Tacticular Cancer: We'll have your balls

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RPG crafting systems suck. Right?

Discussion in 'Codex Workshop' started by cardtrick, Feb 20, 2008.

  1. cardtrick Arbiter

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    I hate crafting systems in RPGs. I'm wondering if I'm alone on this, and also looking for thoughts on what would be necessary to make a good crafting system, or whether adding a crafting system is just an unsalvageably bad idea.

    I haven't really analyzed this too much, but let me present a few problems I have with crafting systems.

    1) They're boring. I haven't played an RPG in which a crafting system is fun in and of itself. Almost invariably, the actual crafting requires no input from the player, but simply putting items on a workbench or using some kind of crafting menu. It's not that crafting is actually unpleasant, but it's much less enjoyable than combat, exploration, or conversation and much less satisfying than developing a character (this is probably a matter of taste -- I can imagine someone getting the same enjoyment out of crafting a sword as I do out of leveling up my characters). Given that it's not as fun as other RPG activities, I would simply rather be doing them.

    2) Crafting systems are almost invariably awkward. Necessarily, they require some inventory management (selecting components, etc.) but it seems like there's never a good interface for this. The Witcher's alchemy system had an atrocious interface, NWN2 & MOTB were nearly as bad, and the list goes on. If you're not going to make crafting fun, why couldn't it at least be easy and painless?

    3) Crafting grossly imbalances a game. This one is less universal but more damning than the others. It seems that crafting is extremely tough to balance, and that often hurts other aspects of the game -- which I consider inexcusable for a system that isn't fun in and of itself. The worst offenders here of games that I've recently played are NWN2, MOTB, and Wizards and Warriors. In each of them, it's extremely easy to craft items that are far better than anything you can find or buy. This has two negative effects. First, it strongly encourages the player to use the crafting system, which I would rather be able to happily ignore. Second -- and worse -- it eliminates much of the fun of exploration and combat, two key traditional RPG elements. Why bother exploring that dungeon or undertaking that dangerous quest if you can certainly craft yourself a weapon that's far more powerful than whatever rewards you might find? Wizards and Warriors is particularly awful in this respect, since the entire plot of the game revolves around finding and obtaining a legendary sword powerful enough to defeat an evil immortal -- but when I actually got the sword I was disappointed (and shocked) to discover that I had already enchanted myself some weapons for every character that were twice as powerful as this epic heavenly artifact. What the fuck?

    Some games do a better job with crafting systems than others. The Witcher's alchemy system was actually decent -- not for the system itself, which was just as bad as most, but because it was integrally tied in with gameplay. The requirement to pursue formulae actually did add something to the game, and it was a good way to make character knowledge an important game mechanic. Thankfully, The Witcher did not offer weapon or armor crafting, removing most of the balancing issues. Of course, it was still burdened by an awful crafting interface and the fact that actually crafting was not fun and was actually kind of annoying, requiring you to find a campfire or inn (because of course a professional monster slayer is incapable of making his own campfires). Similarly, Darklands' alchemy system was good -- once more because you had to seek out formulae, sending you on trips between cities and effectively becoming a major quest.

    Is that the requirement for a decent crafting system? It must require in-game knowledge (or, presumably, rare ingredients), thereby giving you additional in-game goals, things to search for, and problems to solve? That does seem like one reasonable thought. But is there any way to make crafting fun by itself? I have no idea -- no thoughts are coming to me. It seems like a prime place for a minigame . . . but on the other hand I hate minigames. What can be done about this? Or are crafting systems even necessary? Do their problems outweigh their limited benefits? I tend to lean towards this option, but I'm unconvinced.

    Anyway, I'm interested in your thoughts and suggestions.
  2. BloodyJellySubmarine Novice

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    I agree with you cardtrick for the most part. Crafting is boring, and it often feels tacked on or not well- implemented, but there are a couple of exceptions I can think of. Being a techie in Arcanum was alot of fun to me, and maybe that was because the crafting was so closely tied to the advancement of your character. Aracanum's crafting system could be annoying and boring too, but it was interesting and exciting when your new creations really made a difference. Wizardry 8's gageteer had a simular method for crafting, while it was not complex, it was fun. Maybe games need more classes or advancement paths where the character's major skill is crafting? Most games get it pretty wrong though.
  3. Ausir Arcane

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    The Witcher's alchemy interface will be improved in the Enhanced Edition.
  4. RK47 Arcane Patron

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    Ummm another reason why I hated playing techie is because the components are not readily available to you and that leaves skill usage down to partly luck. Wish I could salvage parts from items ala Hellgate.
  5. BloodyJellySubmarine Novice

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    This may be just me, but I never had a problem finding parts in Arcanum. I picked up everything, which isn't very realistic, admittingly, but that's what I did and I never had a problem. Just stored it all in the inn in Tarant.
  6. Top Hat Scholar

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    It's so easy when people kind of suggest answers for themselves!

    Granted - it's not going to work within the logic of some gaming worlds, but perhaps approaching the idea of having items increase in power in a similar way to characters might be one approach.

    One way this could be done is through some kind of item-character relationship: the more the character uses an item, the better the character is at using it; while conversely the item derives some kind of enchantment from the character(s) that wield it over its lifetime. For example, characters with high dexterity might be able to use their trusty dagger more often in combat, while the dagger slowly gains a dexterity enchantment.

    Another way is to consider (for example) a weapon or piece of armor as a bizarre type of party member: they have their own attributes (possibly different from the characters, but with some kind of association to them), skills, experience points and, um, hit points. Weapons that run out of hit points "die" by breaking - repairing at this stage pretty much makes them a new weapon so they have to start again. They gain experience points by killing/protecting, and when they level up you can spend the experience points earning various rewards.

    For potions and other naturally limited-use items, perhaps the bonus could be conferred through an inventory item used to craft the object - like a mortar and pestle.
  7. Shannow Waster of Time

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    The crafting in ToEE was a lot better than what you were describing. Crafting costs gold (and lots of it) and exp. So it is more like buying a custom weapon. You go into the interface and choose your weapon and its enchantments. No fighting with those stupid benches or components. The down side was that I never knew what the requirements for certain enchantments were. ToEE was difficult enough that your crafted +3 weapons didn't imballance it either.
    So:
    1. make the items cost gold, exp, hp, time (in a game where time is of the essence) or only be allowed to make a certain number of powerful items (maybe linked to char level),
    2. make the interface easy. List the items you can create or enchant, the possible enchantments and the raw materials you might need in one interface.
    3. Don't make it possible to make a hackmaster +12. You should always be able to find at least a few items that are more powerful than crafted ones (although they might not fit your character as well).

    With all those points I think that crafting can be included and even provide some fun.

    I also thought about something Top Hat mentioned: a soul-bound weapon. Initially a little weaker than the stuff you find but it levels (if you use it) and you can determineits upgrades. So it is always the choice between found weapons and your customised one that might be more powerful than anything you find. (Would work best in a game with random loot, Diablo, etc) I think Gorasul used something like that. I never played the game so that is only hearsay.

    Another suggestion would be to include the crafting into the roleplaying. Like you have to craft something in Torment to join that faction.
    You could play some kind of apprentice who has to learn enough about his craft to make his apprentice/master piece and advance the plot.

    In an Diablo or mmo styled game you could say what kind of item you want to make. That would cost certain raw materials and gold. Depending on you skill the item would be slightly randomized and end up with better or worse stats (again depending on you skill and the item).


    Since crafting always provides a new dimension to a game, a good crafting system will always improve a game. But most games can just as well go without crafting and still be excellent, imho.
  8. ghostdog Prestigious Gentleman Arcane Patron

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    If the crafting is simple , easy and doesn't imbalance the game much, it's alright.
    There only one game where I enjoyed a complex crafting system, Star Ocean.
    I've never even tried crafting in NWN2 OC since there is no need for it. The game already has very easy combat, if I started enchanting swords and creating all the uber items it would be too much.
  9. Schauman Scholar

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    I always disliked how you cant break items to the base components. No, I dont mean nuking them to chemical elements, but instead taking the parts from items. If memory serves I think Tuco does this in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for his custom revolver. Cylinder from gun A, hammer from gun B and rest from gun C produced a weapon worthy for the Ugly fame.

    It would mean coming up with statistics and other variables for each component though but I think procedural generation could help there. It would take time to make the system functional but if done right, it could be made into a rather interesting gameplay feature. Skills could be used to determine what you can cannibalize from items, breaking down that ancient gizmo of heavens without proper knowledge would result in a pile of slag. With the proper knowledge and training you could extract parts that in turn would create a device of terror that puts all the iPods of the world to shame.

    Vanilla SWG had a rather nice crafting system, albeit I belive it would be far too complex for single player RPG. Resources had multiple stats (Ranging from 0 to 1000) and they affected the quality of the components and final goods. There also was a rather simple experiment system where you could take a gamble at improving the item before assembly. Succesful experiement roll could result in spectacular improvements to the item while failure would make that fancy gun a piece of shite. To seperate the real pros from the common craftsmen, there was random world drops for items that boosted the experiment stat for different craft skills. They would cost more than enough to get but when a crafter had +120 in experiment instead of the base +100, he was bound to have unlimited supply of clients.

    The great thing was that items had damm a lot of stats which the resources and experimenting would affect. I used to be a Rifleman when I was still fooling around SWG and my true love was my custom crafted T21 Rifle. The rifle had stats for Attack Speed, Max and Min DMG, Wound chance, Durabilty, Range, the basics. All of these were affected by the quality of the items you used to craft it.

    Resources with horrible amount of stats would be quite painfull in a single player cRPG but the system SWG had could be made into something with the proper tweaks. Lessen the numbers to make it a bit more simple and add a good UI to it.
  10. Alex Arcane

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    I think most of the crafting systems I have seem lack in two areas. First, the crafting decisions are rarely meaningful. Usually, crafting resources, wether they are money, herbs, chemicals or whatever, are more than plentiful. Being able to craft the best weapon in a game isn't much of a problem if you need an unique item as hard to get as any end game artifact. If this same item can be used in different recipes, the choice the player make is made much more important.

    An interesting combat system, or any other kind of system you could use items you make also help here. If long range weapons have statistics such as accuracy, range, rate of fire, recoil and overheating, balancing the various statistics become much more interesting. There are many ways to make the crafting decisions more meaningful. Arcanum, for example, managed this using the various sciences that the player needed to invest character points to learn. Depending on what you choose to learn, the items you could make could be wildly different.

    The second problem I have with most crafting systems is that they aren't challenging. Even if a crafting system has many variables, like the previous gun example, it still won't be challenging if I can simply choose how much I want to invest in each area and then pay a cost. I think that if crafting is to be a major part of the game, it should require from the player some work. Ideally, I think a crafting system should be complex enough so that there are many solutions for the same problem, each with different pros and cons. That way, crafting would be moved away from being a simple optimization problem into more of a design problem.
  11. Section8 Erudite

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    It all depends on what you want to achieve with a crafting system. Is it a supplement to combat gameplay? An alternative? An outlet for "mushroom pickers?"A MMOG timesink? Just another way to convert unwanted loot into something more desirable?

    If it's a flavour element that isn't intended to be a core gameplay element, just a nice bit of fluff, then simple and functional works. There's no need to make it fun. KOTOR worked well in theory, but there was nearly always a "best configuration", instead of distinct and interesting ones, and it was largely irrelevant to combat gameplay that isn't challenging even with unmodified items.

    Mushroom picking "gameplay" I think has more potential than we've seen, though mostly as a Diablo-style "grind for reward" kind of thing. If you had an alchemy system that had "Godly Drowner Brains of the Whale" and so forth, then you'd have something that incentivises mushroom pickery, for better or worse, as well as extending the system beyond the generally limited parameters that only permit so many combinations.

    If you're considering crafting as an actually alternative form of gameplay, then there's a lot to consider. RPG combat systems basically design themselves, because there have been so many following along similar lines. Even the games that stray from the traditional roots usually just replace them with other very familiar forms of gameplay.

    Crafting though, I can't say I've played anything where crafting systems were suitably developed to be regarded as gameplay on their own, unless you count The Incredible Machine.

    So is that the challenge? Devise a crafting system that stands on it's own gameplay merits?
  12. Alex Arcane

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    I do realize that it is unfair to judge the crafting systems we had up to now based on functions that they were never intended to accomplish. My post assumed that putting enough gameplay in crafting that it became a core gamweplay element is a worthy goal. Of course not all games would be better off with such a system.

    For some games it might be simply impossible to use. If combat in game a is less complex than the crafting system for weapons, the extra complexity while crafting is simply wasted. In other words, the crafting system of a game must be supported by other systems inside the game, for crafting something shouldn't be done simply for its own sake (at least, not in an rpg).

    I will agree with you. Like I said, the crafting system need to be supported by the other systems, and most crpgs nowadays are woefully simple. But it doesn't have to be this way.Some PnP rpgs, like GURPS, already offer enough complexity for interesting crafting systems, though the crafting system per se in these games usually aren't so developed.

    Actually I was going to use it as an example. We could try to start here, give the player a playfield like that of TIM. Depending on what happens inside the field, change some characteristics. For example, suppose the playfield has a tube, where shots must pass. Depending on the speed, friction and amount of whatever pass by it, the gun the player is designing will have a different overheating speed. This is just a crude example, to give an idea of what I think might work.

    Ok, let me try to be clear here. I think that the crafting system could challenge the player with a certain amount of complexity, so the activity of creating an item is less min/maxing and more like design. But creating such system would certainly be a challenge to the game designer himself. Still, I think it might be a worthy goal.
  13. crufty Arcane

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    I think the challenge is to make crafting make sense in context of rpg design / gameplay. at the very least, crafting weapons should be 10x base cost.

    I agree with OP. Too often it is tacked on as a feature bullet '* And lastly, craft your own uber weapons!" I don't like crafting in general. waste of time to me.

    It hardly makes sense to me that someone who is busy plumbing the depths of dungeons can suddenly sit down and make a sword finer and more powerful then any armorer in the lands.

    Or, on the flip side, lets say the character drops it off at some guy's shop. Why would an armorer would make a weapon more powerful then anything else and not sell it to the highest bidder / duke / king / noble? It's not like I can take radioactive materials and electronic pieces down to the local fabricating shop and have them gin up a nuke for me.

    Much more plausible to me is hey, I find some iron ore, I bring it to an armorer, drop off some coin to cover the labor, return in 4 weeks and he has a set of swords waiting for me. Maybe they are finely crafted, maybe he just gives me some swords he had laying around.

    I'm also not a big fan of the gem / slot style of item customization, unless its the game generating random items for me.
  14. slipgate_angel Scholar

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    You just gave an example of how Dark clouds weapon system work. In the game you don't improve your characters levels, but your weapons levels. Though that depends on what DC game you have.

    Dark Cloud 1's weapons work as if though your weapons have XP points, and you'll also need to repair it offten to see it level up, as if you were taking care of your own character. When it does level up, you go to a screen that shows what enchantments you picked up, how many you can put in it ((The limit is mostly two or three slots at first level)) and whether or not you want to synthasize it. Synthasize is basicly it's level up, but the enchantments you put in the weapon will go into the leveled up weapon permenently, rather than it being an add on.
    You can do this for until the weapon get's to a +5 stage, in that case you will have to break the weapon apart. This is a risky thing to do, because not all of it's attrabutes will stay with a weapon this way, but hey most of what made the weapon special will be implimented into a much better weapon you discovered in a dungeon, or bought at a shop...did I forget to mention that you kill monsters to get XP? :o

    Dark cloud 2, not that's a different story. Weapons work the same way in the original game when it came to killing monsters to up the weapons abilities...but it's different in the stats department. Instead of adding enchantments to a weapon slot, you add an effect to the weapon perminantly. This is done by breaking an item apart, which can range from enchantments, to even your own usable items. You have a limit to how many effects you can add to a weapon, but you get more by killing more monsters, so make your effects count.
    When you meet a curtain requirement, you can upgrade the weapon to a better one, but can still upgrade it. I also forgot to mention that the effects add to the weapons stats, which range from attack power, to durebility, to even elemental damage.

    The weapon crafting in DC2 is the most important part of the game...well that, and building better places for the future, which you can actually visit. Besides that, the invention feature, and fishing isn't that important.

    I hope this example has incouraged you to look into the series, but please start out with Dark cloud 2, because the original is a monstrosity of Elder scrolls: Oblivion preportions.
  15. Saint_Proverbius Arcane Patron

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    Prince of Qin had the best crafting system in any PC CRPG I've played to date. New items were made from animal bits/chunks of metal which were mostly dropped by the animals which made sense. Based on what magical elemental properties the components had, you could build the right elemental weapon you needed. It was very in tune with the Five Elements idea the game revolved around.
  16. Andhaira Unwanted

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    I agree with cardtrick, especially with the 'Unbalances game' part. That is the worst offender.

    However some rpg's like dnd (ToEE) balances this by xp requirement; you will be less likely to craft when you have to burn precious xp. But even then I agree, it takes away from the immersiveness, rarity ofmagic items, disrupts game economy AND ruins the fun of exploration and 'pHat lEwt!!!'

    @Cardtrick: Not sure about this, but if you play WnW at highest difficulty, the sword you find ought to be more powerful.
  17. cardtrick Arbiter

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    Interesting thoughts everyone. I haven't played Prince of Qin, but it sounds like I ought to try it at some point. And Shannow, you're right -- TOEE did quite a decent job with the crafting system. It wasn't unpleasant, it wasn't awkward, and it didn't unbalance the game. Right away, that's better than 90% of RPG crafting systems. But on the other hand, I don't feel like it added anything whatsoever to the gameplay; there was no fun or challenge in the crafting itself, and no need to seek out rare ingredients or recipes to encourage exploration.

    Any thoughts from anyone on how to make the actual process of crafting fun? (I mean enjoyable in and of itself as a gameplay element, the way combat is.)

    Nope. I am playing at the hardest difficulty, and the Mavin is absolute crap. By this point in the game, it's less than a third as powerful as the weapons I've enchanted (and it's not enchantable itself).
  18. Andhaira Unwanted

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    KOTOR's crafting/tinkering system was fun. You didn'tactually craft stuff, but yould muck around and it wasn't overpowering.
  19. Schauman Scholar

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    I found the UI for KOTOR workbench horrible. Menu swap, menu swap, menu swap, hell! Which item had the module X? Menu swap, menu swap. Oh screw this, Il just got with unmodded items.
  20. galsiah Arbiter

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    I think it's important to bear in mind that making it entertaining in isolation isn't the only goal. If in becoming entertaining, it becomes a longer, more complex process - as presumably it would -, then it becomes very important that the process ties in well with the rest of the game.
    When combat is done well enough to stand alone (e.g. X-COM), there are significant medium/long-term implications throughout the process. The player isn't (usually) given the chance to lose focus on the process, or to lose focus on the game as a whole, since they're tied together throughout.

    It'd be a limited success to turn crafting into an enjoyable minigame (i.e. where all individual actions involved are meaningless and forgettable in the medium/long-term). To avoid this you'd at least need a wide array of outcome combinations - probably mostly in terms of impact on the item produced (but potentially also on its creator/the world...). Then you'd need to tie those outcomes in to the process of crafting.

    I also think it'd make sense for crafting not to be simply a shopping/exploration alternative, or to be better/worse than those. If it's going to be a significant gameplay focus, I'd like to see it have a separate impact from other forms of item acquisition. This probably makes more sense in many settings anyway, since the idea that the PC should be able to compete in conventional sword-smithing with an NPC who does it full time is pretty daft. Crafting could involve magical/religious/etc elements which clearly separate crafted items from anything the PC could find/buy.
    For example, having items which are somehow bound to their creator in the act of "crafting". This naturally explains how there's no exploration/purchase equivalent, and how the PC is the person for the job: the only way to achieve these effects is to go through the crafting process personally. It'd also provide some clear possibilities with regard to the consequences of item creation: you're not creating an item which becomes irrelevant once unequipped, but rather an artefact that's bound to the PC.

    Of course once you include a load of magical/religious/... elements, you've departed from the conventional idea of crafting - but that's probably necessary in many contexts. Combat has a wide range of natural consequences; making a generic sword does not.
  21. Shannow Waster of Time

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    Making crafting a fun mechanic like combat?
    Well, apart the obvious option of making it some kind of puzzle or a tetris mini-game with stats determining the speed of the blocks ;) you have already mentioned this Incredible Maschines (never heard of it).
    For me personally customising my equipment to my needs is the fun I derive from crafting systems. And maybe the hunt for raw materials or recipies. That means, the easier and more comfortable it is the better I like it.
  22. Chimera Novice

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    Personally, I enjoyed the direction Dark Messiah of Might and Magic took their "crafting" system in, though it remained severely limited. Having to interact with the tools used in creating a weapon lent a certain air of simulationism to the entire affair that I found captivating.

    In fact, if I recall correctly, there was a demo submission on GameDev that was modeled after this very concept, wherein the player quite literally forged their equipment. You were required to obtain the necessary base substances, heat them properly (pumping the bellows at the right time and stoking the fire with the proper materials, thus guaranteeing an even application of heat at the appropriate temperature), then pour the molten metal into the mold you desired (which was responsible for the size and general appearance), cool it properly (the amount of time you spent cooling it, I believe, was responsible for determining the "Temper" attribute of the weapon, which in turn determined the chance it had of shattering), then hammer and sharpen it.

    The time you invested in each aspect of the process, along with other factors (such as the angle you used while sharpening), determined further attributes of the finished product. Finally, you could adorn it with gilding or fancy pommels, which would lend the weapon greater value, or adjust the blade by cutting in blood-channels, filing in serrations and so forth.

    All in all, while the term "blacksmith simulator" was bandied about rather derogatorily in response, I thought it a perfect crafting system... at least, insofar as it rendered the actual process of creating an item quite interesting.
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2013
  23. MetalCraze Dumbfuck! Dumbfuck

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    Arcanum's system was fun. it didn't require that shitty tons of resources like in mmorpgs, was simple and you could do oh so so many stuff with it. of course if you've found proper recipes.

    KotOR's system was boring, NWN2's too.
  24. Shannow Waster of Time

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    And don't forget the Gothic system. While not fun when you forged 40 swords to make money like I did, the world interactivity was quite fun.
    (For the non-goths, you take an iron bar, heat it in the forge, bang on it with a hammer on the anvil, cool it in water and sharpen it on a whetstone.)
  25. Alex Arcane

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    I dunno, Galsiah. I understand that crafting should offer some unique results. If a PC took up crafting instead of another ability, he had better be able to do something special with it. But I don't think that means that normal items can't be crafted. For example, suppose the pc is able to craft guns through whatever system. He might be able to craft normal guns, but high skill might allow him guns that have some unique traits, without necessarily becoming the best guns in the game. The uniqueness of the pc's gun may be explained by the gun being an original invention of the pc.

    I agree that having a unique class of items being craftable is probably better in a game where each character must craft at least a little, as to not have crafting and buying/looting fighting for the same place, but there are other alternatives. For example, suppose we group things this way: The player can buy default items, among these weapons, armor and supplies.

    Aside from buying, he can obtain items by looting or crafting. Looting items are either a: the same items you can buy, b: priceful, but otherwise useless reliques you can sell or c: magical items that the pc couldn't otherwise acquire. Magical items could vary from the usual stuff (flaming swords, magical armor) to more quirky items (crystal ball, voodoo doll).

    Crafted items can also be one of three: a: normal items, or somewhat improved version of them. While a magic sword might be better all around, a crafted sword might always have a con for each of its pros. However, the player can control when he gets a crafted sword, and with different recipes, swing its pros and cons around. So crafting is different from looting. b: Special items with unique functionality. For example, the PC might be able to invent a metal detector, which could help when looting to find hidden stashes. c: Quest items that are able to solve a unique problem in the quest world. Effectively this is a way to allow crafting to solve a quest.

    In such a system, bought items are always basic, and less useful than looted or crafted ones. Looted or crafted items are unique in different ways, and both are a viable option to characters. Most people would prefer to have a bit of both kinds, but depending on location design, it might be possible to avoid either or even both. With enough work on both systems, they can coexist without complete overlap.

    Also, I agree that it is silly that an adventurer can make swords better than a smith who worked on it all his life. But it isn't more silly than an adventurer who start as a weakling and in 3 months is able to wipe out armies single handedly.

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