Table of Contents
Cooking & Crafting
Cooking and crafting generally lack flair in D&D. It’s usually “I have these ingredients, can I try and use [x] skill/tools to cook/craft,” and how many attempts over how long will it take until I have what I want?” Taking a trip to the blacksmith is much the same. The only game being played is the waiting one.
In Breath of the Wild, it’s more or less the same, but it feels more interesting, more dynamic. Immediacy is a part of it. Another is because it’s presented with more joy. The guessing, the combining, and the animations all lend itself to an enjoyable bit of dynamism.
When trying to replicate that, one question comes to mind…
Why not use skill challenges? Skill challenges are designed for that purpose. To bring dynamism to a series of actions packed into a small time-frame. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s how I choose to wring more levity out of these moments.
I’ll run you through an example:
In your game, perhaps a bard character found a recipe for Sneaky Stew. They interested in cooking it, because they want a temporary buff to their Stealth. For this example we’ll say, they have the recipe, they have the ingredients. They even have Cook’s utensils, but they are not proficient in them.
The recipe says that the ingredients are:
- Purple carrots, the most silent of them all
- White potatoes, a nightshade
- Ghost peppers, the spooky nightshades
- Catfish steaks, a nocturnal fish
- Paprika, to taste
*two hours cooking time
Since there are five ingredients to include & prep, I would set the timer for the skill challenge at five.
A correct recipe should act as a boon to the process. Because they have all the ingredients, that should also be a boon to the process. They have cook’s utensils, so that should be a boon to the process. They do not have proficiency in them, though, so they cannot add proficiency to every step of the process. Given the ingredients are pretty common, I’d set the recipe difficulty at an easy. We can set a DC15 for this dish.
I’d start by asking them how they’ll planning to prepare the carrots, and using which of their skills.
They respond that they’d like to use Acrobatics for their knife skills, chopping up the carrots with flourishes, and deft skills. Their Acrobatics skill is a +4.
I’d adjust the DC of this first step by one for having the recipe. So, for this step, the DC is DC14. The player rolls an eleven, and clears the challenge. I’d narrate their acrobatic knife skills, and then move on to the potatoes.
The bard tells me that they would like to employ a sneaky Sleight of Hand technique to mash the potatoes. Their Sleight of Hand skill is +4.
I’d adjust the DC of this step one again, for having all the correct ingredients, so for this step, the DC is again DC14. The player rolls a 16 and clears with ease. I’d narrate the unique, sneakiness of their mashing, and then move to the peppers.
Again, the bard explains how they would like to include the ghost peppers. The say that would chop up the peppers really fine, and stealthily include them when no one was looking. Their Stealth skill is +5.
I really like this explanation, so in addition to stepping down the difficulty for having cook’s utensils (even without a proficiency), and I’d step it down again for the creative roleplay to leverage their Stealth skill. The DC for this step is set at DC13. The player rolls an 10 this time, and clears the challenge because of their stealth skill.
For the fourth ingredient—the catfish—the bard explains how they’re going to serenade the catfish as they prepare the steaks, and even add that they expect that it will make the meat more relaxed, tender in the stew. They’re planning to use their Persuasion skill, which is also a +5.
The bard has no other boons due to recipe or tools, but again, this is a pretty clever use of their best skills, so I step the difficult down to DC14. They roll a 2, and fail miserably.
Rather than just marking the whole thing a failure, I could either institute a bonus round, saying that they notice something amiss in the stew, and give them another chance to course correct, because they’ve been roleplaying so well up to this point, or, I could just give them a finished dish that is less impactful. The key is not to outright penalize or antagonize a player, especially when cooking is so rarely pass or fail. It’s still edible after all!
For the final ingredient—the paprika—the bard says they want to use their Performance skill, another +5, and “salt bae” the seasoning into the stew.
Naturally, I let them do that, again step down the difficulty for good roleplaying, so all they need for the final ingredient is a DC14. They crush it, and roll a natural 20.
There are many ways to adjudicate natural 20s and 1s, and the nice thing is you won’t have to be terribly consistent. Looking at the skill challenge so far, I could see the natural 20 and ignore the failure. The dish was so perfectly seasoned that its taste overcame the catfish, and the bard gets full effect and full uses. If the player had succeeded on all their challenges, I could award double servings. Rather than waiting for however long it takes for the stew to simmer and finish, a natural 20 might produce the dish instantaneously. The inverse possibilities exist for critical failures.
Done in this fashion, the player got to do more roleplaying, was given full opportunity to bring their own style and flair to the process, and was more active than passive! Win, win, win.
This is literally the same process for crafting items, too. Just replace “stew” with “chainmail,” and give the appropriate list of resources. Then watch your players react in their own unique ways.
Some parting thoughts on using skill challenges to roleplay cooking and crafting:
- Give players tons of recipes to collect. Let them trade, decipher, or experiment with their own. Let them find incorrect or incomplete recipes. Reward them for this exploration, too
- This doesn’t have to be done at the table. If this is too much time and effort for such minutiae in your game, and you’d rather keep the action going with other things, great. You can always do this during long rests, and roleplay through email, text, discord. If you’re playing West Marches, style, just let that player bring that experience back to the group.
I previously mentioned that the stamina meter was one of the worst features in Breath of the Wild. Weapon durability IS the absolute worst.
Weapon durability exists only for two purposes: artificial difficulty ramps, and to force the player to sample all the various different weapons.
While the latter concept of scavenging weapons, and exploring which ones you like the most is cool in theory, all players will ultimately find the weapon types that fit them best, and want to stick to those, not having to continue to bounce through weapons they hate just because the good stuff keeps breaking.
Artificial difficulty is never a great thing to implement unless you and your players agree that is the experience that you want. If you’re looking for a realistic, tactical, hardcore approach to your game, by all means. That sounds like a slog to me, though.
In fact, I wouldn’t even include a section here except that it is a pretty integral feature in Breath of the Wild.
Just one final warning: it was such a maligned part of an otherwise amazing game that most Breath of the Wild clones are not including it, and I’m curious to see if it’s even implemented in the sequel.
So, here goes, my half-hearted attempt at coming up with a viable system for weapon durability.
I would not tie it to use in combat as that just seems punitive. I think it also trains your players to rely a lot more heavily on their spells and features for fear of breaking weapons they love.
So instead, I would tie it to this general sense of wear and tear. Time spent out in the elements in days, weeks. Wood degrades fastest, then leather, rusted items, iron, steel. Prolonged exposure to water, salt, fire, all impact durability. Think of it like exhaustion for weapons. Upkeep during rests sustains durability, but failure to do so slowly changes the impact and damage weapons do. Maybe a longsword slowly becomes dull, becomes bludgeoning damage, and loses a dice step on attack or damage rolls.
Whatever you do, do not let weapons break entirely, I beg of you. Always let your players either take their favorite weapons to a blacksmith, or attempt to fix the weapon themselves.
The fun equipment from Breath of the Wild (see: doesn’t break)!
All teasing aside, armor boons are not only extremely valuable (beyond their durability), but also extremely useful in BOTW, and they’re just as valuable in roleplaying games. The difference between standard vanilla armor, and one that provides a +2 bonus to Stealth is pretty well understood, so I won’t belabor a point here. Players love armor and items with boons or bonuses.
The only thing I want to bring attention to is something that Breath of the Wild does very well with its armor boons, that we should also keep in mind. A majority of the armor in BOTW directly affects its core gameplay: exploration. Whether it’s armor that makes you climb or swim faster, brave cold or hot temperatures better, or even swim up waterfalls, these are positive impacts on the game’s core feature. This makes the progression afforded by them extremely valuable.
It’s important to do the same in a campaign of this nature. A premium is put on exploration, so too should the bonuses afforded by armor and items. In a game like this, progression that goes toward exploration is of equal value to that of lethality. Something to keep in mind in your item design.
Lastly, item set bonuses are cool. If a player kits themselves out in the full Gillman Swimsuit to get three stacking bonuses of improved swim speed, why not add the set bonus of having the ability to breath underwater?
A feature of Breath of the Wild, is that it lets you go foraging to fulfill recipe needed to upgrade your armor.
All through the sections written about foraging and armor, the focus was on practical progression, so it stands to reason that I’m a big fan of upgrade quests for the same reasons. If you allow your players to go foraging to gain components that will improve character progression using a system that also benefits from that character progression, you create a happy little feedback loop; a flywheel. This strengthens not only your game design, but player happiness and quality of life. Which is a long-winded way of saying: do it.
Obviously, these upgrades should scale and get more complex as the players and the gear they use do, but the mechanics can and should stay the same.
In Breath of the Wild, theses upgrades are tied to the Fairy Fountains, which are not a new concept at all to Zelda, but how they’re positioned in BOTW is brilliant.
First and foremost, they’re all out in the Wilds (the one above Kakariko Village is a bit of a misstep in this regard, but nothing is perfect), which reinforces the idea that towns are safety, shops, and little else. Everything you want to be doing (including upgrading armor) is done “out there,” in the Wilds.
Secondly, even once found, Fairy Fountains require a collectible good (in this case, currency), and a specific amount to access. This helps guide the expectation that in order to be useful to the player, collection is required. This again reinforces the mechanic of collecting/foraging.
Once you have unlocked a Fairy Fountain, they’re functionally blacksmiths, but away from town. They can tell you what can be upgraded, and how much hoarding of which resources is required for that upgrade. This is just a blacksmith, but it feels cooler because of how it ties into the game’s core design.
This immediately poses the question: if these mystical blacksmiths are so brilliantly tied to the core game design, should I not allow my players to craft or upgrade their own armor?
Breath of the Wild would functionally say no. You cannot upgrade your armor without your mystical wilderness blacksmiths, but that’s only because they’re ascribing to the traditional format of blacksmithery, a passive one. Players provide resources and armor, and the blacksmith forges. Then you wait.
In the cooking/crafting section, I made the case that allowing players an active role in crafting is ultimately more fun, and that’s true, but these two styles are not adversarial.
There are many instances where a player may choose to let the smith do their job, instead of trying it themselves. Maybe the components are too rare, and therefore, they want to ensure it’s done right. Perhaps the skill level needed to craft it is beyond their abilities. The player might not be interested or invested in its creation, or the instant gratification of crafting it isn’t important to the player. Maybe the players are too invested in a plot they’ve uncovered and want to focus on that. Maybe the journey back through the Wilds to the mystical blacksmith is worth all of the things they could explore or encounter on the way. It doesn’t matter the reason, but I guarantee players will have reasons to visit a blacksmith. So let them.
The only guideline I’d make sure to follow if you do implement both a crafting system, and a mystical wilderness blacksmith is this: make that blacksmith infallible. The second your pixie blacksmith cannot craft something, or crafts it incorrectly, the entire value of having them goes out the window.
Full Anatomy Lesson
Introduction | Points of Light | Exploration | Overland Travel | Tactical World Map | Random Encounters
Weather | Climbing & Swimming | Exhaustion & Stamina | The Gilder
Foraging | Skill Challenges
Cooking & Crafting | Weapon Durability | Armor Boons | Item Upgrades
Shrines Not Dungeons | Divine Beasts (but also dungeons) | Runes |
The Master Sword | Anachronisms