Proposal: Mundane Crafting and Tool System

NOTE: This proposal to be closely supplemented with a sample guide of tool and craft materials, as well as examples for the complexity tiers.


Tool proficiencies are an interesting addition to D&D introduced by 5e. However, their utilization is very much limited to roleplay, and the ability score(s) associated with a tool proficiency is very subjective and lack a good outline.

The goal of this proposal is to establish a sensible system for mundane tool and craft usage, recognizing complexity and a character’s proficiencies. This proposal is intended to accommodate highly skilled zero and first level characters, and reduces random elements in play. It also helps introduce a system for a adventuring characters that used to have a profession in a certain skill, and may want to continue to earn money while they adventure.

The reason for this proposal is to expand crafting downtime and tool utilization for players, where the players’ investments in these facets of their characters feel impactful and rewarding. The reduction in random elements gives more agency to the player in how their character uses downtime.


  • Neglect craft and tool "d20 checks" (Roll d20+modifiers)
  • Award a Craft/Tool "Level", perhaps using a separate "experience point" system
  • Establish levels of Complexity for Crafts and Tools
  • Scale time and cost of Crafts and Tools, based on Craft/Tool Level and Complexity.
Neglecting "d20 checks"

D&D 5e introduced “Passive” skill scores to better reflect consistent, time-independent skill checks. If a character has all day to investigate a room without a time constraint, then why should a d20 be used? If a character constantly uses a particular skill, then how many d20 rolls should they make, if at all? This is what the “Passive” skill score addresses: checks without regard for time constraint, or rapidly repeated checks.

As such, the “Passive” skill score system is a good model for crafting and tool usage. If a character has no time restraint on making something, or is repeatedly using their skills to make something, why should a d20 roll be involved?

For example, a craftsman has A LOT of time to review their work throughout the crafting process so that they can adapt, change, or correct. A bad start does not mean a bad finish. A d20 check determines the process from start to finish. Thus, if we use a “Passive” skill score for Crafts and Tools, then the craftsman’s ability to Craft is truly dependent on their skill, rather than the luck of a d20, much in the same way as how if an amateur and dedicated investigator go to comb through a room over an hour, what they find is based on their skill (Passive score), not on a d20.

Removing this random element reduces dissatisfaction with a poor result despite heavy investment, but also reduces dissatisfaction with being rewarded for low investment (“I don’t feel that I earned this/that”).


Tool/Craft Level

Because zero-level characters and NPCs exist in the world, intimately tying Craft/Tool skill usage to Proficiency Bonus is not very accommodating. We want to be able to model master craftsmen who are zero-level.

However, the goal is also to not invalidate the Proficiency Bonus that players have worked hard to attain through level up. We are just looking to reduce the dependency upon Proficiency Bonus.

Thus, I propose a Tool/Craft Level. Here’s how it would work:

When a player creates a unique product (using Craft/Tool), they gain points (perhaps “experience points”?) in that Craft/Tool. It ought to be unique, because, let’s face it, a cartographer creating the same map of their backyard 100 times does not help them create the Marauder’s Map later in life. A certain amount of points results in a Craft/Tool Level (or Level-up).

The character’s Craft/Tool Skill = Craft/Tool Level + Proficiency Bonus.

For example, a Level 1 character, who is a cartographer, has spent much of his prior life working on unique maps of the local lands. They have attained Cartographer Level 2, and they have a Proficiency Bonus +2. Their Cartographer Skill is 4.


Levels of Complexity

To supplement the Craft/Tool Level-up system, would be establishing categories of Complexity for Craft/Tool products, much in the same way that Magic Items have labels of their rarity.

The reason for Complexity would be to differentiate how different Craft/Tool products match up with one another, and how these products are affected by beginners and experts (characters of different Craft/Tool Skill levels). The mechanical effects of establishing levels of Complexity would be how much a Skill Level influences the monetary cost and time spent upon a particular product. We’ll get to that in the next section. But for now, a loose proposal for the Levels of Complexity:

  • [1] Beginner
  • [2] Simple
  • [3] Intermediate
  • [4] Advanced
  • [5] Master
Using our cartographer example again, a map of one's own backyard would be a Beginner work, a map of woods would be Simple, a map of a dungeon would be Intermediate, an accurate and detailed map of a nation's borders and geographical features would be Advanced, and an accurate map of an entire nation's trade routes, city locations, topography, etc. would be Master.


Tying It All Together

We have several numerical elements (Craft/Tool Level, Craft/Tool Skill, Proficiency Bonus, Level of Complexity), and we need to come up with some math in order to describe how they will relate and affect each other.

When it comes down to which of these 4 actually contribute to how long and how expensive a Craft/Tool product is, there’s only 2 that are actually significant: the cumulative Skill value, and the Level of Complexity. Let’s assign some variable letters for them:

  • C = Complexity Value
  • S = Skill Value
Now, we need a formula to demonstrate how these values will affect the parameters of a product:

[Work in progress]

(S-C-1) = Competency

If Competency is positive…

[100 - (10*Competency)]%

If Competency is negative…

[100 - (30*Competency)]%


What the above calculations give us is a modifier to time spent and monetary cost for a product. The desired results of these formulas:

  • Those who are experienced enough to handle the Complexity of the product will be able to turn a profit on their product, but won't get too much learning experience, because they already know how to do it.
  • Those who are not experienced enough to handle the Complexity of the product will have to invest money into the product, but will gain learning experience for the future so that, with enough practice, they will eventually be able to turn a profit on complex products.
  • The behavior of the formula represents the cost of learning a trade and getting better, and the profit of selling product after having learned a trade.
Let's use an example:

Cartographer has a Cartography Skill of 4. Cartographer is attempting to create a Master map for his boss. Normally, a Master-quality map takes 700 hours to complete and costs 60g in special supplies (these cost values are arbitrarily determined, check note at beginning of proposal). Let’s use the formula to figure out what the modified values are.

(S-C-1) -> 4 (Skill) - 5 (Complexity) - 1 = -2 Competency

Competency is a negative value.

[100 - (30 * Competency)]% = 160%

Because Cartographer has not had enough training and experience to properly handle Master level maps, it will take him 160% longer to complete and cost 160% more. As a result, this project will take 1,120 hours and 96g for him to complete, but will provide him with valuable experience for future projects.


Another example:

Cartographer has a Cartography Skill of 5. Cartographer is attempting to create an Intermediate map of a dungeon for himself and his adventuring party. Normally, an Intermediate-quality map takes 80 hours to complete and costs 15g in special supplies (again, these costs are arbitrarily determined). Let’s use the formula to figure out what the modified values are.

(S-C-1) -> 5 (Skill) - 3 (Complexity) - 1 = +1 Competency

Competency is a positive value.

[100 - (10 * Competency)]% = 90%

Because Cartographer has made a few maps back in the day, this Intermediate level map will take him only 90% of the time and cost to make, as compared to someone who has just broke even with knowing how to make Intermediate level maps. As a result, this project will take 72 hours and 13.5g for him to complete. It won’t provide him with all that much learning experience, but he can turn a profit on making this map if he chooses to sell it.


Supplementary Material

In order for a system like this to work, a Compendium of Crafts, Tools, and Professions should be made. This Compendium would provide samples of what kinds of Craft/Tool products of varying Complexities look like, how long they take and how much they cost to make, what special materials are needed for enchanting items into magical items, etc. Creating such a Compendium, in tandem with using this system, can really expand what characters can do, and also opens up the opportunity for creativity in enchanting homemade items into magic items, such as a quest to find a particular item, or to find someone who is skilled enough to make an item within the party’s budget.

I haven’t worked out the “leveling” system just yet, but I feel in concept, it has a lot of potential to work. By no means are the calculations difficult, and the player shouldn’t have to deal with math calculations for this, so long as their DM knows the formula and is willing to do the simple calculations.

Please please please give feedback on this concept.

Merged previous topic regarding this idea into new post.

Love what I have read so far, @lordnewb. Definitely would love to dig into this more. I might argue for different level names (a fairly common word used in the Fantasy genre would be artisan), but all of that is just flavor. I think this is a good starting point and gives us something to discuss.

The Performance skill is by far the most useless skill; even the traditionally iconic class for it, the Bard, doesn’t need it. It almost seems like a specialized Persuade or something.

The Crafting mechanism is rather simple but yields little rules for what someone might actually want to do. We had instantiated the following already for a little more fun. Variant Rule: Crafting

The Artificer is a class based on crafting and using crafted, engineered items to adventure. Sort of like a Wizard, the Artificer’s creations are quite spell-like in their execution, but built on technology. The Artificer has already been made and remade.
[July 25, 2016 at 5:47 pm]

Given the above, here are my thoughts.

I’d love to see a Craft Skill. The problem with this is that tool skills already exist. Thus, I propose that Tool Skills function as our base Craft Skill.

From there, I’d want to setup something to further crafting’s depth so that it is more than a proficiency. Depth would allow us to declare a crafter an apprentice, novice, expert, artisan, master, etc.

In some other systems, Languages are handled by points to determine fluency. A character gains language points and can train to gain more which determines their fluency in general. A similar rule might be proposed for Crafting. A character can gain Crafting Expertise points which allow one to determine how skilled a character is at a particular craft. These points can be gained from paying the usual amount to learn a new tool. Additionally, if a character starts with proficiency in a Tool, they gain bonus Crafting Expertise points for their specific tool. This could further be applied to Performance.

An end result of this additional complexity would be the ability to create pseudo-magic items with a tangible benefit. One such item is semi-proposed here: Catalog of Mundane Equipment
[July 25, 2016 at 5:52 pm]

Another thought/suggestion I’ve seen on this would be to change the way skills work so that players return to a system of skill points rather than just proficiency.

This would add complexity to 5e which has normally been avoided, but I do like the idea that players could have a wider range of skills to use. The problem I’ve seen with its implementation is: how many skill points does someone get? And since you can train languages and tools during downtime, how do these work since they are effectively a variant skill?

Languages are different but this could be a great time to implement languages with skill points (1: for very little, 2: child-like, 3: conversational, 4: fluent/native, 5: master, 6: exceptional

Characters would have to gain skill points from their class and their background, and some gain skills as bonus proficiencies. The main problem of skill points is: how do they interact with proficiency? This would also require us to have to answer what does Expertise do in light of a change? Do they just set the limit for what a skill’s overall bonus could be–an effective cap?

Switching to skill points is a fundamental shift in the skill system because of this. Skill check DCs would no longer match the pattern because of the increased bonuses (unless they were somehow limited to one’s proficiency), meaning any set DCs would need to be compensated, or somehow proficiency would have to altered for this altogether.

Let’s say skill points were used and we begin with: any skill you would begin proficiency with immediately grants you +2 skill points in that skill at leve level 1 or at the level you gain it, whether from background or class or race. What happens on level up? It would be simple to say a new skill acquisition grants you an immediate +2 skill points, but how is proficiency handled?

Should a player get +1 skill point per skill per level? That’d be way too much–their bonus would need to match whatever the total of their proficiencies would be by the time they reach the appropriate level for increase, which wouldn’t be very many points (perhaps a table based on number of skills someone has proficiency in?). Then how do we arbitrate it from there? Do we revert to using Intelligence? That could really hurt general 5e level ups more but further requiring a new ability score.

Thinking over a rework of crafting would essentially require a rework of skills–personally. Coming from 3.5e, I both like 3.5e and 5e. 5e is nice for its dead simplicity, but 3.5e is nice because it allows for greatly varying characters with a wide variety of skills representing their abilities. There is also less of a feeling of “I’m not proficient so why bother?” A rework could allow new items, but 5e tried to get away from a lot of small bonuses in favor of proficiency.

Beyond this, wouldn’t it just be specifying items which can be made? If so, how are these limited? The gold necessary for their making?

I like the idea of adding in craftable items to benefit adventuring–both mundane and magical. I think players should be able to make sharpening stones for high damage blades and scrolls and magic pendants, too. But the crafting system is rather dull. Should we just create craftable items and give them a set item value? A quest for the plans to a specific item would be a cool addition to campaign worlds to facilitate the need to explore or learn from a tutor how to make new items. But this would hardly be a reworking of crafting itself; we would simply be expanding options.

[October 21, 2016 at 9:14 am]