A blacksmith is more than just a place to buy weapons and armor in your DnD towns. While players may treat them more like video game shops with a simple set of goods, a blacksmith can offer a wide array of services and be host to fun and useful roleplay features you might not have thought of. Let’s dive into how you can create a better blacksmith for your DnD towns.
What Is a Blacksmith?
In the real world a blacksmith’s shop does a whole lot of different things, but in the simplest sense they are crafters who work with metal. While for our fantasy role playing games we might think of them as weaponsmiths and armorers, that’s just one set of specialties that a blacksmith might have.
Common Blacksmithing Goods
Blacksmiths in a simple town would rarely spend time forging weapons and armor. Instead, they would spend most of their time on repairs and simple mechanical parts. Blacksmiths make nails, hinges, gates, horseshoes, lamps, tools of all types, and refined metal.
The value of the crafted material in a pre-industrial time period is quite high. So these items are often made in the town rather than imported; when metal objects break or fall into disrepair the blacksmith would often work to repair them or salvage the metal.
Specialists are Easily Kept Busy
Not all blacksmiths are generalists, though. While there are those that would work to outfit adventures and soldiers, others take on more mundane but crucial jobs. Farriers, for example, just work on shoeing horses. It seems like an odd thing to specialize in, but it’s enough work to keep them busy and employed year round, even in small towns.
There are also wheelwrights who would, in addition to making the metal rims for cart wheels, also craft the wooden structures themselves. These are just two examples of how important other types of smithing are when the primary type of transportation is horse-based in your setting.
Not Everyone Works With the Same Metals
Beyond blacksmiths specializing in certain types of tools and goods, they can also specialize in metals. Some might work in softer metals if they don’t have an advanced forge for melting iron or steel, which needs higher temperatures than many earlier crafted elements. Others might only work in fine metals like gold or silver.
In the real world some blacksmiths worked exclusively in tin and were called tinsmiths. This kind of specialty could easily be compounded in a fantasy setting where you have metals that don’t exist in our world that require special tools or equipment to work with. A mithrilsmith might be just as important as any other specialty smithy.
Services Over Stock
While a blacksmith might be primarily thought of like any other type of store, in reality they don’t keep a lot of stock. As opposed to a general store, a blacksmith runs more on requests and service than they do on selling pre-finished goods.
While they may have some items ready to sell they will mostly be goods for the town. A mining town might have more mining related metal goods and a farming town more farming related metal goods.
Beyond these simple items in stock, the blacksmith is a place for custom orders. They will do repairs, upgrades, or make items as needed on demand. Even an excellent weaponsmith won’t have more than a few simple weapons on hand at any given time considering the value of the material. The exception to this is an exhibition piece that might be extremely valuable but is primarily around to show off the blacksmith’s skills.
Blacksmiths in Your Game
When your players interact with a blacksmith their expectations might be far off from what you’ve prepared. If they’re more used to video game settings where the best items are available and on display for a price they’ll be disappointed by most small town smiths.
When it comes to adventuring gear, weapons, and armor, a blacksmith will often have little on hand unless the area is an adventuring hub. Blacksmiths create goods for the people that frequent their locations. If adventurer types don’t come through town much the blacksmith won’t have much to provide because they’re busy working on making hinges and repairing shovels.
The good news for your players is that a blacksmith can work on almost anything to order. A quality blacksmith can do repairs, craft certain items to spec, or even upgrade weapons to be better than they normally would. The bad news is that these things take time. Your players will almost certainly have to wait around for a few days to get their custom orders fulfilled.
Killing Time Waiting on the Smith
While your players might not like waiting for their gear to be repaired or upgraded, you certainly should. This simple service transaction essentially anchors your players to a town for a certain amount of time. It may make them interact with other townsfolk, check the bulletin board in town, or do some simple quests that they would have otherwise ignored.
To take full advantage of this kind of temporary downtime in a campaign you should make sure to have your blacksmith give recommendations for things to do while they wait for their gear. This can be as simple as suggesting an inn to stay at or as complex as handing out a quest for them personally. Often simple hooks work very easily, being direct and saying “While you adventurer types are in town I know some work that needs doing.”
Getting in Your Blacksmiths Head
The blacksmiths and their shops are going to be highly variable in your game. To ensure you get one that suits your purposes and makes sense in your world you’ll want to think about the town as a whole.
What type of work would this blacksmith have? Would they have a lot of steady customers or would they cater more to specialty one-off requests? If the town is along a main road or a port the blacksmith might even find work partnering with merchants or fulfilling requests from afar. Nothing is really off the table.
The biggest consideration you should have for any blacksmith is if they can work with your party and how they add value to your game. Even the most basic blacksmithing work takes skill and years of training.
So no matter the needs of your party, a blacksmith can likely make due to a certain extent on most requests. They might not be able to make a mundane weapon a +1, but they could sharpen it, replace a hilt, and fix the guard even if they mostly work on horseshoes.
Because of this your NPC blacksmiths are more likely to be in a position to barter and haggle. This is great news for you and your players if you like roleplaying these types of encounters. It’s an easy lead in because each job is specific and prices can vary based on the request. When haggling make sure you set your minimum in your mind before you start the scene or your players will take advantage of your lack of preparedness.
You may be tempted to make your blacksmiths the gruff and stalwart type right out the gate, but they can be as complex as any other character you might make. Don’t fall into the obvious trap of stereotyping when you try to improvise a character on the spot.
The traits that make someone good at blacksmithing are physical strength, patience, and an attention to detail. Beyond that, the characters can be made however you like. But those core traits are going to be present in any blacksmith as it is a requirement of their job.
When those traits are missing you would end up with a shoddy blacksmith, which could be fun enough in it’s own right. Imagine your players coming back to find their weapons ruined by an amateur’s repair job!
A Blacksmith’s Layout
Blacksmithing typically requires only a few things. Their work area will have a forge of some type or a kiln to heat the specific types of metal that they work with. They will need a work bench and anvil to shape anything they make. If they have a good enough forge or kiln they could also have a crucible and casting set up to work with molded items. Beyond that, simple blacksmith tools include a hammer, a grind wheel, tongs, leather straps and aprons, and various punches and shaping tools.
While it may seem like a small number of things that go into the workshops themselves, they are quite expensive to set up. The initial cost of the tools might be several gold in-game and the forge is not a small expense either. Because of this most blacksmiths have only modest storefronts or display areas for the shop if any at all. Most of their resources are sunk into the tools that enable them to make the best quality products they can.
For storage space a blacksmith will need to store wood, charcoal, coal, ingots, slag, ore, flux, oil, and other additives for smithing purposes. Finished goods are often stored in racks or crates. A blacksmith also needs easy access to a good deal of water, both for their work and an insurance against potential fires.
Blacksmiths will be busy most of the time since there is always work for them that others cannot do. Because of this blacksmiths may tend to be slightly on the wealthier side of most shop owners, but their equipment and daily consumables are expensive, causing them to have a lot of their wealth sunk into their shop itself.
When your players go to buy things from the blacksmith, keep in mind that the blacksmith will likely have to make the requested goods. General adventuring gear could be cheaper if the party gets it made at the source as opposed to acquiring it from a trader who has marked the goods up.
In these situations it’s a good idea to take standard gear prices from the Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide and knock them down 10 to 20 percent. While the cost is lower, the time spent waiting for the items will be greater, so it evens out in the end.
For items that are not in the books, set your prices based on the closest equivalent item you can find by size. The reason you’re pricing by size is because materials are the largest cost in any blacksmithing operation. Once you have a base price to compare to you can increase or decrease the cost based on complexity of the object. The less shaping and fine crafting work, the cheaper the good and vice versa.
If you are really planning ahead you can take your base prices for generic items and make a sort of custom table for yourself. List out base price by item type and time required to craft and then no matter what your players ask for you’ll have a place to start.
A blacksmith is not an artificer or engineer. This is worth calling out for the sole reason that they will not do fiddly little work in most cases. Things like watch gears or mechanical assemblies take a lot more time to make and require more specialized tools.
While these items may be metal, the best a blacksmith will do is create the base piece that gets further refined by a skilled artisan. While some blacksmiths might do both types of work, it would be very rare.
Accounting for Fantasy Settings While Blacksmithing
Getting metals to very high temperatures is extremely hard in the real world. We’ve spent a lot of human history just figuring out how to work with things that have an extremely high melting point.
This limitation can be jumped slightly in the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons. A blacksmith may know magic or have hired a magical assistant to help heat their forge and shape their wares. The spell Heat Metal, while typically used in combat, can easily be adapted to being a way to work metal without spending a ridiculous amount of money on coal and a blast furnace.
Other spells that could work well for a blacksmith would be Control Flame, Create or Destroy Water, and Mending. While not every blacksmith will know magic, it is a handy way to get an edge in a business where the labor is intensive and fuel comes at a premium.
Putting It All Together
We hope this has helped you see that blacksmiths can be a lot more complex and interesting in your game than you might have been led to believe. They’re not the simple one stop shops that video games make them out to be.
By thinking about the way they work and what goes into their craft you’ll be able to create a more immersive experience. You’ll also get the added benefit of having new hooks for plots and reasons for adventurers to stay in town. Focusing on the simple things like your shops can push your towns to new levels and now you’ve got the building blocks you need to make your next blacksmith really shine.