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.