Is the craft (or profession) skill a good way for PCs to get gold?

by lyletealeaf

About a year ago, some friends of mine debated in email whether the Pathfinder craft skill rules were overly lucrative for PCs, unrealistic, and inconsistent. Off the cuff, I agreed only with the second of these contentions, but I am going to start this blog off with an exploration of these three points.

According to the skill rules, a craftsman practicing his trade earns half the result of a craft check in gold for the week of work. On average, the PC’s earnings in a week will be (10.5 (mean of d20) + skill modifier)/2 in gold. If a steady income and output of product were desired, taking 10 would yield nearly the same results. Out of his earnings, a craftsman must pay his cost of living. For the sake of evaluating aggressive assumptions, I assume that the PC is living as thriftily as possible with the “Poor” cost of living 3gp/month. A fourth level PC can earn 8.5gp per week without spending any feats or being particularly smart, saving 35.25gp in a 4.5 week month. The craftsman will have manufactured more than this in valuable goods; but, as will be discussed in more detail later in this series, the craftsman only manages to receive a portion of the value he creates.

I think the an appropriate comparison of these earnings is against the potential money to be gained by adventuring instead. The crafting rules are quite clear that you cannot do on the same day because killing orcs is hard work, and would leave you unable to properly apply yourself to your day job. Anyone using official Pathfinder materials may have noticed that the Golarion is a very wealthy and magic-rich world, and indeed the rules on character creation for characters beyond first level show that a PC’s expected earnings per level are generous compared to the home-grown campaigns I have played in.

The figure shows how many years it would take three hypothetical PCs of differing craft skill levels to earn the amount of treasure appropriate to gaining the wealth commensurate with the next level. The red, blue, and green lines represent PCs with a craft skills of +3, +7, and +11 above their levels, respectively. Only at first level would it take these PCs less than a year (between 4 months and 8 months depending on skill level). The time requires increases exponentially and is measured in decades even at low levels.

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Practically speaking, the events of many campaign plots will advance past characters who spend decades crafting. Even in a sandbox campaign, human characters of moderate level would incur age penalties before they could gain significant magical equipment. Most plots do not allow for the kind of downtime required to earn the kind of wealth acquired from adventuring according to the Pathfinder suggestions. In a very low-treasure world, crafting might provide a significant income, but in a low-treasure campaigns that is also low-magic, it might still be difficult to turn mundane earnings from blacksmithing into a vorpal blade. It does raise the question of what elven communities do with all their accumulated wealth from long years of experienced artisans working in the community, but that is a digression for another post.

In most campaigns, downtime spent crafting will not significantly affect power level compared to the treasure handed out by the GM.

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