you stick with the number you rolled, you get whatever Effect that number contributes per the step, which could be something in the Step itself (stat modification for example) or could come from a Material that you're integrating during that step; most of the time, you're using a Material so you'd be deriving what you're rolling for from them. (More on Mats in a bit)

If you don't wish to stick with the number, then you can modify it using your point pool. The costs for doing are high at the low end (I suspect 5 points per +/-1 at d4, and stepping down by 1 with each successive die), and low at the high end, which is more or less balanced given then higher dice would naturally cost more anyway due to the larger values to cross.

As you work through each Die, setting the result you want, you'd be filling out a Stat block for your item so you can reference it later or even gift it to someone else. And once you're done, one of two things could happen depending on the Sequence. Either the Sequence just ends and your item is complete (as will be the case with most Crafting), or the total value of the roll, after modifying it, is added up and converted into a DC (by the GM) that you then make a Skill check against to confirm the result, with your check modifying your rewards (as will be the case with most Gathering).

Using the Sequence Roll as a core mechanic should be pretty potent, as it has the flexibility to do, well, any and every kind of Crafting or Gathering that you could imagine, and lets every one of those activities be very expressive for the Player, given the high degree of customization it affords just in the mechanic.

While fiddly, this is ultimately a boon, as the idea is that while you go through your Sequence, other players can be taking their Turns. The fiddliness gives them the time to do that, whereas something more compressed just begs to be dealt with then and there, making the game stop for your single player experience. Not fun, so instead, you get something more involved to engage with so that other players can keep going while you work on it.

Even if you've got a recipe and have something you're specifically aiming for, it still takes some time to work the Sequence, so at least one player can go while you do that.

So overall, just in the core, we will be hitting a proverbial +1 to Volition, as this mechanic is fun to play around with. (And I've even experimented with branching it out into other activities like real-time lockpicking)

It afford players a high degree of customization in these activities and is simple enough to learn, and thus covers the entire system, leaving the learning to be focused on the actual content of the system, and its products.

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Durability

This is the next mechanic thats necessary for this. The reason why is that Durability provides the means of achieving the volition to keep gathering materials and making new items. The key to avoiding the often visceral and vitriolic reaction to such a mechanic existing actually lies in the same thing we're looking to make with it, volition. We have to make people want to have their items degrade and eventually break.

To do this, there's quite a few things that go into how Durability itself occurs, and what happens after it does.

First, how Durability is measured. For physical weapons and armor, each of them carries a specific dice pool (Damage or Defense), and for basic low level items, this pool is your Durability meter. Any time you take a loss, drop a die out of the Pool; if you're down to 1 Die, step it down in Size. Already at a d4? Item breaks.

Crafted items, and higher level items in general, will also have a Durability modifier, which essentially is a both a buff and a buffer. At +5 for example, adds that value to your Damage/Defense rolls, but is also what you step down first when you take a Durability loss.

As to how losses are incurred, the player ultimately has choices. The big mechanic in Combat is my Momentum system; its a variation on exploding dice where each explosion actually generates a temporary currency that you can then spend on various options, which can be just rerolling the die for more damage or defense, but can also be things like inflicting wounds, sundering armor, taking/breaking a Stance, etc.

Whenever a player chooses to go for Extra Damage/Defense, if they roll a 1 on that die, they take a hit to their Durability. (Automated Usage Die, another clever idea of mine)

Meanwhile, when defending, the Player has choice in which part of their armor they use to do so presuming they're able to React against the incoming attack. So even if their enemy is trying to Sunder something specific, if the Player reacts they get to make the choice of what gets hit, and with Sunderijg in particular, if they can negate the attack entirely (roll higher Defense than their Damage), then they can avoid any losses from their enemy's attack. (But would still be bound to any they take from Momentum)

If they can't React however, then their enemy gets to call out an item to take a loss (or losses, if its a particularly nasty enemy).

So overall, having your items break isn't a constant and is pretty clearly signaled by the system, allows for time to be spent at 100% effectiveness, and gives players some meaningful choices in where to take the losses. Which is important for the next part.

Second, how Durability encourages itself volitionally. For this, I came to the conclusion that ultimately, we need to incentivize 5 things more or less simultaneously: items being damaged, items being repaired, items breaking, items being reforged, new items being made.

Fortunately, for the first 4, we can pair them up and hit the mark with one idea. Talk about elegance.

To incentivize damage and repairs, I took inspiration from Tears of the Kingdoms Fuse mechanics and rethemed it towards a Repair theme. Essentially, the idea is that you can take Materials and use them in your repairs to diversify the capabilities of your item temporarily.

If, for example, you take some Springhorn, you can add this to your item as you repair and get a new ability. For weapons, this would be adding a Boomerang property to them; they'll fly back into your hand after you throw them, assuming they don't hit anything else other than their targets. For armor, this would boost your Jump Attacks, giving you an extra use of Momentum when you do so. Most of the time, these would have a number of uses equal to your items' Durability modifier before they wear off.

This is another +1 for volition. You have a compelling reason to keep gathering and to let your stuff get damaged.

Next, this same idea elaborates into reforging. If you let your item break, you can then opt to reforge it and add these abilities to it permanently through the same process. Now you have a compelling reason to let your items break, at least occasionally.

Now, this does introduce the potential for players to cheese it. Easy enough to just start smashing stuff into rocks so you can skip to the juicy parts. Personally, I trust in the fact that that won't be a very fun way to play (particularly given you'll need items to go out and get materials in the first place), and trust in the solution to the 5th concern, how the system encourages new items to be made, to cover the rest.

For this, I imagine that items will have limits to what they can take in when being reforged, putting more or less a hard cap on how many new abilities an item can have. They'd still be able to be reforged anyway, but wouldn't be able to take in anything new.

This would be rendered mostly through different Materials contributing to higher and higher caps. Most likely, this will be something "Core" materials will provide, such as the Core metal in a weapon or piece of Armor, or the magical core in a Staff or Wand. This would incentivize making new items, almost assuredly following your finding of these new materials for the first time.

This solution is a bit more nebulous, but thats to be expected given I haven't designed much of this formally as of yet. But it should become clearer the more I develop.

But, it should hit the mark on covering the need for Progression. As you keep going you'll get better stuff, and in turn could regift your previous items to entities like Followers, Family Members, etc. (+1 for Volition to other parts of the game)

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Materials

This would be the next big part of this system, the Materials themselves.

There's not much to say that hasn't already. Materials would have different effect lists depending on where they can be used, and these lists would have target numbers that would assist in balancing them into tiers. Ie, iron might have its effects run from 0-9, but steel from 5-15, and so on. Higher tier materials would then necessarily require higher Stats to meaningfully work with. +1 Volition to train.

Materials, however, would have synergies with each other, and I imagine in practice this will develop into a Chemistry system. In particular, I plan on ensuring that wholly different materials where they can be combined are able to synergize with one another.

Case in point, a Sword for example could simultaneously involve multiple Metals, Wood, and Leather, as well as others such as Bones or Gems. All of these would have different effects that, ideally, would provide emergent interactions so that experimentation can be fostered.

Just spitballing a potential example, the previously mentioned Springhorn (a Bone type material) might create an emergent effect when combined with, say, Flyskin, a leather type that increases flight speed. The resulting weapon lets say could be thrown and it'd make several trips around the battlefield before it returns to the user, perhaps even allowing it to hit more than one target.

If this was then enchanted with an AOE lightning spell, where it activates for the duration of an attack, then oh snap, we've basically got a Stormbreaker on our hands.

+5 to Volition, because thats cool as hell and who wouldn't want to Craft when you can make stuff like that.

The key here would be designing these in such a way that they're easy to reference, and while I haven't put much thought into it yet, I trust in my penchant for finding really clever ways to compress things.

====
Gathering

This would be the last big consideration, as it often suffers from the same problems Gathering does, and so this in turn basically doubles the problems and makes the user experience that much worse.

From my perspective, this tends to be in the grind thats all too often made a part of these mechanics, often for no reason at all, not even to artificially inflate playtime. Some devs just do it unthinkingly because thats what other gathering systems look like.

Beyond the Grind, the volition to go gather is mostly rooted in the Crafting System, but also in its integration with other game activities. If you have to stop the games normal gameplay loop just to Gather, thats a problem.

So to square this, we can assume that the Crafting aspects are covered. So that just leaves us the Grind and Integration to consider.

The former is easy. You don't have to Grind period. No Crafting requires more than 1 sample of a given Material unless you're intending to use it more than once, and if you need to be frugal, for some materials (wood, metal, bone; leather for armor, stone for weapons), a single sample of a Material can be used to form an entire item.

What Grind would still emerge wouldn't be much to worry about, given the Integration aspects, and would ultimately be fine. If you want to deck out your entire Party in the best items you can get your hands on, that work will still involve engaging with the overall gameplay loop.

How that'd be the case is through integration. For this, I came to the idea of leveraging Travel Tasks as a means of accomplishing this. Whenever the Party travels, one or more members can engage in a few different Gathering tasks, depending on what they're looking for, or just what they'd be interested in finding.

These would be things like Prospecting, Foraging, Hunting, etc. These tasks would contribute to the overall Pacing of the party (the distance they're able to travel) and would be self-contained within the Turn. Players would be able to coordinate their Tasks and double up on them, generating their own bonuses because they're working together.

As mentioned earlier, Gathering through these Tasks would require a Sequence Roll, which for Gathering would provide the player the means to emphasize either a specific kind of material they want, or a healthy variety of whatevers out there to find, and whatever mix inbetween depending on what the Player (and the Party) want to find and/or keep a stock of.

The former would be a lower yield, but would be reliable especially as your Skills go up, and likewise the latter would have a higher yield, and go up with your Skills.

So now, we've got Gathering integrated with Traversal, and have mostly eliminated a lot of the incentive to just mindlessly Grind. You most likely have somewhere you want to go, so do this on the way, and even if you just want to Gather and nothing but, you're still engaging other loops...

For my Exploration system, Gathering Tasks would also be generating Oracles, so gatherers will be able to contribute Discoveries and general Oracle scenes just as much as players doing something else, so PACR would be getting hit on all 4 fronts for both systems.

Over time, meanwhile, Gathering and Exploration together would integrate with the Settlement and Domain systems. You'll occasionally find (in actuality you'd be creating them) different "nodes" for specific resources, and these would pay dividends for these larger systems, as Settlements would benefit from being near or even built into the same Hex as these nodes, and Domains would be able to draw on these resources for a number of benefits. PACR again gets hit on all 4 fronts for both systems.

Finding the random Diamond mine in the woods isn't just an exciting adventure or an opportunity to get some precious gems, its an opportunity to build up a town and eventually form an economic backbone to a nation. Or perhaps you're a devious Necromancer, and now you have a vast untapped wealth of gems to go into your experiments...

Suffice to say, +10 to volition, at least in my opinion, as thats the kind of stuff that makes a story machine go.

===

And thats about it. While I mostly focused on more mundane Smithing as an example (as thats as far as Ive gotten in terms of having less of a theory and more of an actual design), this overall system goes beyond that. Longer form versions of the C&G loop would be empowering things like Animal Taming (and the more Domain specific versions, like Mages creating monsters), and I'm actually highly tempted to take the same loop and reconfigure it to support my concept for Bloodlines, Race mechanics shifting into Family Making mechanics, which in turn would if successful be important for encouraging groups to keep the same campaign going, rather than starting over.

Particularly with the Magical side of things, though, there will also be some unique takes. Spell crafting will be a thing, as will the creation of magical weapons and armor, such as Wands and Staves, Orbs and Tomes, Robes and Hats, etc etc. Magical Equipment will follow more or less the same routes that physical equipment does, but Spells in particular will be interesting.

There I intend to break from the overall loop. While I could set it up like the rest, using a Vancian esque system for it, I don't particularly care for that as thats a specific kind of Magic that I don't really want to go for. Instead, Spells will always be available and won't degrade (and conversely can't be reforged, but could be augmented with Materials; +1 Volition to Spell Components hah!).

Where the Degradation would come in would instead be on the Caster themselves through Corruptions, physical deformities that induce stat drains and buffs, and the different Mage classes would each have unique ways to deal with them, such as the Wizard who converts them into runes etched into their body, eliminating the drains but eating away at Composure (HP), that they can then purge to empower their spellcasting. Another take would be the Warlock, who instead embraces them and wants to get as many as possible, as each Corruption empowers their Curse mechanics, letting them purge their own debuffs onto their enemies, if only temporarily.

As said though, a lot of this is just a theorycraft. I'm still working on other parts of the system, and so most of this aside from the Sequence Roll is just the ideas I've had for what all is going to go into it. Though that said, nothing I can see so far makes the idea unsound.

Much of the nebulous uncertainty would lie in the actual design of content and how that manifests when the time comes. By my estimation I'm going to want to have a good selection of Materials with meaningful differences between them, and they'll have to be carefully balanced (likely through an MMO style tier system, where low tier stuff gains new importance in other areas as they're outclassed) to ensure that the progression feels right and gathering them isn't an excercise in item spam.

I'm pretty confident though we can square it, so long as the underlying system pans out, which I think it should.

====
And for clarity, the PACR needs isn't something I came up with. A,C, and R come from Self-Determination Theory, and P is more or less implied by it, but is useful to call out specifically when considering games. I got introduced to this, and the idea of calling out P specifically, through this GDC Talk and the comments, which aren't particularly kind to the poor guy.
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
While fiddly, this is ultimately a boon, as the idea is that while you go through your Sequence, other players can be taking their Turns. The fiddliness gives them the time to do that, whereas something more compressed just begs to be dealt with then and there, making the game stop for your single player experience. Not fun, so instead, you get something more involved to engage with so that other players can keep going while you work on it.
I don’t think that’s fiddly per se. It may look like it in comparison to other tabletop RPGs (particularly D&D-likes), but crafting often has very little gameplay associated with it in those games, so adding some may seem like an imposition (or be “fiddly”). However, if people don’t want to bother, can they ignore it? (And it’s fine if not.)

This would be the last big consideration, as it often suffers from the same problems Gathering does, and so this in turn basically doubles the problems and makes the user experience that much worse.
Typo? I assume you mean “same problems Crafting does”?

Much of the nebulous uncertainty would lie in the actual design of content and how that manifests when the time comes. By my estimation I'm going to want to have a good selection of Materials with meaningful differences between them, and they'll have to be carefully balanced (likely through an MMO style tier system, where low tier stuff gains new importance in other areas as they're outclassed) to ensure that the progression feels right and gathering them isn't an excercise in item spam.
How exhaustive is this list going to be? You mention emergent effects, but can players combine items in unexpected/unanticipated ways? For example, several sessions ago, the players used crafting¹ in my homebrew system to combine poison with a corpse to create bait. Would something like that be possible (effectively improvising a trap)?



1: It’s inspired by the crafting in Final Fantasy XIV. Items require materials. You have to balance progress against durability as you work on the item (and can optionally work towards quality to make a better item), but it’s still very heavily WIP and needs documented properly. The closest thing I have to documentation is a post on another forum where I discussed about some ideas, which I then try to recall when it comes up during a session. 😅
 

However, if people don’t want to bother, can they ignore it? (And it’s fine if not.)

They could, particularly if their overall build affords them a way to not need to train up the related Skills, such as the Warrior subclass Commander allowing for Intelligence to sub in for Stamina over either Strength or Agility, which in turn means they don't need to maximize one of those Talents (meaning, train up the Crafting/Gathering skills in them).

But they could also do it if they're okay with technically being sub-optimal. That Commander would probably still want their Strength or Agility to be pretty high, if not as maximal as they can, so while they can deemphasize it for ensuring they're progressing on their Energies, they'd still want it for the respective Passives.

Meanwhile, NPC Crafters (and Gatherers) could be employed, but this would necessarily require some kind of income and finding higher tier NPCs to do higher tier work for you wouldn't be easy, and would take engagement in other areas. (Settlements and Questing for example)

Plus, thats part of the value of having a compelling Repair system in place. You don't have to craft anything to still progress with Smithing, for example, if you're keeping up with your equipment. It may be a little dissonant to then take that experience and suddenly be able to forge the Master Sword, but at that point one has to ask if thats what they actually care about. (And thats without considering the Perk system. Presumably you'd be deemphasizing Crafting perks, so there'd still be a difference between a Maxed Smith who only repairs versus one who Crafts, and a difference in both to one who does Both)

Typo? I assume you mean “same problems Crafting does”?

Affirmative.

How exhaustive is this list going to be?

In terms of how many Materials total? Uncertain. I do know the overall Tier structure would be constrained, probably no more than 6-9 at the most. I also know that I want to ensure that there's meaningful choices within those tiers, so that theres variety in how these Tiers present in the gameworld (ie, little to no monochromatically equipped enemies).

And I also know, especially if I can resolve the reference problem, that I'd prefer to get in as many "superflous" materials as I could; things that'd only exist to add expressive flare even if they don't offer anything different over another Material. For example, Wyvernbone wouldn't be any different than Dragonbone (particularly given Wyverns are just newborn Dragons in my lore), but would present differently "in the fiction" as it were.

These superflous ideas would probably just listed as different names within the same base Entry, but I imagine for many, like the Wyvern vs Dragon example, that I could include some narrative pitches for how these materials could be recognized. For example, people wouldn't find your Wyvernbone armor near as impressive as Dragonbone, despite them being effectively equal in raw mechanical value. That sort of dynamic indeed would be interesting if it was considered in terms of an economy; people have all kinds of irrational valuation models like that, and sometimes it isn't even all that irrational.

Wyverns would be comparatively easier to kill and harvest for their bones than their older kin, and so while it'd be worth less, it'd be considered more economical for those who could afford it and need what they provide, while Dragonbone (and the even rarer Nagabone, Naga being the final stage of life. Think Gyrados from Pokemon) would be seen as more Luxurious.

But! Even thinking through that idea right now, I could probably also designate these as Quality tiers, and could tie the reforge caps to them. Nagabone would allow for the most potential, but would understandably be rarer and thus more valued than the more common and lower potential Wyvernbone.

In other cases though that irrational valuation would be maintained I think. Gems and Stones in particular.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
In terms of how many Materials total? Uncertain. I do know the overall Tier structure would be constrained, probably no more than 6-9 at the most. I also know that I want to ensure that there's meaningful choices within those tiers, so that theres variety in how these Tiers present in the gameworld (ie, little to no monochromatically equipped enemies).
More so in the sense of whether the list is open or closed. If the players want to combine things unexpectedly or use materials not on the list, is resolving that situation still in scope for crafting, or would that handled a different way?
 

More so in the sense of whether the list is open or closed. If the players want to combine things unexpectedly or use materials not on the list, is resolving that situation still in scope for crafting, or would that handled a different way?

Ah so in that case, closed. Materials would have specific instances where they could be used; ie, leather can be the sole material in a piece of armor but would be nonsensical as a weapon.

And as far as things not considered Materials, most of the time it will be things you could only get ahold of by virtue of the improv game. Common sand or dirt is something you could pick up, but it'd have no mechanical relevance to anything. You'd know these, because you wouldn't have to invoke any sort of mechanic to get a hold of them.

That being said, Materials is intended to be fairly comprehensive, if abstracted, as they'll be applied not just in personal items but vehicles, buildings, and, through resource nodes, as resources for Settlements and Domains to draw upon.

So while a lot of common things could be used as Materials, not every random thing is going to have an effect. There would also be scrap mechanics, which is what would be found much of the time when you're looting humanoid enemies. You could loot armor and possibly even weapons, but they'd mostly be crappy and/or already damaged to nearly breaking. Useful in a pinch, but normally a waste of inventory space.

But if collected in bulk, they can be scrapped and converted into their base Materials. This would be the basis of a number of basic quests and jobs one could do, and a fairly realistic one given that scavenging battlefields was a lucrative business once upon a time, and it makes all the mechanical sense to support it.
 

Something occurs to me that I feel tends to be lost when I talk about my game is that theres a lot of nuance to how its being designed. This is something a work friend led me to after talking about what I was doing.

For example, the subject of this topic is Crafting, and a touchy subject tends to be that of Durability. As described, I think many might not actually realize just how far the game goes towards this being non-abrasive, and while it is mostly my fault for not highlighting this, at the same time, its just a big game, and every part it is interwoven into everything else.

The main thing about Durability that I think I neglected to highlight is that equipment only makes up for part of your overall "power". For weapons and armor, you'll only have up to 3 dice per item as part of its dice pool, and of course the Durability modifier itself. That by itself provides a pretty significant barrier where the difference between optimal, effective, and unviable are a lot less stark.

But what I neglect to mention is that you'll also be getting up to 2 Dice from your Class, as well as an additional Die from your Talents(Attributes), which will equalize to the largest die size your item has, and which are entirely unaffected by Durability.

So even if you take your Maul down to its lowest end, 1d4, you could still be throwing 3d12+1d4 per Attack. Thats not insignificant at all in a system where the maximum HP is going to be less than 200, and where the average mob would have less than 100. Thats another thing that I neglected to highlight.

No doubt some would still have a pretty vitriolic reaction just because its Durability, but even so, these nuances make quite a difference, at least imo, speaking as someone who would be super into conventional takes on Durability.

Edit: I also had a good idea as far as preventing people just destroying their stuff deliberately to skip the intended gameplay. The idea here would be that you can do this, but it takes Skill to do so without inadvertently destroying your item.

So you could just bash it on a rock, but the chances of that succeeding in a way that doesn't just destroy the item would be quite low; you're most likely going to break it so badly it needs to be remade entirely, effectively destroying it and as a consequence wiping out any capabilities you may have accumulated on it.

Whereas with a high skill, you could deliberately and cleanly introduce a break to allow you to incorporate new materials into the item, and this would likely just be the first step in a deliberate reforge for those at that Skill level, whereas in all other cases you'd be starting with your broken item.
 
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