Spending Money: Training

Rocky's Training Montage - Meat Punch!I’m still interested in finding new ways for players to spend their money.  Today I’d like to talk about the method I think is the most valuable, and perhaps the most controversial: training. The expenditure of money (and time) to make a character better.

Before I get into concrete rules, I feel some obligation to mention the giants whose shoulders I’m standing on. This post draws heavily on work done by Courtney Campbell for his Numenhalla and Perdition campaigns, as well as work done by John Bell for Necrocarserous. Further, I believe Courtney drew much of his inspiration from the writings of Benjamin David. I’ve taken these ideas and adapted them for LotFP, as well as adding some of my own refinements and twists to make them better suited to my own tastes. But I want to acknowledge that all the really heavy lifting was done before I got here.

There are four types of training: Skills, Weapons, Talents, and Spells.  Spell training might better be titled “research,” but it uses the structure of training, and so falls under the more general term. Regardless of type, training requires that the character invest both time and money before they receive any benefit.

Training is done during down time between adventures, when a character is free to avail themselves of the resources of civilization. What Brendan S. has eloquently titled the Haven Turn. While training, the character may break to continue their adventures, but must return to the same Haven at the end of their adventure if they don’t want to lose their progress (and money!). Training otherwise takes up all of the character’s time, and they are unable to pursue any other activities, such as carousing, until it is complete.

If the players wish, they are encouraged to roll an alternate character to play while their primary character is training. This will allow that character to focus entirely on their studies, and reduce the training time by 1 month. It also creates a handy backup in the event of character death.

Training provides a significant benefit to the PCs, one which cannot be regulated by funds alone. The need to spend time is an important factor. It allows training to be cheap enough to be afforded by low level characters, without the potential to be abused by wealthy, high-level characters. It is pertinent to paraphrase Gygax: You cannot use the training system if strict time records are not kept. Training works when time is a resource to be spent carefully; it doesn’t work when time can be handwaved away without consequence.

For players with excess funds, the referee may be inclined to offer accelerated training. The means by which this rapid training is accomplished should be thematic to the game world: cybernetics, magical implantation, brain matter grafting, soul mixing, etcetera. In any event it costs 3x the normal amount required. Training time is reduced to a single week covering the procedure, and recovery.

Skills Training

Skill training allows characters of any class to advance their skills beyond a 1-in-6 chance. However, increasing a skill beyond a 5-in-6 chance remains the sole purview of characters who receive skill points from their class.  Training must be undertaken for a specific skill, and each rank of ability must be achieved before advancing to the next. A character with 1 in 6 Tinkering may not pay 12,000sp & spend 6 months training to leap straight to Master level ability. They must first advance to Talented, then Skilled, and so on.

Sneak Attack is not considered a skill for the purposes of training, and remains available only to Specialists.

Talented – 2 in 6 – 1,000 silver pieces & 2 Month of training.
Skilled – 3 in 6 –  5,000 silver pieces & 4 Months of training.
Expert – 4 in 6 –  10,000 silver pieces & 5 Months of training.
Master – 5 in 6 – 12,000 silver pieces & 6 Months of training.

Weapons Training

All characters have a basic proficiency with any weapon they pick up. If a player wishes to train themselves beyond proficiency and achieve true excellence, they must specialize their training to a specific weapon family.

For each level of expertise, a character receives a +1 bonus to attack rolls when using weapons from that family. In addition, each level of expertise grants an Expertise Feat which is specific to that weapon family. The Expertise Feats gained by a character training with a longsword are the same for all longsword-wielding characters.

Expertise Feats may be combined with standard attacks at no penalty. However, only one feat may be applied each round. If an expert longswordist attempts to deflect an incoming attack, they forfeit their ability to use Disarm on the following round. Feats are never passive bonuses, they must be declared during each individual combat round.

Any saving throw called for by an Expertise Feat is a save versus Paralyzation.

Skilled – 2,000 silver pieces & 3 Months of training
Expert – 6,000 silver pieces & 4 Months of training
Master – 12,000 silver pieces & 6 Months of Training

Here are some of the weapon families I am using in On a Red World Alone. This list is truncated for the sake of brevity.

Weapon-Family-Table

Close Quarters: Additional +2 to attack rolls when fighting in cramped conditions, or melees with 4 or more combatants in close proximity.
Swift: Can make 2 attacks per round against a single target.
Hidden: +1 to determine surprise when attempting a sneak attack.
Deflect: May attempt a saving throw to negate one melee attack each round.
Disarm: On a successful hit, target must save or lose their weapon.
Vicious: Roll damage twice, take the higher result.
Sunder: On a successful hit, target must save or their armor bonus from armor is reduced by 1.
Delay: On a successful hit, target must save or take only a half action next round.
Riposte: Once per round when struck in combat you may make a saving throw to attempt an immediate counter attack.
Hold Back: Once per round when a foe attempts to close to melee range, wielder may make an attack roll against them.
Push: Target must make a saving throw or stumble backwards 10′.

Talents

You might think of talents as a kind of “Miscellaneous Training.” Unlike other forms of training which allow you to improve within a given system (Skills, Combat, Magic), talents provide a wide array of character improvements touching on all aspects of gameplay.

Talents marked with an * may be taken multiple times, and their effects stack. Each talent requires 3 months of training time, and costs 4,000 silver pieces to acquire. If a talent is taken multiple times, the training time remains the same, but the cost is multiplied by the number of times the character will have taken the talent.

Charm School*: +1 to Charisma
Endurance Training*: +1 to Constitution
Weight Training*: +1 to Strength
Gymnastics Tutoring*: +1 to Dexterity
Attend Symposia*: +1 Wisdom
Academic Study*: +1 Intelligence

Bravery: Immune to Fear effects.
Penetrating Spells: Saving throws made against your spells suffer a -1 penalty.
Spell Resistant: Gain a +2 on any saving throws made against a spell.
Tough: +3 hit points per level
Innovator*: With a weapon group you have mastery-level expertise with, gain an expertise feat that the weapon would not normally have. (If taken multiple times, must be for a different weapon group each time).
Indomitable Armor bonus from armor is improved by 1.
Deflect Missile*: Negate one ranged attack per round.
Interceptor: Redirect one enemy attack per round to hit you instead of an ally.
Precise Shot: Fire into melee without any chance of hitting allies.
Criticator: You land a critical blow on a 19 or a 20.
Deadly Strike: Critical hits deal triple damage instead of double.
Good Opener*: Once per day you may re-roll a single die used as part of a reaction roll, and take the higher option.

Spell Research

A Magic User can expend a certain amount of time and money to pour through ancient texts, experiment with peculiar creatures, and test the cosmic energies. At the end of the indicated period, the character will have earned a new Magic Word which they can use to create spells according to the normal system.

2,000 silver pieces & 1 month: The MU learns a randomly determined Magic Word.
3,500 silver pieces & 1 month: The referee randomly determines 3 Magic Words, and the MU may pick one.
7,000 silver pieces & 2 months: The MU may create their own, new Magic Word.

For the majority of you, whom I assume are not using my magic word system, this can easily be modified to allow an MU to learn new spells outright. The time required is 1/2 the desired spell’s level with a minimum of 1 month. The same costs listed above determine whether the character learns a random spell of that level, chooses between 3 random spells of that level, or gets to choose their own spell from that level.
Why Training is Valuable
Obviously one of the core benefits here is that training gives players something to spend their money on. That is, after all, the whole point of this series of posts. But there’s more to it than simply balancing the game’s economy.
When you really get down to it, the primary goal of a PC is to improve. They’re on a constant quest for more experience points, and better gear. But the amount of experience they will gain is bounded by the opportunities they encounter during a play session. When the player sits down, they don’t know whether they’ll earn enough XP to gain 3 levels, or whether they won’t earn even a single point of experience. Magic items are likewise a matter of fate. They may occasionally be something the player can strive for over a long period, but in most cases they’re something the player discovers unexpectedly.
This unpredictability is all part of the adventure, and it should stay that way! But there is value in having a stable fallback. At the end of a hard session without a tangible benefit to your name, it’s nice to know that at least you’re a step closer to learning that cool new trick with your sword. In that respect, training is a different kind of character improvement; a new layer which compliments the others. It fills a valuable niche.
Furthermore, training allows for mechanical character customization done right. It’s easy to demonize the mechanical clusterfuck that official D&D eventually became, but it wasn’t all bad. The ability to make choices about your character’s mechanical progression can be great!
The problem comes when choices start to pile on top of one another. When you’ve got to pick a feat and assign multiple skill points, rather than a feat orsingle skill point. It comes when each individual choice has hundreds of possibilities, rather than a mere handful. More possibilities than even a passionate hobbyist can really consider in their mind all at once. It comes when the choices are attached to the leveling system, turning every gained level into an ever-increasing amount of paperwork.
Is allowing characters to train introducing power creep into a game? Yes, but given the cost and time required for training, that power creep is kept at a slow pace. Easy to adapt to.
Is allowing characters to train making your game more rules-heavy? Yes, but not so much as it might seem on the surface. Each layer of decision actually has very few options to it. And players who wish to spend their time and money on other things, avoiding what might be viewed as a source of confusion, are free to do so.
Training, as presented here, is far from perfect, I’ll readily grant. Weapon training in particular feels incomplete to me. Like the seed of a much better idea that hasn’t sprouted yet. But I can confirm from experience that all of these ideas are fun and functional in play–or at least, the systems I based them on are.
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