Caveat #1 – This isn’t necessarily a post about D&D-style games. I say necessarily, because it could probably be adapted, but it isn’t intended to be a new rule for the old game. It’s actually not intended to be a new rule for any game – just a thought experiment.
Caveat #2 – Since I’m a D&D guy from way back, the language used will probably be cognate with D&D language – old habits die hard.
Caveat #3 – IQ, or “intelligent quotient”, is the term I’m using because one tends to speak about “IQ points”, and this scheme uses points. In truth, I’m using IQ in a way that has little to do with the real thing.
On to the idea …
Characters have ability scores to measure their raw physical (including mental) abilities in a variety of general endeavors. Strength, dexterity and the like. Among these is intelligence.
Raw intelligence might be considered to be one’s ability to figure things out on the fly, and could influence dice rolls concerning that endeavor. It would also, though, form the basis of learning – i.e. skills.
Skill also impacts one’s endeavors, on an individual basis. So, while raw dexterity generally impacts one’s ability to dextrous things (thus a bonus or penalty on a dice roll), skills would apply only to individual endeavors that might be influenced by dexterity, such as moving silently or picking pockets.
How skilled can a person be? Here’s where a points system comes in, and we’ll call these points IQ points. IQ points are allotted over time to any number of endeavors that a character trains in. How many IQ points does a character have? That would be based on raw intelligence. Perhaps, if we used a scheme like D&D, IQ would equal intelligence x 10.
Each possible endeavor a person can become skilled in – from picking locks to fighting with a broadsword to shooting an arrow to programming a computer or casting a magic spell – would be given a level equal to the number of IQ points devoted to it. This level would be cross referenced with a difficulty level when attempting an endeavor to find the chances (on a dice roll) of success. I think the old “turn undead” table would be a pretty good starting place for this, though one would have to play with it a bit to get it quite right.
How does one devote IQ points to endeavors? Practice, practice, practice!
Characters must devote a certain number of hours per day to an endeavor to devote IQ points to that endeavor. Here’s where the system would need quite a bit of thought and fine-tuning applied to it, and honestly more than I shall do here. Remember, this is at this point a notion and a thought experiment, not a fully-formed system.
We might suggest something like this – each hour of practice per day gives a person a 1 in 6 chance of achieving a higher level in that something, up to a maximum of a 5 in 6 chance, at the end of the week. Beyond level 5, this becomes a chance in 8. Beyond level 10, a chance in 10. Beyond level 15, a chance in 20. If a person manages to achieve a higher level, they allot a point of IQ to that endeavor and record their higher level on their character sheet.
Example: Sir Boris devotes five hours of practice per day to fighting with longsword and shield. He has 50 IQ points total. At the end of the week, he has a 5 in 6 chance of achieving “level 1” in fighting with longsword and shield. If he succeeds on his roll (which is likely), he achieves level 1, and allots 1 IQ point to “longsword and shield”, leaving him 49 IQ points to devote to other endeavors or to improving at “longsword and shield”.
Of course, experience is the best teacher. Anytime a character attempting an endeavor during an adventure – i.e. fighting with longsword and shield against a hobgoblin rather than just training against another pupil or his teacher – he has a chance to increase his level. After the fight (or attempt or whatever), if the character was successful, he or she has a 1 in 10 chance of increasing their level right there on the spot. If they were not successful (but are still alive), they have a 1 in 100 chance of increasing their level. One might also rule that the task being attempted must be equal in or greater in difficulty than the character’s present level of skill in order to have a chance to increase their skill – thus master’s at fighting cannot easily improve their skill at fighting by picking fights with those who are less skilled – no challenge, no improvement!
By devoting hours of study, one can spend their IQ on a given endeavor and achieve a certain level (with a maximum level as well) that must then be maintained by devoting a lesser amount of time per day or week to maintenance. If we divide the levels of mastery into broad bands, say something like the following …
1-5 levels = Novice
6-10 levels = Veteran
11-15 levels = Expert
16-20 levels = Master
… we can thus assign different training requirements to maintain one’s level of skill. We could say to maintain novice level, one must devote at least one hour per week to training. To maintain veteran level, one must devote at least three hours per week to training. To maintain expert level, one must devote at least one hour per day to training. To maintain master level, one must devote at least two hours per day to training. “Devoting hours” means studying, training, practicing, etc. Since one’s time is limited, the ability to maintain numerous skills at a high level is also limited.
Example: Sir Boris above has one level in “longsword and shield”. To maintain that level, he must devote one hour per week to training with longsword and shield. He can devote addition training time to attempt to increase his level with longsword and shield, but one hour of training will always be devoted to nothing beyond maintaining his current level.
When one does not practice as they should, they lose one level in that endeavor, and thus free up an IQ point. They might re-train themselves in that same endeavor and regain the lost level, or they might decide to devote their training to something else. A wizard who used to think illusions were the way to go might let his practice with illusions lapse, and instead devote his time and training to conjuration.
And thus the system. One gets better at things by training and actual experience “under fire”, but is limited by their overall intelligence (i.e. ability to learn) and the amount of time they have to maintain their skills. One would have to work out the details to make sure the system functions properly, but it could provide a very “organic” way of building living, breathing characters that change over time. Introduce training costs (which might vary from one endeavor to another), and characters have a reason to go out into the world in search of gold.