Friday, February 5, 2010

On Training

When I was 14, my father took me along hunting with him, which I saw as an unsure opportunity for a city boy. He had grown up in small towns, where guns were common, but I had never had a gun in my hands before. Being the man he was, he gave me some stern advice, some practical education. Recognizing the dangers involved, I listened – and felt very hesitant about actually firing the weapon.

It was a 12 gauge shot-gun, an Ithaca-made pump-action, and I put it to my shoulder and squeezed the trigger as told. And though I tried to have it set into my shoulder, I nevertheless smacked myself in the chin with the action block. And I thought to myself, don’t do that again. Experience.

For my first season, most of the shots I took were, in my father’s words, “fired in anger.” We hunted largely for upland birds, pheasants, grouse, partridge, and it was not until my second season that I successfully hit something. Raising the gun, leading the bird, pulling the trigger at the exact moment – those were intellectual processes. I had to learn how not to react emotionally to the effort, but to ‘think’ the shot through. Experience.

By the time I was 21, I could drop two Hungarian partridge out of a single flock, or covey, using the same pump-action shotgun I grew very familiar with. A Hungarian partridge is about the size of a quail – so, not very big you understand. I would say I had ‘risen a level’ in terms of my skill at hunting.

My training consisted of being able to hunt five days a year, since I couldn’t go out every weekend during the fall. In all, in my life, I’ve hunted perhaps 35 times. My total ‘training’ from my father consisted mostly of doing what he did, and shooting when he shot. The real experience came not from what he told me, but from the mistakes I made.

So yes, I gained experience from killing. And as I improved, I never had to pay any money for anything, except for ammunition and for travel. I did not have to ‘return to train’ with my father, or any other ‘master.’ Although I haven’t hunted in 20 years, if I were to return to it, I wouldn’t have to ‘train’ to improve myself. I’d just have to go out and do it.

Remember – in D&D, there is a distinction made between a fighter ‘training’ and a fighter going out and killing. I can’t figure out where that distinction lies. And if the fighter has gained his experience to get his second level, then he HAS killed, and therefore he HAS trained – what sense does it make for him to go find some stranger and give money? The training isn’t in swinging the weapon at straw dummies, which is only the effort to desensitize the practitioner to violence. Once that desensitization has taken hold, ‘training’ is WORTHLESS.

I don’t see how the logic falls down where it comes to thieves, or magicians, or bards, or any other class.

And here I find myself drawn to making other examples, having nothing to do with me, but a great deal to do with history ... where somehow, a great many people seemed to advance themselves greatly through ‘doing,’ without finding any need to return to any master for any further ‘training.’

Alexander the Great, for instance, who crossed the Bosporus into the Persian Empire at the age of 18, who conquered half the known world and who certainly must have taken enough experience from the effort to have risen a dozen levels ... does not seem to have listened to his tutors. Or Cortez, who by hook or by crook brought about the demise of Mexico – did he then return to Cuba or Spain for training? Did Genghis Khan, or Timur, or Akbar?

Perhaps we do not like the conqueror example. What of Michaelangelo, then ... when he broke himself in the pursuit of his goals, who surely gained experience from his efforts – who do you think he would have gone to for training? To some unknown person who was more creative, more skilled ... but whom we’ve never heard of? What of Ponce de Leon ... did he not go up a single level in all his travels? Where did he go for training? Who would have trained Confucius, or Siddhartha, or Zarathustra? Did Jesus or Socrates, or Erasmus or Abelard, have to break from their teaching to get taught?

The argument is that at second level, you are taught by the student of, say, Abelard ... but at what level do we decide when you must have Abelard himself, and at what level do you become Abelard? And if you do not ‘train’ when you have reached that level, why is it the hit points and spells gained them do not require training, when they always did before? How is the dividing line ever logical, and not invented upon prejudice?

I do not see where the training argument is ‘realistic.’ I know of no profession where success at the profession requires schooling ... once the profession is obtained, school is left behind. It is only in this modern, technology-driven existence that an educational ‘half-life’ is even conceived. It has no place in a medieval setting.

Training. Is. Bullshit.


Chgowiz said...

Agreed. The only real reason, that I can find, is that it was meant to "bleed" money from characters. I can do that with taxes, with economic forces, with upkeep and hireling/henchmen and a hundred and one things.

Now, having said that, if there was the availability for training that would *add* to a character - a university, school or some such, I'm willing to go down that road. But that's not an automatic assumption. It would be part of the player's life.

James V said...

Another agree. Like Chgowiz, I think that outside learning/training is a factor when starting something new and unfamiliar, but once you've learned it, gaining experience and proficiency is definitely a personal process.

Then again, people can also be self-taught. I guess I'm wondering if anyone thinks that most professions or skills would be available to an autodidact in a fantasy medieval setting?

A Paladin In Citadel said...

My kids are all enrolled in karate.

They train three times a week.

Then they go to sparring, on weekends, to practice what the moves have learned, against other students.

I see the value in their training, as they are able to use the blocks they learned in their classes in a real-life (ie. sparring/combat) situation.

Perhaps at some point they will no longer have to train with "the master". But it's a long road from white to black belts.

JDJarvis said...

From my limited experience in Martial Arts and fighting on does benefit from training throughout their career.

Training teaches the tricks and techniques one will use in a match or on the field of battle. When one is in a "real' engagement it's not time to experiment as there is limited chance to learn from mistakes.

Real world special forces never stop training, neither do world class martial arts fighters or Olympic athletes.

Strix said...

I've tried a number of solutions to the training question and haven't found anything that doesn't come across as anything more than a convenient way to buy XP.

The only training I adhere to is before the character can learn a new proficiency (NWP or WP). Someone in the party could have the new proficiency so that's easy. Going outside the party can get a little difficult. Certain proficiencies with social or geographic attributes, like learning to throw shuriken, would be very difficult if the party is currently adventuring in a Germanic or Roman setting.

I just don't see how a character can wake up one morning and suddenly know how to do something, especially if it's culturally irrelevant.

Alexis said...

Paladin and JD,

Let's not make the mistake of comparing competitive Martial Arts 'fighting' with actual street combat, wehre 'experimenting' is often forced because what you're trying to do just isn't working. I'm very familiar with martial arts training and purpose, and it just isn't applicable here. Yes, you train, and with a master ... but your answer fails to answer the question, who trains the master?

You are confusing training with 'practicing' ... because martial arts very often insists on using the words interchangeably. It is presumed that all classes practice and train themselves, always, every day, just as a musician must, or a juggler, or a mathematician. Keeping fit does not require vast piles of money to be paid to total strangers.


It. Is. A. Game.

A convention is used in the game to convey the improvement, because tiny incremental changes made constantly and continuously during game play would be a royal fucking pain in the ass.

The convention may disturb you, but the invention of a completely irrational and unneeded convention in order to compensate strike me as the height of ridiculous navel-gazing.

Why is it in Monopoly that houses "go up" instantaneously? Shouldn't we have to wait a given number of turns after buying them before they can be used to increase rent?

A Paladin In Citadel said...

When it comes to my comments (as always) YMMV.

Chgowiz is right that in some editions of D&D it became a way to relieve characters of their money.

R said...

"...once the profession is obtained, school is left behind."

It's always been my opinion that the level 1 characters are complete amateurs and therefore, still need the training. A first level wizard has, what, one spell? How is that a master wizard in any sense. In my eyes their profession isn't attained until around level 9 or so (when they can train others).

And as far as real-life professions that require continuous schooling, nurses, teachers, even people in the business sector are required to maintain schooling to keep their licenses (staying up to date on tax code, for a boring example).

I know that taking a class just to keep your job isn't required for you to be to being successful, but at the same time, I can't imagine that each class is utterly unhelpful.

wheynne said...

Would you like to go to a medical doctor that earned his degree in the late 70's but hasn't done any training since then?

Teachers are also expected to continue learning. Not only to keep up with the advances in education, but also to keep up with the new knowledge within their field of specialty.

Consider learning a new language. Sure spending time immersed in the language will get you a little ability, but to really understand the nuances of what is being said and to learn how the grammar works training is necessary, (especially later in life when the natural ability to acquire new language falters).

I agree that many skills can be developed on their own through life experience. With your hunting example you learned how to use your firearm well, and how to aim and fire quick enough to get your 2 birds per covey. However, to begin an entirely new skill, lets say going from hunting with a shotgun to sword fighting should require a bit of training. You're beginning a whole new skill.

For a mage I would let him gain a new fire spell without any extra training if he already new some fire spells. However, if he doesn't have any water spells, he may need training to learn his first water spell. And in a case like that, training could come from finding an ancient tome on aquamancey and reading through it, working with a powerful water mage, or simply investing time everyday in attempting the spell on his own.

I believe training has its place, but not necessarily in returning to the little old man and handing him a sack of gold.

Alexis said...


While what you say is accurate, I'd like to point out that it refers to the last century. It does not have any credence with regards to the 14th century. Do you not remember me making a comment about educational half-lives in the original post? Could you please read everything I write before criticizing?

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I like relieving the characters of their money. It's good to keep them hungry for more adventure and loot.

It's not all that interesting to role-play the training mind you.

I like some other solutions for relieving characters of their money, rather than training costs. For example, xp only for gold spent (frivolously if possible)

Jay said...

@Alexis, I was with you up though on the difference between training and experience, I think those are astute observations.

I have to agree with Paladin and whenyee, and I'd think most professional athletes, soldiers, and doctors would agree--training is necessary for conditioning the body and mind to do what's necessary at the appropriate time. Training continues regardless of experience in these fields because the idea is not just continued learning but to refine skill and improve procedure or strategy. Ask any copy, football player, or surgeon. Schooling MAY be left behind by an individual, but most professions as a whole provide for further studies. Continuing education courses at community centers and colleges all the way up to top-tier universities are evidence of this.

But maybe this is all moot. Perhaps for the purposes of gaming training could just be "what" to do and experience is "how to do it successfully enough to advance."

Sidebar: I'm not meaning to criticize, only engage in friendly debate. :)

Anonymous said...

I am having some trouble synthesizing my arguments, so bear with me here:

I have limited experience with any martial art besides what I have read about, but am an avid hunter and SCA/boffer fighter. Training has a role in both of these hobbies, but there comes a point fairly early in the game where the return from the time invested in a teacher sharply declines.

With shooting in the field, it is learning that feeling when your cheek-stock weld is perfect, or when you have your shotgun braced properly. With tracking or flushing game, it is, once knowing the habits of the animal you are hunting, being able to apply this knowledge when you have no idea where the hell that pheasant ran to. It's even something as simple as remembering to pump the shotgun (something I forgot to do, even HOW to do, several times once on the field despite shooting expertly at clays). With SCA/boffer fighting, you can be taught how to throw a swing, but you need to learn how an opponent moves when he is about to feint or to keep your shield higher than you thought necessary through experience. You can have all the education and teaching from a trainer in the world, but at some point you need to apply the skill in a real world situation.

I have noticed the same kind of trend in my college classes. After an introductory course or two, teachers consider you 'trained' in an area and expect to bring your own observations to the class. The teacher tends to do less teaching and more arbitrating, and students tend to do less in-class learning and more independent reading and study.

The training that athletes go through is more maintenance than learning new skills. You have to 'train' constantly to prevent skill degradation. If you are not making those 100 foul shots every day, your muscles won't have as perfect a memory as they would have, and so on and so forth.

A friend of mine, a judo enthusiast and an English Lit teacher, has told me that there is a point in any skill where you can't learn anymore from teachers, and learn best from teaching. I find it hard to see a 9th level fighter learning much from a 10th level fighter besides having a more skilled sparring partner.

I think there is a place for teachers in learning basic skills, plays, physical maintenance, etc, but in the long gaps between competent and expert, I don't believe there as much teacher involvement as some would think.