Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mining Knowledge in GURPS : Part III. Learning and skill advancement

The previous post looked into extracting information from sources. It also proposed a way to create sources of information such that their content can be generated on the fly. This post is looking into turning information into knowledge. In GURPS' terms: using information to learn and advance skills to higher levels. 

Topic Plan


Learning is a topic that is covered in Basic Set p.292 and is a topic that, for some reasons, really interest me. This is probably so because I would like to use one day GURPS mechanic as a basis for an economic simulation. I always wanted to know more about the process of learning. I've proposed a way to rule on learning long task in a recent post, and plan to merge these ideas with this post on learning sources.


Learning material are sources of information that passively teach material. They are different from information sources as described previously because they can also be used to acquire or advance skills in addition to be used to answer questions. 

Let's treat learning sources as entities, with inherent knowledge. The content is described by a list of skills which are rated using a level to define the knowledge's depth. The structure of the source is defined by a research modifier. Finally, the pedagogical value of the source is rated using Teaching Levels. By abstracting these sources as if they were characters, learning from them becomes a special case of learning from an instructor (or a master).

New Stat Block for Learning Sources

Research base Time
Time of a superficial scan through to get a grasp of the source’s content.
Research Modifier
Check Modifier
The efficiency of the source’s structure to locate, extract and digest a piece of information.
Pedagogical Value
The clarity of the source as learning resource.
Knowledge base
Skill-level, research modifier
Any number of skills
Specific content
Topic, research modifier
Any number of pre-determined topics

Design Notes

Research Base Time

Set this value to the amount of time needed to fetch a piece of information with a success with a Margin of Success (MoS) of 0. This base time will either be repeatedly doubled or halved, based on the MoS/MoF of research rolls.

Research Modifier

A Task difficulty modifier to a research check. Use a modifier of 0 for sources which can be quickly scanned. Positive modifiers indicate a combination of better searching features (structure, table of contents) and cohesion of content such that related information is grouped together. Negative modifier indicate lack of structure, cryptic organization, or even deliberate attempt to obfuscate content.

Pedagogical Value

The teaching skill level of the work. A teaching level under 12 indicates that the work is not adequate to provide efficient learning (see rules on Education). The monetary values of sources grows sharply with their pedagogical value. There are rules below on determining this value if a PC wants to create his/her own.

Knowledge Base

The list of skills that are embedded in the source. The level indicates the depth of details for each skill.  This level is used both to procedurally define specific content, and limit the depth of skill advancement as a learning tool.  

Source type designs 

Source Type
Reference Work
Highly structured documents with a positive research modifier and a low pedagogical value.
Textbooks, treatises
Highly structured documents with a pedagogical value above Teaching-12
Tutorials, technical manuals, howtos
Very effective didactic tools with Teaching-12 or above, but a negative research modifier. Tutorials are really not designed to be comprehensive, nor references.

Self-learning from sources

It takes 200 hours-equivalent instruction by a qualified instructor to acquire a point into a skill. Learning time doubles for self-learning. In order to qualify as pedagogically effective, a source must have Teaching-12 (after adjustments for language, etc). If a source doesn't qualify, learning occurs twice as slowly as with a qualified instructor.  The table below indicate the odds of 3d6 of acquiring a point into a skill. It is adapted from the post on records-keeping free skill progression.

Target on 3d6
(hours of reading)
Effective Pedagogy
(hours of study)
Modifiers: -1 if skill of source is equal to skill level to learn, -1 for skills points above 16, -2 for skill points above 20, +1 if the sources succeeds it Teaching check.


Not only a source either qualifies as learning material or not, but it also has the ability to be more of less effective at each character point gained by learning. To determine this, make the source check against its Teaching level. +1 for a success, -0 for a failure. Critical successes are +2 and -1 respectively for success and failure.

Combination learning

If a source is combined with other form of learning, aggregate all form of learning after converting for their relative rates: 2X for education, 4X for training by a master, X1/2 for on the job learning. 

Boundaries of learning

A source can only be used to learn up to the source's level for a given skill. There is a -1 penalty to acquire all points that are toward the effective level of the source itself. For example, someone with an IQ 11 needs 8 points to acquire Thaumatology-12, and 12 points to get to Thaumatology-13. If the source has Thaumatology-13, the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th points will all be done with the -1 penalty. It will not be possible to learn the 13th point (Toward Thaumatology-14) at all as it exceeds the source's level. 

People may "overgrow" a source, but it still may yield information through research: just not a body of information that is consistent to acquire a whole character point anymore.


The Mystic Art of Gardening

Research Base Time
Pedagogical Value
2 hours
Research Modifier
-1 (scattered)
Knowledge base

History(valars)-9 [+0 research]
Area Knowledge(Mirkwood)-12 [+2 research]
Naturalism-12 [+0 research]
Herb Lore-10 [-4 research]
Hidden Lore-13 [-1 research]
Naturalist-13 [+1 research]
Specific content

Seek Plant-13 [-1 research]
Identify Plant-13 [-2 research]
Heal Plant-13 [-3 research]
No additional spells [-4 research]

This book is a treasure trove of information on plants and their hidden lore. It was written as a learning resources (Teaching-12), and not so much as a reference (-1 research). There is a lot of information on plants, their hidden lore as well. The hidden lore is, however, harder to keep track of. If a PC search hard, he/she will be able to research and find three hidden spells. There is a little Herb Lore in this book (level 10 at most), but is is written in jargon and difficult to parse (-4 research). 

Seeking hidden spells from the rest or the content

A PC may declare that he/she is looking for a spell, any spell. The first one to find will be the first one listed in the specific content. In this example, Seek plant was buried between two sections with no clear heading (-1 research). A further attempt would reveal Identify plant (provided that the PC dedicate enough time to search for it). If the PC discovers all three spells, he/she would have to fail to find the 4th spell before it can realize that the source contains no more spells. Of course, if the book has a shiny table of content with the page number for each spell, make this discovery automatic (or with a large and positive research bonus). You may still hide a powerful spell underneath with a large penalty to research to make the book more interesting.  

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