Back in the days before Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was released, the Vanguard: Saga of Heroes forums and affiliated sites were a thriving community with much discussion and speculation as to what the game would actually be like. Like most MMORPG communities, the dev team would occasionally reply to threads. At the time, I was championing Crafting and crafting systems, since I am, to a fault, a crafting junkie – I started crafting alts for each profession in WoW that I eventually went and levelled, just so I could keep progressing through them, I played  A Tale in the Desert, and after quitting EQ – where I also mastered all the crafting professions – I played Horizons: Empire of Istaria hardcore for three months before burning out on the game and uninstalling it from my hard drive.

So anyway, back in those heady Vanguard prerelease days, I championed the cause of crafting. Like any other prerelease community, there was a lot of expectation and speculation about what the game was going to be like, and much like today, people agonised over and examined every single word the devs posted on the forums.

One day Brad McQuaid, at the time head of Sigil and holder of the “GOD OF MMOs” title, made a post in a thread about crafting, explaining how crafting in Vanguard would consist partly of players creating a number of items which they would have no use for in order to prevent the economy from being flooded with crafted items. Not knowing the whole story (Vanguard eventually went with a system of ‘work orders’ where player took ‘crafting quests’ from NPCs to create X copper nails and hand them in for crafting exp, if I remember correctly), and fearing another crafting grind like in Horizons, I took it upon myself to single-handedly convince the devs that their intended crafting system was flawed, and ended up with a two part piece which I ended up calling “Death to Crafting Treadmills”. With some minor editing, here is the first part:


Aradune Mithara wrote:

“Keep in mind that a LOT of what the crafter produces is to skill up and won’t be usable by characters so the economy isn’t flooded by tons of crafted items. The stuff they will create that will be useful to characters will be much rarer, the really good stuff on par with the rarity of finding powerful items as loot drops.”

While the goal of such a decision is laudable, the phrase ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ comes to mind. Consider what has been revealed about the harvesting of resources in Vanguard: Harvesting as a form of combat. Group-based harvesting. Interdependence between adventurers and crafters in the field. All of it awesome, innovative stuff. And yet, all it does is pave the way to a treadmill of churning out useless skill-up items? It seems rather anti-climactic. It would seem far more desirable for crafters to have a number of different avenues for advancement, and a wide variety of skills to bring to the table in order to provide gameplay variety and more elements for interdependence with adventurers. Looking back at the games that have come before, this seems like no easy endeavour, but let’s step up to the challenge anyway.

Picking Up The Gauntlet

The idea that a crafter can only gain experience from the creation of items is as narrow-minded as the concept that adventurers can only gain experience through the slaughter of monsters. In fact, considering that the mechanics of adventuring are reinvented with every new game that comes out, that quests, combat, and levelling alternatives are steadily evolving and becoming ever more complex and compelling, – Edit: so much for that, then – isn’t it time crafting got the same treatment? The latest batch of MMOGs has heeded the mistakes of the past and developers have taken great steps to minimise the advent of mudflation in their economies with item level caps, the rampant use of the ‘soulbound’ tag, and enough money sinks to make Bill Gates cringe. So much attention paid to the adventuring side of games, and yet crafting still gets the short end of the stick. A game aiming for true adventurer-crafter interdependence – and which aims at giving crafting equal weighting as adventuring –is going to need compelling and innovative game mechanics which are going to suck players in and keep them progressing through the game with their adventurer allies.

All of the above considered, there are three questions that need to be answered in order to create a crafting system on par with the current mechanics for adventuring:

1. How can crafting be implemented in such a way as to actually combat mudflation instead of promoting it?

2. How can crafting add to the gameplay experience, making it an enjoyable and diverse experience, rather than a treadmill?

3. How can crafting promote interdependence at all levels between the adventurers and crafters?

In this essay, I will present a number of possibilities which, when implemented, will allow crafting to walk proudly alongside adventuring as a meaningful, enjoyable part of the game.

A Closer Look At Item Decay

Brad very correctly pointed out in a different post that for item decay to be effective at keeping mudflation at bay it would have to be eliminating items at the same rate as they are coming into the economy. That said, item decay can add to a game in many ways: it can enhance the interdependence between crafters and players, it can add to gameplay, and it can be used to open a front in the battle against mudflation.

Now, before everyone starts screaming, there are many ways of doing item decay. Despite the common misconception, item decay does not instantly and irrevocably signify item loss. Just because several games have used that equation does not mean it can’t be done differently. In fact, in the same way that many games have veered away from the models presented by Ultima Online and Everquest, so has a recent addition to the MMOG arena done item decay in a different way:

Item Decay A Different Way: The Distinguished Competition

World of Warcraft uses an interesting form of item decay: items suffer decay as they are used, weapons gradually losing durability as they are used in combat, armour taking durability damage as the character wearing it is hit. When an item is reduced to 0 durability, however, it is not lost it simply ceases to function. The character still has the item equipped, but it provides no bonuses to attack, armour, or stats. In World of Warcraft, when an item is in need of repair you stop by your local weapon or armour merchant NPC and get him to repair all your items. Costs are carefully balanced and vary dependent on the level and quality of your gear. You don’t have to wait for your gear to be completely destroyed, either, you can have it repaired as soon as it suffers a single point of durability loss.

While it is true that this system does nothing to eliminate items from the economy, that is precisely what players like about it. At the same time, it does contribute in its own way towards delaying mudflation: it’s a very efficient money sink. As illustration, a level 60 character equipped with raid-dropped gear is paying several gold pretty much every time they need to repair their gear. This is by no means a small amount of money, since in WoW, 1 gold = 100 silver =10,000 copper. As illustration, a level 60 humanoid will drop around 5-7 silver when defeated. Not only that, but item repairs keep high level characters killing monsters around their same level, since gear suffers durability loss even from low-level attackers, yet those same attackers yield less money than higher level monsters.

While this form of item decay works great for a game like World of Warcraft which is, to be honest, rather light on the crafting and interdependence aspects in a game like Vanguard it could truly shine, with only one major tweak. Player crafters should replace NPCs as the repair-smiths of the world. – Edit: Probably not replace, but at least give players some ability to repair items.

If NPCs can repair armour and weapons, why not allow crafters to do so too? On the one hand, it creates a little more interdependence between the two spheres. It gives adventurers another reason to bring a crafter along on long journeys into the wild: the adventurers keep the crafter safe from harm, the crafter gets to harvest his materials, and he can perform field repairs for the adventurers as needed.

On the other, it can become a source of experience for crafters, reducing the amount of grinding on useless items necessary. A crafter would probably be more than happy to use up some of their materials to repair someone’s gear if they are going to be getting experience in the process.

Thus, adding this mechanic, we have taken a step towards increasing interdependency between the two spheres, while enhancing the crafting gameplay aspects with a new activity:

Repairing Items

So now crafters have another skill, the ability to repair items. Not only will this skill provide them with a break from the constant mind-numbing creation of items, it also allows them to socialise, since their new skill will lead adventurers to seek them out more often, and they will be able to offer adventurers another service in exchange for coin or favours. At the same time, it gives them a different venue of advancement, since it makes sense for crafters to gain experience from repairing items of an appropriate level to their skills.

Like crafting items, repairing items would require materials, thus giving crafters a reason to keep a stockpile of resources relevant to their trade, rather than burning everything they harvest to churn out items.

Of course, if crafters are going to be performing repairs for adventurers, then they are competing with NPCs for customers. This creates an interesting situation where we have to balance out NPCs and PC crafters in the field of gear repair. As with any new game mechanism, there are several competing goals for this system:

  1. We want NPCs sinking money out of the economy.
  2. At the same time, we want adventurers to go to PCs for their repairs.
  3. PC crafters will need to charge less than NPCs in order to attract customers.
  4. PCs require materials to perform repairs, NPCs don’t. This will add cost to PC repairs.

Ideally, adventurers should go to crafters to get their repairs, with NPCs being made available for repairs for those times when there are no crafters around or they are charging too much. So we can throw in some carrot-and-stick into the mix, in the form of maximum durability decay:

Every time an adventurer goes to an NPC to have his gear repaired, repaired items lose a small amount of maximum durability, and are then restored to maximum durability. So, for example, let’s say Aidan the Adventurer has a set of boots with durability stats of “90/90 (90)” – these numbers represent “current durability/maximum durability (base maximum durability)”. After a few sessions of play they might have decayed to say “54/90 (90)”. If Xyrrus then takes his boots to an NPC armoursmith to have them repaired, the boots would go to “89/89 (90)” durability. Maximum durability has been decreased by 1 point, then current durability is increased to match maximum durability. Base durability isn’t used with NPC repairs, but we will see how it works in a minute.

If, instead, Aidan took his boots to Scott the Shoemaker, after Scott repaired them they wouldn’t have lost maximum durability, returning to their initial “90/90 (90)” value.

The system would need to be built such that items can never be completely destroyed through decay (their max durability would never drop below 1). However, by the time an item goes below a certain amount of maximum durability, it is going to be more effort than it’s worth to have it repaired. This is just as bad as causing the item to disappear, because it can only be used for a very short amount of time before it needs repairing again, essentially turning the item into a liability rather than an asset. To avoid this we can create a mechanic that allows us to solve this situation: we can give crafters the ability to reforge weapons and armor.

Reforge For The Win

When they reach a certain level, we can allow PC crafters to learn a ‘reforge’ skill that allows them to restore an item’s maximum durability. This ability is skill-dependent, and allows the character to increase the item’s maximum durability up to its base maximum durability. In the case of Aidan’s boots, it’s the (90) we’ve been seeing throughout the above examples. The higher the crafter’s skill, the more maximum durability they can restore per reforge attempt. So, if Scott’s cobbling skill was 50, he might repair Aidan’s boots from “1/1 (90)” to “24/24 (90)”. If instead his skill was 150, he would repair them all the way to “72/72 (90)” with a single attempt.

If we want to take this a step further, we can allow certain high-level NPCs like master artisans to be able to reforge items for exhorbitant prices, or as rewards for certain quests. This would be balanced by the fact that to reforge an item, a PC crafter would need many more rare materials than if they were simply repairing it. Since this would eliminate the edge PC crafters have over NPCs, however, we can give PC crafters yet another skill, one which we won’t make available to NPCs: the ‘Reinforce’ skill. Before we look at it, though, let’s take a closer look at durability.

The Durability Balancing Act

Introducing item decay gives items another stat, durability, which can be balanced when designing loot drops. Thus, a weapon with higher than normal damage might be toned down with a lower than normal durability; it would essentially become a high-performance, high maintenance tool. Depending on the items needed to repair it, it could become a good money sink in and of itself. As an example, we could introduce a glass sword with higher than normal stats, but which shatters after only a few swings – the ultimate situational weapon. The sword would then need to be repaired after every few battles, and depending on what the materials to perform the repairs were, players could be pumping money into the weapon for NPC vendor-bought reagents with which to repair and eventually reforge it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we would see a small number of items being given the ‘Indestructible’ tag, meaning that they would never need repairs. If the tag was rare enough, reserved for the items resulting from the longest, hardest quests, it could become a symbol of status in and of itself. Regardless, the benefits of owning even one of these items are immediately obvious, at least to the player’s coin pouch.

Send In The Reinforcements

Going back to our example of the glass sword, it is entirely possible that players would eventually grow weary of the break-repair process and stow the weapon away forever, or worse, hand it down to some alt or sell it off. The trick to preventing this would reside in keeping up the player’s hopes that the item’s ‘flaw’ can be overcome. This can be done by implementing a ‘reinforce’ skill which would allow crafters to increase an item’s base maximum durability. For our glass sword, for example, a compound of several rare, hard-to-obtain materials could allow the crafter to increase the sword’s base maximum durability by one or more points, dependent on skill, meaning that the item would last a little longer. Perhaps, after several such treatments, the weapon would then last enough to defeat a particularly powerful enemy. Thus, the whole system can be used as a pseudo-key quest or attunement, while at the same time further enhancing the item-acquisition aspects of the game, in the form of item upgrades. In fact, the whole process could be used to fine-tune a seemingly impossible encounter in the game, by balancing it such that players will essentially need particular weapons, reinforced several times, in order to be able to beat it legitimately.

Extrapolating Item Decay

Since Vanguard’s characters are going to be travelling around in horses and ships, and possibly wagons, crafters could be provided with ample work and possibilities to obtain experience by servicing these, repairing them back to perfect condition after they are damaged by monsters or through regular use.

Similarly, horses could have an equipment slot for horseshoes, with the equipped horseshoes giving the horse bonuses to run speed and other benefits depending on the materials and quality, and players’ henchmen could be given a limited number of equipment slots. If horseshoes and henchman gear were both unrepairable, it could be a way of creating an entire economy where items of crafted gear become consumables rather than persistent goods.

The other obvious type of item where item decay can apply is food: Organic items like food could have a ‘freshness’ stat. As this stat decays, over the course of played time, the food’s beneficial effects should gradually deteriorate, to the point where the food spoils and needs to be replaced.

Apart from creating a constant market for cooks and chefs, this would open a whole new mechanic to the cooking skills in the form of food preservation, which would again lead to player choice dependent on what they are planning on doing. For a quick foray into a nearby dungeon, the food with the highest benefits would be chosen, while for extended trips it would probably be an idea to pack some amount of food which is going to last until the character returns to civilisation.

Crafting And “Phat Lewtz”

Another possible side-effect of allowing crafters to repair items would be to introduce damaged or ruined items into monster loot tables, much like Horizons: Empire of Istaria did. While in Horizons these items only served as an alternate source of crafting materials, in a game with real monster drops it can be a more obscure or random source of loot for adventurers:

Crafter A: So, how was your foray into the D’Zule Estate?

Adventurer B: Meh, don’t ask. The D’Zule Armsmaster dropped that stupid ‘ruined breastplate’ thing…

Crafter A: Woah! Did you win it?

Adventurer B: Nah, I passed on the roll.

Crafter A: What?! Don’t you know that when you have it repaired it has a chance of becoming the Fire-Emblazoned D’Zule Breastplate?

Adventurer B: D’oh!

The actual item yielded could be item-specific, or could be selected randomly from a list. Whatever the case, the process of repairing the item would require materials, and would give the craftsman performing the repairs experience. Ruined items don’t even need to yield high-end items regularly. If a moderately useful item needs to be repaired before it can be used, it’s another way of adding a little more to the effort required to obtain that piece of loot. Thus, if an adventurer in copper ringmail finds some rare damaged bronze ringmail, they are faced with the choice of looting the armour and taking it to a blacksmith, with the consequent additional expenditure, or leaving it on the corpse in the hopes of finding some undamaged ringmail instead.

Alternately, a ruined item could have a small chance of resulting in a high-profile item once it is repaired. This would instantly increase the perceived value of any ruined item drops in game. Since inventory space is supposed to be at a premium in Vanguard, use of this mechanic would add yet another element to the game which would demand that players make a decision with non-trivial consequences.

Ruined and damaged items can also, like in Horizons, be used as an alternate source of materials, by implementing a deconstruction skill, but that is something I will discuss in the second part of this essay.

Regular Maintenance: Pre-emptive Repairs And Repair Kits

Finally, item decay gives crafters another two services they can offer adventurers: preemptive repairs, and repair kits.

Preemptive repairs would take the form of treatments crafters can apply to adventurers’ gear: A blacksmith may oil a warrior’s sword, giving it extra resistance to durability damage, a tailor may re-sew the seams on a caster’s robe, and so forth.

Repair kits would allow players to perform repairs in the field without the need for a crafter. The obvious advantages to this would need to be offset with either weight/encumbrance, cost of creation, limited uses, or several of these. Or, there could be two different types of repair-kits, adventurer-usable, which would have the above-mentioned limitations and would yield less durability recovery, and crafter-usable, which would have less limitations and better results, which would thus maintain the desirability of having a crafter around with the adventuring party.

Repair kits could even evolve, at higher levels, into crafted items that provide the same benefits, while still requiring maintenance of a different sort. For example, a highly-skilled leatherworker could fashion a scabbard which, when attached to an adventurer’s belt and used to sheath a sword or dagger, gives the sheathed item a permanent enhancement to its durability checks when used. The scabbard would then need to be re-oiled with the same type of alchemist-created oil periodically for its beneficial effects to persist. With the appliance of magic and fantasy ‘technology’, all kinds of interesting concepts could evolve from this.

Item Decay: Conclusion

So we can see that by adding in item decay we have given crafters several new skills, all of which enhance their gameplay experience and reduce the need to create thousands of useless items to progress. We have also created greater dependence between adventurers and crafters, increasing the desirability of crafters at all levels. We have added a new means with which we can balance items and enhance the item acquisition aspect of the game, and implemented a basic system for introducing upgradeable items, introduced a constant money sink that comes into play at all levels, and all in all added another level of depth to our game. All of this without overly annoying our playerbase with item loss.

Next week I will continue to explore new ways in which Crafters can be spared from the treadmill of useless items.

Until then, may you craft long and prosper.

I’ll put up the second part of this sooner rather than later if there is any interest, possibly followed by some form of distillation and evolution of the ideas presented.