As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of skill-based game systems that use a flat-cost system in character creation but a scaling-cost system for advancement. That is, something that costs 2 points per level in creation might cost current level x 2 with exp. It effectively penalizes players for not min-maxing at character creation, as it’s way cheaper in the long run if you start with several useful traits maxed out and neglect median ranks in traits.

What the scaling costs are meant to do is create a more simulationist curve to advancement: of course it’s harder to master a skill than to pick up the basics, so the first rank costs a small fraction of moving from the penultimate to ultimate rank. But even with that stated goal, in the latest White Wolf game I’ve been playing, we’ve started to notice flaws. We have a five-member party where everyone started out with a high degree of skill in at least a couple of areas that compliment one another, so we can usually field at least one person against any given challenge. Since there’s only the lowest pressure to shore up our weaker traits, it only makes sense to save up our exp until we can buy something really flashy (generally the next highest rank in our powers). The GM is stuck in a weird situation where our group can pretty easily roll over most of the opponents in his setting book, because even though those NPCs technically have tons more exp than us, they’ve diversified it across a bunch of traits. We’re magical idiot savants, fantastically skilled at a couple of meaningful areas and worthless at anything else. And the system makes that a great idea.

And, as a secondary concern (which is a problem with virtually every game that doesn’t require training time), we’ve gone from newly awakened nobodies to magical powerhouses in only a couple months of game time. There’s no reason for us to take a break longer than it takes us to heal up, recover mana, and refill willpower. So even though the GM would like us to spend some time in magical study, it doesn’t really make any sense for us to do so.

That’s a long intro to explain the background of the system below. It’s designed to:

  • Minimize the differences between buying something at chargen and during play
  • Encourage players to diversify spending rather than just buying the flashiest traits
  • Enforce a “realistic” time frame on learning skills

Fixed Costs

The following charts are tuned to new WoD (new level) and old WoD (current level), but should be applicable with minor modification to any game that uses a level multiplier for exp costs.

New WoD

New Level x 5 dots* 10 dots
1 3 6
2 5 11
3 8 17
4 10 22
5 13 28
6 15 33
7 18 39
8 20 44

* The fifth dot costs double as in character creation.

Old WoD

Current Level x* 5 dots 10 dots
1 2 5
2 5 9
3 7 14
4 9 19
5 12 23
6 14 28
7 16 33
8 18 37

* The costs are based on a fixed cost for the first dot equal to about 150% the cost of the second dot (e.g., skills cost 3 points for the first dot in oWoD and 2 for the second).

Examples

In oWoD, attributes cost current level x 4 for a five-dot progression. Looking at the chart above, they now costs 9 points per dot. Similarly, Willpower costs current level x 1 for a ten-dot progression. On the chart, that becomes 5 points per dot.

In nWoD, attributes cost new level x 5 for a five-dot progression, so they now cost 13 points per dot (and the fifth dot costs 26). Meanwhile, Willpower becomes a flat 8 points per dot, so that remains unchanged.

Enforced Time

Standard Method

Characters can spend one exp per week per trait. If they don’t have enough saved exp on hand at the end of the week for all the traits they want, they didn’t learn anything that week and don’t get to “buy the week back” when more exp is gained. But if they have lots of exp, they can be working on several traits at once. This is effectively paying for the trait on layaway: when the last point of exp goes into the trait, it is increased on the character sheet immediately.

The GM may additionally want to give out bonus training that is effectively extra exp that can ignore the time restrictions. This will generally be something the PCs were focused on during the adventure and could justify learning faster due to on-the-job training. For example, in an adventure where everyone learned a ton about the occult, instead of 4 general exp the GM might give out 2 general exp and 2 exp that went straight into the Occult skill (and the players could spend another point of exp into Occult for their regular weekly increases).

Players will likely either want a character sheet with room next to every trait to track exp spent, or a scratch sheet to keep track of which traits are being worked on. The GM will likely want to pick a day of the game week that’s exp day, and remember to call it out at the table (“It’s Sunday morning, spend your exp!”).

Slightly More Bookkeeping Method

The above method does make more expensive traits take longer to learn, but doesn’t capture the geometric feel of the multiplicative exp. That is, under this system, the fourth dot takes just as long to learn as the second. If you’d like to retain some of that feel, you can make lower point values take less time to pick up than higher.

The simplest way to do that is to let the players put two points of exp into a skill per week if they’re trying to buy rank 1 or 2 and only half a point in per week (or one every other week) if they’re trying to buy rank 5.

In nWoD, that means a character completely untrained in a skill (and with ample exp to spend every week but no bonus exp) gains rank 1 in four weeks, rank 2 after 8 weeks total, rank 3 after 16 weeks total, rank 4 after 24 weeks total, and rank 5 after 56 weeks total. Meanwhile, a x6 power gains rank 1 in 8 weeks, rank 2 in 15 weeks total, rank 3 in 30 weeks total, rank 4 in 45 weeks total, and rank 5 after 105 weeks.

If you have enough downtime that a year still seems too fast to go from untrained to mastery in a skill, you can slow the progression down even more. Do keep in mind that doing so will make learning more expensive traits than skills (i.e., attributes and powers) take even more time. Make sure that your time progression leaves enough room for players to bother getting the last rank in a power if it takes over a year to go from 4 to 5.

And if, as a GM, you want to keep track of all the bookkeeping yourself, you can simply ask the players what they’re trying to learn and then tell them when they can level it up. Just one day you’ll be like, “all that time you spent learning X has paid off, you may increase it by one dot.” Your players might even be amazed at the way their characters grow along with their intentions but without their direct involvement.

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