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Saturday, July 11, 2015

My Learning House Rules


I'm proposing alternate learning rules from those found in the GURPS Basic Set.


To bring them in line with how I believe real people learn. In real life, it's easy to reach a moderate level of skill, but from that point on each increase in ability takes more practice than the last. In addition, everyone lacking a learning disability acquires skills in the same way: through deliberate practice--no one has inborn talent--and at the same rate. How people differ is in their motivation.

For the most part, I have based these rules on the paper titled The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.

These rules are based on the following assumptions.

1) Only deliberate practice increases skill level. Not incidental practice or inborn talent. Work the cash register at 7-11 for thirty years and you might be the same skill level as the day you started.

2) People have a difficult time forcing themselves to practice.

3) Practice is tiring.

4) Skill levels differ in terms of training time. Lower levels are easier to acquire, while higher levels each take more time than the previous level, unlike the RAW, which gives the same time to go from skill 19 to skill 20 as it does from level 12 to 13.

5) People without learning disabilities learn at the same rate when they do learn.

6) Skill difficulty doesn't enter into the picture. Chess, an Easy skill in GURPS, takes the same amount of time to master as Violin, a Hard skill. I have abandoned the concept of skill difficulty entirely.

7) While people learn at the same rate when they do learn, identifying what will cause learning is difficult, and often requires a plan designed by a teacher.

8) As a consequence of the difficulty with which high skill levels are achieved, skill levels of real people are lower than players often imagine. The person working the cash register might only have a base skill level of 8, but due to generous bonuses from task difficulty, which could be as high as +10 for some tasks, and equipment bonuses, the skill 8 person is able to perform their job.

First the Simplified Version

The GM must decide that the character reeeeeally wants to practice his skill. A character can't pour every extra second of time they have into practice. They must have either an Obsession or someone breathing down their neck to get it done.

Use the hours per skill level chart (below). Characters can only spend two hours per day performing mental practice, and one hour per day performing physical practice. Double each number if the character is supervised by a teacher. Double each number again, for a total of eight and four hours, respectively, for characters with Will 14+, FP 14+, and Less Sleep 4. Days spent practicing must be entirely devoted to practice. If any excitement breaks out on one of these days, the character starts the excitement at half his full FP.

Now the Full Rules

Each skill's time practiced is tracked separately.

Skill level - Total Hours Practiced

Skill 8: 5 hours
Skill 9: 100 hours
Skill 10: 500 hours
Skill 11: 1,000 hours
Skill 12: 2,000 hours
Skill 13: 2,500 hours
Skill 14: 3,125 hours
Skill 15: 4,000 hours
Skill 16: 4,800 hours
Skill 17: 6,100 hours
Skill 18: 7,600 hours
Skill 19: 9,500 hours
Skill 20: 12,000 hours
Skill 21: 15,000 hours
Skill 22: 18,500 hours

In principle, characters should start at skill 0, but the amount of practice required to reach skill 6 or 7 would be so low that I've decided to treat all characters from a culture where they would normally be exposed to the skill as having skill 7.

I strongly recommend using these rules with broader skills, like in my house rules. This doesn't work as well with the RAW skills, which are often so fine-grained that a character such as a doctor or swordsman might need four or more skills at a high level.

We have two questions to answer next:

1) How long can someone force themself to practice each day?

2) How long should they force themselves to practice each day?

"studies show essentially no benefit from durations exceeding 4 hr per day and reduced benefits from practice exceeding 2 hr" -- The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance

"deliberate practice is an effortful activity that can be sustained only  for a limited  time  each day during extended periods without  leading  to exhaustion (effort constraint). To maximize gains from long-term practice, individuals must avoid exhaustion and must limit practice to an amount from which they can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis" -- The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance

These rules are intended to be used with the Long-Term Fatigue rules from Douglas Cole's The Last Gasp, from Pyramid issue 3/44, Alternate Gurps II.

Each hour of practice costs 1 FP while practicing a mental skill, or 2 FP while practicing a physical one. This is intended to be used with the rules from The Last Gasp.

So people with an FP of 10, which should be most people, will only be able to practice mental skills for five hours before they enter the realm of severe fatigue, and only physical practice for two hours before doing so.

If we say that most modern people who are performing mental practice only have nine Fatigue Points, not unreasonable, since most modern people will receive approximately zero exercise, then giving people who perform mental exercise 9 FP and people who perform physical practice 10 FP, then that matches the evidence quite well.

We can see from this that the amount of time one is able to consistently practice is extremely limited due to fatigue. An average person with 10 FP who practices football for two hours drops to a safe 6 FP, which can be recovered from with eight hours of rest, but another hour of practice drops him to 4 FP, which is severe fatigue, now necessitating twenty hours of rest.

See how it's difficult to fit that rest around a normal eight hours of sleep. This means there is an effective limit of four hours per day of mental practice, or two hours a day of physical practice.

To represent people like Nikola Tesla, who was able to practice far more than a normal man, I suggest purchasing multiple levels of Less Sleep (all the way up to four for Tesla, who may have even possessed a limited version of Doesn't Sleep), a high Will, the Extremely Motivated perk (below), and a very high level of FP. I intend to do another post on mental fatigue in the future to discuss a means of separating mental and physical fatigue.

"In contrast to play, deliberate practice is a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weaknesses, and performance is carefully monitored to provide cues for ways to improve it further. We claim that deliberate practice requires effort and is not inherently enjoyable." -- The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance

At the beginning of each hour of practice, make a Will roll. On a success, you are able to force yourself to practice for that hour. On a failure, you aren't able to concentrate and instead you waste the hour diddling around. You may even believe you spent the hour practicing, but nothing productive comes of it. On a failure, you aren't able to achieve real practice again until you completely restore your Fatigue Points or you receive some sort of outside motivation, like a speech from a parent or a teacher's glower.

Group Instruction, such as a lecture, gives no bonus on the Will roll. However, individual instruction gives a +4 bonus.

A motivating speech (or other encouragement) in the form of a successful Teaching, Intimidation, Diplomacy, Professional Skill (Childcare), or other applicable roll by a teacher, parent, etc. gives a +2 bonus for one week. This bonus replaces the bonus for individual instruction above. Anticipation of an upcoming event in which the skill is used, such as a recital, tournament, or job interview gives an additional +2 to this roll. For more extreme examples, such as imprisonment, severe beatings, or the threat of unpayable debts if a certain skill level is not achieved, the GM may assess an even larger bonus.

The bonus from the Training Bonus Table on page 5 of Pyramid #3/44 applies to this roll as well. The highly skilled have an easier time forcing themselves to practice. They've gotten used to it. Though it makes more sense to base this table on absolute, rather than relative, skill level. I propose the following:

Skill Level:       11  12  14  17  20
Training Bonus:    +1  +2  +3  +4  +5

Characters with the Laziness disadvantage suffer a -4 penalty. The GM is encouraged to assess this same penalty--or an even larger one--to characters under considerable stress. A troubled home life is a common cause of reduced motivation.

"To assure effective learning, subjects ideally should be given explicit instructions about the best method and be supervised by a teacher to allow individualized diagnosis of errors, informative feedback, and remedial part training." -- The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance

Practice alone isn't enough. Proper areas of improvement must be identified and a plan must be devised that will lead to that improvement. A million hours spent engaged in "practice" that doesn't improve your skill is time down the drain. Some "practice" can change good habits into bad, reducing overall skill levels.

To represent this, each day, before practice, make an IQ roll. If you succeed, each hour of practice counts toward your skill. If you fail, each hour is wasted and you receive no benefit. On a critical failure, for each hour of practice you lose one hour toward your skill! The GM should make this roll in secret.

For solo practice, access to study materials, such as chess manuals or instructional videos, provides a +2 bonus. A weekly plan created by a teacher provides an additional +2 bonus. Constant personal instruction from a teacher negates the need for an IQ roll entirely, regardless of IQ score! The bonus from the Training Bonus Table (above) applies as well. I wouldn't bother rolling for characters with a final score of 16 or higher.

For extended periods of practice, the expected result of all these rolls should be used. Perhaps in the future I will generate a table that shows expected hours of practice for a given skill level, Will, IQ, and FP, but I lack the ability to do so now. It should be possible to create a spreadsheet that tells you how many hours of skill increases you receive for an entire year of practice.

New Perks:

Extremely Motivated‡
Prerequisite: Obsession (master the skill in question).
This perk comes in level. Choose a skill. You get a +2 bonus on Will rolls to practice that skill for each level of this advantage.

Insightful Learner‡
This perk comes in levels. Choose a skill. You get a +2 bonus on IQ rolls to identify areas of improvement with that skill for each level of this advantage.

New Quirk:

Slow Learner
For each hour spent practicing, you only receive fifteen minutes of effective learning time.


  1. You did see this week's GURPS release, right?

  2. I am aware of it. I haven't looked at it yet. I wrote this post in January and the new book reminded me that I hadn't posted this yet.