Alternative approach to skill and characteristic advancement


Emperor Mongoose
I've been working with a fellow referee on an alternative method to advance skills and characteristics and I want to put the idea in front of this community to get some feedback. It is based on experience points rather than training time. Here's how those points would be awarded:

You gain one experience point per session. You get this point at the conclusion of the night's gaming.

You can gain a BONUS experience point, available at a rate of one per session at the referee's discretion. This bonus would be awarded for things like the following:

  • Great roleplaying. You really nail your character's personality, come up with some great dialogue, or do something that's just flat-out cool in the session and that adds to the story. The key part is that it must ADD to the story. A Traveller story should feel like a great movie or book. You get bonus points for adding to that feel.
  • Creativity. You use a skill or action to do something that advances the plot, solves a key problem, or is just plain cool. This differs from the above in that it's more about problem solving than roleplaying. Rolling a 12 to fix the maneuver drive doesn't count. Flying in your 1-G free trader while being pursued by a pirate going 4 Gs and somehow finding your way out of that pickle by creatively using your skills DOES count. Mind you, it has to work, too! Coming up with a solution and rolling a 2 doesn't cut it, so there's an element of chance, too.

So you end up with 1-2 experience points per session. You can spend the experience as follows:
  • 4 points = advance a skill to level 0 (i.e., you gain a new zero-level skill)
  • 8 points = advance a skill to level 1 (i.e., you advance a zero-level skill to level 1)
  • 12 points = advance a skill to level 2
  • 16 points = advance a skill to level 3
  • After that it's just 4 more points per level desired (e.g., 20 points for level 4, 24 points for level 5, etc.). I know that sounds like a lot, but if you have level 5 in something, you're probably the best at doing that thing in the entire sector! It should be rare.
  • +1 characteristic advancement = the number of points of the new level (e.g, to advance your Strength from 10 to 11, it costs 11 points
  • Jack of All Trades is off limits. You can only gain that skill during character generation.

A few more things:
You have to "show" the ref during an RP session that you're working toward this. This doesn't mean you spend every waking moment in jump studying the heck out of something. We're doing that now and it just seems goofy. Sometimes in jumpspace, you're gonna want to kick back, drink some Reginan ale and watch Netflix in the crew commons. You shouldn't have to obsessively train every waking moment. Just RP a little bit to show you're working on something. E.g., your pilot wants to become better at his job so he starts running simulations of past combats the team has engaged in to see if he could have done it better.

After you get your 1-2 experience points at the end of a session, you have to assign those points by the START of the next session. For example, you earn 2 points and in game you have been sparring a lot with a buddy in the cargo hold. At the start of the next gaming session, you declare that's how you're spending the points. In the NEXT session, you spend more time doing things related to Science (Robotics), so you assign one point toward raising your skill from 1 to 2. You can potentially have several skill advancements in the works at the same time which, I think, more closely resembles real life. You have to keep track of your various development projects on your character sheet, so you know when you eventually have enough points to advance something.

I think this system will make things feel more organic than our panicked "Okay, I'm in jump! I start working like hell on my skills" approach.

Your thoughts? Feedback? Flames?


Cosmic Mongoose
Sounds reasonable.

Possibly it's too cheap to gain characteristics? Ageing is easily negated.

I don't think I would allow training of INT, EDU, SOC. Increasing EDU takes years of full time school.

I've tried something like this, but I made it too cheap so characters were destroyed by ridiculous skill levels.


Banded Mongoose
I have a system in MTU with many similarities to yours. The big difference is how you learn a new skill to rank 0. We have been using this system for a year or so and both I and the players find it to be quite well balanced and we are happy with it. It does not include the possibility to increase characteristics, so I will take a closer look into your system.

Awarding Experience Points
Based on the rules in 2300AD Director’s Guide (page 18).
  • 1 EP for each session.
  • 1 EP for each milestone in an adventure.
  • 1 EP at successful completion of an adventure.
  • 1 EP if a character was exceptional important for the success of the group.
  • 1 EP for extraordinary roleplaying.

Post Career Education
Learn a new skill
Learning a new skill to rank 0 requires training/education according to the rules in Core Rulebook (page 52). No cost in EP.

Improve a known skill
To improve a skill to rank 1 or higher requires experience. The required experience is a number of EP plus that you have real-life experience in using the skill (e.g. that you have successfully used your Gun Combat skill in combat, not only at the shooting range).
  • To increase from rank 0 to rank 1: 2 EP plus success with an average (8+) task.
  • To increase from rank 1 to rank 2: 4 EP plus success with a difficult (10+) task.
  • To increase from rank 2 to rank 3: 6 EP plus success with a very difficult (12+) task.
  • To increase from rank 3 to rank 4: 8 EP plus success with a formidable (14+) task.
  • To increase from rank x-1 to rank x: 2x EP plus success with a formidable (14+) task.

The basic idea behind different rules for learning a new skill and improving an existing skill is that in order to learn a new skill you need theory and/or instructions from a tutor (human or machine). To improve the skill in order to become a professional you need practice, thus the requirement for a successful skill check plus EP. It is fairly easy to go to rank 1 or even 2, but to reach rank 3 or higher is not easy. Not only must you succeed with a very difficult or formidable task but you must first be in a situation where you get the opportunity to even make the task roll. E.g. to learn Pilot (Spacecraft) 0 requires training by a pilot instructor. Some practice in the field and successful atmospheric flying and landing in the wilds is enough to earn rank 1. Continue with scooping hydrogen from a gas giant and you might advance to rank 2. Now you are an experienced pilot and can operate most regular starships and most people don’t improve beyond that. Few pilots will ever find themselves in a situation where they must succeed with a very difficult (12+) Pilot (Spacecraft) task. And even fewer will be in more dire situations.

In my group each character typically gets one or two EP each session. Enough to increase one skill from rank 0 to rank 1 after one or two sessions. An increase to rank 2 is not that expensive. To increase to rank 3 or 4 means that you must save EP for a quite some time, but once you do, you will achieve world class (or better) in your field.


In my experience giving out xp for extraordinary roleplay or for importance during a session often rewards the same players over and over and ignores the quieter ones. If you only give 1 or 2 xp in general per session then an additional xp is quite a lot. But if your group is okay with that there might be no problem.
I also agree with AnotherDilbert: Increasing your characteristics seems quite cheap, especially if you want to erase your weak points.

What I would propose is a mechanism that works similar to the normal mechanism in the rule book:
Increasing your skills gets more expensive based on the sum of your skill points. Your skill points add up to 22? You need to spend 22 xp + new skill level to increase your skill.
Of course you could adjust the xp cost maybe to [Sum of skill points] divided by 2, 3 or 4 + news skill level depending on how fast you want to increase your skills.
You could use the same principle for characteristics.

This also allows weaker players to get onto the level of the characters with higher characteristicts and skills faster.


I award a 'weeks' training to players for good diligent work and when I feel they deserve it. Also if they make an astounding roll on the skill they are training they get a week. And if they get a double 1 and really mess it up, once they have dealt with the problems (which can be near fatal at times) I also award a week. That's because we can learn from our mistakes as much as from our success. After a string of failers the PC will either now know what NOT to do, or learn that they are not destined to do that task in life.

Second system is for good social interaction/rollplay. I award PSI points. Yep that's right. We give a player 3 core words to help disgribe them eg: LAZY-FREINDLY-CURIOUS. Each time a player plays up to one of these well enough I award a PSI point. The points can be burnt as they use them to try PSI during the game. It's not 'true' PSI but it allows them to have a 'hunch' that the guy selling them the vac suits is lying, or 'hey I got a bad feeling about that room guys! Got a feeling we're not alone!'. Imaganitve ways the 'explain' the PSI is fun. Even telepathy in minor use such as ' I'll make the item I need just happen to be closer than it is, it rolled after being nkocked by some ones foot, right?!'
The chance is low as they have a -3 for unskilled but rolling a 10 say is better than no hope and dead! One has even trained his many weeks to learn clarevoyance-0, he's also paranoid, which is fun.

Makes some great roll play with rewards and adds a little fun to the game.


I've been toying w/ similar thoughts in the campaign my group has just started. I like Welf's idea of using the character's total skill levels as a target for spending EP for a skill increase, although I'm leaning towards total pts/2. I also like Varulv's idea of using training only for learning level 0 skills.

As for characteristics, I was leaning towards 2X new characteristic level as the target. This would still allow a character w/ a very low characteristic to raise it to average fairly quickly but makes it harder to get it to extreme levels. I'm also considering raising characteristics only through training, but I haven't made up my mind on that yet.


Banded Mongoose
Welf said:
In my experience giving out xp for extraordinary roleplay or for importance during a session often rewards the same players over and over and ignores the quieter ones. If you only give 1 or 2 xp in general per session then an additional xp is quite a lot. But if your group is okay with that there might be no problem.

Yes, this is a loaded gun that must be handled with extreme care. Sometimes it can be balanced with paltrysum’s 1 EP for "Creativity”, or mine “1 EP if a character was exceptional important…”, for the quiet one, but it is important that the referee knows the players.


Welf said:
in my experience giving out xp for extraordinary roleplay or for importance during a session often rewards the same players over and over and ignores the quieter ones. . . .
I think this is a key point. Some players contribute a lot without being flashy. In comedy, the straight man is often necessary for the funny man to pull off gags successfully, but the straight man rarely gets the credit. Also, it seems like something that players might think of as obligatory -- or unattainable, or arbitrary -- unless the game master has a really good handle on how to grant that bonus.

In general, things I see as worthy of advancement are:
- player attends a session,
- player says that the character is training, studying, practicing, etc. a skill, for a period of in-game time,
- character uses a skill, uses it in a stress situation, succeeds spectacularly, fails spectacularly but later overcomes the failure, uses skill creatively,
- character succeeds at a defined individual goal,
- characters succeed at a defined group goal.

About the only thing that demands judgment there is "uses skill creatively", and that can be assigned at the moment by the game master or by consensus of players, or noted for a decision at the end of the session. But it's a much more specific judgment than "great role playing".

I didn't say anything about the relative value of various ways to step toward advancement, or the cost of advancement. That's another topic altogether.

- - -

One additional point is that I wouldn't absolutely rule out Jack of All Trades. I'd say that the way to achieve it is to advance a whole lot of skills of diverse nature part of the way toward Skill 0, to the point that the character sheet is flooded with unfinished Skill 0 skills. If that point is reached, the player might choose to declare that the whole mess is Jack 1.


Banded Mongoose
I like it. although I think the stat advancement is a little too fast, especially given how expensive it is to advance skills. Maybe doubling the listed cost to advance stats? maybe 2x+2 (moving from 5 to 6 would cost (2x5)+2, or 12 points?


To be blunt but honest its your campaign and your friends so as long as you think it will improve their, as well as your, enjoyment of Traveller, and any other RPG's your group does, change what you want and do what you want