Crafting sucks in 5e. Do you want to make a weak poison that’s unable to kill almost anything? That’ll take you at least 20 days, and that assumes you have what you need to make it and the proficiency to do so. Want to make something better, like a magical item? That could take you literal years and cost you as much as you might make adventuring between levels 1 to 10. So yes, crafting in 5e sucks. But let’s look at why it sucks and what we can do about it.
Why Would 5e Make Such a Bad Crafting System?
This is the easy question. The game is about adventuring, not crafting. Long times to craft items that are only mildly useful discourages players from spending their time crafting. Why would I craft something I could go on a quest for in 1/10th the time at no cost to me other than my health, which regenerates on its own overnight or with spells? That’s the simple reason, but wait – there’s more!
Crafting being inaccessible or cumbersome also adds implicit balance mechanics to the game. If something is potentially game breaking or would mess up power balance, you gate it off behind a super long time to craft. That way you don’t worry about if it’s broken or not; it won’t be an issue if players cannot make it in the first place. If this is actually the primary reason crafting is as bad as it is, I would be very disappointed in the 5e team.
Why Bad Crafting Hurts the Game
When the crafting system is bad, it hurts the game fundamentally because it removes a tool from the players’ toolkit. There are plenty of players out there who want to MacGyver their way out of situations. They want to use crafting to overcome challenges and this is almost impossible with the limited crafting rules available to us in 5e. It just doesn’t work well without time and effort that could be used for other solutions more easily.
There are a few standard scenarios that could use crafting to great effect if it was relatively reasonable. Players who are imprisoned and left with very few resources may want to use crafting as a way to finagle an escape. Players who’ve found a goblins den and want to wait them out at its entrance may have a lot of downtime in which they would want to craft.
If only there were any items that could be crafted in less than a week! By making everything difficult to craft, these fairly normal activities are restricted from players who see it as something that should be a normal part of the game.
If it were easy to make crafting more attainable, then it would be part of 5e already. The game is streamlined, and nothing about crafting fits neatly into a streamlined game. Depending on what you’re making and why, you need tons of tables, specific material descriptions, construction rules, and costs for just about anything. Crafting in 5e got a few pages at most in an already full book. A robust and complex crafting system could easily be an additional 300 page supplement. That being said, what can we really do about it?
Let your players craft stuff. Use your best judgement as a GM to set time and material needs and allow them to reason through the crafting process. If they want to make simple things, make it simple; don’t punish them for having fun ideas that would make the game better for the group.
If they want to make complicated things, let them reason through their project like before, but use it as an opportunity to set them off on self-guided quests. You want to make a magical item, great! It won’t take 5 years, but it needs these special components that you’ll have to search for.
This can be difficult to do and may take a lot improvising. But for some players this is a really rich and rewarding part of roleplaying and should be a challenge worth taking if some of your players really want a system for this.
Stay Within the Rules… Kind of
You can also augment your crafting system for your players with spells in the game. Let them use Creation spell scrolls, or allow them to spend material wealth to make a Creation spell more permanent. There are other spells that make items or allow for crafting quickly, so why not just make that part of the crafting process.
As a DM you have the ability to make these spells more available for your players to use if they want and you can easily modify the conditions under which they create something more functional or long term. With just a small bit of modification you can get a reasonable and fair system for your players to use in their adventures.
Make Your Own Crafting System
Woah, your own crafting system? That sounds like it would take a long time, be hard to balance, and possibly be a massive homebrew supplement that is both desperately needed and hotly debated. While we’re not actually suggesting you go about building a giant and robust fully functional crafting system, we’ve also seen the world building documents you all make, so it’s not actually outside of the realm of possibility for some of you.
Making your own rules set can be a fun exercise. Even if you don’t finish it or fail in creating something well balanced, getting a sense for how mechanics and gameplay work together can help you improve as a dungeon master.
Better Crafting is the Miss in 5e
We love 5e. We’ve got a whole website talking about it, so that’s likely obvious. But we know it’s not perfect. Just because we love something doesn’t mean it’s going to have everything we want, and we don’t really expect it to. What makes 5e so great is that it is streamlined enough that anyone can play it. Easy modifications and quick judgement calls can expand on this. At the end of the day, the game is yours and you should do what makes the experience the most fun for your group. If that involves adding a dash of homebrew crafting, go for it.