The Bones of Kovach – Alternate Crafting for 5e
It’s been awhile since I have written about the world of the Zodiac and the Far Realm. It’s not for lack of thinking about it. I just wanted to take a break and write about something else for a bit. Well, that and marshal my thoughts about how I wanted to proceed. I thought about addressing factions, monsters, magic items, feats, and a number of other things. While those are fun and cool, it isn’t what I want to talk about. Instead, I want to talk about a theme you might recognize from many of the archetypes – crafting. The inclusion of tools and minor crafting build into the archetypes speaks to the nature of how I envision the setting. Crafting and preparation is critical to the survival of the people. Let’s jump in and talk about the Far Realm and the Zodiac: The Bones of Kovach.
Setting Class Archetypes: The Zodiac and the Celestial Sorcerer | Aberrations and the Circle of the Zodiac Druids | Dendar the Night Serpent and the Path of Nightmares Barbarians | Living Stars, Blazozoids, and Zodiac Patron Warlocks | Singing Stars, Erinyes, and the Bardic College of Kindly Song| Bitheism, Clerics, and the Service Domain | Superstition and the Starscarred Fighter | Warrior Orders and the Way of the Jade Serpent | Sacrificial Power and the Oath of Binding | Hunting Monsters, Fancy Tools, and the Astral Covenant Ranger | Resource Management and the Starbroker Rogue | Schools of Magic and the Resonance Arcane Tradition
Poor smiths. They just don’t get any respect in the D&D rules (at least in more recent versions). They get plenty of respect in D&D novels – shout out to my boys Bruenor Battlehammer and Theros Ironfeld – but little support for what they do in the core rules. Sure, Brandes Stoddard can tell me where the support for these rules are printed, but let’s just say most people won’t know. In fact, in the rules as written, it’s hard to make magical items if you aren’t a spellcaster. This isn’t a new thing. Let’s focus on 5e for the moment.
Crafting magic items is broken into two areas. The DMG outlines needing formulas to craft magic items, and how each formula is one degree of rarity higher than the item it creates. Legendary items do not have formulas – to say nothing of artifacts. As a reminder, non-artifact sentient items follow the standard rarity progression – though the ones listed in the DMG are all legendary rarity.
Unfortunately, the DMG specifies you must have spell slots to make magic items. If the item produces a spell, you must be able to cast it. If the item doesn’t require a specific spell, it simply requires you to be a specific level, identifies a cost to make it (which must be paid in 25g increments per day – a 100gp item takes 4 days), and mentions locations or special components can be included as desired. An item that requires a spell slot requires the spell slot must be spent each day of the creation process. Characters can work together to provide spells and contribute effort in 25g increments (four characters who meet the requirements could make he 100gp item in one day, for example).
I’m not a big fan.
Izkov, the Forge
One of the constellations and Zodiac signs is Izkov, the Forge. The Starscarred Fighters learn about Izkov and may follow in his footsteps as part of their introduction to the martial teachings of the Zodiac. Paladins who swear the Oath of Binding learn of Izkov’s role in assisting Auris the Binder, and securing the world against the Silent Prince. Rangers who find their way into the Astral Covenant learn the kov rune, a symbol used in the naming of Izkov. In the as-yet unfinished port of the invoker I am working on – I love mid-range classes in just about all games – Izkov is key to a lot of their spells and mysteries – particularly when jade is involved.
Izkov is also the source of some of the more prominent artifacts in the setting. He’s responsible for Pozar – the blazing bow, Cehreb – the steed of Hezky, and Spatne – the Halberd of Generals. Given the context, it’s easy to piece together Spatne once belonged to Pravos, the Jade General – who appears in yet more of the archetypes. Izkov shares his knowledge with the world, occupying a place in the western sky with the others who seek to raise the prowess of the world’s inhabitants. Izkov identifies with the inhabitants of the world, as he was one of them before he took to the sky.
Kovach and Siab Rho
Before Izkov was a constellation, he was a man who lived when the first gods watched the world. His name is long lost, but those who tell tales refer to him as Kovach when they speak of his time upon the world. Tales paint Kovach as a man who cares deeply for others, and wants to share his passion for smithing with any who would seek to learn. In many of the tales, he travels the land, taking on apprentices in small villages to spread his craft. Adventurers seek him out to aid them in their trials, having to wander the land in search of him – for he is always on the move. He was not a subject of adventure – though he played a part in it – until the coming of Siab Rho.
Siab Rho – referred to as the Night Guard by those unwilling to speak the name – was the first of the Unfathomable to enter the world from the Far Realm. According to the tales, Siab Rho entered through a star fissure – a wound left behind when a baleful comet makes impact – previously seen by denizens of the world as nothing more than a hazard to be avoided. None had ever seen a being like Siab Rho before, and many – clergy and monarchs alike – sought an alliance to gain an advantage over their foes. While this backstabbing and infighting was occurring, the influence of Siab Rho expanded. Promises inexorably bound those seeking them, allowing Siab Rho to invite followers from the Far Realm inside – creating the first of the Children of Siab Rho.
Kovach – retained by a patron who became one of the Children – saw the threat posed by Siab Rho and sought to give others the means to combat it. He created armor to protect against the influence of Siab Rho and the Children. He smithed weapons to slice through the defenses they possessed. All the while, he attempted to teach his techniques to all who would listen.
The Bones of Kovach
Kovach fought against Siab Rho until it became clear he would soon meet his end. He first prayed to the gods to allow him a way to continue his fight, but the gods consumed with fear. It was the Zodiac who answered him, inviting him to join them and watch over the world even after the gods fled – which the Zodiac foresaw as a certainty. If it was Siab Rho who dealt the final blow to Kovach, the Zodiac could do more than allow Kovach to join him. Knowing that it ended with his death, Kovach faced down the servants of Siab Rho until it became clear that Siab Rho would need to personally intervene. At the moment of Kovach’s death, however, the intervention of the Zodiac became clear.
Kovach’s body vanished, and the earth rumbled. When people sought out the source, they found what appeared to be giant bones made of stone in places where they were previously not. They found the grasp of Siab Rho was more tenuous here, and that fantastic feats of crafting were possible – provided one was prepared for such an eventuality. Teachings of Kovach were carved into the stone itself, along with notes on works that were not completed before his death – some of which are still as yet unfinished.
Since, those dedicated to crafting exceptional of magical works travel these places – unsurprisingly named the Bones of Kovach – to create their most powerful works. They claim they are able to perform feats and create objects in these places that would have been beyond their grasp in normal circumstances – though such feats often come with a price.
The Craft – Goth Teen Witches Optional
With some lore background and an initial problem statement, let’s talk about intent and mechanics. The goal is to let characters that are crafting-focused be crafting focused. The D&D lore – not to mention copious other fantasy and mythological stories – promotes non-spellcasting crafters, and the game should too. Beyond that, crafters should feel like crafters – the pursuit of perfection is a big part of that. Some items you make might be good, and some might be bad. Now, here comes the part where I probably lose some people.
Let’s dissociate crafting from character levels.
This isn’t a huge restriction or anything. You can just spend gold in order to be trained in tools. Tools are all still valid and you must have the tool proficiency in order to craft. Being trained in tools as a character means you know how to use tools to problem-solve in the course of your daily adventuring duties. It’s less “I’m a master alchemist because I am 20th level and have a +6 proficiency bonus, and more “I need to break out of prison before the guards come back. I have a bail of hay, a ball of paraffin wax, a bowl of day-old gruel, and twelve poorly crafted soapstone figurines.” The use of the tools should be active in the course of daily adventuring – much as the case with your other skills. This applies to all pillars of play – not just a specific pillar.
Mason’s or tinkerer’s tools to remove magical glyphs from a statue during the heat of combat? Sure, sounds great. Need to track down a princess who left behind some footwear after a high society ball? Cobbler’s tools are a great opportunity to put that skill into practice. Do you need to track down some forgeries? Good thing you are proficient in calligrapher’s tools. These are just examples, but you should get the basic idea. It’s not a radical shift or anything, but it does require bringing tools to the forefront in more situations. If nothing else, this is solid advice for general play.
A Brave Like-New World
The core concept of the dissociation between level and crafting is simple. There are five levels of magic items, and there are five levels of crafting skill – common, uncommon, rare, very rare, and legendary. I’m not including artifacts in this, as those are standalone specials. What about mundane items, you say? Those fall under the first level of crafting. The reason for this is magical crafting is intrinsic to this world, and it’s something all craftsmen dabble in from the jump.
For lower magic settings you could easily separate the mundane items into their own tier and take one off the top end. Alternatively, you could make mundane items into several tiers – bringing back masterwork if you wanted – and top out with rare items. You can also clip the number of tiers, if you want. If you want to expand the tiers, then it’s easy to do so by including sentient items and artifacts. Sentient items are usually legendary, but that’s fine to have in a separate tier. Anyway, it’s all about fitting what you want to do with items in your game.
Of course, you probably want to know what the system looks like, before you start jamming it right in your game’s pie hole. A few things to know upfront: it puts some onus on the DM to provide additional crafting support, it does include some additional number tracking on the crafter’s side, it requires the majority of a player’s downtime to be dedicated to crafting if they want to advance, crafting failure occurs only in thematic moments, and legendary items will have patterns to craft them – albeit with a twist.
In order to use the system, the character must already be proficient with smith’s tools. This training represents the time the character spent being bad at blacksmithing and failing to make horseshoes, nails, swords, etc. Once you are proficient, you are now the first rank of craftsman, out of five total ranks. The ranks are as follows:
You may spend 5gp per full day per rank you have achieved when making an item, completing the item once you have paid its value. As such, a novice will still take three full days to smith a longsword, but an expert could knock one out in a day. This mainly represents your ability to work more efficiently through working multiple projects at once and having contacts to handle different sections of your work – whatever works for your character.
As someone who loves formulas and patterns, I’m all-in on creating formulas for magic items. I understand this is probably the biggest blocking point for this system. It’s a lot of work for the DM. However, it’s also content for the whole table. Outside of the block of in-world text appearing on the formula, each formula also carries the following information:
- Tool proficiency needed (smith’s tools, alchemist’s tools, etc.)
- Rank needed
- Materials needed (gems, rare materials, monster parts, etc.)
- Conditions needed (time of day, weather, specific forges, must have a silver arm, etc.)
- Times the formula can be used (some might be one use, some might be infinite)
- Time to create the item (in 5gp increments)
For example, a dagger of venom is normally a rare item – valued between 501 and 5000 gp. The formula for dagger of venom requires smith’s tools, expert rank, a poison gland of a great sand serpent, one emerald worth at least 1000 gp, three vials of serpent venom, must be crafted within a desert, the formula can be used three times, and takes 100 gp of time to create. The intent is craftsmen would need adventurers to still perform tasks for them – or perform the tasks themselves – and create a more active crafting economy. It also plays in the next point.
Sparks of Creativity
When you complete a project of your rank, you have a chance to gain a spark of creativity. You use sparks of creativity in the following ways:
- You may expend one or more to provide significant insight to creating a new – or recreating an old – formula through research
- Expend one to not consume a formula use
- You may expend one or more to reduce the creation time of an item by 50gp per current rank (it always requires at least one full day of work to create an item)
- Expend a number of sparks of creativity equal to your current rank at a place of power to undergo a Test to advance to the next rank
To gain a spark of creativity, roll a d20 after you finish creating an item. The DC to gain a spark of creativity begins at 20. However, each time you fail to gain a spark of creativity, you may roll a d4 (scale this to a d6 and d8 at expert and artisan ranks if you want materials and creations to be more scarce,) and subtract the result from the DC of the next time you attempt to gain a spark of creativity. If you fail multiple times, you continue lowering the DC until you eventually gain a spark of creativity. Gaining a spark of creativity resets your DC to gain a spark of creativity to 20. You may only possess a number of sparks of creativity equal to your current rank + 1.
When a craftsman is ready to advance to the next rank, they must travel to a place of power and undergo a trial presented to them upon their arrival through mystic revelation (not presented by a person, that is.) This requires the crafting of an item, and test failure can occur. The craftsman generally brings adventurers or trusted friends to join her in the test, as the tests can be quite arduous and the journey fraught with peril.
If the craftsman succeeds at the test, they gain access to a powerful, single-use formula – typically different for each crafter. These are your sentient, legendary, and artifact item formulas. If a craftsman fails the test, they instead learn a formula of their tier, and typically receive some insight into another project, rare materials, or the existence of a related item that has been lost to time. Additionally, craftsmen who pass or fail a test may not take another test at the same place of power.
The intent of this system is to allow for pure crafters to exist in the world, without them being spellcasters or requiring them to be high-level adventurers. At the same time, it should create an economy where the service of these craftsmen is part of what adventurers due, and some craftsmen pick up adventuring in order to more easily be self-sufficient. It should also integrate the magic item system more intimately with the game world you are running, allowing you to govern the influx of magic items in a way outside of random chance, should you see fit. Additionally, players should be able to work towards a goal – even a vague one – in order to gain a piece of treasure they desire. After all, if an item required by a formula is “the third eye of a sphinx,” well, it might take some noodling to figure it out.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for me to divorce the concept of magic-users from crafting. I love the idea of crafters at the pinnacle of their craft creating items of legend that will persist in the world. Magical smiths and alchemists are the most near and dear to me, but having someone be a skilled woodworker that creates a staff of power or even an artifact like the staff of Magius is rad, to me.
I hope you find all of the above interesting, even if it not an exact fit for your game. I am currently using this system in a game I run, to the great delight of the woodworking genie-blood sorcerer in the game. For him, I’ve created a variety of new enchantments that are similar in strength to existing enchantments, letting him become a pioneer and gaining status as a craftsman. Status stuff is super important in Al-Qadim. Besides, he pays taxes on any items he sells and creates anyway, so it’s not like he’s doing it for the loot itself.
The system certainly isn’t for everyone, but the hope it is might be for some specific groups out there, and for people who want to make crafting a bigger part of their world.
*Art by Francois Cote Dulude