Education, Fleshing out a System

Author: DHBoggs /

 A little over I year ago I posted on the value of an education system in your old school game.  What follows is some further exploration of the idea and a set of straightforward yet powerful rules to give your OD&D game a boost.

In his notes in preparation for the creation of AiF, particularly the December 1977 session, Arneson talks a good bit about an education system.  These notes are free form discussions spoken into a tape recorder where Arneson is just spitballing varying ideas, many of which are then developed in to what we see in AiF.


Here, I'm cherry-picking and simplifying a few of his ideas on skills and education that I've found work really well with an OD&D game, but first let me say that over the course of years of gaming I have developed a couple different "Skill" methods and they worked fine, but involved new subsystems that just further complicate the game.  Complication gets in the way of immersion, and we like immersion.  The method I give here avoids added complexity and works just as well as any of the methods I have tried. 


Basically, I'm advocating the "Skill Check" method from the Rules Cyclopedia - which is nearly the same in principal as how it works in 5e too, and combining that with an Arneson-inspired education system.  The end result, as I've mentioned before allows endless character customization without endless class bloat.  A few tailored subclasses may still be the most desirable way to handle certain specializations, (like paladins, or druids) but the need for dozens of full fledged, cookie cutter classes is obviated.


In his AiF notes Arneson proposed a flat 6 month education system:


"Now, if you have no other problems, then you progress at a six month interval...  Each six months spent in random education...  improves your chances by one...  One chance in six per month learning.


...this (is) in a base six month block... for ease and simplicity of play, based on the fact that six months seems to be about the longest time it takes to really learn a skill; the actual physical manipulation of skill, even though perfecting that skill (gaining additional experience) may take longer... The purpose of the game is to represent the amount of time required to learn the basic skill, not how to gain a great deal of proficiency within the skill. " December '77


In a later passage he gives the example of the Merchant skill, and there's more here that I also think is worth adapting.


"Merchant Skills: There will be ten courses of instruction in merchant skills. Merchant 1, Merchant 2, Merchant 3, 4, etc.  Each of these will give a defined increase in your chances... The actual content of Merchant's class 1 through 10 is not defined; only a percentage chance of completing a deal successfully...  This will avoid a lot of interpretation as to what exactly... is contained within the course of instruction. is beyond the scope of the game... and is indeed, detrimental as it add complication without adding understanding." December '77


And Lastly:

"If a player is interrupted during his six month period of education, one half of all preceding time,... is lost and must be added on to the end of the six months." December 1977.


So putting it all together, here is how it works: 


Weapon Specialization

Weapons, as with AD&D proficiencies,  are their own category - lets just go with "Weapon Specialization".  For each course of study completed a +1 bonus accrues to attack rolls, damage rolls and possibly AC.


Proficiency Level

For everything else, the Referee should have a course list.  Some skills or areas of learning will grant particular advantages as detailed in their description - Gambling, for example.  For all others each 6 month course of study completed successfully grants a "Proficiency Level" of +1.  A character can continue to complete 6 month courses of study in the skill up to a maximum Proficiency Level of +10, that is, they can complete 10 courses of study and no more.


Skill Checks

For "checks" each skill is tied to an ability score and provides a bonus to the score for the check.  Checks are roll under, as usual with saving throws and virtually all non-combat rolls in OD&D.


"Each skill is based on one of the character's ability scores (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom,

Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma). Whenever the DM feels a character's selected skill is appropriate to a game situation, (they) will ask the player to roll 1d20 against the corresponding ability score. This is called a skill roll or skill check. If the roll on the 1d20 is equal to or less than the ability score, the skill use succeeds." Rules Cyclopedia page 82


Characters, of course, add any Proficiency Level or other bonuses to the ability score, raising the target number and their chances of succeeding.


In essence, aside from roll under instead of roll over, this is very similar to the 5e method, however the range is far greater, and by using this method you can quite literally replicate any class ability you want, so long as it is a learnable skill, and because it isn't tied to character level or class, each PC is truly unique.



For every month spent learning a given skill there is a 1/6th cumulative chance of successful learning.  If 6 months pass the skill is acquired automatically.  Each successful period of study grants a either +1 bonus or other ability as specified under the skill description.  Maximum bonus obtainable is +10.  Each time, cumulatively, learning is suspended for a month or more, half the time already spent in study is lost and must be made up with more study.


Costs will vary and may be assigned as the Referee sees fit.  Bargain basement instruction is a minimum 1.5 gp per month and the sky is the limit from there.  Rare and specialized skills could easily cost thousands of gold pieces to learn.  Yes, education, as in real life, is an excellent way of parting people from their gold.


Learning can also only take place where and when there is actually opportunity for it.   Some types of skills could be acquired with daily practice or through a book, but many will require an instructor - these situations are case by case and up to the Referee.  A merman couldn't for example, learn how to ride a giant eagle while living on the bottom of the sea or without an instructor or at the least a textbook for doing so.


More than one skill can be learned at the same time, possibly at a package discount, but all courses must still be paid for.  The number of courses a character can learn simultaneously depends on Intelligence.  The character needs to have 3 full points of Intelligence per course being attempted simultaneously.  Thus a character with a 12 Intelligence score could learn up to 4 skills in one six-month period.  A character with an 18 Intelligence could learn up to 6 skills simultaneously, but a character with a 17 Intelligence could not learn more than 5 skills at once.


Starting Education

Social standing is often left up to the players in most RPGS, and that's fine, but when it comes to starting education, status cannot be ignored.  Here I've taken the fine grained social chart in AIF and reduced it to the three major categories.  Players in my game will choose their character background and social position, but the % given in the table can also be used to determine social standing as needed.  At character creation, the player will get the Proficiency Level points indicated in the last column to distribute as they please, either all to one skill or all to several skills of their choice depending on opportunity as usual.




Starting Gold

Proficiency Level Points


Peasant or Barbarian

2d6 x 10

2 Proficiency Levels per 10 years of life lived



3d6 x 10

4 Proficieny Levels per 10 years of life lived



4d6 x 10

8 Proficiency levels per 10 years of life lived




In this method (unlike Arneson) I have not taken the character's ability scores or any other factors besides time into account regarding their ability to learn.  For game purposes, it is assumed that even a low starting ability score will not hinder the dedicated individual from completing a course.  The low ability score will however remain a limiting factor to successful skill checks.

You can download the complete list of skills I use HERE


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