Monday, January 26, 2015

Learning New Skills/Abilities in DF Felltower

Buying and improving skills, spells, and abilities is central to advancement in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy.

So how do I do it?

Some important facts about my game:

- it's a pickup game, so characters are only involved and tracked when the players show up and play them.

- I only charge for one week of downtime costs between game sessions. So weekly upkeep doesn't crush PCs who don't adventure because of real-world issues.

- Time passes on 1:1 ratio with the real world.

- We don't use any non-point based learning. Period - no Time Use, no nothing.

With those in mind, here is basically what I do:

Spells: Wizards can learn one new spell between each session, assuming they stay in town and pay upkeep (no Dumpster diving with Urban Survival or roughing it with Survival).

Why? To avoid wizards rapidly expanding their spell list and basically being able to add a wide breadth of coverage each and every session.

New Skills: Depends. If it's not on your template, it's $40/point to learn it and you're limited to one, and it must be cleared with the GM. If it's on your template, you aren't limited at all and there is no cost.

Why? To encourage people to stay with their template. It's only a minor obstacle, but it does seem to remind people that "Hey, I'm a Knight, not a Barbarian" or "That's not what Holy Warriors do, generally."

New Abilities: Broadly, meaning Advantages. On your template? Unlimited purchase, no monetary cost. Off-template, $40/point (at least) and it must be cleared with the GM.

Why? To allow people to develop in an unlimited way within their niche, but control expanding the niche and thus possibly undermining the utility of other current or future characters.

New Lens: These can be purchased piecemeal, but when finally adding the lens-specific new skills and advantages you have to pay a new-ability cost for the whole template. At that point, you get access to everything from the lens's base template with regards to skills, advantages, and power-ups.

Why? I like allowing piecemeal purchase, but it's easier to have a flat fee for adding a lens in-game (they cost $2,000) and then let the player work out the best way to get to the lens during play.

Overall, this has worked pretty well. Advancement is fast, but dramatic expansions in magical coverage and new abilities are limited. Within your niche, you can expand freely and become a bigger, better (whatever) without limitation. Outside of it, you aren't paying any more character points, but must expend in-game resources to expand your niche. The result has been a knight-among-Knights, very wizardly Wizards, Holy Warriors who worry about undead and demons primarily, and so on. Plus, it makes your starting choices interesting not limiting.

After playing this way for a couple of years, I'll say that it's been working well.


  1. I like the idea of having magic weapons that can train the PC to get a power-up. For example, a magic bow could train a PC to learn Heroic Archery if he PC chooses to put the points into it or a pair of magic boots could allow allow the PC to put points into Silence or Stealth or even Catfall or Wallwalker. A wierd text could allow the PC to awaken latent psionics should the PC spend the points for it. This makes it easier for new players think of what to improve because the magic items they find in the dungeon can train them so they can power-up.

    1. Magic items and events as learning triggers are fine - I have a few in my game. They're just not standard and expected. I also tend to restrict them with prior power-ups, so that way the Knight isn't reading a book and gaining Magery and death spells, or the Barbarian isn't becoming a Heroic Archer and making the Scout look bad, etc. But yeah, magic items as triggers for power purchases is a good option to hold open.

      So is, I say slyly, eating certain bits of certain monsters.

    2. The reason I like the training weapon idea is because it limits the choices of that newer players have to make. The PCs may have found a limited number of magic items so the players choose who gets what and the rest of the items are sold back for money. So this narrows down greatly the choices of what the PCs can invest points in yet the players still have some choice. And for experienced players it helps them to create different PCs from the ones they have used before because they will likely have found different magic items that will be able to train different skills. And if you want to keep the Knights as Knights then there is no reason there would not be an extra cost like the $40 you mentioned. A barabarian with a bow that teaches Heroic Archery might cost extra for the Barbarian to learn because the Barbarian might need to buy $40 of arrows to practice with for each point invested because Heroic Archery is more difficult for him to learn than it would be for a Scout.

      Also there are a lot of dungeons near really small towns with not many people to teach 250 point players. And another thing it makes the players paranoid when they find a magic trident that teaches Swimming, are the PCs going to need this skill for this adventure?

    3. The only issue with that is defaults and learning - if I'm a DX 14, HT 13 Knight, why can't I teach myself to swim, or climb, or whatever? With access to the appropriate materials (or spells!) why shouldn't an IQ 15 wizard be able to learn a new Hidden Lore skill? And even if you need a teacher, it's odd to say that I'm 250 points so a 10-point kid who knows how to climb can't teach me. It would be like saying it's harder to teacher an NFL/NHL/etc. level athlete to swim or harder to teach a genius a language than teach a less talented student. It should be easier, if you know what I mean.

      Still, the niche protection is important. If a barbarian has to spend $800 to learn Heroic Archer, he plunks down $1600, gets a ST 17+ bow, and makes the ST 13 Heroic Archer less relevant without even buying the Scout lens. It's fine, though, to say the Barbarian can become a Barbarian-Scout thanks the Yew Bow of Heroism, it still costs $2000 for the lens, and you need the bow for X time to do it. That's already on the table, but the item becomes the source of access instead of finding a Scout to teach you or going off to the woods and shooting off $2000 worth of arrows or something.

      I prefer to limit item-based and action-based learning to things that would be either totally off-limits (a fully obscure Hidden Lord skill, an unknown spell, a special combat technique built as a Power-Up) than things that could be done in other ways.

      My other concern with an approach of this kind is that player paranoia - if you make them worry they'll need every item and every skill, they'll horde items, buy every skill, learn everything, and drag the game to a halt with worries over being over-prepared. It's the "don't drop anything, it might be a quest item!" problem of video games. I tend to finish games like Skyrim with a house and backpack and chests full of crap I picked up, paranoidly hoarded because "They wouldn't give me this if I didn't need it!' and skills I improved because "I need these or they wouldn't be here!"

      That's the effect I'm trying to avoid, honestly.

    4. I can see your point. Maybe the Heroic Archer bow can only teach Heroic Archery if the barbarian also takes the Scout lens that way it would be more costly to putchase. The only thing I can say however is that I sort of think of the training weapon as a type of attunement. Not only does using the magic weapon take time to adjust to the new user but the user can also develop a skill using it. It is nice for things like weapons that are usually not used. Maybe a flail can teach some combat skills and power-ups to a PC who invest points into it. That way the PC can become a master at using the flail and then becomes his go to weapon. Usually Knights will invest in sword skills first and then look for a sword in a dungeon but with the training weapon when the PC finds a weapon that will train him then he will likely stick to it and that way there can be some different kinds of weapons than just swords.

    5. As far as a Knight learning howcto climb or swim, sure there should be no problem finding a teacher in a town near a dungeon but what I mean is to be able to find a person in a town who can teach a Knight a power up or some super high level combat skill. That is where I feel that it seems unrealistic. Anyway, thatvwas why I thought having a magic item be able to teach power-ups or high level skills might make sense.

  2. I let players put points into any skills that they used (including at default) in the previous session. This represents learning that happened during the adventure rather than during downtime. As a result, all the PCs now have points in "everyman" skills like hiking, riding, climbing, first aid, gesture, merchant, search, observation, and traps. So when players want their characters to learn skills that can be attempted at default, they go out of their way to try them at default to justify putting points in them later. This is more fun than looking for teachers in town. Also cheaper.

    I agree that having wizards put one point each into a zillion spells is annoying. And my dungeon is only near a small town with few mages and no commercial teachers of spells. So I don't allow free learning of spells. I allow buying one new spell per session but only with a teacher, scroll, or spellbook. (I guess I'd allow research to independently reinvent a spell, at big penalties for doing it quickly, but there's been no need yet.) There's a danger that the wizard will revolt and decide to save a bunch of CP then take a leave of absence from adventuring to go to grad school in the big city and learn 20 new spells, but it hasn't happened yet. (I would actually allow it, but tell that player that she has to play a new character for a few months while her main PC is off studying.)

    For languages, I require a teacher and/or a book. It doesn't have to be a *good* teacher with Teaching skill; just someone who knows the language and is willing to converse in it. I let people take Broken after one adventure of practice, Accented after a few. (Nobody has actually asked for Native yet.) The wizard found a spellbook in Orcish, which he couldn't read, so was excited to also find an Orcish young adult pulp adventure novel, which he could use to help learn written Orcish. (About an orc who smashes elves like him with a flail, of course.)

    I allow buying attributes piecemeal. For example, a character bought +1 HP, then +1 Lifting ST, then traded them in along with 5 more CP for +1 ST.

    I understand the on-template guidelines for games where niche protection is considered important, but we have a small enough group that screen time isn't an issue, so I'm fine with anyone learning anything.

    1. Thanks for writing that all up here.

      One obstacle in my game to "you need a teacher for spells" is Wild Talent (Spells Only, with Retention). Limiting a wizard to one spell a week is a compromise we can all live with - honestly, since the people with that advantage can just cast a spell once per session and then learn it on the spot, no teacher, no prereqs, etc. - it's hard enough to justify that. Making weird "what is a session in game time?" discussions for when the wizard had major time off was an issue until we said, basically, it happens once between actual game sessions.


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