In the Exalted Third Edition crafting system, basic projects are a bit of a bugaboo. In looking at the rules, many players focus entirely on major and superior projects, and don’t want to bother dealing with the basics.
This is in part because the crafting system, like the combat system, uses pacing mechanisms that aren’t strictly realistic—after all, needing to get inspired by making a child’s toy before you can forge a sword is no more “realistic” than having to make a Withering attack before you can just stab a dude in the face.
Crafting is also meant to tie into the social system. Artisans earning crafting XP through interaction with other characters, encouraging them to learn about and interact with the people around them.
And perhaps most importantly, the system is meant to encourage crafting in actual play, rather than have a master of Craft ignore the Craft ability 99% of the time, then disappear into her workshop for a few months to make whatever magical device the current situation demands.
All of this leads to situations where a player may just want to make a sword, only to feel as though they have to jump through hoops to do so. This is exacerbated by the lack of clear direction and contextual examples for basic projects in the crafting rules. Seeing “make a chair” or “fletch an arrow” in isolation—without connection to crafting objectives and, through them, the setting—makes it feel for some like they’re “grinding spoons to build a daiklave” in the MMO sense. But crafting that doesn’t tie into story and setting earns no crafting XP, so while making a chair is a basic project, you can’t just churn them out randomly for points.
This also ties into the common confusion regarding Craft areas of expertise, insofar as readers often miss or forget about the ability to craft things that your areas of expertise overlap with, such as an armorer having basic metalworking and leatherworking skills, or a shipwright knowing a bit about everything from joinery to clothworking, ropemaking, and tinkering with pulleys. It’s easier to come up with worthwhile basic projects when you have a clearer sense of what sorts of things your crafter can build using the areas of expertise you’ve purchased.
(A side note on basic projects and the MMO grind: Crafting is meant to emphasize role-playing and interaction with the setting, so Storytellers should be lenient with basic objectives unless it looks like the artisan is trying to game the system. Basic objectives are a little bit like stunts; don’t validate repetitive instances of either.)
As a reminder and clarification: By definition, a basic project is a task that requires the character to work for several minutes to several hours, requiring little in the way of effort or materials. Note that this is time worked, not time overall. This is critical for crafts such as pottery or leatherworking that involve a lot of wait time wherein the artisan isn’t actually working. An ordinary pot might take a few days to dry and to heat in the kiln, but the potter only spends a few hours of her time on the project, and invests relatively little in the way of materials and personal effort, so it’s still a basic project.
Ultimately, crafting is supposed to be fun for the player. Don’t look at it as make-work! Try to find ways to tie basic projects into actual play, much as socialite PCs look for opportunities for social interaction, and warrior PCs look for opportunities for violence.
To help inspire players of crafting PCs, here’s a list of examples of basic projects. It’s a good idea to have tools and raw materials on hand to make such things, especially while on the road and out of range of helpful shopkeepers and well-stocked-but-immobile workshops. Some examples include areas of expertise that might suffice to build or repair such projects, and/or notes on context wherein such projects trigger basic objectives. They aren’t the main subject of this post; however, digging into the meat of those things is worth a couple of separate posts later on.
(Disclaimer: I am not a developer, and I cannot guarantee that these suggestions match developer intent.)
Small, simple gifts are one of the best ways to hit a basic project’s basic objectives. One option is children’s toys. Pretty much anyone can carve a doll or figurine—even a cook can bake small women out of dough. And in a setting without mass-produced toys, where peasant children have only what toys they and their families can make, even the simplest efforts of a master artisan will seem marvelous.
Villagers and city-dwellers alike may appreciate game and sport paraphernalia, such as balls, goal nets, and discuses. None seem more complicated than a basic project.
Even more accessible is simple jewelry. A blacksmith or bladewright might not be able to manage a fine chain but can certainly make a plain ring. A tailor can weave a cloth bracelet or silken diadem, a woodworker an artful pendant or wreath.
While elaborate attire requires a major project, sewing simple clothing such as cloaks or tunics seems a good fit for a basic project, and there’s always someone who would thank you for a garment to keep off the rain. And you don’t have to be a tailor to make certain garb or accessories; for instance, an armorsmith—as an expert with straps and buckles—could doubtless make a belt with no penalty. Adjusting the fit of a garment isn’t exactly manufacture and isn’t exactly repair, but it’s a good basic project either way.
Simple tools are invaluable in a variety of situations. While any household or farm implement can be a treasured gift to impoverished commoners, many tools are useful even for the Chosen—and if the tool is useful, that’s the third basic objective fulfilled. Torches or oil lamps illuminate without the risks of flaring one’s anima, while sometimes you just need a shovel or mattock to unearth a treasure or dig a grave.
Everyone needs containers sooner or later. Canteens for the trail, mugs—or glasses, leather jacks, or drinking horns—for the table, and a flask for a little nip now and then. Baskets, boxes, barrels, buckets, crates, jugs, vials, sacks… all manner of simple containers are basic projects, such that most areas of expertise can manage something appropriate.
On the subject of things that hold other things, one can assemble simple restraints—such as a pillory, set of manacles, or bamboo cage—as a basic project. Conversely, for PCs of larcenous inclination, one might forge a set of lock picks or make a duplicate of a key.
While medicine is covered by, well, Medicine, actually manufacturing medical paraphernalia falls under Craft’s aegis, and they’re not always to hand in an emergency. Creation’s chirurgeons have access to many tools, and the simpler ones—from bandages and sutures to scalpels and bonesaws—should qualify as basic projects. Do you need to get a badly wounded character to safety? Put together a stretcher or travois. Too late to save them, and no time (or interest) in an elaborate sendoff? Build a rude wooden coffin or assemble a pyre, then carve a grave marker or make a simple funerary urn.
Similarly, sorcerers and thaumaturges often require occult paraphernalia, and while devices employed in workings should ideally be of fine and elaborate construction, sometimes there’s need for quicker craftsmanship, such as painting a binding circle for an elemental summoning, or crafting a clay vessel to bind an exorcised ghost.
While nomads and cavalrywomen will especially value gifts of horse tack—bridles, reins, harness, horseshoes, etc.—they’re often useful to PCs as well, especially when an enemy slashes your reins, or after you abandon all your tack to escape an ambush. And who but your Circle’s crafter is fit to devise the tack for your tyrant lizard mount?
An architect or carpenter can build small, simple structures such as lean-tos as a basic project, especially with prepared raw materials such as presawn boards. So can other artisans with bordering areas of specialty, such as a clothier making a tent. Other quickly and easily built structures and mechanisms fall within the remit of the engineer as well as the architect, such as a rope bridge, or a short pontoon bridge assembled from existing small craft. Likewise, an engineer or shipwright could easily assemble existing pulleys into a block and tackle to lift a stone block or fallen tree.
Basic fortifications should be major projects if they’re expansive, but sufficiently small-scale versions seem like they could be basic. This includes such defenses as abatis, barricades, concealed troux de loup, caltrops, archers’ stakes, cheval-de-frise, ditches, and trenches. This also includes such traps as deadfalls, snares, and tripwire alarms. Remember that the first basic objective also triggers when your project strengthens negative Intimacies, and catching enemies in traps or thwarting them with fortifications can yield hatred, fear, wariness, or other relevant Intimacies.
Simple weapons that don’t require forging and tempering—such as a club, staff, spear, sling, self bow, or long bow—can demand sufficiently little time and resources as to be crafted as basic projects. The same applies to ammunition such as arrows or sling bullets. I’d say that you could also make a quick and dirty cast-iron sword or similar weapon as a basic project, but not having been properly forged and tempered, it would lack proper balance, its edge would blunt easily, and it would be vulnerable to shattering. Aside from grist for botches, I’d allow such weapons with the Improvised tag.
Elaborate armor is a major project, but I figure that it should only take a few hours and not overmuch effort for an expert crafter either to sew together a simple buff jacket or to reinforce one with available plates and swatches of mail, making these basic projects. And as with clothing, armor is best fitted to an individual wearer, and taking in an overlarge hauberk or adding longer straps to a too-snug breastplate should be viable basic projects (and much appreciated by the wearers).
Anyone designing an intricate object or structure might construct preparatory materials such as diagrams, blueprints, and scale models, which are often quick and easy enough to make that they’ll be basic projects. Note that these don’t suffice simply as adjuncts to crafting something else, any more than you can craft a sword’s hilt as a basic project to fold into making the sword, but they can count as projects if they have independent uses. You might make a scale model of a palace as part of persuading a queen to hire you as an architect. You might draw blueprints of an enemy fortress from memory to help your circle’s Night to sneak in and steal something, or to aid your Dawn in planning a siege. And a diagram of a flying machine might inspire a student with new ideas.
Putting the final touches on nearly completed items manufactured by your apprentices, whether adjusting a clock mechanism or affixing a jewel to a sword’s pommel, should often be a basic project. This can easily uphold an Intimacy of perfectionism, and a bit of interaction with apprentices can create or strengthen Intimacies involving you or their own work ethic.
While making repairs to something built with a major project normally requires another major project, this is contextual, based on the specifics of the crafted item and the nature of the damage. For instance, while a broken sword must be reforged as a major project, replacing the shattered haft of a halberd is a much simpler and quicker task, requiring no forge-work, and thus makes sense as a basic project. Likewise, while repairs to a ship’s hull requires a series of major projects, simply repairing torn rigging or mending tattered sails fits the time and effort requirements of a basic project.