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I'm a new GM. Several of my PCs really enjoy crafting/potion-making/resource-farming and have builds that are well-suited to it. In the past I wanted to reward their enthusiasm for searching for new materials and cool uses for them, so I supplied a lot of interesting materials on the map and in the monsters they killed. However, these resource farming and crafting activites are taking more and more of our time. These processes have also ballooned into a lot of shared spreadsheets tracking what we have, where to find it, what it does, and how much crafting uses.

At this point, I'm looking to dial this back because it's getting tedious for me to plan for and preside over, not to mention that our barbarian and sorcerer don't have a lot to do when we spend all day standing around a cauldron brewing potions. They're good sports about it, and they both benefit from the supply of crafted stuff. However, they visibly check out during the crafting portions of the sessions.

However, I'm not really sure how to back out of the current state of affairs without overturning our pre-established knowledge about crafting. For example, since the PCs already know that there's X ore on Y mountain (or X herb in Y NPC's garden, or x monster has y poison sacs that can be used to augment z special arrows... etc. etc. etc.), I can't really stop them from going to the right place to look for what they want or from spending a day gathering and processing it into items or potions. Furthermore, I don't want to undermine their considerable investment in having learned about all these materials, especially after I seeded them in the map in the first place.

I've tried:

  • Letting things happen on their own clock in game. For example, when the PCs used 3 days to mine quartz in the mountains on the way to Plot Village, my demon attack happened without them on the day I'd planned. Their mission became investigating the attack and tracking the aggressors down, but the group was irritated because they said they couldn't have known the attack was imminent.
  • Assigning progressively higher DCs to areas that they've already harvested resource from. Sometimes this works; sometimes when they're really committed to getting the thing, they take a long rest and search again the next day--rinse and repeat until they get it.
  • Tying plot hooks to player backstories, and asking players more directly in our group check-ins what kinds of adventures would interest them. I wondered if they were farming because they weren't interested in the plot hooks, but they say that they're invested (and I'm REALLY trying to plan meaningful adventures) and that they just want to get better stuff before doing the plot...

TLDR: how do I then gently discourage players from spending a lot of time resource farming or crafting without limiting their agency? The 2 PCs that craft really like it, but we're consistently spending about half of every session, multiple in-game days, and a couple follow-up emails per session doing craft-adjacent activities, and they prioritize resource gathering over the actual game plot.

  • How do I rebalance this?
  • What nudges can I use?
  • What are some constructive ways to open a conversation with them about scaling back the crafting?
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    \$\begingroup\$ what level are your players? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28 at 18:13
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If the players are enjoying this it may not be an issue, but some advice.

The key part to every game is to have fun. It seems, or sounds like, your players are having fun but that you are not. Perhaps one of the possible solutions to this issue is for you to somehow, work your own interests and things you enjoy doing as a DM into what the players are doing?

Possible issue 1: Magic items may be too easy to craft

It sounds like they have plentiful access to magic-item-creating resources, which could be a part of the issue. Maybe whatever rules you are using are too lenient or letting the players get the impression they should focus solely on something that is being misrepresented as easy?

I suggest taking a look at the rules in Xanathar's Guide to Everything when it comes to creating magic items. One of the rules it suggests is something you mentioned, it requires a physical object to create magic items, but it requires a specific item AND a CR specific creature to create. This creature can be killed, bartered with, or just asked for assistance for certain magic items. (Example: Killing a troll and using its blood...or simply bartering with the troll for some, or its spit, etc)

One of the important things Xanathar's Guide suggests that I didn't see mentioned is something that may help this issue: You need recipes to create magic items. Where could they get these recipes? Completing quests and helping people. (This is the part where you slip them into the plots you wanted them to run)

Possible Issue 2: Someone has to save the world.

You mentioned having scenarios where time is of the essence, and that's good, but more of that should happen if the campaign has visible, and invisible, threats to the world. Outright tell your players in a forthcoming way: You don't have enough time to sit down and farm for fun, or mine rocks.

Though perhaps they do, on downtime, and this could be helped or alleviated by...

Possible issue 3: Letting them do most of this...while on the move

If the players are putting this much effort into resource gathering and are enjoying it, and you enjoy the systems used, there's a secret option E to this entire situation. Purchase or find a large enough wagon to store most of this stuff, or a small train of wagons, and use them for crafting while on the move. You can travel, fight bad guys, AND get your crafting fix.

If it wouldn't make sense for some of the stuff they have to do, you can alleviate it with magic or special items. A 'bigger on the inside than outside' wagon would make a great portable greenhouse, alchemy shop, etc. Some things still wouldn't make sense (Monster parts, mining, etc.) but they could be gathered while on the move and, hopefully, towards their next big quest.

At the end of the day: Talk to them

Your players seem to really like this thing they have going on, how do the other characters feel about this? Lay out your issues with the group, or the players themselves, and air your grievances.

My personal solution? A little bit of everything.

I'd lay out in an OOC conversation with the party: Magic items and creations have been too easy up to this point. I'll let them keep happening but we'll be making them a bit harder to craft. You can craft on the go but I'd appreciate if you bought some sort of land vehicle (Or insert your magic wagon here) to keep things on the move. We're here to play heroes, not magic-shop owners.

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1. Apply time pressure

One way to handle this is to give them quests that explicitly have timelines. If they go resource harvesting, they lose the quest.

This is similar to what you described with the demon attack but somewhat different. At least as I understand your description, you used a living world and the players suffered consequences for not being around. That is fine and good, but it doesn't directly apply time pressure. It wasn't a situation where the players knew explicitly that if they chose to go harvesting resources that there would be direct and clear consequences.

If you give them a specific quest with a clear timeline, then they have they have to make the choice of which to do.

2. Make most resource gathering a downtime activity

I'm reading between the lines a lot, but it sounds like your players are spending a lot of in-game time harvesting these resources.

I would tell the players that now that their characters are familiar with the process of harvesting those specific resources that they can just do it as a downtime activity. They can, whenever they choose to invest the time, spend X days to acquire Y amount of the crafting resources.

Of course, the ratio of X to Y should be much worse than adventuring time would be. While the occasional prospector gets rich by literally striking gold, the laborers doing the mining tend not to be well paid compared to the fabulous wealth an adventurer can pursue.

In fact, if the players already have reasonable wealth, you can point out that it might be a better use of their time to hire people to handle the tedious process of gathering the resources now that they have staked a claim in an area and they can just sit back and receive the resources on a regular basis without it impacting their adventuring.

3. Open the conversation by telling the player's that this part is getting tedious for you and impacting your fun.

I think in this particular case you can avoid a direct discussion if you want to. You can nudge things by applying time pressure, making most resource gathering a downtime activity, and having a lot of common crafting components available on the market.

But if that doesn't work, it is fine to directly tell the players that this particular part of the game is getting tedious for you. Everyone should be having fun at least most of the time, and if something is getting too tedious for someone then its time to address revisions.

You can then directly discuss options for how you want to change it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Point #3 for sure: DMs are allowed to have fun too. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 28 at 12:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Point #1 shows why the demon attack didn't work - the players didn't know in advance that there was a time limit. They just did what they always did, but there was a random hidden cost that once. In order to make it more urgent, you can have NPCs get in touch with the PCs to outright tell them that their quest is failing while they're sitting around crafting: "Hey heroes, what are you doing at the Mountain of Ore? Demons have been spotted outside our village! We're all going to die, in approximately 8 hours!" \$\endgroup\$ Jul 29 at 3:16
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Structure Downtime

Provide a explicit "downtime" and "adventuring time" periods to your game. During "adventuring time", table and world time devoted to harvesting resources should be kept to a minimum. Get buy-in from your players on this.

The point is to not get bogged down in detail during adventuring time. Whenever that is at risk of happening, point out this is "adventuring time" not "downtime" at a DM-to-player way.

Then, during downtime, one of the things PCs can do is work on crafting. Go around the table and ask each player what they are doing during downtime, have a means to quickly adjudicate it, then go to the next player.

If handling this downtime is taking too long, be explicit about that problem, and abstract further. Give everyone a chance to do something in this downtime -- so the crafters spend their downtime working on crafting, while the non-crafters should also have something useful to do -- carousing, studying, building reputation (fighting in an arena?), writing poetry, looking for adventures, building up contacts, practicing something.

The goal is to "silo" the crafting activities away from the adventuring ones. Whenever they want to go into crafting details, insist it happens during downtime, not while adventuring. And because downtime is a common resource, the non-crafters now have explicit spotlight time to spend on it and do things.

Abstract Crafting

While piles of materials and tables and stuff is fun, you seem to be running into the problem that simulating all of this is getting harder than the payoff seems worth it.

That is ok. You are basically doing game design, and game design is hard to get right the first time.

Simplify how crafting resources work. What kind of monster you harvested, what was your harvest roll. What kind of useful raw materials, how much did you harvest, what was the roll.

Then work out some tables to produce a reasonable amount of consumables from that. Let them know this is a work in progress, and yields may change in the future if it is way too much or too little.

Tend to push towards better stuff rather than more stuff as the game progresses, just to reduce inventory management. If players start building assembly plants or the like, explicitly ask them if they want to play SimFantasyFactory or a game about adventuring?

Talk to Players as well as PCs

Explain that if you stop adventuring to go on downtime, you should expect the adventure to end.

Let them know when they are free to engage in Downtime. This can even be at a meta-level; as an example, in "Dames and Dragons" season 2, the DM tells the players "I have a table for encounters in this city. Feel free to split up and explore, I'm not going to jump you." There was a story reason why they had some time to spend in the city (the best time to leave was after the heat of the day).

The DM could spend in-character time justifying why the PCs should feel safe to split up and explore the city, but that could easily take more time than the interesting things to see in the city the DM prepared. So by talking with the players directly (on occasion), we keep the roleplaying focusing on more interesting parts.

This "downtime"/"adventure" is not divorced from the reality of the shared world. But direct communication with the players can save on a bunch of overhead.

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Trips to other places

Remove the players from their known surroundings for a while. By having them go on a somewhat time sensitive mission to an unmapped territory, they will temporarily lose access to their favourite gathering spots and won't be able to look for new ones while simultaneously doing their quest. Or if the location is suitably remote and thus alien, the usual materials themselves will not be present at all, so crafting will be off the table until they are done there and can return to their homeland and resume gathering there (if they still prefer to - consult your group about their experiences during this stint).

If they have became too dependent on their crafted gear or consumables, they could still chance upon merchants from the known lands, who (in exchange for the appropriate price of course) will supply them with some of the most desperately needed materials - maybe after a significant delay, in case a round-trip is required to acquire the rarer items or even the more mundane ones in larger quantities.

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About the Barbarian and Sorcerer, it seems like an easily explainable "spotlight" problem: everyone gets roughly equal real-world time, and players should understand that. If the crafters get 20 minutes of solo time, then so do the non-crafters. Maybe the guards ask them for help, or if they want to do the adventure, let them start the less dangerous parts. If running all of the crafting properly should take two hours, well, the players should be able to see it can't be allowed to. Even if the other two get their two hours adventuring, that's a completely split session -- you may as well have the players show up in two shifts.

I've seen GM's save time by telling players "you know the rules, just make your rolls for the day and let me know. Or not -- just write it on your sheet". Another trick is alternating between groups. The adventuring part pauses after an encounter (or even mid-encounter if the players seem to need time to think). While they roll healing and plan, ask the crafters if they need to talk to any NPC's, need any rulings; then back to the adventurers... . Until they all join up, everyone has gotten equal time. If they don't join up, they don't, but at least they could have.

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It seems that there is no mechanical downside for them to farm the various resources.

But just because they found a bit of ore on a mountain, does not mean that ore re-spawns every 10 days to be collected. Some ore bodies are extremely limited with high quality ore, and after picking that up, it requires full mining and smelting to be useful. Also, mining even small placer deposits will be quite uncomfortable if done in full armor and carrying all your weapons (in spite of what the Skyrim simulator shows). Have bandits or roaming monsters been attracted to their activity?

Raiding a NPC's garden for herbs (or even purchasing it) is also not going to be a source that respawns quickly. Some herbs/plants are going to take a full year to refresh, and the PCs are likely not going to be the only customers. So the NPC could very well be sold out, or had a bad batch (making it useless to the PCs, though they may not discover that until they try to brew with it and end up wasting all the other ingredients, as well). Or maybe the NPC just converts to selling recently legalized smoke-weed, and no longer has what the PCs are looking for.

Monster glands and parts will likely not have a long shelf life, and even if it doesn't actively decay or rot, it may only be of use in a fresh, non-preserved state. Also harvesting usable organs after smashing and cutting the thing to death is likely not likely.

Additionally, stuffing all their inventory in a bag or house isn't a foolproof method of protecting it from disappearing (again, in spite of what Skyrim shows). Sabotage by competitors, or theft by the local guild may wipe out their inventory.

So basically, if this becomes the focus of the campaign, then put in complications with supply/demand, and competitors, and bandits/raiders, and spoilage, and taxes/palm-greasing, etc, etc...

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Can't they buy this stuff?

It sounds like some of your players actually like the process of finding materials and crafting items, but some of them just put up with crafting in order to get the stuff. For the latter players, you just need to provide them with other ways to get the stuff that isn't crafting - typically, from merchants or shops. You can tilt the balance by playing with the opportunity cost of foraging vs. adventuring. Players might spend 3 days mining quartz, but had they spent that time adventuring, they'd have accumulated enough coinage to buy several times as much quartz.

You could convey this by highlighting that adventurers are better at adventuring than foraging. Perhaps the adventurers meet an experienced miner on their way out of the quartz mountains who has a haul far larger than the PCs with less time spent - this could suggest that PCs are not using their time well by mining. On the other hand, the adventurers are the only ones who can take care of the Evil Thing in Plot Village, so that service should certainly be more valuable than collecting rocks, which almost anyone could do. Resource collection can still have its place for the players, but they should be collecting hard to find or dangerous to acquire materials, since collecting mundane materials is not a good use of their time.

You can also lavish monetary rewards on your players to increase the value of adventuring vs. foraging. If the players have lots of money, they'll generally be more inclined to spend it, and they may also be less likely to engage in "low value" activities. If a millionaire wants a piece of quartz, they don't go out and mine it themselves, they just buy it from someone. If players can just buy their crafting ingredients, you'll still allow them to craft, but will skip potentially tedious resource collection.

Economically, people do best when they do what they are best at (according to the notion of comparative advantage). Adventurers should adventure and quartz miners should mine quartz, and both will come out ahead by sticking to their specialty (interestingly, this is still true if the adventurers are the best quartz miners in the land, so long as they're even better at adventuring). It's usually hammered home pretty well that the adventurers are extraordinary at adventuring, but you can provide additional context clues that there are other people far better at foraging and crafting, so they should leave that work to others. Of course, this approach might be tough to implement in settings without good access to merchants.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I fixed your header \$\endgroup\$ Jul 29 at 17:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you talk about how you've done or seen these techniques used? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jul 30 at 15:10
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If they enjoy it, why not make the resource gathering the adventure?

If the players have taken note of the wealth of resources in the world, it is likely others have too. Bandit camps grow around deposits, abandoned mines get haunted, highwaymen are on the lookout for those coming from such places.

A sudden shortage of resources in these locations could be an interesting plot point in itself, or a reduction of quality (See: Baldur's Gate).

Effectively, make resource gathering a more interesting goal for all involved. Curses, raiders, intrigue... Global commerce can be a dangerous place in any fantasy world.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you talk about how you have used or seen these suggestions used? We try to avoid idea generation here. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jul 30 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch It feels too obvious for that, sorry. If you would want to remove the answer because of that, it is fine by me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 31 at 1:18
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In general, I have never seen the item-crafting minigame take table time. It's either "I scribe these scrolls," or it happens during downtime. Similarly, leveling up, or writing character backstory, or painting a beautiful watercolor of a fortress the party captured are all game-related, but not usually done at the table. Finnicky resource management is usually something that you do elsewhere, even if you bring the resulting product to the group.

In general, you have a very good problem: A subset of your players want to spend a long time playing Logistics & Dragons. Great! They are highly invested in your game! That's inherently not less worthy or less entertaining than a more stereotypical game. (Example: Managing a Medieval Low Orbit Ion Cannon). The issue (as you note) is that two of your players aren't into L&D, and presumably want a more stereotypical game.

The actual crafting part is not (usually) an adventure, and can be handled away from the table. If your group is managing multiple spreadsheets, they can easily get together over email to do that coordination (which is essentially bonus game time for them, since this is something they enjoy). If they need to make routine herbalism checks to find garlic for their dragon-breath potions, just trust them to roll those on their own. Set times and difficulties such that you don't need to be involved.

However, you likely will want to get a detailed record of what they did. Even if you don't care, that record is the product of their loving work, just like the character backstory or the watercolor painting. Let them display it. To facilitate that, I recommend keeping a wiki. That also gives you an easy way to keep campaign records, keep character notes, etc., so it's an all-around great tool for gaming.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you talk about how you've done or seen these techniques used? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jul 30 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nautarch that’s what I did? I mean, I’ve never had anyone paint a picture, but otherwise the only change to the answer would be “here is how I run games, and how the games I have played in have been run: [same answer]”. If you really think adding that at the front will help, I’ll do so. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Jul 31 at 18:46

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