Monday, December 6, 2010

WoW vs. 4e - Professions

Now that I have been taking a small vacation to Azeroth, returning to World of Warcraft for a bit to see some of the new content and connect with some friends back in the US, I thought I would like to make some comments on this experience and how I have learned from it as a RPG player and RPG Blogger.

I think one of my favorite things about World of Warcraft has been the profession system. I think it is really, really entertaining and engaging. Some people might think it is a big waste of time, or just something that you do to pick up some gold, but I really enjoy it. I have gone through a number of professions on my various characters, but my current avatar - Cystematic - a level 70 Mage, is currently both a Miner and a Tailor. I am really excited to finally sew myself a flying carpet when I scrap together the gold I need to pick up all the cloth for it.

Now, I have to say, It is a bit suprising that I would be excited about something like that in WoW, but not really in D&D. One of the reasons for this, I have to say, is the disappearance of crafting and profession skills from the game when it made its move into 4e. Sure, you can get some crafting ability when you take a particular background, but these backgrounds really only make some of your other skills better and don't really reflect what I would like to see.

Can anything be done about this? Sure, I think there is something very simple that any DM could house-rule into D&D 4e. When you make a new character, starting at level one, you can get training in a certain number of "Minor" skills. These minor skills don't grant any combat abilities, nor are they really used in Skill challenges, but what they are used for is granting flavor to your character that is reflected in the characters mechanics. This may be a very non-Old School way to play the game, but I am not from the old school. I like to have my game mechanics very clear and I like having my character stats show off what my character is like.

These minor skills could be things like Perform, Craft (Armor), Craft (Weapons), or even things like my WoW mage's tailoring. These skills would let you do some cool stuff that wouldn't throw off the balance of the game in the slightest. You could make a bit of small money from your profession now and again, and players could even combine their crafting skills to build magic items at higher skill levels.

If you have any house rules like this, or have a comment on this, I would appreciate any feedback that the RPG Blogging community might have to offer.


  1. I was actually thinking about something like this awhile ago - one of my few complaints about 4e was the seeming disappearance of non-combat skills.

    My earliest thought was something like what you've proposed - add a secondary skill list which includes the missing skills, like Perform, Craft, or Profession, and let each class take a small number of them depending on role - Wizards might get one, Rogues (as part of their eclectic lifestyle) might get as many as 3. Alternatively, one might just let everyone pick the same number and be done with it, for simplicities sake.

    These would work like professions always did in D&D, allowing you to make some small amount of gold if you wished, and in some cases, letting you make the mundane items which you would then enchant using the appropriate ritual. They might even provide a small circumstance bonus to other skills if the player can use it creatively - a hand crafted item as a gift or a song might be a bonus to Diplomacy (no more than a +2).

    Alternatively, crafting might turn into a skill challenge using other related skills and raw ability checks at lower DCs. Endurance, for instance, might be useful for those who craft Weapons or Armor, along with Strength. Dexterity might be for tailoring, with applicable skills depending on what sort of thing one tailors (History or Local might be applicable for duplicating ancient or local fashion, or creating a tapestry or embroidery).

    Alternately, the "minor skills list" could be simplified to the point of not requiring a check (why roll dice for it if you don't need to?). If you know how to craft weapons, or clothing, you can craft weapons or clothing - make it a passive check if one is needed at all, since you won't be doing it under combat conditions anyway.

    I'm still trying to decide for myself which approach I prefer. Hope this helps!

  2. I see no problem with simply making this part of the character color. There is certainly nothing in 4E which prevents a character from knowing how to bake or fish for example. There certainly doesn't need to be a "skill challenge" mechanism attached to these professions, or any skill stats or advancement levels either really. This can easily be considered a automatic success type of activity as long and the time and appropriate materials are available.

    However, it shouldn't ever become a better source of income than adventuring for a character, even at level 1. The player needs a motive to adventure, and taking away the monitary incentive by providing an alternate way to make more money can hurt the game. The character's background should also adequately account for any starting professions. This shouldn't be a list where a player can just claim to be proficient in 20 different jobs. Each job known should account for an adequate training period in the character background.

    For example in my upcomming book I introduce a character "Hap Sing" who is also occasionally called "The Legendary Fisherman". This started with my playing a version of this charactization in the early 1990's as a cleric who used a rattan staff as a fishing pole. In game his frequent "off-duty" time was spent at a local fishing spot and providing the fish caught to the local poor and needy as a charitable act.

    I don't think there needs to be a "skill check" associated with this ability. It has no combat relevance, or challenge relevance, but it certainly adds a lot of flavor to a character concept without requiring mechanics to support its use.

  3. In 3.5 it did. There were skill checks involved in crafting, but I believe you were allowed to take 10 on crafting checks. Really, the skill simply defines what kinds of things you can craft so that you aren't making things above your level. For example, if the party decides that their fighter really needs the BEST axe that they can get, they could pool their funds in order to make the item, if the only limitation is materials and Gold. I think you need skills to prevent people from crafting too far over their level, 1 level above, or maybe even 2 (if you HAVE to roll for it) would be ok, or if you had to spend proportionately more money to craft above your level, that would be ok as well.

    I just really want my Profession, Perform, and Craft skills back. I remember having these in 3.5, especially with my bard and I loved singing for some cash and having that represented on my character sheet made it feel proper.