Crafting Systems in Tabletop Games: AD&D, Second Edition 2

I made some references in this post to crafting in 2e. Since then, I dug out my 2e Player’s Handbook and Complete Fighter’s Handbook to reread the rules there. What I found there was interesting for what it is and what it isn’t. Let me start by pointing out that these rules were written in 1989. Someday I should learn more about the history of MU*s for the sake of comparing what was going on in this narrow band of game design in other games at that time. Wikipedia indicates that The Realm Online was the first MMO in 1996, so I feel comfortable saying that the developments in crafting design that they would eventually introduce weren’t in anyone’s mind at the time.


Right, well, getting on with it. The goals of the crafting system in the Complete Fighter’s Handbook are fundamentally unlike those of, say, 3e’s Craft skills, and the goals of the crafting system in the Dungeon Master’s Guide are unlike those of 3e’s magic item creation feats. The Player’s Handbook of 2e sets material costs and crafting times for armor and weapons. As with all nonweapon proficiencies, in general a character is or is not a crafter of the given type; there is no indication that higher levels of skill might relate to working faster, or that more skill might ever be required to make something. The rules in the PH indicate, without particular guidance, that the DM may rule an item more or less difficult to make than normal, and therefore assign a bonus or penalty to the character’s skill roll. The CFH introduces a table of such modifiers.

Much like 3e, most skills that would let you make something with rules-related in-game usage are based on Intelligence, which explains why Armorer and Weaponsmith (though Warrior skills) were more commonly purchased by wizards in games I ran. NWPs of the Wizard category are of dubious use, or at least less obvious use – and a wizard’s high Intelligence gives him NWP slots to burn anyway. A warrior with a respectable Int of 12 nets 6 slots, of which Armorer cost 2 or Weaponsmith cost 3; a wizard with an Int of 17 – not terribly uncommon in the games I played or ran – had 10, of which Armorer cost 3 or Weaponsmith 4. Said warrior’s Armorer score is 10, or his Weaponsmith score is 9 – this is the number he needs to roll under to succeed. The wizard of this example, on the other hand, has an Armorer score of 15, or a Weaponsmith score of 14. Both characters have the option to spend more slots on these NWPs to improve those scores, at 1:1. Supposing the warrior spends as many slots of this skill as the wizard did, he’s still four points worse off. (It’s worth pointing out that none of the Warrior skills in the PH are Strength-based, while three General skills and one Rogue skill are. The majority of Warrior skills are based on either Intelligence or Dexterity.)

Armorer is an interesting case. All rules on what it costs to make a shield or a suit of armor from scratch are left to the DM’s discretion until the CFH. There’s a straightforward formula presented for the time it takes to produce the suit, but this is a value in weeks of work. Full plate, for example, takes 18 weeks, or a little over four months. The PH doesn’t discuss how many hours a day the character needs to be at a forge to make progress, but it’s clearly a full-time job. I’ve certainly never played in a game where the other players and the DM would be interested in stopping adventuring for 18 weeks of game time.

In a quick note of comparison, this is less miserable than 3e crafting of full plate. If you had a respectable +15 in Craft (armorer) and took 10 every week, you’d complete a non-masterwork suit of full plate on or around Tuesday of your 34th week of work.

Okay, back to 2e. At the end of this time, the player makes a single Armorer roll. On a success, he completes the project. (Note again that our example warrior with slightly above average Intelligence has a 50-50 chance to succeed, and there are no second chances.) If he should fail by 5 or more, the work is a total loss.

If he fails by less than 5, though, things get more interesting, albeit in a highly impractical way. The character produces armor that is functional but flawed. It is 1 AC worse (y’know, higher – this is 2e) than normal. That part is fine: while in most cases it’s a major loss of money compared to the cost of the armor of the same AC, it’s still something. The problem is that is also has a chance to break. If struck in combat on a natural roll of 19 or 20, the armor breaks, and then you have a real problem: your AC is four points worse, you move at half speed, and you have a -4 attack penalty until you spend d4 rounds removing the armor.

The issues with this are manifold. First is the question of even remembering that the armor has this flaw. Secondly, the possibility of flawed armor is hidden in the player’s Armorer skill rules. Now, it’s good that players can safely assume that armor they buy from an NPC smith isn’t flawed, because I for one would not want my campaign to be derailed by the bloody swath of revenge my players would cut across the world to kill the smith that sold them armor that failed so catastrophically at a crucial moment. On the other hand, this means that 20% of the time, PC-made armor has such a flaw. I would call this significantly devaluing PC skill use. Further, there’s no chance whatsoever of NPC gear suffering a similar failure, because rare indeed is the DM who would bother assigning flawed armor to an NPC – and even if he did, that would mostly lead to irritated PCs, since the odds are against the armor’s critical failure in the NPC’s one fight. The DM is just handing out treasure that players can’t feel all that good about receiving. Maybe there are DMs who did this, but I’m just as glad I didn’t play with them.

I want to briefly mention the skill check modifiers by armor type that the CFH introduces. All but four types of armor have positive modifiers (modifying, not replacing, the base Int -2 of the skill). The “balance point” (modifier of 0) is bronze plate and plate mail, while field plate and full plate (the big-ticket items, with a market price of 2,000g and 4,000-10,000g respectively) have a modifier of -3. If you look at item costs as compared to reasonable expectations of loot, that means that as soon as you get to something where you need to save money by making it yourself, it becomes wildly more difficult. Simulationism, I suppose, but frustrating all the same.

Okay, I’m done with the easy targets for the moment. Let’s move on to the more interesting stuff: the workshop rules of the CFH. These stop being a crafting system altogether, at least in terms of “a system by which a player, working more or less alone, makes goods for use or sale.” They’re guidelines for running an armorsmith’s shop as a business. There are startup costs, weekly wages for the NPCs you’re hiring, and material costs for any given suit of armor. The shop requires apprentices and overseers. A single overseer can act as two apprentices, though the reverse is not true. An apprentice is defined in the text as someone with an Armorer score of 11 or lower (as shown above, most PC armorers of the expected Warrior type will fit into this category), while overseers are those with Armorer scores of 12 or better. The text suggests that the player could be the overseer, but this is the only passage that directly connects the PC to the function of this shop at all.

This is a brief pause to point out that I know the rest of this analysis is inherently ridiculous. In my heart of hearts, this is an unsubtle rebuttal to people who seek divine wisdom in the text of rulebooks gone by. Onward!

The text suggests that making the most challenging armors would require the shop’s owner (Is this still a PC in the designer’s mind? Hard to know.) to hire a more skilled armorer, as it’s beyond the reach of a normal overseer. There are guidelines for how much more you’d have to pay such a person; apparently, the wizard in my example above with the Armorer score of 15 could expect to make 60g a week as a master armorer. Let’s say, though, that you hire an armorer with a base score of 18. This guy is unbelievably good at what he does (i.e., he’s a first-level wizard with an Int of 17 who spent six of his ten slots on Armorer), and has a 75% chance to successfully complete full plate in 18 weeks if he has the help of two apprentices. He demands 1700g in wages over that time. (Doing the math for field plate instead, you are guaranteed to take a loss of a little over 800g in exchange for… still having a 25% chance of failure.) I find it kind of ironic that the text calls out the fact that an overseer who worked for himself and made the low-end armors is living just above the poverty line. The lesson here is to be an employee, not an employer! Also, the costs on full plate are high enough that one flawed suit (which no self-respecting smith would sell) is a total loss, probably bankrupting the shop’s owner.

There are also rules for how to speed up production by adding more workers, or by using more skilled workers than the task demands. This causes the math to get a little odd, as the simplest armors require “half an apprentice.” Since you can halve the production time given in the PH by doubling the required labor pool, any apprentice who gives the task his full attention makes padded, leather, hide, and studded leather in half the time the formula indicates. An overseer working alone on the armor makes it in a quarter of the listed time, having twice doubled the required labor pool. On the other hand, a team of two apprentices and one overseer take the same 18-week span to make full plate as the PC would working alone, but where the PH would allow the PC armorer to make full plate at his full Armorer score, the CFH requires that he hire two more people (for, at best, +1 to his roll), and specifies a -3 penalty to his Armorer score as he works on that armor. I find it interesting that the CFH went out of its way to make the armor no one uses much, much easier and faster to make, and the armor players actually want much, much harder to make.

Given time and brainpower, one could work out something very much like a production point cost from the table here, but things combine oddly to make that more difficult. As mentioned, the simplest projects require half an apprentice; let’s call this 1 PP. Other armorsmithing team types include an apprentice without an overseer (2 PP), two apprentices without an overseer (4 PP), an apprentice with half an overseer (also 4 PP), and two apprentices with an overseer (8 PP). If I were going to make this a full system, I would tweak the “apprentice with half an overseer” case to be “apprentice with a full overseer,” just so that there would be a 6 PP team instead of two different 4 PP teams.

Ultimately, though, what interests me most about the rules introduced in the CFH is that they are intended as world-simulation of a totally non-heroic bent, to such a degree that the text advises players,

“All in all, it may be safer, financially, for a player-character to be a full-time adventurer and only a part-time armorer.”

At the very end of the section, there are rules for players making armor while adventuring. Because it would be impossible to transport a forge, it only allows players to make leather and padded armors while traveling, makes their projects take four times as long (16-24 weeks), and suggests a penalty to the character’s Intelligence check to spot upcoming dangers, representing sleep deprivation (not that Intelligence even does this in any rule I can find). So you can play an adventuring armorer if you want, but the author has made damn sure you won’t live to enjoy it, and you can’t make anything you’d want to use in the first place. Given some of the math above, I’d say that the five paragraphs of advice on how DMs can “add to the grief of the player-character armorer” are pretty unnecessary.

I’m going to wrap this up shortly, but I do want to point out that the bowyer/fletcher and weaponsmithing rules are much easier to digest, and are much more consistent with the PH in terms of how the labor force and time to create items is handled. On the other hand, Weaponsmithing rules introduce Fine and Exceptional quality weapons, noting that they “cost a lot more than average weapons” and are “very expensive,” respectively. I mention this because I can find no guideline on how much more money the designer thought this might represent.

There are certainly players who would like to add shop-management or running a business to games. I don’t happen to be one of them, but I think it’s interesting that the designer felt that this was a ripe area for expanding the game’s rules. Pretty much every word of game design written since 1989 would simplify such an area of the game, to varying degrees.

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2 thoughts on “Crafting Systems in Tabletop Games: AD&D, Second Edition

  • samhaine

    Ah, the good old days of the brown and blue books, the era of, "we can't pad our word count with a few dozen new feats, so we'll just have to grandly explicate on a minor simulation system."

    Isn't the CFH also the book that, at long last, gave the world the Katana, which was pretty much like a bastard sword only way more awesome?

  • Shieldhaven

    Let's be fair: they found a lot of useless ways to pad out their word count. Many of these were kits. The thing that made this fun was sifting through heaping piles of underpowered material (Complete Priest's Handbook, I'm looking at you here) in search of the really ridiculous "this kit really doesn't have a drawback" kind of stuff.

    The katana is significantly better than any available Western sword for the majority of applications. Used one-handed, it does as much damage against Small or Medium targets as a Western greatsword (to be fair, this is only one die size larger than a bastard sword used one-handed, so it's better but hardly game-breaking). Against Large targets, it is on par with a bastard sword. In all cases, it is two points faster than the fastest comparable Western sword.

    Used two-handed, it is better than a bastard sword or a greatsword against Small or Medium targets, but it is somewhat worse than both of those (a whole d6 worse than the greatsword) against Large targets. It retains its exceptional speed when used two-handed, which is unusual. Given what game design has taught us about initiative since then, though, I don't regard its superior weapon speed as being that big of a deal.