CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Never Stop Learning

Character Advancement and Time
A topic of conversation that comes up often when talking about Pathfinder – although I’m sure it can apply to any level based system – is how characters learn new skills and abilities. With level based systems you just reach a certain point and then all of a sudden you know all this new stuff at once. For some GMs this is jarring. Tack onto that the fact that, by the book in Pathfinder, you can basically take any skill or feat you qualify for regardless of anything. Although this doesn’t bother me so much, it does stray very far from any realistic way of learning anything.

A portion of GMs try to address this in what I personally think is too extreme a manner and dictate that you can only really level, or at least learn anything, if you have time to train after you’ve hit the level mark. I understand the sentiment but I don’t think this really works in Pathfinder. Many times we find our party in a dungeon and they’re down there for two or even three levels before getting back to a town to “train.” Sometimes the party is just on the road and the only people they have to interact with are each other. Forcing players to return to town at every level to train up becomes very limiting in a system like Pathfinder.

So how do we work within the system we have but also keep things a bit closer to a realistic way of attaining new skills? My usual answer is that I always consider the players to be practicing in downtime. Characters don’t just set up camp and sleep eight hours. They make food, take some time to relax, read, whittle, or whatever other activities they choose. Even when in town there may be hours or days that are unaccounted for, in this time they could be doing other stuff that will advance their abilities.

A lot of times a GM will just let a class ability be. But sometimes when an ability has a choice – like say a ranger’s favored enemy – a GM may limit the enemies to creature types the party has already fought. This is fair enough, but what happens when the player has an idea for another creature type? Personally I’m ok with it, but I try and help the player reason it out. Why would he choose this creature type? Maybe it’s a racial enemy and we can reason that he’s had some training. The character’s end goal could be that he wants to be a famous dragon hunter, but he’s never met a dragon. So possibly he’s been reading every book he could find on dragon lore, I’ll even go so far to retroactively let him spend a few gold to have some tomes on dragon fighting.

You can use basically the same tactic with skills. Some skills are easily explained if you already have them or if another member of the party has the one you want to learn. Any skill that you’ve used between levels can quite easily be explained away as learning through doing. But what of skills that no one has and you don’t already know?

Personally, as a player I try tons of skills that I don’t have. Some players forget to use skills they aren’t trained in, but if I want to try something I will try it regardless of how bad I am at the skill at hand. Failure is a great way to learn. So getting that first rank in a skill can happen through use of even untrained skills.

Skills that require some training to use and no one has is a bit more of a difficult prospect. My investigator travels around with books on many subjects; I just spent some gold on unnamed books. When I want to raise a rank in a knowledge skill I don’t have I just make up a fun title and say I’ve been reading it when we rest. For a skill like disable device I would say I was carrying a small lock around with me and practicing whenever I got a chance. As a GM, again, I’d let a player retroactively buy an item they would need to help train in what they wanted.

And there’s one skill that I want to single out that is understandably one of the most commonly argued about in terms of how a player learns. Linguistics. Using my investigator as an example he gets two languages for every rank in linguistics, he started out with a good half dozen languages. One of the main character quirks is that he’s an excellent linguist, so much so that he can amazingly speak whatever language he learns with a perfect accent. But some GMs would have a problem with him just picking up a language.

My GM and I work together. I ask him if there is anyone in town who speaks the language I want. If there isn’t and it’s reasonable to he’ll just make someone up. I learned Osiriani by having lunch at a cafĂ© run by a Osirian family every day. Now this isn’t something I did before choosing the language, this is something when I leveled my GM and I hammered out retroactively. By the way they’re a nice family but I think their youngest daughter has a crush on me.

What happens when there’s no one in your party to teach you and there’s no one in town? Learning a language on your own is difficult but not impossible. Many languages have similar roots. Most Inner Sea languages have Phonemes from ancient Azlanti. Skald, Taldane, and Varisian have numerous letters from the Jistka alphabet, and the Jistka numerals are still used by scholars and royalty. With common threads it wouldn’t be hard to have a character make connections to languages he knows to learn a new one. Couple that with, say, carrying around a book of poetry in whatever language to learn from, and there you have it.

So the next time the party levels, players and GMs can take this to heart and work together to find a way to both allow for player choice and a GM’s need for a bit more realism. You never know when that new skill can come in handy.

How do you usually handle player learning? Is there just one “aha” moment and they know everything? Do you talk about how a character may come to learn something new? Do you force them to only be able to level if trained?

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