The Effective Craftsman

Copyright Jim Johnson © 2004

Edited by Joe Mandala for The Guild Companion

"Though fear and war sweep the lands of Middle-earth during the Third Age, Craftsmen and merchants strive to make lives for themselves by plying their trades."

'They are made of hithlain,' said the Elf, 'but there is no time now to instruct you in the art of their making. Had we known that this craft delighted you, we could have taught you much.'
- An Elf, The Fellowship of the Ring

Though fear and war sweep the lands of Middle-earth during the Third Age, Craftsmen and merchants strive to make lives for themselves by plying their trades. The Craftsmen are trained apprentices, journeymen, or masters - creating goods both mundane and masterful. Their efforts ensure that the communities of Middle-earth, from the most humble of Mannish dwellings to the finest delvings of the Dwarves, are equipped with the goods required for a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Decipher's The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game allows you to play such Craftsmen - a Rohirrim blacksmith, a Dwarf jeweller, a Hobbit farmer, perhaps even a Silvan weaver. This article is for you, the player of such a Craftsman. This article provides suggestions on creating your Craftsman's background; effectively selecting skills, traits, and order abilities; tips on advancing your Craftsman; and ideas on how most effectively to play your Craftsman hero.

Developing an Effective Craftsman

'No gleam came from the blades of Sting or of Glamdring; and that was some comfort, for being the work of Elvish smiths in the Elder Days these swords shone with a cold light, if any Orcs were near at hand.'
- The Fellowship of the Ring

While The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game core book provides general information on creating a Craftsman, it does not go into a great deal of detail on the finer points of character generation for such a hero. Following are a number of tips and suggestions to consider when creating a Craftsman hero for your Narrator's adventures.

Creating a Background

Perhaps the most important aspect of your character, especially in a roleplaying-focused game such as The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game, is your hero's background. Where is he from, who does he know, what are his goals and hopes and dreams? What does he want out of life? You should have some idea in mind what the answers are to these questions when creating your hero.

You should work with your Narrator and fellow players when creating a background for your Craftsman hero. The Narrator may have specific ideas on where heroes should be from, so that they fit well into her story ideas. You may find inspiration by talking to your fellow players and listening to what their ideas are for their characters. You might even be able to create a mutual history or share a past event with another player's hero. Perhaps your Dúnadan armourer has opened a business with one player's leatherworker from Dale. Maybe another player's Silvan florist travels extensively with your Gondorian vintner. The possibilities are limitless, though do check with your Narrator before settling on a character background. Many craftsmen do business in one limited area of Middle-earth, and you need to make sure your Narrator's game allows for such a character, should you choose to play one.

A good background for your character does not necessarily require a long written history, though your Narrator would almost certainly appreciate one. A simple list of ideas or even a thumbnail sketch of your hero's background may be sufficient. Sometimes it is more enjoyable to create your hero's past as he encounters new situations in your Narrator's chronicle.

Selecting Effective Craftsman Statistics

Once you have some form of background for your character created and approved by your Narrator (if she requires such approval), you need to select statistics that most effectively represent your character's history and abilities. If your character is a blacksmith or stonemason, you might want to give him a good to high Strength and Vitality, as he would likely spend much of his time hammering metal or moving stone. If your Craftsman is more of a merchant out to make a good living at selling his or someone else's wares, a good score in Bearing or Perception, and ranks in Debate and Persuade would prove useful. Whatever the case, your hero's background should serve as the foundation for his statistics, at least at the start of his adventuring career.


Because the Craftsman order is so flexible, there is no one attribute that carries more weight than another. Having a clear character concept in mind will help you decide which attributes should be at high levels, and which ones you should make your favoured attributes. Remember that your character's highest attribute does not necessarily have to be one of his two favoured attributes.

Before choosing your attributes, you should have at least a general idea of what advancement path your Craftsman will follow once he begins to gain advancements.

Do you want your hero to become a renowned shipwright? If so, a few advancements in Mariner and good scores in Wits and Nimbleness would be useful. Perhaps you want your Craftsman to attain the favour of an important local noble. In that case, advancements in Noble may come in handy, as would a good Bearing. Maybe you want your hero to become a famed crafter of delicate musical instruments. Advancements in Minstrel would be most useful here, and high scores in Perception and Bearing would prove valuable. Your Craftsman may even choose to take up a martial life and travel with or serve a military unit as an armourer. If so, having advancements in Warrior and a high Strength and Nimbleness would prove invaluable.

There are many options available to you. You should select your attributes with both the short- and long-term in mind. You will not be able to reconsider later once your attributes are set, and improving attributes with advancement picks later is a costly endeavour.


The Craftsman's order skills are a mixed bag, and as such, no one reaction stands out from the others as the most ideal to select as your Craftsman's favoured reaction. A good understanding of how the character will develop should prove useful in selecting your favoured reaction. Wits is a good general purpose selection, but a Craftsman with a specific life path in mind might want to favour a different reaction. Stamina would be worthwhile for those Craftsmen planning to take on advancements in Warrior, while Swiftness would be useful for Craftsmen taking on Rogue or Minstrel advancements. Favour the reaction you feel will best serve your character in the long run.


Being a Craftsman includes the assumption that you are planning to create goods and sell them. The Craftsman order skills support this assumption, whether you're a farmer, a blacksmith, or a stonemason. Most Craftsmen should take as many ranks in their primary Craft, Smithcraft, or Stonecraft skill of choice as possible-as much as the full +6 ranks if possible. This is presumably your livelihood, and you will want to be as effective a Craftsman as possible.

To support your hero's primary Craft skill, it is recommended you take several ranks in the merchant-friendly skills, such as Appraise, Debate, Observe, and Persuade. Ranks in each of those should serve you in determining what your customers want, and in getting you the best deal for your wares. If you expect your Craftsman to engage in shady affairs, then ranks in Conceal and Observe, along with a few advancements in Rogue, may prove useful. A Craftsman looking toward a career as a bard may want to take ranks in Debate, Perform, and Observe.

As with all other character generation aspects, having at least a general idea of what your Craftsman may aspire to will help you select order skills during character generation.

Racial Background Skills

Each starting hero gets six picks to spend on skills and/or edges, which represent the character's background before taking on an Order. While you could select a background racial package from the core book, you should probably spend those six picks in a customised and specific fashion.

The Craftsman order lists none of the combat skills as order skills. Because of this, you'll probably want to spend at least one or two of your racial skill picks in one or more combat skills since your hero will, in all likelihood, engage in combat at some point. Every race except Hobbit lists the combat skills as racial skills, so you are free to select them with these picks (unless you play a Hobbit, of course). Other non-order skills a Craftsman may find useful taking ranks in include Insight, Inquire, and Sea-craft (especially if you're planning to play a shipwright or a Craftsman who uses the sea-lanes to ply his trade).

It is usually not an effective use of these six picks to select ranks in order skills or on Language or Lore skills. You will be able to select ranks in order skills with the 20 order skill picks, and you will gain a wealth of Language and Lore skills elsewhere during character creation. Therefore, it would be more effective to spend these six racial background picks either on skills that you will not be able to improve easily later, or on edges that enhance your hero's skills and abilities. (Read on for effective selection of edges.)

Language and Lore Skills

Multiplying your Wits score by three gives you a pool of skill picks used to select your Craftsman's Language and Lore skills. Some Craftsmen, especially those who are merchants or are frequent travellers, may need the ability to speak in more than one language. These types of Craftsmen may also possess a breadth of knowledge, even if only of their own people and culture. If your hero has a high Wits score, feel free to take a wide variety of Language and Lore skills, even if you only place +1 to +3 ranks in each skill. These racial skills are inexpensive to improve, so you should feel free to give your Craftsman hero as wide a knowledge base as is practicable to reflect his background.

Order Skills

There are 20 order skill picks to spend among the previously mentioned order skills. You could simply select one of the pre-generated order packages, but since you have been completely customizing your character up to this point, you may as well continue to do so and spend those 20 picks in exactly the skills you feel would benefit your hero most. The only limitation you have to consider is that no zero-advancement character may have more than +6 ranks in any one skill. So you should feel free to assign up to +6 ranks in the one skill for which you feel your hero should be well known. Spend the remainder of the points as you see fit, but do consider that a balance of skills is preferable to having just a handful at high ranks. Order skills are inexpensive to improve, so feel free to spend those 20 picks liberally among the Craftsman's order skills.

A note on skill specialties: Remember that you may select one free specialty per skill during character generation. The immediate +2 bonus a specialty provides to its related skill is a benefit you should not ignore. Whenever possible, select a specialty for each skill in which you spent at least one rank.

While you can spend skill picks on additional specialties, you will likely not need more than one specialty per skill as a starting hero. Concentrate more on spending the skill picks on skill ranks than on skill specialties. It costs just one advancement pick to select a new skill specialization, and there will be many an opportunity to do so as your Craftsman gains advancements.

Free Picks

The last step of character generation is receiving five free picks and spending them as you would an advancement's worth of picks. You can gain more ranks in skills, buy additional edges, or improve your attributes. You cannot purchase additional order abilities with these free picks. The most effective use of these picks would be to spend them on skill ranks, increasing those skills you already selected, or taking a rank or two in a new skill or skills.

Order Abilities

The core rulebook provides six order abilities for the Craftsman order. You will want to select one that either complements your hero's selected strengths or helps to shore up any weaknesses you built into your character. Let us look at the order abilities to determine which may be the most effective selection for your Craftsman hero.

Enchantment: The requisites for this powerful order ability are such that a starting character cannot select it as his starting order ability. It is something a Craftsman can aspire to attain, though. If it is something you plan to acquire later, keep in mind that you will need both the Masterwork and Preservation order abilities, in addition to 12 ranks in a specific Craft skill.

Masterwork: The requisites for this order ability also put this selection out of reach of any starting Craftsman. Your character would need to have at least two advancements to be able to select this ability. It is a useful ability to have, especially if your Craftsman is a weaponsmith or an armourer.

Place of Trade: This order ability would be a good selection if your Narrator runs a chronicle set in a localised area of Middle-earth. The ability effectively keeps your character in one place, so it may not be ideal for a chronicle that requires much travel, and would not be suited for a character who has a case of wanderlust and wants to see more of Middle-earth than just the four walls of his shop.

Preservation: This is another useful order ability, though its requirements also keep it out of the realm of possibility for a beginning Craftsman hero.

Refuge: Refuge is a good order ability, though its benefits are limited if you play a Craftsman that does much travel. Like Place of Trade, Refuge effectively requires your character to stay in the same place for much of the chronicle. As a result, it may not be ideally suited for all chronicles. Consult with your Narrator before selecting this order ability.

Speedy Work: This is a simple, effective order ability with a low cost. Most Craftsmen should pick up Speedy Work at some point as they gain advancements, if only to make their livelihood easier and more productive.


Now that you have selected your attributes, reactions, skills, and order abilities, it is time to add some flavour (represented by edges and flaws) to your Craftsman and make him a truly unique hero of Middle-earth. You have several opportunities during character generation to select edges and flaws. With the six racial background picks, you may pick one edge per pick. You gain one order edge from your order package, and you may select up to four flaws and receive either an edge or +1 skill rank in return. Finally, you may spend one or more of the five free picks at the end of character generation on edges. However, be sure to check with your Narrator as she may have set a limit on how many edges a starting hero may have at the beginning of a chronicle.


Some edges are better suited to a Craftsman than others. Following are brief descriptions of several edges, highlighting their value to a Craftsman hero.

Ally: Many Craftsmen, especially those that travel from land to land, may have many an ally they could call upon when in need.

Craftmaster: The benefit this edge provides to the various Craft skills should make it a mandatory Edge selection for any Craftsman.

Elf-friend: Some well-travelled Craftsmen may have befriended any number of peoples or races, making this a useful edge, especially since you can expand it into an 'X-friend' edge, where 'X' represents any culture or group. (For example, you could choose Dwarf-friend, Hobbit-friend, or Friend of the Riddermark.)

Friends: Many Craftsmen have friends they can call upon for information. This would be a good edge to take if you want your character to have a number of contacts throughout Middle-earth.

Hoard: Some Craftsmen are good at their chosen profession, and as such, may have amassed a store of wealth and valuable goods.

Travel-sense: Merchants who spend much time on the road or on the seas would benefit from this edge.


Likewise, some flaws are better suited than others for a Craftsman hero. Following is a short list and description of some ideal flaws for Craftsmen.

Arrogant: Some Craftsmen place more value in their goods and services than would seem realistic. Take this flaw if your hero is of that sort.

Dullard: Many a Craftsman may be clever of hand or strong of arm, but may possess a lack of wits and a dearth of intelligence.

Dull-eared: Some smiths have had their hearing damaged from years of working with the hammer and anvil.

Enemy: Some Craftsmen, especially the well-travelled merchants, may have an enemy in any number of cities, towns, or establishments.

Fealty: A Craftsman may swear fealty to a local noble in exchange for a court position as an artificer or perhaps for permission to sell wares in that noble's demesne.

Grasping: Once a taste for coin has been established, many merchants and craftsmen find it hard to ignore the continuous call, and will do all they can to accumulate wealth.

Proud: Especially skilled Craftsmen (or even particularly arrogant ones) often exhibit excessive pride in their workmanship and product.

Rival: It is said that competition is good for business, and a Craftsman may very well have one or more rivals to vie with.


As your Craftsman gains advancements, you will want to improve his skills and abilities in such a way that he remains an effective and valuable member of your group of heroes. Having a plan of advancement (whether short term or long term) is a good idea, if only to get a gauge of the direction in which you would like to see your hero grow. Perhaps you want your Craftsman to become a worldwise merchant, hauling supplies to distant lands, or perhaps you would like to see him grow into a prosperous shopkeeper.

Multiple Orders

While The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game allows a Craftsman hero to multi-order with any of the other eight basic orders, some of those orders are more complementary to the Craftsman than others. Because the Craftsman order has only a few truly useful order abilities, you'll probably want to multi-order your hero so that he will be most effective. Following are brief descriptions of how each basic order might complement the existing Craftsman hero.

Barbarian: Unless your hero is of a less-than-civilised people such as the Dunlendings or the Drúedain, taking advancements in this order is not a good option for a Craftsman hero.

Loremaster: A Craftsman who wished to be more worldly and knowledgeable would benefit from a few advancements in Loremaster. An advancement or two in this order would also be useful for the Craftsman interested in learning the rare art of weaving the subtle magics of Middle-earth into his wares.

Magician: A Craftsman interested in learning the arcane arts and exploring the subtle magic of the world would naturally benefit from several advancements in Magician.

Mariner: A Craftsman who uses the rivers and seas of Middle-earth to ply his wares rather than roads and trails would certainly benefit from several advancements in Mariner.

Minstrel: Some Craftsmen specialise in creating musical instruments of all types. Those Craftsmen might even want to gain additional income performing on their instruments. If so, a few advancements in Minstrel would prove useful.

Noble: Many Craftsmen hail from the larger cities and important holdings of Middle-earth, such as Minas Tirith, Rivendell, and Hobbiton. As a result, some may be of noble blood or may interact regularly with nobility, and could benefit from an advancement or two of Noble.

Rogue: Some Craftsmen make burglary and trap-breaking their specialty. Some may even be active practitioners of the roguish trades. A few advancements in Rogue would benefit the Craftsman looking to supplement his income by shady means.

Warrior: One of the more common Craftsmen in Middle-earth would naturally be a weaponsmith or armourer. Many soldiers or veterans make smithing their profession when they are not making war. A Craftsman with advancements in Warrior would not only benefit the fellowship he is part of, but would also be that much more knowledgeable about his chosen craft.

Elite Orders

A Craftsman hero, whether multi-ordered or not, may aspire to achieve advancements in any of the elite orders presented in The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. Like the basic orders, though, some elite orders are more complementary toward the Craftsman than others are. Following are brief descriptions of how each elite order might work with a Craftsman hero.

Archer: Some Craftsmen specialise in crafting bows and arrows. Being a trained Archer would certainly help a Craftsman to perfect his craft. Having a few advancements in Warrior would also be a benefit here.

Captain: Only in extraordinary cases would a Craftsman become a Captain of men. If such a thing were to occur, a few advancements in Warrior would be useful as well.

Knight: Very few Craftsmen would attain the rank of Knight, making this an unlikely option for Craftsmen heroes. Do not let this dissuade you from creating a unique Craftsman who aspires to such a rank, however.

Ranger: Because Craftsmen tend to favour areas where people gather (in order to more easily sell their wares), the Ranger elite order wouldn't normally be a good fit. However, it is conceivable that some Craftsmen, especially Silvan Elves, would want an advancement or two of Ranger.

Spy: A travelling merchant selling his wares could easily double as a spy. A few advancements in Rogue would complement any potential Craftsman\Spy.

Wizard: Craftsmen who take to the mystical arts would do well in the Wizard elite order. Advancements in Loremaster or Magician would naturally benefit such a character.


If you decide to add advancements of a spellcasting order to your Craftsman hero, consider selecting the following spells, ideally suited for a Craftsman.

Bane-spell: This spell would be useful when cast upon a masterwork weapon created by the Craftsman.

Blade Preservation: This spell essentially functions like the Craftsman order ability Preservation, though at a higher rate of frequency.

Crafting-spell: This spell should be the very first spell any Craftsman spellcaster selects. Its benefit to any Craft, Smithcraft, Stonecraft, or similar skill is too great to be ignored.

Enhance Food: A Craftsman who farms, bakes, brews, or otherwise prepares food and drink could use this spell to enhance the quality and taste of their wares.

Playing a Craftsman

'They saw now that the pillars were richly carved, gleaming dully with gold and half-seen colours. Many woven cloths were hung upon the walls, and over their wide spaces marched figures of ancient legend, some dim with years, some darkling in the shade.'
- The Two Towers

While no one person or article can tell you how best to play your character, the following guidelines may prove useful when playing your Craftsman hero.

The greatest value a Craftsman hero brings to any game chronicle is his ability to create enchanted and masterwork items. A fellowship with a Craftsman hero as a member will, in all likelihood, soon have arms, armour, and goods superior in quality to any they see for sale on the streets and in the shops of Middle-earth's cities and towns.

As a Craftsman, you should make every effort to practice your livelihood and attempt to profit from your hard work. If your Craftsman focuses on weaving, for example, do all you can to make sure the items he creates are among the finest in the land. Pick up the Masterwork and Enchantment order abilities as soon as you can, and maximize your skill to its full potential early on in the chronicle. The sooner you have these abilities, the sooner you can create wondrous items and sell them for a princely sum.

Indeed, creating such fine items will likely earn your Craftsman Renown, as the peoples far and wide talk of your superior craftsmanship. Even a well-timed and -placed gift to some noble or lordling may reap dividends for you later. You never know when a recalcitrant guard will turn a more favourable eye upon you and your group if he remembers a previous gift of your generosity.


As Craftsman characters such as Barliman Butterbur play interesting and useful roles in The Lord of the Rings, so should Craftsmen player characters in any given chronicle. It is hoped that the advice detailed in this article will aid you in creating and playing interesting, exciting, and effective Craftsmen. Build your characters intelligently and have them take their place among the stalwart and respected artificers and merchants of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.