So Kainenchen and I got to talking this morning about crafting in LARPs. I touched on some of this in an earlier post, but I'm going into more detail here. While crafting systems in MMOs are sometimes problematic (too rewarding or not rewarding enough, ruinous to the economy, and so on), World of Warcraft, Fallen Earth, and Star Wars Galaxies are pretty satisfying to the player at the time. The things that we do in LARPs that we call crafting are problematic because:
1. In most MMOs, production skills do not cost a player any advancement potential, just time and money. WoW, LotRO, and Warhammer Online are examples of this (I'm mostly sure CoH/CoV are too); FE and SWG are exceptions. Production skills in LARPs cost advancement potential (character points) that you could otherwise spend on improving your combat capabilities. King's Gate's Brewing and NERO's Alchemy don't have this problem because they are a combat power set in and of themselves; in KG, that power set typically bankrupts the player's team. You need to have a weapon and some armor for combat effectiveness, but Weaponsmithing and Armorsmithing are the least efficient way imaginable to accomplish that because they cost XP and, later, money. (In Wildlands, where money is experience, this is especially agonizing.)
Many players in MMOs will pick up a crafting skill or two, because it's a sideline, a source of amusement, or a way to get loot. In LARPs, you might buy just a few levels of the production skill to keep it a sideline, but it's still advancement potential you could have spent elsewhere. I'm not looking to change this, though a thought experiment of how you could create a non-xp-based production system that included advancement over time is interesting. I might come back to this in a future post, even though it's a design dead-end for me.
A solution to this problem that shows up in some LARPs - Eclipse and RELIC both have this to varying degrees - is to offer a small amount of pure combat effectiveness as a side benefit at some levels of the production skill. Eclipse, for example, gives crafters a grenade or plasma-round recipe at levels 5, 7, and 10. Armor Techs are the exception to this, but they get Personalized Armor for additional armor value and building defense screens that are highly useful.
2. In MMOs, components that go into finished goods have an independent reality for the player. You attain them as individual objects (it's all electrons, but if you see it that way, MMOs aren't for you), carry them around in your inventory, and need them in certain numerical combinations before you can convert them into finished goods. It's... kind of like my high school Chemistry class, actually. Looking at 4 Scrap Iron + 2 Ragged Leather as a chemical reaction that results in a Crude Sword is close enough for government work.
In LARPs, the components generally don't have that level of independent reality, unless the component is rare or special. To make a sword in KG or Eclipse, I go to the production marshal and hand him money or a tag indicating a certain number of Weapon Tech Material Units. These MUs exist as a lever for Plot to manipulate the economy, or (in Eclipse) as a currency in themselves. Recipes are priced in MUs, not in common currency, so if I want to use cash, the marshal multiplies the number in the recipe by the current market value of MUs to figure out what I owe him. The player has gone from cash to sword without any intervening step, decision, or chance of anything unusual. (From a certain point of view, the player has spent XP for the right to convert in-game money into usable items at a preferential rate, dealing with an NPC who is incapable of cheating him.)
There are also rare or special components. Making a Brewer's Inferno, for example, requires fireberries. Making a dagger that will store poison until the wielder wills it to be used requires one piece of tidal clay. The fireberries and the piece of tidal clay have independent reality for the player; she might spend a couple of events just trying to get that item so she can make what she wants. This is closer to what MMOs are doing, but the player can't necessarily make plans to go to where fireberries are found and spend some of her own time and effort to get them, the way an herbalist would in WoW. It may sometimes happen that Plot runs an adventure with no other purpose than pursuing those components, but there's no guarantee of such a thing, and that player's crafting goal is now being a resource hog. If the tasks required to get a piece of tidal clay so that you can make a dagger for someone else are particularly demanding (perhaps requiring the aid of the dagger's eventual recipient), you run up against the AD&D 2nd edition problem I mentioned in the earlier post: This is a storyline, not a crafting skill.
3. Supply and demand for finished goods don't exactly stay even with one another. This is as much of a problem in MMOs as it is in LARPs. For a better analysis of MMO economic issues than I care to write, I'll point you to this post in Systems Sans Setting. WoW removed items from the economy by having them bind-on-equip or bind-on-pickup. Eventually, you're going to need a better item than the one now bound to you, so you'll demand something else from the economy, and your old item now has no better use than disenchanting it. In FE, we tried something different with the item degradation system, such that players needed to destroy a secondary item to maintain the one that actually interested them. Balancing this was an unholy terror.
King's Gate improves on this in one regard and worsens it in another. Standard weapons and armor aren't permanent or indestructible. You need a weaponsmith to maintain your weapon once a year, and when some jerkass with a weapon breaker comes along and applies it to your halberd, you need the weaponsmith to make a new one for you. Demand is steady-but-low; a midrange Weaponsmith with a forge can cover the demand of 50 or more players. (This is still better than the Wildlands approach, as far as I'm concerned, in which getting a sword that you could use for the event was a significant challenge.)
Midrange and higher weaponsmiths can also learn to imbue ores (like that tidal clay dagger I mentioned). As explained above, such weapons are relatively uncommon and something of an achievement. They also remove all need for maintenance; an already-low demand for maintenance drops to zero for that player. If through the course of gameplay a character should acquire a magic weapon, he no longer has to worry about weapon destruction, either - you could theoretically make a magic weapon that isn't indestructible, why the hell would you go to all that work and not do that? What happens, then, is that the wealthiest or most fortunate characters have the fewest expenses.
There are games - Shards of Orn, I'm looking at you here - where one might reasonably upgrade your primary weapon several times over the course of the campaign. This is not true for the games I play most often, though. Eclipse offers a small range of weapon upgrades. Within the reach of purely player crafting, it's theoretically possible that you might upgrade about twice in KG, but that second upgrade is far outside the reach of any PC Weaponsmith that the game has ever had. If anything, there are even fewer possible armor upgrades, once you get to the type of armor you intend to wear.
I note all of these things as I set myself to the task of designing Forge Magic for Dust to Dust. Forge Magic is a somewhat unusual production skill, as it requires levels of Weaponsmithing, Armorsmithing, or Locksmithing to purchase in the first place. Those skills still make the baseline items, and will largely resemble their current KG incarnations. With Forge Magic, a character applies a temporary enchantment to a weapon, shield, suit of armor, or security device. These enchantments require components that range from uncommon to rare. Forge Mages, in cooperation with Alchemists, will make decisions about which components they need and which enchantments they expect people to want from them. It is low-complexity inventory management, with a number of available source for those materials.
Some portion of either Weaponsmithing and Armorsmithing or Forge Magic itself (likely the latter) will offer the secondary utility effect of being able to repair (approximately as per Reforge, but for all materials) broken weapons or breached armor a certain number of times per day. This kind of ability should be a strong inducement to invite such characters along on adventures into dangerous places.
Somewhat outside the scope of the production skill itself, the gameworld of Dust to Dust also offers a limited amount of artificial demand, in the form of NPC-driven demand. As a Med Tech in Eclipse, I rarely have unspent production; as a Weaponsmith in KG, I nearly always do. I think that this limited artificial demand will help crafter PCs to feel like they are a part of a living world.
(ETA: I forgot to mention that Eclipse Armor Techs get Personalized Armor.)