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Is Blacksmithing a profession or a craft skill for Pathfinder?

I ask since looking the craft skill and seeing weapons and armor as separate craft skills, it made me wonder. Blacksmith have been known to make both arms and armor. Why can't Blacksmith be a skill and the profession variant would be a specialist of the craft. Profession - Weaponsmith or Armorsmith?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a note from personal experience - I had much more success making players interested in crafting and questing for special materials by consolidating skills into material types, so instead of "Crafting Weapons" and "Crafting Armor", you had "Woodworking", "Leatherworking", "Tailoring", and "Blacksmithing", and even "Alchemy", replacing entirely how "Brew Potions" work. Interesting Skills make for Interesting Games. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 11:01

3 Answers 3

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Craft.

Craft is what you use to make goods; you can make goods and sell them.

Profession is what you use to hold down a job, or run a business; you can get paid by employer or customer.

A blacksmith, obviously, is a bit of both—you have to run your business, but you also have to actually make the items.

And complicating matters somewhat further, there is no Craft (blacksmithing); there’s Craft (weaponsmithing) and Craft (armorsmithing), where you can make weapons or armor from any material, but you can’t use any of those materials to make anything else. This kind of makes sense—weapons and armor must be made very carefully, at least they’re to be much good, and there’s definitely a fair amount of skills that don’t overlap. But you still need to know how to work materials, and if you know how to work materials, you should be able to do other basic stuff with them. To wit, there’s no way someone capable of making a masterwork longsword is going to be unable to make a horseshoe.

Which kind of gets to the heart of the problem: the reason things are the way they are is because Pathfinder gets these rules from Dungeons & Dragons, and Dungeons & Dragons is a game devoted to delving dungeons and slaying dragons. Weapons and armor are items of interest; horseshoes, largely, are not.

Running a business, likewise, is not really the focus of Pathfinder. It’s a really terrible system for that purpose, with overly-simplified, easily-abused rules for the economy. The Kingmaker adventure has somewhat more detail, but they don’t stand up to much scrutiny either.

Which is why Wizards of the Coast explicitly recommended against putting ranks in, say, Profession, because your character has a background as a blacksmith. Even if he ran his own forge and arguably would need that skill, it isn’t relevant to the adventure. His skills crafting weapons and/or armor, those are relevant to the adventure. Profession, in short, was never more than a background detail, for NPCs. In later books, they all but acknowledge outright that it was a mistake to include at all.

Pathfinder’s answer to this issue was, instead, “background skills,” which were skills you could get ranks in without spending your actual skill points. Profession is one of them. I like this answer less well, simply because it’s a band-aid over a mistake rather than admitting that a mistake was made in the first place, but it works well enough. Even among background skills, though, Profession is an extremely poor choice—you still get a limited number of background skill points, and while they can’t be used for anything particularly good, Profession goes unused in almost all games of Pathfinder—even background skills can be better than nothing.

Which is all a long way of saying that, if your character is a blacksmith, ranks in Craft (weaponsmithing) and/or Craft (armorsmithing) is appropriate. Ranks in Profession are not.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Weapons and armor are items of interest; horseshoes, largely, are not." This is exactly the analogy I was thinking of. The blacksmith is the guy in town who makes horseshoes, door hinges, nails, things the common villager will need. A weaponsmith, while using similar techniques, will be someone else completely, and probably only found in larger towns where weapons are frequently needed. Now, the guy in town making horseshoes who used to make fantastic weapons for the king's army: that's the guy with the quest. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 14:44
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It depends

If you intend "blacksmithing" to include weapons and armor (and possibly other types of forged products), and to repesent time spent working as a blacksmith, then it would likely be considered a Profession skill.

Craft skills are defined by what type of item is being crafted. There are separate craft skills for making or repairing weapons, armor, locks, and traps.

A Craft skill is specifically focused on creating something. If nothing is created by the endeavor, it probably falls under the heading of a Profession skill.

Whereas Craft is limited to a type of product, the Profession skill represents a character's experience with various types of products, tools, and materials.

While a Craft skill represents ability in creating an item, a Profession skill represents an aptitude in a vocation requiring a broader range of less specific knowledge. [...]

You know how to use the tools of your trade, how to perform the profession’s daily tasks, how to supervise helpers, and how to handle common problems. You can also answer questions about your Profession.

Profession is much broader than crafting only weapons or only armor, and is a better fit for what a blacksmith does.

However, the Craft skill could represent "blacksmithing" in the sense of crafting metalwork other than weapons or armor. For reference, a character from the NPC codex has ranks in Craft (blacksmithing).

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Craft

Regardless of the history regarding the profession skill as KRyan explains (which is interesting), what in the real world makes a craft skill is simple;

If you create an item that did not exists before, it is a craft.

In a bit more real-world detail, the distinction is between "production" and "service" industries.

An industry is a production industry if the work creates something new that did not exist before in it's final form.

An industry is a service industry if it does not create new items, even though the work can maintain or increase the value of an existing item.

(There are also the farming and resource extraction industry, but those follow the same definition as the service industry and are also specified in the rules as being professions.)

A common example is a car: Making the car is a craft, while repairing it is a service.

The definitions revolve around the concept of creating new value, and are not really connected to how skilled you need to be at the work, or the tools needed to to be able to do the work.

Even though the mechanic needs a workshop, machines, tools and knowledge to do the work, it is considered a service industry, because they do not create new items.

A programmer who just needs an electronic device with a user interface and what is in their heads, they are considered a production industry, because the code they write did not exist before they wrote it.

(Assembling something from loose parts is also considered service industry, as the parts existed before - assembling an IKEA table is service, creating a table from a raw slab of wood is production.)

In the context of D&D, I would apply a few rules of thumb to gauge if something is a craft or profession skill:

  1. Do you create an item that did not exist before? If yes, probably Craft.
  2. Are you restoring/repairing something to its original state? If yes, probably Profession.
  3. Are you improving something past the original value? If yes, probably Craft.
  4. Are you doing something on behalf of someone else, that they could do themselves? If yes, probably Profession.
  5. Is the work something you can do primarily based off of your knowledge and not requiring much in the way of tools? If yes, probably Profession.
  6. Is the work a general description of a broad area of knowledge/expertise where one (average) person can do everything OR is the work highly specialiced with one label for the general work and several specializations? Tricky, though if the work is in the broad area category and can be reasonably done by an average unskilled person with limited (but adequate) training, then probably profession.
  7. In the grand scheme of power level regarding the rules, is the work somewhat irrelevant? If yes, probably Profession.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unrelated to this question, but exceptions to point 7 in particular exist. Example: Profession (sailor) in the Skull and Shackles campaign path is hugely important, not only to surviving many situations at sea but is the primary characteristic used in winning fleet battles. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 0:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I completely agree. Also Teamster is a quite useful profession in situations with vehicle combat, hence the "probably" as there indeed are exceptions as you correctly point out. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 7:47

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