What are crafting skills? These are skills by which characters can become a trade person in the game world. They are skills by which common and unique items are created. In effect they are taking over the role of the NPC shopkeeper but by allowing them to produce things that the NPCs can’t you give them the edge in the world of commerce. Which is as it should be.
First of all, why would any one want to play a Crafter. Isn’t that boring? Well, if you are the type who can hunt critters for hours and to whom the thought of sitting around making things for the same amount of time appalling, yes it is boring. But, there are those players who can craft for hours and conversely find the thought of hunting critters over and over as boring as you find crafting. It takes all kinds to build a world.
Each type has a place and a role that can contribute to making the world ‘real’.
In my opinion, there are two big killers for would-be roleplayers who prefer to play a tradesperson.
If you have both of these in place you’ll be sure to have only the foolish, hopeful people playing crafters.
Am I sounding bitter? Hell yes - I spend over a year and untold energy in-game and out of it trying to make a useless crafting skill in UO usable. I endured ridicule out of game for my promotion of the skills and ‘pity’ purchases from other characters in game. Yes I had some good times, but they all had nothing to do with my characters role as a crafter.
The best way to prevent mules is limiting players to one character per server. Unfortunately the designers of online worlds seems to find that thought terrifying. So how do you limit the use of mules to make cash? Well, you can start by making it impossible to make a fortune at it. While this approach is good it can be taken too far - if you’ve played EverQuest you know what I mean. Those ‘trade’ skills are really Luxury skills because of the vast amount of cash needed to develop them. Most if not all items produced are not in demand (Pottery) and cost more to make than to sell. So the only ‘mules’ that were possible in this environment were those who were supplied money by others - for example in a guild setting. The opposite end of the spectrum is just as bad - in Ultima Online tailoring was known as a cash cow - and mules proliferated.
Another way is to have either a class or skill based system. With a class based system you need to introduce classes suiting each of the crafting skills. Some examples are Potioncrafter, Clothcrafter, Metalcrafter, Foodcrafter, Woodcrafter, and Jewelcrafter. Just as a warrior doesn’t learn magic, so a metalcrafter shouldn’t be making wooden benches.
With the skill based system you need to have skill limitations. What I mean by this is that when you learn, say how to swing an Axe - you become rather muscular. You lose the delicacy of movement you need to have in order to make jewelry. Hence by choosing axe as a skill you are prevented from choosing jewelcraft also. Basically the idea is to make sure you don’t have tank-flavor of the months running around, or the mule that does every kind of craft. It is more important that the skill selection restrictions promote variety in the worlds characters than in making sense. Game play is paramount. After all if we were wanting realism what’s up with all the mages running around loose out there online?
The role of a Crafter is to bring life to the towns - to make the town come alive for the rest of the characters. They are the people you come to see when you need a new sword, the ones who greet you by name even though they’ve not seen you for weeks. The ones who ask how the latest hunting trip went and whether or not you caught that elusive googolpik yet.
No town is a real town without Crafters.
There are basic principles you need to have in place for any item produced by a crafting skill.
GENERAL_ITEM= Sum(Cost of Materiels) < Price of Item Sold to NPC < Amount you can sell to player for < Amount NPC sells Item for
I am going to make a sword. I spend a total of 9gp on materials from an NPC. If I succeed in creating the sword I can sell it to an NPC for 12gp. The NPC would sell that sword to a character for 16gp. That means I can sell it to another character for 14 gp and make us all happy (well, except for the NPC I suppose).
SPECIAL_ITEM= Sum(Cost of Materiels) < Amount you can sell to player for
Special Items, that is ones that you can’t buy from an NPC, should never be purchasable from an NPC. That also means you can’t sell the special items to an NPC either. These are items that the master Crafter would make available to other characters by one on one selling or by placing them on a Crafter vendor. The price at any time is governed by the local market and normal supply and demand rules will naturally be applied by the players.
Another factor that must be taken into consideration is that the actual numbers when the failure rate is factored in must allow a Crafter who is making items appropriate for their skill level to break even. If they are making items below their skill level they make a small (I repeat SMALL) profit. If they are foolish enough to try making something above their level they deserve to go broke.
Items should have a life span. Clothing should become torn and wear out. Swords and armour should get damaged and require repair, although repair should never be able to restore an item to its newly made level.
Because a crafter needs time to make their wares and because players need sleep and alas, have to work or go to school, the provision of Crafter controlled NPCs (vendors) is needed. Whether the world allows a Crafter to own a house in which they can put their employee or whether they need a Gods approval and cooperation to place their employee in a marketplace, this should be supported. Naturally all such employees will require a wage to keep them happy and selling. An added bonus is allowing the vendors to buy specified amounts of desired items. Thus someone who has collected some gems could stop by Fred’s Gems (player owned) and sell them for more than they could at Joes’ Gems (NPC).
If NPC run guilds exist in the world, then there should be Crafting guilds. Just as a warrior belongs to a warrior guild, a crafter should belong to the Crafting Guild. A crafter is not a warrior and should not be a warrior who ‘happens’ to bake or whatnot. That is not to say a crafter can’t go out an do a bit of hunting for sustenance when business is slow and their pockets empty but they should not ever be anything but a holiday hunter. Note: I waver on this last sentence - it seems only fair if the warriors can’t be crafters then crafters shouldn’t be able to hunt.
I understand fully that the primary focus of any design team for an online game will be the combat (melee, range, magic) system, monster spawning, monster statistics, and items. Too often crafting skills are tacked on as an afterthought and they are never given the same attention to detail and balancing that is given to the other parts of the system. But I think that by tacking these on as an afterthought to ‘keep the silly bakers happy’ the designers are only shooting themselves in a vital spot. I fully believe that if crafting had as much attention give to it as the rest of the system did the result would be a true online world - and one in which there would be a place for everyone. And a good time had by all.
For myself, I am still looking for that design team and for that game. I am currently beta testing a few games with trade skills - and so far none of them are thrilling me all that much.
This essay is not only a way for me to organize my thoughts on how crafting could be a beneficial addition to a world (and a damn fun way to role play) but also a way for me to provide development teams with the benefit of my experience in attempting to role play a crafter in unfriendly gaming systems. Crafters will always exist in smaller numbers than warriors and mages. Crafters should be fairly rare when compared to the number of adventurers. But their contributions should be as valued, and as unique as those of their more adventurous brethren.
Susan G. McManus, B.Sc.
Revision 1.0 05Oct1999