Theorycrafting Crafting - Part 3: The Crafting Process


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Sorry for taking so long to get this one up. Life got unexpectedly busy last week and pulled me away from working on this post series.

If you’re just now coming to this series of posts, here’s what it’s all about. After the recent developer roundtable on crafting, several community members posted some very good constructive criticism of what they heard. This led me to start thinking about how I would do things if it were up to me. I’m not a professional game designer, and the only claim I can make is that I have played and crafted in many MMORPGs. But I felt like taking a stab at it anyway.

In Part 1 of this post series, I talked about something that I feel is a prerequisite for a crafting system, which is a solid itemization strategy for the game. In Part 2, I laid out some general concepts that underly the crafting system that I would envision for a game like Pantheon. Now I want to put those concepts together to show some hypothetical examples of how the actual crafting gameplay could work.

Before we start, a quick disclaimer.

Disclaimer: There are times when a picture is worth a thousand words. Ultimately, a lot of what I'm going to talk about in my examples is going to be dependent on the UI that is presented to the player when crafting. I wish I had the ability to create some UI mockups for this post, but I don't. I'd encourage everyone reading to try to visualize a crafting UI for each example, based on some of the games you've crafted in before. Odds are, you'll think of even more cool things that could be done than what I outline in my examples.

There’s a lot more to a crafting sphere than just the gameplay of creating an item, and I want to get to that in future posts, but one step at a time.

Part 3 – The Crafting Process

I am a fan of contextual realism in MMORPGs. What that means is that I want the actions I perform in the game world to look and feel appropriate to the world itself. If I’m walking past a forge in game where NPCs are hammering on anvils or stoking the coals to smelt metal, then when it comes to crafting items myself, I would expect to see my character mirroring those same sorts of actions. The same goes for any activity I might associate with the crafting sphere. I suppose this might simply be a long way of saying I don’t feel that presenting the player with a single button to click is compelling gameplay. The act of crafting an item should be just as involved and interesting as fighting a monster in combat is.

I also believe that just as different adventuring classes have different ways of engaging in combat, different types of crafting should have different approaches to how they make items as well. While the same underlying concepts are in place, the way that the player goes about things can and should vary from one type of crafting to the next.

Finally, I’m a big believer in interdependency and complexity. If something is too simple, or if players are too self-sufficient, I believe that it cheapens the overall experience. Crafting is something that can enable and build on social connections between players if we don’t give into people’s desire to not have to rely on others too much.

With all that in mind, how would I handle crafting in Pantheon?

Crafting Types and Stages

As I mentioned, I believe in interdependency and complexity. That means that each type of crafting (blacksmithing, weaving, leatherworking, etc.) should require items from other types of crafting and provide items for the others as well. This is sometimes easier to say than to do – after all, how do you make it so that a blacksmith needs something from a chef on a regular basis? However, at a fundamental level, it’s a goal that the system should be striving for.

Since I mentioned types of crafting, I should probably talk about what I envision those as being. Here’s a list of some basic types of crafting:

  • Metalworking
  • Leatherworking
  • Weaving
  • Gem Cutting
  • Woodworking
  • Alchemy
  • Inscription
  • Cooking
To be very clear, these are crafting processes – not professions. For example, a jeweler, an armorer, and a blacksmith all use metalworking skills, but they do different things with them. Yet they are all distinct professions. For this post, I am only talking about the processes and not the focus of the person who is using them.

Each of the types of crafting in my list above has two different stages associated with it: Refining and Finishing.

Refining is, at its core, the stage of crafting that is all about taking raw materials and turning them into a usable form. Smelting ore, spinning yarn or thread, tanning hides, grinding alchemical ingredients to powder, or even chopping vegetables are all examples of refining. Having a separate refining stage allows each type of crafting to potentially supply refined materials to others.

Finishing is the stage of crafting that represents taking those raw materials and making something out of them. This might be turning that iron ingot into a dagger blade or carving a block of lumber into a table leg. Finishing processes can be used to create components that are used in other items, as well as to assemble and create finished items themselves.

Refining and Finishing use the same underlying concepts of Progress and Quality, but they are separate interactions (again, to enable interdependence). This also helps represent the general complexity of items. If you want to make a simple spear, you first must smelt the metal for the blade (refining), then shape the resulting ingot or rod into the blade (finishing). You also must carve a suitable piece of lumber into a shaft (refining) and then finally affix the blade to the shaft (finishing). If you wanted a fancier spear, you might have to do some additional steps. If you wanted to build something really complicated like a wagon or a ballista, it might take many different refining and finishing steps to make the whole thing. If you don’t have the skills to do all of that yourself, you could rely on others to help you. Maybe you create the spear blade but someone else provides the shaft. Or, perhaps you build the wagon wheel while someone else creates the axles and a third person assembles the wagon itself.

Refining Examples

You’ll recall that I said it’s important for different crafting professions to feel different in their gameplay. If smelting ore is functionally the same as spinning thread, that’s a missed opportunity. Ideally, every type of crafting uses a slightly different refining process, and one that makes sense for the materials it works with. For the sake of space, I’ve included only three different refining examples below, but ideally, every type of refining will function somewhat differently from the others.

Smelting Ore – Endurance

When most of us think about refining, we think about smelting ore. In concept, smelting is all about getting the metal very, very hot, and then filtering out impurities before pouring the metal into a mold or cast. This is a very physically demanding process for the crafter. Here’s what that process might look like, in-game:

  • The crafter takes raw ore and fuel to the smelter
  • Using techniques, the crafter raises the temperature of the smelter to the desired level (adding progress) and filters out impurities (quality). Each technique used reduces the crafter’s available endurance. When the crafter runs out of endurance, the smelting process will fail, so the crafter needs to finish before they run out of endurance
  • During any of this, events may occur that hinder or help the process, and the crafter will need to respond to them.
  • Once the crafter has achieved the desired level of progress and quality, they can pour the metal out into its cast.
The limiting factor in this process is the endurance of the crafter. A novice smelter may only be able to apply a few techniques before running out of endurance. A more highly skilled smelter will potentially have increased endurance, or have learned techniques that are more effective, or possibly both.

Tanning and Preparing Hides – Material Quality

Tanning and preparing hides used in leatherworking is a fundamentally different type of activity than smelting ore. Whereas the limiting factor in smelting is the number of techniques the crafter can apply during the process, the limiting factor in working with hides is the strength of the materials being used. Here’s an example process, then I’ll explain:

  • The crafter takes their hides to the tanning station along with any supplies they might need. When they begin the process, the system computes the total strength of their hide or pelt.
  • The crafter now needs to apply techniques to advance both progress and quality. However, each technique that’s applied weakens the hide or pelt. Thus, the challenge will be in balancing the need to finish the leather with the strength of the hide.
  • During the process, events may occur that help or hinder the process, and the crafter will need to respond to them.
  • Once the crafter has achieved the desired level of progress and quality, the leather is finished.
On the surface, this might seem somewhat like smelting, but the difference here is that the limiting factor is the materials being used. Thus, our crafter can do more with an excellent quality wolf pelt than they can do with a low-quality wolf pelt. A more highly skilled tanner will have learned advanced techniques that allow them to push their materials further, although material quality could still be a factor for them.

Spinning Thread – Process Duration

As a third example, spinning fibers into thread or yarn a unique process as well, even though it uses the same general concepts of progress and quality. The limiter in this process is the duration of the process itself. Here’s how that process could work:

  • The crafter takes their raw materials to a spinning wheel and gets to work.
  • The crafter applies techniques to influence quality. With each technique applied, progress increases by 20 percent.
  • During the process, events may occur that either help or hinder the crafter in their attempts to increase quality.
  • Once the progress bar reaches 100% the spinning is complete. Whether or not the result is usable depends on whether the spinner was able to hit their quality target before that happened.
This system reuses the concepts of progress and quality but approaches them in a different way. A skilled spinner is going to have learned techniques that push quality further than the basic ones they started out with, enabling them to achieve better results within the time limit.

Finishing Examples

Just as with refining, it’s important for the different types of finishing to work somewhat differently from each other. Cooking a meal should not feel the same as building a chair. Functionally, you can reuse the same concepts in different ways, but the result should still be a unique experience. Again, to save space, I’ve just included three examples instead of the full list.

Brewing potions – Responding to events

Any alchemist will tell you that brewing a potion isn’t simply a matter of mixing ingredients together and calling it a day. It requires precise measurements and ratios and responding correctly to the various reactions that occur during the process. Here’s how it might work:

  • The alchemist brings their materials in the required quantities to the workbench. Progress starts at zero, and quality starts at a level determined by their ingredients. If the alchemist had very high-quality ingredients, quality might start out at a very high level.
  • As the process begins and the ingredients are mixed, events occur that affect both progress and quality – often (but not always) in negative ways. Thus, the alchemist is always using their techniques to respond to the last event that occurred within the process. Maybe the mixture is overheating, or maybe the ratio is off and must be adjusted.
  • The alchemist’s goal is to reach 100% progress in this situation while preserving as much quality as possible throughout the process. Highly skilled alchemists may know some advanced techniques that even allow them to gain quality, but this is very difficult to do.
The limiting factor in this process is the crafter’s ability to respond to the different events that get thrown at them. A novice alchemist is not going to have many techniques they can use for this and thus it will be difficult for them to create more powerful potions, although using high-quality materials may help. A more advanced alchemist is going to know more techniques and will be better equipped to respond to the events that occur while brewing potions, but they may still encounter difficulty simply because of the unpredictable nature of the process.

Fletching arrows – Quality Decay

Almost anyone can glue some feathers to some sticks and use them for target practice but creating arrows for combat takes skill and attention to detail – and quality tools. Here’s how it might work in game.

  • Our fletcher opens their fletching kit and gets to work with their materials. The quality bar starts at a value determined by a combination of the materials being used, the tools, and the fletcher’s own skills. In this example, our fletcher starts with a quality bar at 130 and needs at least an 80 to create a usable bodkin arrow.
  • The fletcher applies techniques to increase progress, but each technique also reduces quality. Events can also occur that may help or hinder the fletcher.
  • The fletcher’s goal is to reach 100% progress while maintaining a minimum level of quality. If they fail to do this, the result is unusable.
Functionally this is very similar to alchemy but the difference here is that alchemy is a reactive process, where the alchemist is always trying to respond to an event that has occurred, and fletching is a generally proactive process, where the fletcher is trying to balance progress vs. quality loss. Materials also work differently between the two types of crafting.

Creating jewelry – Choosing Techniques

Any jeweler will tell you that it takes intense skill to create an object of beauty – especially when enchantments are involved. You can’t simply attach the gemstone to the metal. It must be balanced and set properly, and the quality of materials matter greatly. Here’s how that process might work in the game:

  • Our jeweler takes their materials to their station and initiates the process to craft the finished item. There is no progress bar, and the quality bar starts at a level determined by the jeweler’s materials
  • The jeweler goes through a set of predetermined steps to complete the piece. A simple ring might only have 3 steps, while a grand necklace might have 8 steps. At each step, the jeweler is presented with a subset of techniques to use based on what they have learned. They can only choose one technique per step, and the available techniques will vary depending on which step they’re on. There’s some randomness in this, so the right choice won’t always be the same one.
  • As the jeweler responds at each step, quality will move up or down depending on the results of that response. Once all the steps are finished, the craft is completed, and if the jeweler reached their desired quality level, the item is successfully created.
This approach is also somewhat like alchemy and fletching but the difference here is that the number of steps is based on the recipe being created. A novice jeweler may not have many options at each step, but a more advanced jeweler will have learned more techniques that can be used and may allow them to take the item they’re creating in different directions as a result.

In Summary

I realize this was a long post, but the point of all this was to illustrate that it’s possible to have each type of crafting feel different from the others, even while reusing many of the same underlying concepts and mechanics. This is a direction that I would personally go with for Pantheon if it were up to me. That helps not only with adding depth to each crafting profession but also with making crafting professions feature different gameplay, just like adventuring classes do.

The examples I have presented are just that – examples. There’s more that could be generated here, and I’m quite sure that others could come up with even better ones than I have.

I have more I want to talk about specific to crafting professions, crafting interacting with the world, harvesting, and the economy – so look for that stuff in future posts in this series. If I’m going to theorycraft the crafting system, I should probably go all the way, right?

Theorycrafting Crafting - Post Series Index
Part 1: Itemization
Part 2: General Crafting Concepts
Part 3: The Crafting Process