I have seen in various roleplaying games a sort of “training time” mechanic. Basically in addition to gaining the needed experience points/levels/whatever to gain a new skill/power/attribute, your character must also devote a given amount of in-game time to training. These times pretty much invariably are too long to ever be accomplished in a typical story arc, so they seem to basically just wall off powers unless the GM basically allows a period of extended downtime between adventures for players to train, which puts the powers squarely in the realm of GM fiat.

In practice, people I play with have always ignored these rules; in my opinion, this has always led to more fun experiences. I was curious if you have ever had good experiences with these rules, or had seen a good justification for their inclusion in a system?

Thanks in advance for any insight.

Hey Sean, thanks for writing in!

You’ve hit upon a really important concept in RPGs that I wish more designers understood: real units of time, from minutes to years, are a terrible way to measure time within a game’s fiction. Small units of time are a huge pain to keep track of, so they end up being lumped together anyway. You can see this in games like Mistborn, where you’re supposed to keep track of exactly how many minutes and seconds each ability lasts. Not to be punny, but no one has time for that!

If you make the time limit long, then it’s basically off limits for most games, since few GMs are going to plan six-month breaks into their stories. This is the case for a lot of the training mechanics you’ve mentioned, whether they’re required for certain abilities or just intended as a way to get bonus XP. Burning Wheel has rules for year-long training cycles, as if most PCs go home to winter in the Shire between adventures.

And of course, the fuzziness of these time units within the fiction leads to a lot of arguments between players and the GM. No one is really sure how much time is passing because the GM needs to keep that flexible. This is vital, but it also means no one is really sure where they stand, so more assertive players will try to push things to their advantage. You see this a LOT in games like Mage, where downtime allows PCs to cook up incredibly powerful spells, and isn’t arguing about ritual times the real reason we play these games?

The only way for training time to actually work in an RPG is when it’s an abstract unit that fits into the game’s broader structure. Most systems don’t have a structure robust enough to handle this, but for those that do, this can be really fun. In Blades in the Dark and Torchbearer, training isn’t handled in days or months, but in turns during the downtime phase. This comes after an adventure phase and creates a natural rhythm for the game’s fiction.

From there, things are abstracted. A fighter’s training might just represent a few sparring matches. Meanwhile, the mage learning a new spell could represent several months of work within the fiction. What’s important is that those abilities are available now, and they’re governed by clear rules so everyone knows where they stand. The GM can still change those rules if necessary of course, but they provide a foundation on which to build.

That’s a bit beyond your question, but I just find this topic fascinating. I hope it helps!

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