Sunday, May 10, 2020

Crafting with Concepts

time to leave reality behind for a little bit

The Issue

Crafting systems are untenable in most games because recipes and ingredients are specific. In order to build a Thermal Engine, you need a Combustion Core and an Engine Block. This requires you to remember/record the specifics of the recipe and locks the players into seeking these very specific materials. This is usually fine if you're dealing with a single crafting recipe, like if it was a quest goal, but an entire crafting system built around this level of specificity would be difficult to manage.

The Solution

Instead of using specific materials, think of using concepts instead. What do I mean by concepts?
Thinking back to our Thermal Engine example, let's not have it specifically require a Combustion Core and an Engine Block. Thinking on the gameworld logic of the crafting recipe, let's say that it instead needs (something very hot) and (some kind of machinery).
So instead of:
[Thermal Engine = Combustion Core + Engine Block]
We get:
[Thermal Engine = HEAT + MACHINE]

Here we've broken the individual ingredients down into intrinsic, thematic concepts. This allows us to turn a piece of information that would have to be formulaically memorized/recorded into a piece of information that is simple enough to intuitively make sense. It also gives the players a lot more freedom to craft what they need using the things they find. Now players could use such wild and wacky things as a canister of lava, a fire elemental heart, or a tiny baby sun instead of a combustion core to fulfill the [HEAT] requirement.


This system makes the logic of salvaging much easier to handle as well. Instead of salvaging something down to specific parts, break things down into concepts. Concepts "stack" much better in the inventory (and the brain!) than specific materials, and so this avoids the tedium of recording and tracking large amounts of different crafting materials.
-A Thermal Engine would salvage into [HEAT + MACHINE].

Crafting a Crafting System

Craft a conceptual crafting system that fits your game or world. Boil your game world down into a collection of concepts that fit thematically. Now, any item your players could want to craft or salvage can be made up of one or more of those concepts.

-For example, a scifi game about building machinery and robots might boil down to:
and a recipe for a Heat Beam might be [ENERGY+COMBUSTION+WEAPON].

-A game about frankenstein-esque biomancy might boil down to:
and a recipe for a Mobile Cranial ObServitor might be [BRAIN+EYE+LEG].

-A game about building arcane spells might boil down to:
and a recipe for the ritual of Beckoning Blessed Celestial Intelligences might be [STAR+BRAIN+HOLY].

This will likely be part 1 of a series expanding on this base system.


  1. This is a great idea! I love the idea of crafting but so often it's just too much for tabletop, but this makes it much easier and seems genuinely fun.

    It also lends itself well to randomization and generators.

    Also I love how it not only facilitates crafting per se, but by defining the crafting elements, it also contributes to implicit worldbuilding.

    I can definitely see myself using this. I also think it could combine well with Batteries Not Included.

    I will give this further thought, thanks!

  2. Man, this is cool. Definitely stealing this.

  3. I've been messing around with the idea of crafting materials for a while now. I think having concrete objects that have slightly generalised properties might be the way to go. Like, a Combustion Core turns HEAT into POWER. An Engine Block turns POWER into MOTION. Then, you end up with a connect-the-parts game where you have to experiment with how different components connect and work together.

    1. I think you just solved converting/refining and led to a progression system!
      Players can build the converters/refiners out of the basic materials to convert into more advanced materials... and then use those advanced materials to create advanced converters/refiners...

  4. Someone's just shared this with me on reddit as I made Simple Alchemy and Mad Science systems on my blog and they are quite similar to your own idea - all about WORDS and how they combine to produce different effects and items. Very cool.