New Skill Acquisition

I have just been away in Norway learning to ski. I have returned, unbroken but in need of a rest which is a sign of a good holiday.

I had never skied before and the only other ice related thing I had ever done before was ice skating, which I do not enjoy and I am pretty terrible at. Those two factors are not unrelated in my opinion.

So as a complete newbie I enrolled in Ski School. After 1.5hrs I could start, stop, steer left and right, moderating my speed using the plough and use a ‘button lift’.

After day two I was using a T bar lift, using turns to moderate my speed and skiing with parallel skis. That was a total of 3hrs tuition in a group of 8 beginner adults and one instructor.

Over the week I was skiing an average of 45km a day. Less at the beginning of the week and more towards the end. The limiting factor was my physical fitness. I am pretty fit but here I was using different muscle groups to my regular sports.

That is enough about skiing…

Last summer I discovered a suitcase where one of the kids had put the little pad locks on the zip before putting it away. Obviously there was no sign of the key. It took me an afternoon but I taught myself how to pick the padlock. Not just that one padlock, I was so pleased with myself that I found about every padlock in the house and I managed to open those as well.

So if it takes about 3 hours to gain that first rank in a skill, possibly the most important rank as that negates that -25 and gives you your first +5, so a 30 point shift in your favour how fast do we allow characters to learn new skill?

I worked in adult education for just over a decade and it was commonly accepted that 20hrs of tuition was required to teach a specific skill. That is the burden I put on my players if they want to learn something through training. They need to dedicate 20 hours with a skilled teacher or instructor.

I found that when I was using RM2’s experience schedule as written that the x5 experience for the first time the characters did something really accelerated them though the first few levels. Later on when they were routinely killing Orcs they were getting far less experience. This lead to a slow down in level gains.

Slowing down the level gains is good in some ways as I find it harder to challenge characters that go over 20th level. They have too many spells and too many power points if they are spell casters and for the arms users the difference in OB between a 20th and 30th level fighter is not that great. It somewhat defies credibility that a villain would have a body guard of six 30th level warriors when those six could probably carve out their own kingdom they were so powerful.

This power problem shaped my game. Powerpoint multipliers are as rare as hens’ teeth and I made spell list acquisition as difficult as the RAW allowed.

Another consequence was that once players stopped advancing in levels so quickly it became almost impossible to learn a new skill and for something like a weapon, learning a new weapon would take years and would probably never get on a par with a weapon learned from first level. You pretty much had to make a binding choice as to which weapons you were going to use at character creation and stick to it.

How I treat learning skills and improving skills is well documented but this week has made me consider should skills be even easier to learn? I got 7.5hrs tuition over 5 days plus lots of practice time. If I include the practice then I am probably not far off the 20hrs I charge players anyway.

How do you deal with established characters wanting to learn completely new skills?

13 Replies to “New Skill Acquisition”

  1. In my games skills are a very important part of who my characters are. Therefore I decided to make learning new skills very easy. Players should be able to play the character they want. I even had times were I allowed first time players to swap skills after they discovered that a specific skill is not as useful as they thought. (But only under specific constraints).

    However your post let me reconsider, if well earned skill are maybe more important to players.

    1. Because I prefer not to use levels I need a way for players to learn new skills. The simplest and most obvious was though trainers. 20 hours was long enough for it to be a serious commitment while not forcing the characters to spend weeks in towns and cities.

      It is also a nice way of tempting characters into going to new places if they think they can meet a master of a skill they want to learn.

  2. In my previous campaigns, I always required an instructor and time for training in new skills. I made some rules that allowed a character to advance a certain number of ranks (2 or 3) in a skill on their own, but then they needed expert training to go farther. Teachers had to be several ranks higher than the end-rank of the trainee, also – I had to do this because the party wanted to cross train each other.
    In my current campaign, I’m debating what to do. The party just reached 4th, and I have so far glossed over the study for new levels because they’re all new players and I’m slow-walking them into some rules. We’ve had a discussion about how they need to spend a lot of time in the next city looking into a variety of things, and study will go on that list. I can’t really set up long-term mentors/instructors because the unfolding campaign has the party traveling hundreds or thousands of mile, to many different lands, and they can’t keep running back to their schools. Some of their combat styles and magic schools don’t exist in the other lands, but they may be able to pick up new ones. (There’s a warrior monk who has started building a library of martial arts styles that he switches from round to round based on his enemy and intent.)
    I’m toying with the idea of a virtual learning school for them – something like a massive tome that they can study that will allow them to advance. It would allow them to progress, but I would really rather build backstory ties with mentors and instructors.

    1. I stopped the common use of cross training by demanding that those doing the teaching had a skill in teaching, which of course none of the characters have. On the other hand if someone wanted to play a scholar type character then they could easily have the teaching ability but then probably not the skill the characters wanted to learn.

  3. Have any of your party’s fighters tried to get the mage to teach them a spell or two?

    On the wider issue, I think the solution is rapid skill development. In the RM2 Rules As Written, I don’t think you could buy more than 2 ranks/level. That was an important balancing factor, but it did have the downside of ensuring that unless a fighter trained with a weapon from level 1, she would never be able to use it as effectively as one she had trained with.

    That was a drag. So I think the companions added the idea of rapid skill development: you could buy as many ranks as you had DPs to spend. RMU has now made this a core rule: you can buy the first rank for the first number in the skill cost list (e.g. 2 if the cost is 2/4), then the second and subsequent ranks cost the second price (4, in this case). The only limit is that the max ranks you can have in any skill is (2x character level) + culture ranks. I like this, because when my fighter, who has been using mostly swords, finds a +20 magical warhammer of smiting, he can spend a level or two training intensively in the art of the warhammer, and then actually make use of this awesome item.

    1. I like that rule in RMU for exactly that reason.

      In my own game skill development is a function of use. If you are using a skill then it improves. If you get training in a skill then it improves. There are no DPs after 1st level and no levels therefore there is no artificial limit on how much or how often a skill can improve.

      Yes, a magician did try to teach magic to a fighter type. The first spell failure nearly killed him.

      1. “Yes, a magician did try to teach magic to a fighter type. The first spell failure nearly killed him.”


        “In my own game skill development is a function of use. If you are using a skill then it improves. If you get training in a skill then it improves. There are no DPs after 1st level and no levels therefore there is no artificial limit on how much or how often a skill can improve.”

        That would be fun to try. It seems very like the Elder Scrolls videogames. It did occasionally encourage munchkinism (you ran around the countryside continually jumping in order to raise your Athletics skill), but it was also quite realistic in other respects.

        1. Don’t forget casting detect life everywhere and randomly firing flares!

          I admit that reminded me of the Elder Scrolls too. I think I remember someone posting once in the forums that the series might have been inspired by a RM game (don’t know if that’s true or not).

  4. Peter, you mentioned that you had a Thief pick up a spear, buy a couple of ranks, and then had a +88 OB in the weapon. That seems to be the balancing factor. The Level bonus was +40, so I assume a level 20 PC. At level 20, being a combat-oriented profession, as opposed to a semi spell user and a mage, that OB would seem to be on par and very fair. You’re not saying a level 5 thief picked up a spear and had +88 OB after 2 skill ranks.

    There are four degrees of Combat related professions. +3, +2, +1, 0. If a pure fighter-type (+3 per level) picked up the spear, by virtue of being focused on weapons, not stealth and certainly not magic, a +60 @ level 20 seems good right in line when compared to the semi-spell and non-combat oriented professions. Keep in mind, we as players and GMs seem to decry how the higher-level mages in RM are overpowered, too many spell lists, too many PPs, the balancing factor is that non-spell users can also dish out damage through a variety of weapons.

    I come from a Martial Arts background. I started in 1982 and I am still going. I have firsthand experience and I have witnessed others, pick up a weapon for the first time and use it very proficiently because they have had years of experience training with a different weapon, not even a similar weapon. The fluidity, dexterity, motions, combos, so on all lend well to weapon styles and often complement each other. I’m referring to seemingly disparate weapons categories too. Dagger, Mace, Sword… knife, escrima, katana. Jo staff (4’), Bo staff (6’) Japanese style staff and Chinese style staff, halberd, poleaxe, spear. The fighter, trained in weapons, particularly one who has been training for 20 years (or 20 levels’ worth in RM terms) in some weapons, can pick up a new weapon and still be extremely deadly with it, maybe not as deadly as he is with the one he had been training with for 20 years, nor should he be. Those who do decide to learn a new weapon, do pick it up extremely quickly even after 1 week of training. 4 classes a week, 1-2 hours per class… possibly 8 hours in a week.

    Sword, mace, and club are all essentially the same weapon even though RM2 classifies them as not. We practice with a shinai (bamboo sword) or an escrima (2.5’ heavy stick). We do so because the swords are expensive, slamming blade against blade destroys them, and getting a finger chopped off with a sword would suck. That bamboo is as sharp as a club! LOL Sadly it also hurts like a club.

    A student who trained with katana for 10+ years, picked up the escrima I was training with and gave me a drumming. He had the 10 year’s of sword background and I had none at all. While it was a new weapon for both of us, his style of Martial Arts focused on weapons early and mine taught all empty hand. He fell right into the motions and rhythm and went to town on me.

    Where one person sees the level bonuses in RM2 as unbalancing and maybe unrealistic, I see it as accurate and even necessary to balance out the fighters vs. the high level mage. At level 20, mages are casting level 15 spells every round until PP run out. That’s crippling. For the level 20 thief grabbing a new weapon for the first time and have about 8 hours training, it could probably come naturally and that +40 bonus would be fitting, not as good as what a Barbarian would receive and certainly better than what a Dancer would receive. That bonus is Arms Law Combat Skills, not Arms Law Sword Skill and Arms Law Spear Skill. We do use the similar weapons groups in RMC-II (I believe) so training with 1H-Edged weapons includes all 1H-edged weapons. Players don’t have to buy skill ranks in Scimitar, Broadsword, Short sword, Falchion.

    1. The thief was 23rd level but the prof bonus maxed out at +40.

      Under my house rules you can improve a skill by 20hrs of tuition and practice or by using the skill in a meaningful situation. That last bit means that you cannot just roll a few skills at the end of the day just so you get a chance to improve them.

      Skills that then qualify you roll a d100 and if you roll over your current skill bonus you gain a rank.
      With Spell Lists if you use the spells on a list then you can roll a d100 OE and if you get more than your current rank (each level counts as +5) you learn the next spell on the list. This means that frequently used lists improve much faster than infrequently used lists and that development up to 10th level spells is pretty quick but it slows down rapidly after that. To learn the 20th and higher spells require an open ended roll.

      When you use a skill you mark it as available to roll for improvement but also tick next to the stats that govern that skill. You can then roll stat gains against the stats that qualify, if you roll over your current stat then it goes up by 1. This means that fighters tend to get faster, stronger and more resilient whereas spell casters tend to improve in their realm stat, memory, reasoning and so on.

      We tend to roll for skill/stat improvements each session and it takes a hell of a lot less time than levelling up.

    2. That’s great practical experience to draw on Spectre! Now I don’t feel so badly about using the old level bonuses in RM2.

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