Stargazer posted about the idea of crafting in a tabletop game a few days ago and it got me thinking. There are a few games that allow the player to generate their own equipment but very rarely is it assumed that the PCs themselves are building the item. They’re usually just a custom piece of equipment, and they’re usually for large items like starships.
Actually The Artifact has a system for crafting a lot of things in The Engineer’s Resource. Steampunkfitters has a super simple system for making your own inventions. The first RPG that I wrote had rules to make any category of equipment in the game. It was easier on me to give the generation rules than to make huge lists of equipment that my players wanted. There is one thing that I missed tying in with my crafting rules that I wish I had thought of and it was brought up in the comments of the Stargazer post. Except for the Engineer’s Sourcebook, all the crafting rules I’ve devised were supposed to happen off screen.
Why is that? Why does crafting happen front and center on video games but not in tabletop games? Again the answer that immediately comes to mind was mentioned in the comments of the Stargazer post. One, it’s usually a solitary task in a video game. Does that make sense? In real life, are things usually made by one person? No, even if you’re a blacksmith you have assistants. If you’re a successful blacksmith you have several assistants. So any crafting rules should include the idea of multiple characters working toward an item to craft. Engineer’s Resource check, that’s exactly how the system is designed to work. Steampunkfitters, not so much, although it could be reasonably easily modified to allow multiple characters pooling points into an invention. SPF is also intended to be reflecting the DIY efforts of lone inventors so a collaborative invention fits less into the feel of the game.
The other objection is that in a video game the crafting process is slow and would not be very interesting at the tabletop so it’s best to have it happen in a time lapse while off screen. This has been my objection to focusing on crafting. Does this make sense? In some cases, yes it does. In a majority of the video game crafting the character spends time just working on the item and you don’t want to focus on that during a table top game. BUT! Another important aspect of video game crafting is that there are ingredients that the character can collect to make their items. What can we do with that at the table top?
One solution is to make it possible for the PCs to craft off screen slowly, or they can go after an ingredient (or part) as part of the game. Searching for a part that will speed up their progress or improve the quality of the crafted item draws in elements that a GM is going to feel a lot more comfortable playing at the table. The search, the negotiation, the reluctant seller, all are things that a GM may have used in the past when the PCs are looking for a rare game item. This doesn’t have to be any different.
In The Engineer’s Resource searching out an ingredient might ensure good quality, there are a number of points in equipment builds where a flubbed roll could bring down the effectiveness of an item. Searching out a part could be used to prevent that problem. Another thing an ingredient might give is a reduction in the manhours needed to make the item.
In SPF acquiring an item might give the characters a Story Point boost to their invention, either existing or a new one that they’re working on. Simple enough.
Both are simple mechanically and could be implemented without any real additional rules.