A forge in Skyrim


I have a confession to make: I like to play video games. Specifically, I like to play role-playing games (RPGs). I’m sure this makes me a geek, but there’s no denying it. My current favorite is Skyrim, part of the Elder Scrolls series. It has everything RPG fans like in a game: scenic vistas, epic stories, bad guys & monsters to fight, magic, loot, and crafting.

Scenic lake in Skyrim

Yes, crafting. In Skyrim, you can make things. You can make potions (poisonous or beneficial). You can make weapons. You can make jewelry. You can make food. With the newest expansion, you can even create your own house, complete with greenhouse, garden, and beehives. Skyrim scratches the homesteading itch in more ways than any other game I’ve played. (Those of you with more RPG experience than me might have another opinion.)

Even with this large variety of crafting available, the actual act of crafting can be repetitive. When you make a weapon in Skyrim, you pick a design from a line of predetermined designs. There’s the “Imperial” line, the “Dwarven” line, and the “Elven” line, among others. Each of these has the same range of weapons; 2 types of swords (single- and double-handed), a dagger, 2 types of axe, a shield, a bow, and more. Each of these weapons requires certain raw materials which you must collect before you can make the weapon. Making the weapon is a matter of selecting an option in a menu. Similarly, when you make a potion or a recipe, you must collect the appropriate resources, select the resources from a menu, and press a button to make the item.

Forge menu in Skyrim

This type of crafting has two main problems: lack of creativity and lack of skill required. Instead of selecting from a catalog of similar items, I want to design the weapon myself — the size and style of the blade, the designs on the hilt, and the materials used in construction. I also want to make my own recipes for potions and food. And instead of hitting a button to create an item, I want the game to require skill in crafting. I’d like to maintain the appropriate forge temperature and swing the hammer. I want to prepare the ingredients for my potions and boil them in a pot.

This type of immersive system-driven gameplay is coming. Programmers will develop more sophisticated simulations of these various tasks. Gamers will be able to design their own weapons and share them through integrated marketplaces inside the game. They will be able to mix custom potions and create custom recipes, and the games will require skill in making these things.

For me, though, all of this crafting is but a fun diversion while waiting for the ability to do these things in real life. Why should I create virtual recipes when I can cook myself? Why make virtual potions when I can brew at home? Why should I hone my skill in video-game weapon manufacturing when I can learn blacksmithing, traditional timber-framing, and carpentry?

Blacksmith heating steel in a forge

If you’re not sure about this whole homesteading thing but you like games, try Skyrim or another game that has a decent crafting system. Figure out what you like and dislike. Then, find out how to do these kinds of things in real life. I think you’ll find that real-life role-playing is much more fulfilling than any game.

Now excuse me, I need to go collect mushrooms and herbs for my Invisibility Potion. I’m hunting dragons.


Update: Since this post was written, I’ve embarked on my real-life quest as a craftsman. Read about it here.


37 thoughts on “Crafting

  1. Oh, how I want to play Skyrim. Unfortunately, there’s no way my laptop will be able to run it. I do play WOW though, crafting is fun. I wish I could make my own house… *sigh*

    1. I decided that I couldn’t keep my computers up-to-date enough to play games. So I got an XBox, which is how I play Skyrim. I wonder how many people who play RPGs come for the crafting rather than the adventuring.

      1. I might buy one…I was wondering on what I should spend my money. I never thought about it as an alternative for a computer!
        All the cool people do! 😉

  2. When I saw the title of this post, I was thinking of a conversation I was having the other night – we agreed to continue the conversation over beer soon – about what kind of crafts we should all take up. Now I am wondering if the craft I am missing is really just an RPG!

    But I might just try my hand at embroidery.

  3. Awesome. Havent played skyrim yet. On my to-do. Most likely after I finish my degree in a few years (or it will never get done). I love mmorpgs though. I have enjoyed everquest & guild wars before I got a Mac, and now theres one I play called Order & Chaos. And yes although crafting is probably considered one of the nerdier rpg pastimes, I like doing that too.

  4. I ,love the idea of homesteading, but to me video games is an easy way out of taking the real step of doing so.

    Best do it in real life.

  5. Crafting is fine, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth the effort in Skyrim. Takes too much time to make a weapon or potion and then maybe enchant it. Everything said and done, the outcome is usually far inferior to the stuff you find when you loot a corpse or buy from a vendor

  6. Fable 2 really scratched the homestead itch for me, although Skyrim is fantastic. I love locking my orc in a room with an almanac and not leaving until I create some potion of awesome 🙂

    Congratz on the FP, always nice to see a gaming post on the front page!

  7. Thanks, everybody, for your comments!

    I’ve never been an MMO person, mostly because I don’t want to spend money month-after-month. Elder Scroll Online looks cool, though, and if the rumored free-to-play ever comes to pass, I might give it a try.

    I’ve never tried Terraria; it looks like it has a lot of fun crafting options.

    To all of you who think that video games and homesteading are mutually exclusive: I understand where you are coming from. As I’ve gotten older and had kids, I’ve had less and less time for gaming. I expect to have less in the future, because I’ll be doing more of these awesome things in real life (which is definitely more fulfilling than playing games). But, in the meantime, living on a suburban 1/3 acre with deed restrictions on raising any kind of animal, I find games to be a fun way to whet my appetite.

  8. I put around 40 hours into Skyrim but never bothered with the crafting, probably for the reasons you listed, it’s a pretty repetitive task. There is some satisfaction in leveling up the skill but making the same thing over and over gets old.

    I was blacksmith in WOW and it was the same, lot’s of crafting the same item over and over just to level up. I like your ideas for a move involved and advanced crafting system. This would work well in an online environment when a player could totally dedicate themselves to crafting unique and powerful items and become known as a master craftsman, not only because of level but actual in game skill and talent!

    I like the idea of crafting in real life, especially working with wood, maybe some day 🙂

    Cool post, thanks for sharing 🙂


  9. What you’re proposing for future game crafting would certainly be awesome, and allowing this type of creativity from the player is happening more and more in games. In a game like Skyrim, the programming and QA challenges are enormous, and the kind of shaping of weapons you’re talking about would still be prohibitively difficult on those fronts. But it probably will happen eventually, as systems for game development become more advanced.

    A really awesome game for “sandbox” creativity is Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. I don’t know if you’ve played it, but it’s a racing game, so it may not be to your taste. Still, it has a great vehicle creation system.

  10. I never knew I was looking for a new game until I read this. CRAFTING drew me to games in the past. It’s the building and crafting I liked! I need to get lost in an another world and I might just get skyrim..who knows. Thanks!

  11. @Jason, Thank you for a great read. Sadly, you will only learn a mere percentage of what the programmers put into the game. Simplified mechanics. Regrettably, the RPGs you write of aren’t true RPGs. They don’t allow you to full freedom that and True RPG does. We are free willed creatures by nature and habit.
    I strongly urge you to seek out a real Role Playing Game. One on tabletop. With pen, paper, dice, and all the imagination you and a group of friends, or other gamers can produce. Sure, there aren’t visually stunning graphics, and you need to provide the soundtrack, sounds, and dialogue; but that is the point. You won’t or shouldn’t have to spend $60 for the game(book(s)), and the only recurring cost monthly will be whatever food and drink you ingest as you and the troupe play.
    If you haven’t ever tried, or are apprehensive about spending the money, go to your local comic shop and ask what tabletop RPGs are played there or advertise sessions through the shop. Then find a group, sit in for a session, and join when ready.
    *** I most assuredly guarantee that if you give it a shot. If you give it just a few hours away from a video game RPG, you will see how far superior the Granddaddy RPGs still are to present day VGRPGs. I would love to show you what I mean if you were ever in the Phoenix, AZ area.
    ~Harbinger Owl of Syn

    1. Thanks for the comment. My brother is (or at least was) really into D&D. I’ve never participated myself, but I should give it a try sometime. I think the social aspect of traditional tabletop RPGs is the most attractive to me.

  12. Gaming once in a while might make you a geek in some people’s eyes, a gamer to others or a casual gamer to some: call yourself what you feel like, it’s simpler and truer to what you feel you are I suppose.

    I was playing Skyrim this weekend and I spent a lot of time trying to organize all the objects in my house correctly. The Martha in me aslo made me organize my stuff in different chests, shelf or cupboards. Then I returned to the house later only to realize that game doesn’t record the way you place things in your house. Epic waste of time. I wish the game offered more freedom to shape your environment.

    As for crafting, I agree more freedom or possibilities might be nice for some crafting I can’t do in real life: creating weapons or armor, making leather of enchanting, and so on. But as you said, at some point, if you’re gonna go through the effort to cook in a game and replicate all the steps you would do in real life, you might as well cook in real life. Plus, if I knit in a game, I can’t make the scarf I made.

    Congrats on being FP!

  13. If you can meet someone in real life that can teach you to make armour from dragon bone & scale I’ll be very impressed! (Yes, I spent loads of perks on armour skills, how did you guess?)

    I’m not sure how much I’d like more skill involved in Skyrim crafting – if you’re making jewellery with gold and a diamond and it doesn’t work you’d be seriously out of pocket which would be a real blow, particularly in the early game, which is exactly when your skill would be low.

  14. I play Skyrim too and love it. The environment is well thought out and holds such a broad area for many interests. My elf has does a lot of off the path mountain climbing while picking items for alchemy. What I want to know though, is the pic in your post you actually blacksmithing????

  15. I’ve played a significant amount of Skyrim. The world they’ve created is something amazingly spectacular. However, did you feel it became a little monotonous beyond a point (say level 40-45) or am I missing out on completely different avenues of the game by not playing further?

    1. I think my highest level character is around 40. I do think the game gets monotonous, which is why I would like a deeper/more creative crafting system. Which in turn makes me think I should just pick up a hammer in the real world. 🙂

  16. ………and here I thought this post called Crafting was going to be about knitting or making Christmas cards or something lol.
    Just goes to show you how our minds work…..lol
    Keep blogging!

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