Exponential skill experience costs

Right now, having ten levels in a skill makes you one of the world’s best practitioners of that skill. Ten is, I believe, also the highest level for which the game is balanced.

I have no problem with this.

However, there are two major problems which have been in the game for a long time.

[ul][li]One, it seems like it’s way too easy to become an expert in a skill. I should simply be unable to attain level ten skill in one in-game year.
[li]Two, it’s way too grindy to maintain high-level competence–and it’s grindy in a way that doesn’t add to the fun of the game. [/li][/ul]

Right now, to my knowledge, skill gains still require a level of experience which goes up linearly (e.g. 100 exp to get level 1, 200 more for level 2, 300 more for 3, etc.) I believe that having exponential skill-gain costs instead, while decreasing the rate or importance of skill rust, would decrease both problems.

First, it makes sense from a “realism” point of view. According to certain models for the learning curve, a person must double their experience every time they want to see a percentage gain in their efficiency in most tasks.

Let’s say you have no experience in using guns. In your first hour of practice, you miss your target 50% of the time. In your second hour, you miss it 40% of the time–your miss rate was mutiplied by 0.8. To see another x0.8 improvement, you’d need a total of about 4 hours of practice. To bring your miss rate to 5%, you’d need about 1277 total hours of practice.

Second, having exponential skill costs would create a new goal in the game (and goals are something this game sorely lacks): to become a professional in something.

Right now, you kinda have to grind to attain basic competence to make a skill actually usable (e.g. I have to practice throwing more than 60 times before I can get a spear to hit a target with the pointy end half the time; and throwing is the easiest skill to train!). Then, for the middle levels, it’s okay. Once you reach expert levels (around 7), you again have to grind to outpace skill rust. And once you become a world expert (which happens in less than a year), skill rust is your arch-enemy, with grinding your only reliable means of defense.

Exponential experience costs to attain skill levels–combined with decreased skill rust–would make attaining expertise more of a natural consequence of months/years of practice, and encourage less anti-rust grinding.

I imagine that the experience cost could look something like this: Experience to next level = 50 * 2 ^ (current level). If you get about 10 experience per action with 100 focus, or 10 experience for about 5 minutes of studying, the result kinda looks like this:

[spoiler=How long to attain a given level of skill]Level 1: Basic familiarity: You’ve tried a skill only a handful of times, or studied it for 25 minutes. You can finally swing a knife without cutting yourself. You can finally stick a target with the pointy end of a spear when throwing it, but not reliably. You can thread a needle, and kind of know how to patch torn clothes.

Level 4: Basic competence: You’ve tried a skill about 100 times, or studied it a few hours. (since the game year is compressed to 56 days, this seems fair). You can reliably hit a shambling zombie with a knife. You can throw a spear, and reliably hit a real target (like a zombie) pointy-end first. You can identify basic stitches (overcast, running stitch, etc.), know which is best for each situation, and know the properties of fabrics (breathability, strength, etc.).

Level 7: Expertise: You practiced a skill almost 1000 times, or studied it for more than 50 hours. You can very reliably use self-defense techniques like parrying, feinting, and counter-attacks. You can throw a spear or throw a rock, and hit a moving target from 50 meters or so. You can invent special, kevlar-reinforced survivor gear with minimal encumbrance.

Level 10: A leading world expert: You’re in it for the long haul. You challenged yourself in a skill thousands of times, or studied it few hours per day every day for several game years. You can reliably beat even expert fencers, and have revolutionized the art of fencing. The speed and accuracy of your throwing could put the pitchers in Major League Baseball to shame (if they weren’t all undead). You create articles of clothing which always combine mobility, functionality, protection, and fashion all at once.[/spoiler]

In short, you quickly gain the ability to use skills at a basic level. However, top-level expertise is an enviable achievement which you actually won’t see until the very-late-game. As things stand right now, level 10 skill is something you can realistically get before mid-game, and can’t maintain without thinking about how much skill you’ll lose by taking a day off.

Speaking of which, I imagine skill rust should take a game day to set in; and should be reset with one use of a skill. Grinding to maintain a skill you already have adds nothing novel or interesting (i.e. fun) to the play experience.

Thank you for this well written and proposed idea!

I really agree with everything you say. Personally, I always turn skill rust off, because I am too much of a perfectionist to keep it on. To compensate, I try to play only toguh starting starting situations with 1.5 spawn and large cities.

Still, some sort of skill rust should probably stay in the game, but decreasing its importance sounds good to me.

To be honest I think that the crafting system should deliberately point out the obviously grindy techinques for getting your skills up in something for like, say, fabrication. You can get to level THREE by just making shit from benches from the rock you found lying around? How the hell is such a brainless caveman doing this? Just bash nails to fishing hooks, cut things into skewers then make knitting needles, and then make that distaff and spindle! All these things get you up to level three in almost no time at all, and that’s just one example of grindy grindy basic shit for Mr. Caveman! You could grind up with simple recipes even further for all I know, but I stopped at the point because of the sheer ‘wat’ factor of it. At least it’s better than before where you could become a godlike blacksmith by bending + unbending a single nail.

Sorry for that little rant, but anyway here’s my idea:

To reduce the power of grinding, I think the more simple crafting recipes which take little time CoughFishingHook CoughKnittingNeedles CoughDistaff+Spindle shouldn’t give you as much experience as more complex tasks. I’m not sure if this is codable or not, but could there also be a value for the amount of XP gained when crafting that recipe? For example, successfully making a forged sword could give me a lot more XP than making a simple recipe - this would make some sense rather than following the principle of ‘oh lol its a lv2 recipe lets give em some xp even if they’re just using 2 skewers and taking NO TIME AT ALL.’

So yes, skill rust should kick in harsher! And for goodness sake, stop giving me even 1% XP for bashing a fucking nail with a rock. Even if it is a level 0 recipe.

It would certainly add a reason to put points into skills in character creation.

Personally, I think just skill rust should be redone instead of the entire exp system. Have skill rust be extremely harsh in the beginning (1-3) levels then go down quickly in the later levels (5-7) then disappear in the last few levels (8-10), because in real life once you have mastered a skill you are less likely to forget it, not the other way around.

Exponential skill growth would seem to make grinding a bigger issue than it already is (unless skill rust is turned off) yet I think it is still fine, so long as the exp curve is modified by your intelligence (having the slope decrease with higher intelligence to speed up learning).

I was having related thoughts about the experience-related Traits recently.

Because the player largely sets the pace of the game after the initial rush to acquire shelter and supplies, they’re very unlikely to need to attempt something without the proper skills - there’s always time to train up. Skill rust limits the number of things you can be the best in the world at simultaneously, but never stops you from practicing or reading your way back up to level you need before you craft something complex/install a bionic/work on your car/whatever. However, with uncapped skill rust, you spend a lot of time just maintaining proficiency. This is somewhat realistic at level 10+, as the world’s best Starcraft players, for example, can feel the difference if they don’t play for even one day.

For game purposes, though, spending a lot of time in your shelter re-grinding skills is not very fun. Since how fast you learn something is rarely time-sensitive, all of the traits like Fast Learner, Slow Learner, and Savant are basically exchanging character points for tedium. Whether it takes one day or two to raise your Mechanics high enough to install that engine is almost never going to matter in any meaningful way in-game, but it will be twice as annoying in real-time. I made a character with Savant thinking it would be an interesting challenge to have to pick one skill to stick with, but it turns out that in play it just doesn’t matter - you’re going to want all the skills anyway, and you quickly get used to learning basically everything at half speed, so you just end up grinding really slowly. (She’s doing really well, too.)

I think making skill rust less punishing - either by making IntCap the default, or by not checking for rust on skills you’ve used in the last 24 hours - is absolutely good for the game, but I’m not certain about exponential skill costs. I spend enough time reading through all the books I’ve found already with the linear experience system.