Needles of Knitting +5: Using The Craft Skill To Its Best Advantage

Back at the beginning of my career here at GDG, I wrote about the joys and benefits of making things with your own two hands, and I’ll be writing more about that in the future. In the mean time, how about some of that crafty goodness for your character?

In the skill list of most pen-and-paper RPGs is the Craft skill. It may have a different name depending on the game, but it’s whatever roll you’d make to, well, make something. Aside from some obvious choices – Craft (alchemy) for potion brewers, Craft (blacksmithing) for characters who want to forge their own weapons and armor, Craft (bowyer/fletcher) for rangers making their own bows and arrows – the skill often gets ignored, and those precious skill points are spent on Perception and Diplomacy instead. For many, putting ranks in Craft may seem like a waste. What good could Craft possibly do you?

Lots of good, that’s what. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Your Character Should Never Be Bored

As a geek, you clearly have hobbies and interests outside of your job. Adventuring and saving the world is your character’s job – shouldn’t they have something to do in their downtime, too? Putting a couple of ranks in a Craft adds depth and personality to your character. It gives them a creative outlet, a way to relax, and something to keep their hands busy on a quiet night at the inn.

When you choose a craft for your character, like anything else, you want to think about why they know how to do that craft, and why it’s important to them. Perhaps it has a cultural significance, like the druid who decorates his buckskins with beadwork in meaningful patterns, or the barbarian who records the events of his life through carvings on his staff.

What about your character’s life before they were an adventurer? If your female character had any sort of noble upbringing, she was bound to learn lady-like crafts like lace-making or embroidery. Your character’s male? Young noblemen may have been taught calligraphy (to make fancy signatures on important documents) or engraving. But my character’s not noble, you’re thinking. No matter. A craft can be something a character picked up in childhood, or at a past job. Maybe the rogue’s father was a carpenter, and she grew up helping him in his shop, so she has strong woodworking skills. The characters may not work on their crafts every day any longer, but they still know how, and may draw on those old skills when they’re needed.

As for many people in real life, a craft may simply be something they’ve picked up from their parents, grandparents, or friends, came to enjoy, and continue to do to this day, even if doesn’t seem to fit in with the life they live now. I mean, I’m a multi-tattooed geek who used to be a scientist, and now works in a sporting goods store and writes RPG books. Do I seem like the type of girl who crochets baby blankets and embroiders dish towels? Not really, but it’s still an important part of my life, no matter what I spend the bulk of my day doing and how I may appear to others.

Crafts become habits for many people. If I go too long without crafting, my husband starts to wonder what’s wrong with me. The same could be said of your character. If the rogue spends the hour after supper and before first watch whittling every night, and one night doesn’t get out her tools, that change in routine may alert the rest of the party that there is a doppelganger in their midst, or that something else is wrong.

Crunchy Bits In With The Fluff

All this character development is just peachy-dandy, but how does it advance the game? Easy. Take those crafty skills and put them to work in unusual situations.

In a fire-fight with pirates, the sails on your party’s ship take a beating, and you’re still many miles from port. If only someone was handy enough with needle and thread to patch the sails back together! Anyone can give it a try, but the one with actual ranks in Craft (sewing) is going to be your best shot at becoming sea-worthy again.

Sails aren’t the only thing that might need sewing up. Say a member of your party takes a nasty gash from an enemy’s blade, you’re plumb out of potions, and no one can cast another healing spell for the day. The wound is too nasty to just bandage up and wait until tomorrow: there’s no choice but to do a little field medicine and stitch that thing up right now. Naturally, you want the best healer in the party giving the directions, but why not let the one who can repair clothing with an invisible seam put in the sutures to minimize scarring? Not to mention that the seamstress or tailor in the group will confidently and quickly sew that wound up, which the patient will appreciate a lot more than having a hesitant hand slowly place each stitch.

Rogues and other shifty sorts may be good at forging documents, but they’ll turn to the cleric with calligraphy and art skills to make that document look regal and authentic. Hungry and stuck camping by a river? Give the girl with the lace-making skills some thin rope and a makeshift crochet hook and she can whip up a fishing net just like that. Or, a she can make a net for the rogue to use in a trap. The woodworker can save the day when a wheel on your wagon breaks, or she can use her familiarity with building furniture to find the hidden compartment on a certain style of desk.

Why Buy It When You Can Make It?

An adventurer’s life is hard, and sometimes money is short. Worse, sometimes you have the coin, but are in the middle of nowhere and there’s no Aurora’s or Luven Lightfinger’s for miles, and you need stuff. What to do? In either situation, your character’s artistic talents can save your rear.

Just a point or two in each leatherworking and sewing means you can take the animal skins left from the ranger’s nightly hunting trips and turn them into clothing and other items for the party. Are some of those hunted critters wild sheep? Wool becomes yarn, and then warm socks, in the hands of a character with Craft (spinning) and (knitting). If hunting’s good and you have plenty of light in the evenings, you may even make more clothing and such than your party can use. You can sell the extra handmade goods the next time you get to town, or trade with other travelers you meet on the road.

If the party is in need of extra coin, pooling their creative skills can get them the gold they need in short order. The same cleric who helped forge documents with his beautiful calligraphy can get some temporary work penning documents for others, even if he’s never trained as a scribe. All the cute little trinkets the whittler has made during evenings by the campfire will fetch a good price at the bazaar, as will the scrimshawed deer antlers. If the local blacksmith has more work than he can handle, he’ll be glad to hire an extra man with skills at the forge for a day or two. Even without ranks in Profession, a skilled artisan can make money at his craft.

The next time you level up, stop and think if one more rank in Swim is really what you need. Maybe it’s finally time for your monk to pick up her childhood hobby of weaving once again.

What have you used the Craft skill for in your games?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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