Part 4: Variant Training in 5e

Welcome to Part 4 of the WTF do I do with all this Gold series. This time we are looking at Variant Training rules. But first, what is wrong with the current system? Well nothing really, except for it makes little sense and sucks. The way skills, proficiencies, and languages are structured currently prevents character customization and encourages one-level dips to create the character a player wants.

Picture a Shaolin Monk leaping through the air wielding a yanyuedao (basically a Chinese glaive). It’s a pretty common image, unless you play D&D 5e. To do that and you either dip into fighter class or waste an ability score increase to take a feat because the glaive is a martial weapon

What about a Human Rogue with the sailor background, your quintessential pirate. You would expect a character like that to know a dozen languages from ports around the world. Nope, she knows Common and two others from her racial abilities, nothing for sailor.

Under the current RAW, players have three options for training and learning new skills:

  1. If you want to learn a new language or tool use, you must spend 250 downtime days and 250 gold pieces to learn one.
  2. The other option is to seek out special training as a reward for a completed task from a master or retired adventurer. This special train can grant proficiency in a skill or the gain of a feat.
  3. Taking a feat through special training or as a substitution for an ability score increase.

It is just the way 5e is designed; a one size fits all balanced system. What makes this system so frustrating is that, for the most part, languages and weapon proficiencies are fluff.  Stats wise, a spear and a trident are identical, with the trident weighing 1lb more.  Yet, the trident is a martial weapon that only specially trained fighting classes can use, while the spear is a simple weapon available to everyone. No wait, some classes can use a quarterstaff, but sharpen the end to a point, call it a spear and they have no idea what to do with it. That makes sense, right? It makes about as much sense as a wizard dipping into one level of fighter and knowing how to use all martial weapons overnight. Don’t laugh. Play WOTC’s Curse of Strahd. The party goes into the Bonegrinder level 4 and after defeating a Coven of Hags, come out level 5. Player dips into fighter and learns every martial weapon instantly.

This is a pretty schizophrenic system that implies that the weapon proficiencies are fluffy enough to award them all overnight, but serious enough to require a level set back to get them. Of course the PHB says that your DM can set his own training rules. That is fixing a flaw with a DM fiat, so let’s fiat this shit.

First off, let’s fix learning languages. The current system takes way too long just to learn a language and completely ignores a character’s Intelligence; you know the main ability used to learn things. The U.S. government can teach an agent a language in 600 hours. D&D 5e claims it takes 2000 hours (that’s 250 days at 8 hours a day). Languages also vary in their difficulty, but that can be a call you make as a DM.

The Variant formula for how long it takes to learn a language is 2000/INT score = Number of days. That’s it. Now personally I like breaking languages and proficiencies down into tiers of difficulty and I will provide that at the end of this post, but it is really up to the DM.

As to cost, I tinkered with this system to fix a flaw I saw and to suck a little more gold from my players for fluff. Rules as Written cost for training is 1 GP a day. Which I find unrealistic considering skilled hirelings cost 2 GP per day. Personally I jack the cost up to between 5gp/day and 10gp/day, depending on the tier, with the option to use Monastery Incense at 50gp/day.

So let’s look at an example:

  • Barf the Rogue needs to learn Orc, and fast. He has an INT score of 18 so he is pretty damn smart. On my tiers, Orc needs 1500 hours to learn and skilled teacher will cost 6gp a day.
  • 1500/18 = 84 days (we always round up) 84*6gp = 504 gp
  • But Barf needs this knowledge faster than that so he wants to half the time by studying under the influence of Monastery Incense 50gp/day.
  • 84/2 =42 days. 42*56 = 2352 GP.
  • So Barf can learn Orc for 504 GP or in half the time for 2352.

Weapon Proficiencies work almost the same way, except that each weapon is an individual proficiency and two ability stats are combined and then divided into the required hours. For instance proficiency with a glaive for the Monk I mentioned earlier would work like this:

  • Glaive is a STR weapon so Tarbis the monk adds his STR+INT and divides that into 2500 hours (my tier level).
  • His strength is high (17) but his intelligence is a little above average (13)
  • 2500/30 = 84 days. My tier for glaive runs 8gp a day so the monk is out 672 gp

I also include musical instruments, skills, and light armor proficiencies in my Variant Training. Skills and Armor Proficiencies occupy the highest tier which makes them expensive and longer to obtain. They are not considered fluff and impact the game more than weapons, languages, and instruments.

Please remember that while I will provide my personal tier list, you as a DM are free to create your own and rank them as you see fit. If elves are rare in your world, consider making their language higher tier because of its rarity.

Also remember, there is no rule stating that all this training must be completed at one time. If a player has two weeks downtime, let them add those weeks to training a new weapon proficiency or skill. When they have successfully completed the required days, let them bring in the new ability at full proficiency.

One the Job Training:

Another training variant I allow and my players enjoy is the choice to train for weapon proficiencies while adventuring. If a player uses a non-proficient weapon solely for 3 level advancements, they become proficient with that weapon.

Here are my tier lists for this house rule and a training sheet so players can track their advancement towards proficiency.



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