The second part to Death to Crafting Treadmills! – again, minor editing, for format, spelling and grammar.

Death to Crafting Treadmills – Part II

Last time I delved into the many possibilities that item decay can bring to the crafting aspect of a game. This week we’ll look at the opposite end of the spectrum – the destruction of items.

Players are loathe to destroy items, that much can be gathered from the vehement arguments against item decay. Yet if the incentive is good enough, players can be convinced to destroy items. Two games come to mind, namely World of Warcraft and Horizons: Empire of Istaria.

World of Warcraft revisited: Disenchanting

One of World of Warcraft’s tradeskills, enchanting, relies exclusively on the destruction of green or better items for its components. For those who haven’t played it, WoW items are ‘colour coded’, with grey items being substandard, and white ones being average. From there onwards, there are green, blue, purple, orange and red items, with each of these representing greater rarity and power. When disenchanted, these items leave behind dusts and essences which are then used to permanently enchant other items with bonuses to damage, stats, and so forth.

Such a system does a great job of removing items from the economy – since the materials required to increase skill and bestow enchantments can only be obtained from the destruction of non-standard items, players are forced to remove items from the economy. Granted, most high-level enchanters have little trouble obtaining items to disenchant, whether it is from other crafters or from farming instances ad nauseam – but that is how World of Warcraft’s random loot generation works.

Horizons: Empire of Istaria: The quintessential crafting treadmill

Before World of Warcraft, Horizons had already included the destruction of items into its crafting mechanics, in the form of Deconstructing. Deconstructing was an integral part of the levelling process for crafters. The way it worked is that deconstructing an item yields back up to half the components required to make an item and a small amount of experience, depending on skill. So, if a bronze bastard sword requires 12 bronze bars to make and gives the crafter 400 exp, deconstructing it yields up to 6 bronze bars and 40 exp.

To illustrate how crafting in Horizons works:

1. Head out of town and locate a field of the desired resource.

2. Harvest raw resources until inventory is full.

3. Find refining workshop, refine resources. [Gain exp]

4. Repeat 2-3 until inventory is full of refined resource.

5. Craft highest exp yield item until inventory refined resources are exhausted. [Gain exp]

6. Deconstruct all created items. [Gain exp]

7. Repeat 5-6 until inventory is empty.

8. Goto 1.

If the above isn’t a treadmill, I don’t know what is.

And yet, the idea of deconstructing items opens up a number of possibilities, much like item decay. Let’s explore some of these.

Deconstruction for Materials

The first possibility deconstructing offers is the acquisition of otherwise unobtainable materials. If, for example, Shanu’Gar Orc Assassins drop mithril daggers with some regularity, these can be given to a crafter to deconstruct into mithril bars. If mithril veins are very rare and far between, then this could become an important source of mithril for crafters to create other mithril items, especially if the Assassins don’t drop any other type of mithril gear. The film The Patriot comes to mind, where Mel Gibson’s character gradually melted down his collection of lead soldiers in order to make more bullets with which to continue to fight. Adhering to this idea, and combining it with some form of item decay as outlined above, it could then be very interesting to see some very long dungeon, or a continent with few or no outposts, where an adventuring party depends entirely on their crafter and whatever weapons they can salvage from the enemy to keep their own gear in good repair.

Deconstruction for Inspiration – Item recipes

The second use for deconstructing items would be as a source for new item recipes in the form of inspirations. When a crafter deconstructs an item related to their crafting profession, they would have a small chance of gaining an inspiration to create that item. They would then have the choice of either penning down the inspiration to attempt to create the new recipe, or attempting to create the item straight away. In either case, if the process failed, the character would lose the inspiration, and would have to go back to deconstructing items in the hopes of gaining another inspiration. If the process is successful, the crafter would then end up with a new recipe, which they could scribe into their recipe book and then make the item from, or with the finished item, which they could deconstruct to gain an infallible inspiration with which to pen the recipe. For more complex or advanced items, inspirations might only be partial, requiring the crafter to pen down the recipe in several parts, and then combine them into the complete recipe. Inspirations could provide crafters with something more to trade among themselves, with the possibility of having a few items which have to be deconstructed by one type of crafter, who would then pen an inspiration usable by a different crafting profession, thereby creating more interdependency between the crafting professions.

Following the mithril dagger example above, a weaponsmith could be deconstructing the daggers, and suddenly gain an inspiration for a new item. Gathering the materials together she sets to work at a forge, and a short while later ends up with a mithril shortsword, or perhaps a mithril spearhead. Since both spears and shortswords are piercing weapons, it would make sense for a dagger to inspire her to make them. This process might then be extended, such that the mithril spearhead, when used to create a spear and then deconstructed, might lead to an inspiration to a mithril poleaxe, which in turn might lead to a battle-axe, and in turn to an axe. Or, the spear might instead inspire her to pen a recipe which would yield a stout oak pole, which she could then trade to a woodworker in exchange for some finished poles to combine with her spearheads.

This system could be used to allow crafters to obtain recipes or sets of recipes unobtainable elsewhere. An adventuring party might return to town from exploring some ancient ruins, with a corroded sword of unusual design, which one of the adventurers gives to a weaponsmith friend. The weaponsmith then repairs the item, and ends up with an item they can deconstruct in the hopes of obtaining the inspiration to create more of that type of sword. Depending on the rarity and stats on the sword, the crafter might then have a rather valuable new recipe with which to entice adventurers into parting with their money, or they might simply have a new and different recipe with which to gain experience. If the weapon has a unique look, it might be an interesting candidate for a wall-mounting or a weapon rack to place in a player’s home.

To preserve the game’s economy and the risk-reward balance, it would probably be a good idea to limit the items that can be created from the inspirations obtained from the rarer and more powerful weapons. Thus, a lucky crafter who obtains an inspiration from deconstructing the Volcanic Hammer of Juz’gullah wouldn’t be able to flood the economy with quasi-limitless amounts of volcanic hammers. Instead, they may be able to create lesser versions of the hammer which they can then sell for a tidy sum, while anyone with an ‘original’, dropped Volcanic Hammer retains bragging rights and status because theirs was harder to obtain, and has better stats.

The other option would be for the more powerful inspiration-obtained recipes to require extremely rare drops from highly-powerful mobs, such that the crafter with the recipe would essentially become an occasional alternate source of the item when provided with the appropriate materials. Depending on the history of the item and the risk involved, the crafter-obtained item might be equal to or slightly better or worse than the original. As long as it is internally coherent to the game and doesn’t throw balance out the window, anything goes.

Deconstructing for Inspiration – Item modifications

Thirdly, and a continuation of the above, instead of obtaining an inspiration for a recipe for a new item, the crafter might instead obtain an inspiration for a new item modification. Deconstructing an elven rapier could, for example, lead the character to discovering or understanding a special technique the elves apply to their blades to make them extremely light yet durable, a technique which the crafter can then apply himself. This system could allow crafters to obtain new and otherwise unobtainable modification recipes, as would be the case when deconstructing a sword from a long-extinct culture – or it could provide crafters an alternate method of obtaining certain modifications: If, for example, the master elven blacksmith Eldanas Starforge refused to teach dwarves his secret smithing techniques, a dwarven crafter could offer an adventurous rogue character a reward for stealing one of Starforge’s prized dueling blades, in the hopes of deconstructing it and learning the elven master’s secrets. All manner of modifications could be learned like this, from poison grooves which allow a rogue to successfully inject poison into an enemy from an assassin’s dagger, to central blade reinforcement from a particularly durable sword, to silver plating a weapon from a werewolf-hunter’s axe.

Deconstructing items for materials and inspirations would have three notable side effects:

1. Adventurers would have more things to offer crafters in exchange for services – since any item has the potential of resulting in a new inspiration, crafters would be more interested in buying items adventurers bring back from their travels.

2. As adventurers outgrow their weapons, they might very well sell them to crafters for deconstruction rather than selling them to other adventurers, which would remove the items from the economy.

3. If inspirations were rare enough that not everyone had all of them, they would also have the side effect of allowing crafters the same degree of distinction that adventurers enjoy from obtaining a rare item of loot, thus levelling the field some more.

Deconstruction vs Reverse Engineering

An interesting possibility in regards to deconstructing would be to make Deconstructing and Reverse Engineering two different skills. While the first would yield more materials, less experience, and a small chance to obtain an inspiration, the second would result in less materials, a larger experience gain and a higher chance to obtain an inspiration. This would represent that when deconstructing the crafter is more interested in obtaining the most usable materials possible, while in the case of reverse engineering they are seeking to understand how the item works, with less regard to the salvaging of components.

Deconstruction as a cash-flow balance element

One of the major complaints adventurers have about their interdependence with crafters is the fact that crafters usually conspire to milk them out of their hard earned cash. Since crafters can obtain all of their materials without the help of adventurers, the usual result is that adventurers are forced to pay through the nose for crafters’ services because they have nothing which can interest the crafter other than gold.

If, however, crafters depended on some of the drops that adventurers obtain in their travels, whether for materials, experience, or inspirations, then some of the cash flow could be redirected from the crafters back to the adventurers. This would also serve the purpose of combating mudflation, in that adventurers wouldn’t sell their items to lower level players if a higher level crafter is going to offer more for it. Since the crafter is going to eliminate the item from the economy, the item’s value doesn’t decrease.

At the same time, the adventurer isn’t selling the item to an NPC merchant, in itself a problem, since it creates influx of coin into the economy.

Deconstruction and Phat Lewtz

The other interesting side effect of deconstruction in Horizons: Empire of Istaria is ruined loot, which I mentioned in DTCT #1. As mentioned, ruined loot in Horizons is an alternate source of crafting materials. In a game with real loot tables, however, ruined loot can be used to solve the WYSIWYG problem with monster loot.

‘WYSIWYG’ – What you see is what you get – refers to the fact that, in any number of games, a humanoid monster clad in full plate and dual wielding will never drop the entire set of gear it is wielding. While the reason for this is pretty obvious, a vocal minority of players still insist in that it is ‘unrealistic’ and unimmersive.

Ruined loot solves this rather nicely, in that if the above mentioned monster dropped several pieces of damaged/almost ruined/ruined armour, the player is then given the choice whether to pick them up (and encumber themselves with junk) or leave them be. To prevent bottom feeding or the inevitable farming of huge amounts of junk to sell to vendors, these pieces of ruined loot would yield very little coin when sold to vendors, but be a good source of materials for crafters, thereby adding another element of cash flow balance.

This would also tie in to the ‘damaged loot’ I described in ‘Crafting and Phat Lewtz’ – by having monsters drop several pieces of loot in different states of disrepair, it might help preserve the mystery as to what items can be repaired to obtain above-average items, and which should just be sold to crafters to deconstruct or reverse engineer.

Deconstruction: Conclusion

Deconstruction is a superior mechanic to item decay in removing items from the economy not only in that it does so faster but also in that players are being encouraged to destroy items by the possibility of obtaining something valuable in exchange, in the form of experience, materials, and inspirations. Since the choice to destroy the item lies with the player, the designer can’t be accused of forcing an item sink into the game – even if that’s precisely what has been done. Even if the entire inspirations mechanic is too complex or unwieldy to implement properly, experience and materials are still a good incentive – as always, though, the more incentives there are to do something, the more it gets done. In that vein, like with item repair, deconstruction can be the basis for a large number of subsidiary mechanics which can make the crafting experience all the more interesting, while at the same time dealing with other issues like mudflation and interdependence.

I was meaning to do a third installment, in which I examined the crafting process itself and how to make it more interesting, but due to personal reasons I never got around to writing it. I do have some notes on it, so chances are I will revisit the subject again. In the meantime, allow me to point you over to Brian Green’s blog, where the subject of interactive crafting is currently under discussion.