Monday, March 20, 2017

A Training Idea, At Last

Very late at night and I think I worked too long.  I'm overtired.  But I just spent some time looking over the campaigns and I think I've had a mental breakthrough on the issue of training an NPC non-level towards becoming a level.

The primary issue is that "training" sucks as a game design.  Send someone off, pay a bunch of money, they come back a first level.  It's the equivalent of going to the market and buying a first level character.

So I've been trying to think of some way to make training a part of the actual game, where actual stakes are at play.  I think I have a wisp of an idea.

Here is an example of the ongoing experience the party is earning as of round 3 in my Juvenis game:

If you're not familiar with my experience system,
read here.

Take note of the follower, Bergthora.  Her share of the bonus x.p. is only 1/8th share.  I began that policy years ago, to undermine the amount of experience that followers were stealing from the party.  If she were getting an equal share to everyone else, that would seriously undermine the party's gains in the long run.  Besides, she isn't a leveled character.  She's the equivalent to a man-at-arms in most games: zero-level, some combat training.  (I don't use "zero-level" as a designation, but that isn't important right now).

But why 0.125?  Why not 0.1 or 0.15?  No reason.  Henchmen get 0.5 of the bonus, to underscore that they are auxiliaries and not making their own decisions.  A henchman's hench would get 0.25, while a henchman's henchman's hench would get 0.125.  These were starting to appear in my game, when my big party would get their whole team together, so the followers got rated at the same rate as a third-tier henchman.

Technically, at least partly, they are persons in their own right, not fanatical followers of players.  If a leveled character, they'd BE the same as a player, at least in theory.  So how to justify 0.125?

Suppose that number is indicative of training.  Suppose that a green follower is seen as relying very heavily on the commander, and therefore their own bonus experience is negligible ~ they're just following orders.  But we could make it that as the greenhorn gained experience, their share of the bonus experience would increase.

We could, for example, start with a share of 0.1 ~ and then, as their experience went up in 100 x.p. increments, the share of the bonus x.p. would also rise, by 0.1.  A follower with 100 x.p. would gain 0.2 shares of the bonus.  200 x.p. would equal 0.3 shares, 300 x.p. would equal 0.4 shares and 400 x.p. would equal 0.5 shares.

Now I have another idea brewing in the background and I am getting to it.  Suppose we made a ceiling of 400 x.p.  Bergthora in the example still wouldn't be considered a level at 400 x.p. but she would have to fight a lot to accumulate that much.  She also wouldn't increase her combat skill in the least, but a 1st level fighter doesn't do that either until accumulating 2,000 experience.  400 is negligible.

Just suppose, however, that with Bergthora there was a fighter with instruction for a sage skill (I'm linking a rough page from the wiki but I'm only spitballing here anyway).  That fighter, working with Bergthora, while fighting together in actual combat (not training), would be training Bergthora.  The difference would be that the instructor would let her increase her ceiling from 400 x.p. to 1200 x.p.  Now, each 100 x.p. would only raise her bonus by 0.05 . . . but with the instructor's help, shouting at her during battles, preparing her each day, discussing what went wrong with her swing in each encounter, Bergthora would start to gain weapon proficiencies, sage abilities and hit points, bringing her up to the level of a 1st level fighter.

Once she had gained 1,200 x.p. (remembering that she needs to do this in the presence of an instructor), she would BECOME a 1st level fighter, with all the skills having been gained.

The D&D equivalent of "boot camp," therefore, is to make Bergthora combat trained and able to swing a weapon.  The non-level, zero-experience grunt.  She gains 400 x.p. and she's experienced, but not trained.  But if she fights continuously with a sergeant at her elbow, she builds up a field ranking that puts her in the level-track.  Those who don't survive, or drop out, remain combat-trained; but it takes an instructor to get to first level.

That helps get rid of a lot of the experience I posited with this post.  Most troops, even combat-experienced troops like Bergthora, top out a 400 x.p. and can't get more unless there is an instructor.  And instructors are rare.

There's work left to be done here, but I think that is a genuine idea.


  1. I like this. It seems to solve one of the problems I had been having with NPC's sometimes accompanying the party. The only question I have is what happens to the experience when she becomes a first level fighter? She retains it and is now more than half way to second level having just achieved first? She loses it and is reset to zero? While the 400 out of 2000 could be said to be negligible, 1200 is certainly not. In either case, I think this is well on its way to being very usable.

  2. I believe 1000 xp is the threshold set in the DMG for a character to become 1st level. That would mean, if anything, that the follower actually required more XP to reach 1st level Fighter status. I could be wrong though.

    Either way, this system doesn't interest me for hirelings. I'm more interested in the applications with henchmen, increasing their share of bonus XP as a dedicated protege of the teacher.

    If I'm cutting into my XP, it's going to be on a character I have personal investment in. Bergthora is a very expensive bag of HP to me at the moment. She lacks the abilities to be considered indispensible, and we have not developed a personal connection with the hirelings in any meaningful way.

    It probably doesn't help that I think of them as a sack of HP that we have to feed.

    From the tone of the post, I get the impression that you're against hiring leveled persons as a general rule Alexis. Is that the case? I wanted to ask about it in regards to the agent rules for hirelings: whether finding whatever sort of hirelings I was after might include a leveled person of a specific class, or if something like that would involve getting recommendations from people we trusted.

  3. To note: I didn't really have a gameplan in that regard, but the logistics of dragging along say, a mercenary band and then hopping over to England to play with Cromwell seemed like an interesting mental exercise.

  4. Hello Alexis !

    The blog is still a pleasure to read, the comics are fun but more than that they're interesting in what they show of "our" microcosm, and your campaigns are a welcome read too.

    So, on to your current post ... Well, holy fuck, you just gave a great explanation on why the vas mass of NPCs seeing combat or hard-life don't gain a level out of nowhere, why armies are not necessarily chock-full of levelled characters, and all other associated elements. And I really dig this ! Of course, the need to have someone with a level in a class to give you access to said class was sort of self-evident, but the framework was lacking me.

    I have some questions, however :
    * Instruction is fighter and ranger specific. How could a Wizard, Bard or Thief train someone ?
    * If everyone has a 400 xp ceiling except when levelled, what makes so many people be levelled in your more educated countries ? (I remember that the more educated a population, the more levelled people there are, more or less)
    * On the same subject, where does comme the XP in your educated countries ? I'd have thought that, even given the hardships of the time, those more developped countries would have a better way to "shield" most of their population from harm, and if there are enough such countries in an area, the most central ones would be able to be more advanced while also being less threatened, thus reducing available "hostile" XP. Is the "teaching" that brutal ?

    Anyway, great post, many ideas coming from it !

  5. Joey,

    The 1,200 experience would be reset to zero. It is presumed that all characters go through an experience gain before reaching 1st level. I could simply adjust all the tables, say that a fighter needs 3,201 experience to reach 2nd level, but the easiest thing to do is to reset to zero.

    1,000 experience would have been a better number, half what's needed from 1st to 2nd, but that didn't work out with the x.p. bonus gain. Pity.

  6. Pandred,

    A dark way to look at it. Usually I find players tend to co-opt these non-players because I allow so much latitude in deciding what they do during a combat. In my past experience, a player who has a non-player go up a level is nearly as happy as they would be if their own character went up. A loyal follower is an asset, even if they are, as you say, "lacking in abilities."

    I'm suggesting a manner in which the abilities could be augmented. But it would take work, just as it does to push a lower level character.

    Cutting into your x.p. is an interesting viewpoint. Bergthora's 6 damage early in the fight is a big reason why the first frog went down and a big reason why the party is right now overwhelming the enemy. Yes, it may not have happened, but that blow right there earned her money for the month.

    She only seems "very expensive" because you haven't reached your first stage of acquisition yet. You'll feel different about it when you have money and the food expense seems less important.

    I'm not actually against hiring a leveled person. But in the past I have made leveled characters a much bigger drain on the x.p. bonus (typically half) and they are a lot more expensive than non-level hirelings. Also, remember that these NPCs are "friends" of the characters, gained through background. While randomly gained, they tend to fall to people with a better than average wisdom. Because they're friends, they're not subject to quitting, plotting or otherwise sabotaging a party.

    Most others that you would hire are subject to those things, since they aren't friends, they are only employees. You have to be more careful with how you treat them and how you treat others in front of them. And being levels, they are more worldly and set a higher standard for an employer. They get bored if they're made to sit and wait, whereas a friend will more likely accept such a duty.


  7. Followers are rare. You get them at 1st level in the background generation, then after they only happen by chance, if together you and an NPC experience the success of some unusual adventure together, you show bravery on their behalf or you prove yourself a remarkable hero in the eyes of a populace to which the hireling is attached. Even then it is a die roll to see if the hireling will become a follower.

    Note that leveled person can become followers in this manner. But it is rare.

    Certain followers are not found until the player gains name level. As a fighter, you should note this means 40-200 followers by 9th level, some of which would be leveled but many would not be. Likely, online, you're not going to reach 9th level unless we're still playing this campaign into my 60s (who knows), but I'm not designing the rules for MY game, but for games in general. Others, reading these designs, may want to use these systems to develop NPCs into leveled persons using a formula that challenges the players and seems less like buying people at the Upgrade-o-Rama box store.

  8. Vlad,

    Thank you for your praise, it is most welcome.

    Because of the size of the answer required, I'm going to do it as a post. I was just now writing an answer and blogger glitched, so that I lost everything that I wrote. Comment fields can be so annoying. So I'll go write in a more secure environment, where there is an autosave and where the end product can be edited.

  9. I don't intend to criticize Bergthora nor your portrayal of the hirelings in any way.

    Our circumstances and my general attitude towards these things is what creates the mercenary attitude.

    You're right, we haven't earned any real money yet. As a result, every time we've had to stop and rest, I can't help but think about how low our supplies are, and how difficult it could be to acquire more. Bergthora and the other hirelings, while useful, are also by far our largest sink of resources. We double our need for food, and owe them wages (and a share of treasure, presumably, but I can't recall).

    I agree that Bergthora's hitting the frog was a very worthwhile action. I also wouldn't regard it as a waste if all she did this fight was get bodied into the wall for all that damage she took. I get a share of xp on that damage. If she's a target, Embla and I have better odds on not getting hit again. I like that very much!

    We've had little time to develop the hirelings as people, so I simply lack a personal attachment to their well-being. I am also, I think, the only party member who did not actually pay for one. Perhaps the others feel differently from me, and feel I'm being a little flippant with the lives of their entourage!

    Maybe I'll feel differently in your 60s, when I've assembled my host of loyal 0-levels.

  10. Oh, criticism is fine, though I didn't take your statement that way. It was a terrific opportunity to talk about a bunch of interesting things, so I took it.

  11. Well, the timing on this is perfect. My players have just returned to town from a very long and taxing adventure, and their party size has ballooned from its original seven members to eighteen combatants, many of whom are unleveled hirelings. The party has been asking about how experience affects these characters, and I haven't had a good answer until just now. Thank you for this pair of posts, very helpful.

  12. Ah, a quick question though. How skilled does the instructor have to be? Can an amateur instructor get a hireling to first level, or would an authority be required? I can see "Instruction" being a great first-level sage ability pick if right off the bat you can start leveling up your employees, but that sounds a little convenient to me. Maybe you can only teach bits and pieces of the fighter class at amateur instructor level, but can only finish the deal at authority. Anyhow, taking "Instruction" as your first specialty will still more than likely get you authority status by third level, I suppose.

  13. I agree with your proposal, Giordanisti.

    There are two measures to consider. First, an untrained person has to be "combat-trained." This is basically boot-camp, not requiring actual combat. The benefit is that the trainee gains a better morale, does not need a morale check to enter combat and is more likely to stick when injured or stunned. As well, the combat-trained person has 1 weapon proficiency. The amateur instructor can manage this, turning anybody into a conscript soldier.

    We don't want a 1st level amateur fighter training others to become first level, so we want to divide the rest of the training between an amateur and an authority (which would need at least 3 levels to accumulate, perhaps more).

    The amateur instructor can, therefore, transfer the weapon proficiencies they have (no others), add SOME of the hit points for 1st level (but not all) and improve the THAC0 from 21 to 20. But it takes the authority to round out the corners, adding the remaining hit points and teaching the sage skills.

    The question that comes to my mind is what does an expert instructor do? I don't have any level-up training in my game, so what is left to instruct? If the authority covers the sage abilities the instructor knows (which is a natural limit), what's left?

    I'll have to keep thinking about that one.

  14. Perhaps expert instructors can teach more students at a time? To use a very silly example, some university professors are good teachers one-on-one but lack the charisma or skill to keep a larger audience of students engaged; others, however, can lecture to a large class or speak to a group without clarity issues. Of course, every student learns at a different pace so perhaps it's a bit too simplistic a comparison.

  15. So the current state of the proposal, for fighters at least, is:

    1) a fighter with Amateur status in Instruction can, by fighting alongside a trainee, improve them to combat-trained (gaining the benefits of not needing morale to enter combat, better morale score, and first weapon proficiency)

    2) a fighter with Amateur status can further improve a combat-trained person part of the way to first level, but not all the way (extent possible is TBD.)

    3) an Authority in Instruction can take the combat-trained person all the way to first level (or take them from partly trained to first level, if someone has already trained them part way)

    Do I have that right, based on reading your proposal and following the comment chains adding onto it?

    So now there would be a kind of "half-level" between combat-trained and the 1st level.

    I have some ideas for the extent of "half-levels."

    The HP you give them could be the minimum possible on the 1st level hit dice, and then when they level up they can roll the dice for real. If they roll a better number (and hopefully they do), they get the difference between that roll and the min which they were already awarded. Gives them a little survivability boost for reaching half-level, but doesn't take away from how HD already work.

    And perhaps at half-level they can earn an additional weapon proficiency, if they get more, and/or their first cantrip, if they're a class which gets them. (Hmm ... perhaps half-level clerics Wise enough for a bonus spell could even get that at the half-level mark, too.)

    You mentioned "half-monks" (i.e. half-level monks) using sage abilities in the post responding to Vlad, which implies the half-level character ought to gain their specialization at this point too, and thus their 10 (12?) starting points + the ability awarded for same.

    All of that comes out to a neat package forming a nice division between combat-trained (but with nothing related to character class) and 1st level (with all goodies intact.)

  16. You make a good point, Tim. I haven't incorporated a failure aspect into this; perhaps that is an important difference between authority and expert instructors. A lower chance of failure.

    I've also remembered that the "expert-level" of every sage ability is supposed to incorporate some possible, minor magical effect. I have no idea what this might be for an instructor. Teaching a polymorphed person to act like a believable dragon?

  17. Another possible option for expert instructors could be the ability to train multi-classed persons (or at least train the appropriate portion of their training.)

  18. Maxwell,

    The multi-class solution is a problem; if the instructor isn't a mage, how does training a fighter-mage work? No, the multi-class would need two instructors (or more).

    Regarding the "half-level" . . . technically, it is 100 x.p. increments of a level, 8 of them to be precise, each of which could have a die roll made to determine what is learned or gained. Such as, you have just hit 500 x.p. Roll to see if you've succeeded in picking up that sword proficiency, that 1 extra hit point associated with becoming first level, those points for your sage abilities and your improved THAC0. Each of these would be hard to gain, and would be gained at different speeds by different persons, and all of them with the understanding that they'd come out a full 1st level fighter at the end (if they didn't fail).

    So I can't characterize any of this training as "half leveled." That is far, far too narrow for what I have in mind. It only means that the amateur instructor wouldn't permit some rolls for some things upon gaining such and such experience. And perhaps if nothing successful was rolled, the experience gain would be discounted (nothing was actually learned even though the battle was fought).

    Technically, this means a HUGE benefit of being a leveled person is that all your experience actually counts towards you learning something (eventually).

  19. Oh, I see. It's not that you're defining an additional status between combat-trained and 1st level, it's that you're coming up with an idea to parcel out the 1st level abilities, so that they can be incrementally gained. And if you can gain them all, then that's the very definition of 1st level. Not getting them all means never making 1st level but you've still got more training than the average combat-trained dude.

    Perhaps the prime requisite for the class in which the trainee is acquiring skills, could be the die roll to see if each bit of training takes hold. Or perhaps Intelligence needs its day in the sun.

    So the core concept is "gaining XP and then you roll to see if you acquired one of the class features at each 100 XP bracket." I like this a lot. And under this model, failure to gain first level simply means you have gained lots of chunks of 100 XP but just haven't yet had enough successful rolls to acquire a piece of the class benefits. Correct?

    In that case, you could have a follower who keeps gaining 100 XP after 100 XP but he just can't succeed on those ability acquisition rolls. Time drags on and he stays stuck below 1st level. By sheer probability he may manage to pick up maybe a weapon proficiency or his sage specialization (or even individual sage points if you want to get ultra gritty) but as the XP mounts up and all of it going to get zeroed out if they ever DO make it to 1st level ... the player character to whom the follower is attached might think twice about keeping him around, even with so much time invested already, in favor of someone with the right scores to hit their ability-acquisition rolls.

    That's a good dynamic.

    (RE multiclassing. That's what I meant, that an Expert would be able to contribute to training a multi-classed person, not that they'd somehow be able to train someone in another class's abilities. The reason I thought this ability to participate in training a multiclass might be relegated to Expert is because they have to not only be able to take a trainee all the way up to 1st level, but also be able to teach the trainee such that they can synthesize their training usefully with that of the other class.)

  20. Yes, you're in the ballpark now, Maxwell.

    I think I'm playing on the idea that if the 100 x.p. is earned and then no roll is made for any gain, then the 100 x.p. is scratched as "wrong thinking" and the character starts again.

    I'm also thinking that the ability stats are also on the table. Consider that a child isn't as strong as a full-grown man; I don't see the stats as intrinsic potentials but as actual evidence of present capability ~ that is why they can increase and decrease with age. Naturally, an untrained boy or even an untrained man will have less strength than a trained individual. I can feel my own strength improve if I do a physical job for five months, as I just experienced lately.

    So why not start with a rolled strength on 3d6, then allow for a very small chance for that strength to go up an average of 1-8 points over the 800 x.p. gain (perhaps a 5% chance per 100 x.p.). That would explain the profoundly exceptional strengths of percentage strength bearers, while many prospective fighters could easily fail eight times to increase their strength a single time.

    The same system could be used for any other stat. Then once the level was achieved, the stat is "trained" and thus fixed. It can't go up more because the training is complete and final. From then on, it is up to improvements in sage knowledge and other power upgrades.

    Now, multi-classing. I'm a writer, a cook, a fair graphic designer and a contest-winning dancer (in my youth). I've worked as a database manager, furniture hauler and repairer, a painter and a mascot. I've never had to "synthesize" any of these skills. We just do what we know.

  21. While the suggestion presented here is very interesting, Alexis, I would caution against the "top out at 400 x.p." The prospect of a Germany where the average level of a random NPC would be three was sobering, bordering on terrifying, and thus very interesting.

    I would suggest a random cumulative 20% chance that every 100xp afterwards would "stick" regardless of the presence of a sergeant. Maybe the follower had a bright idea about combat, or just the accumulation of experience brought the point home. It would still be much more efficient to train followers with the proper sage abilities, but still, a population immersed in such turmoil and chaos as the 30-year Germany would massively reach 1st level, and then progress appropriately.


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