Game Mastering
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November 8, 2006, 5:26 am

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This is more an overview of the subject, than a complete article. As one of my PCs had pottery in background, I tried to research it a bit, but given up after seeing way too much data.

This is more an overview, than a complete article. As one of my PCs has pottery in bacground, I tried to research it a bit, but given up after seeing way too much data.

The art of Pottery is OLD, old like our civilization; the first known finds are from around 10.500 BC, and even those are skillfully designed. It has been developed from then until today, dictated by fashion and technology, and techniques could be forgotten and discovered anew.

For our uses, Pottery could certainly serve as another modifier for various cultures. As for dungeoneering, from all the treasures it is most likely to be left behind in looted tombs. But even shards can be a hint.
- “What’s in those jars?”
- “Rotten food and something that dried up.”
- “Duh. Let’s take those old weapons instead.”

Basics of Pottery

I think the most primitive example was in Robinson Crusoe: shaped from clay, left to dry on the sun, the crude jars were carefully woven into wicker baskets, and served their purpose. But that is not quite the pottery we know.

There are three distinct types:

- Earthenware - made from clay, later blended clay, it is baked hard, the degree of hardness depending on the intensity of the heat. Note that without a glaze (invented later), it is porous, and NOT waterproof, so liquids would slowly leak out. The colour of earthenware is typically red to brown, or buff (brown-yellowish).

- Stoneware - is baked at a greater heat, so it becomes nonporous, and in itself watertight. It became preferred for domestic uses.

- Porcelain - made from decayed feldspar called kaolin by the Chinese, loved by the Europeans, it can be white, glassy and even translucent. Note the furious industrial espionage connected to the history of this ware. Also note the massive trade, and porcelain possibly being at the start of the Industrial Revolution ( href=“

What is important?
- correct composition of the clay body (balanced materials are needed)
- skill in shaping the wet clay on the wheel or pressing it into molds
- and most important, firing at the correct temperature

So a good potter needs experience, judgment, and the technical skill.

- Open - primitive, requires solid skills; the type of fuel has to be chosen carefully.
- Kilns - need higher temperatures, but can better control atmospheric conditions.
- Black Ware - if the temperature is high enough, sintering occurs (the top layer starts to melt), more fuel is added, and fire is covered with sand. The lack of oxygen allows the depositing of carbon on the surface, producing a black sheen.

Common decorating techniques

- Incising - favoured from the old times until now, the pattern/image is cut into the ware, the skill of the artist is more important than the tool.

- Impressing - similar, the pattern is impressed into the “raw” piece. The patterns can be crafted onto forms or stamps, allowing batch production.

- Inlaying - coloured, semi-liquid clay is put into the incised lines, black and white were most favoured.

- Sgraffito - “scratched”; incising on earthenware with a transparent glaze of a different colour, like yellow, or brown, copper or green. After firing, it was dipped into white clay slip, and cut to produce a dark pattern. Then it was glazed and fired again.

- Glazing - very important for any potter; Chinese potters used two kinds of glazes, one composed basically of feldspar, and another produced by fusing silica of quartz or sand by means of a flux, generally of lead oxide. Salt glaze was used by the English, and other were used too. Many hues are possible.

- Painting - whether under, or above the glaze, was widely spread. Well known was the blue-and-white style of the Chinese. Unlimited possibilities in colour and objects.

Note: the possible shapes of pottery have not been covered, as there are way too many possibilities.

Side note: the potter’s wheel was not covered either.


There is some potential for even low magics to make a potter’s job easier. Useful would be Cantrips determining temperature, and the ability to sense anomalies, whether in the mold itself, or in the fire. A “Control Fire” type spell may remove them. Protective magics could keep raw pottery of bizarre shapes together, until it is fired, and so on.

There are many options for enchanting it as well.

A handful of links:
- A nice historical overview can be found here:
(I have stolen mostly from there.)

- A LONG list of links at

- A nice page about japanese pottery

- And even a beginner tutorial if you feel inspired

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Comments ( 7 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Mourngrymn
December 13, 2005, 11:05
While I have no idea what I will use this for, if I ever will. I did give credit for all the work and effort that was put into finding this information. This is a lot of interesting information that is nice to have if it would be used obviously.
December 13, 2005, 11:18
Still a thank.

One use is for pottery is to an alternative treasure type.

For another, more general use, you could simply pick and choose various types and decorations for different cultures. Chrome again.
Voted Ancient Gamer
December 14, 2005, 18:08
Oh, I think I will create pottery items for my spring sessions
Voted Chaosmark
January 13, 2007, 22:35
Voted valadaar
September 23, 2013, 13:11
A wonderful, overlooked technology.

In addition to their simple utility, pottery can add other aspects to your game:


Like modern archaeology, pottery vessels could be used to tell stories, formula, spells, locations of great secrets. Weakness of enemies.

Trade Goods:

Due to various techniques being jealously guarded by their craftsmen, or through the enforcement of commercial laws, desirable pottery items could easily be the subject of trade missions.

Voted PoisonAlchemist
October 18, 2014, 3:01
I'm not sure how I feel about this. It is cursory information, but certainly not anything that is widely known (I didn't know most of this at least). It is interesting but no real game applications spring to mind.

Val has a good suggestion about them being the subject of trade missions. I'm not sure that is a great idea or a terrible one due to the fragility of the cargo.
Voted Moonlake
January 10, 2015, 23:53
A solid 3 for this overview and +0.5 because personally I'm just into these kinds of utility aspects that make a culture/world different.

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