One of the more persistently annoying, aggravating, or at least frequently misused or abused parts of GURPS are the “trading time for CP” guidelines, which give some pointers at how much study might equal one character point. 

The guideline is roughly 200 hours of study with a decent teacher (or the equivalent) might give you 1 CP in a relevant skill. With really really good materials and realistic training, or just reading from books, there are multipliers provided in both directions.

It’s used and abused because, of course, that’s not the only, or even the best, way to improve your character. The best way is, naturally, doing ridiculously dangerous activities like killing monsters and taking their stuff.

No, the time spent rules are really there to provide some sort of metric in case you have large amounts of in-game downtime where the players can say “yeah, but my guy is going to spend every waking hour in the dojang, and engaging in MMA training with combat robots. What’s my Karate skill when he’s done?”

200 Hours and The Learning Curve

Anyway, the rules are a bit head-scratchy, because on the one hand, 200 hours is a lot of time. Given a typical “hobby” use, where you might spend a few hours per day, or even per week, learning something, racking up 200 hours can take a while. Seven hours per week is about six months, all so you can hit IQ-1 in an average skill. 

On the other hand, there’s The Princess Bride approach. In the book, Westley trained himself to only need four hours of sleep per day, and thus took two ten-hour-a-day jobs in order to make his fortune so he could properly woo Buttercup. That’s a properly Player Character thing to do, especially if your player’s name is Munchkin McMunchkinpants. But still, the assumption seems to be that the character in question will likely spend 10-12 hours five to seven days a week squeezing rocks and waving a foil around (that’s what Inigo Montoya did to be able to wield the sword of the six-fingered man: he squeezed rocks). By that token, you’re looking at about three weeks for that initial CP, and about three months per +1 to skill once you get into the flat part of the skill increase charts.

So that 1 CP might be anything from three weeks to six months. 

On the  other hand, the guidelines for Familiarity (which is what’s required to get rid of often large penalties if you are doing something with a default but that requires a bit of practice) buy off such penalties quite quickly, with as little as a few hours of training required to go from (say) -2 to -4 on a skill to “roll full skill less usual penalties.” So in some respects (and Familiarity is a bit unique this way), you can have remarkable efficiency in hours per effective skill increase.

Then there’s the Dabbler perk, which allows you to mildly increase your default roll in eight related skills, which you can get at Default+1, or four skills at D+2, or two at D+3. That’s a point increase in a skill for a time-equvalent (and no, it doesn’t really work that way) of 25 hours.

At the high end, if we take Gladwell’s (debunked?) 10,000 hour rule seriously, that might equate to 50 CP, which is about enough to get you to IQ or DX+11 in an Average skill, IQ/DX+10 in a Hard one. That doesn’t seem too bad perhaps, at first blush – that many hours of training should probably bring some sort of mastery. 10,000 hours at four hours per day is 2,500 days, which is about ten years of practice. If you really could focus that on a single skill, you should probably be darn good at it.

Not sure if you should be IQ/DX+10 good at it, though. Especially since most “real world” rolls, made out of combat with plenty of time and materials at hand, are probably sporting bonuses of +4 to +8.

What isn’t 200 hours of study

The real trick is to avoid making the equivalence where “well, I’ve been on my job for 10 years, 8 hours per day, so I must be awesome at it!” Eight hours times 10 years is, wow! 20,000 hours per year. I’ve Gladwell’d it twice!

We all know that’s not true, based on personal experience with ourselves and our coworkers. 

You need to seek out additional challenges and solve problems in new ways. Doing the same thing over and over might give you the Hyperspecialization perk (PU2: Perks is quite a good book, by the way), but it’s not going to give you Engineering-20 no matter how many times you do the same exact thing.

When you think of a typical work week of 40 hours, I’d bet that on any give week, fewer than 4 hours (10%) is actually of any sort of challenge. In fact, I suspect that if you have four super-productive hours in any given week, you’re probably doing pretty well. 

Hey, I’ve seen that before

As always, when I think of progressions, I think of the size and speed/range table. So I was wondering, what would happen if we took the “10,000 hour” rule somewhat seriously, assumed that each additional level in a skill took more and more hours to get no matter what level you were at, and took it all the way back to default level? Perhaps even familiarity?

I’m not saying this is better. But it is different. Let’s see what happens if we set 10,000 (ish) cumulative study hours to equal IQ/DX+10. What does that look like?

OK, so there’s a bunch of oddness in the beginning for the hours per CP (and it would look even odder if you included pseudovalues for eighth, quarter, and half-points which aren’t exactly what Dabbler does, but it’s one way to represent it).. This is because the hours per CP increment at about 50% more each one, but the actual CP from p. B170 follow the usual 1, 2, 4 increase before settling at 4 points per level.

From a time spent perspective, it mightn’t be that bad, though. If you are thinking (say) martial arts practice, and you’re training (say) two hours a day, three days per week, it’s going to take you about a year (49 weeks) at that pace to get to DX+1, where you get the nice Karate bonuses. If you’re doing the “only 1/10 of typical training time is of real value,” getting to DX+1 in a formalized environment lacking combat-like stress (say, full-contact sparring) might take closer to 2,950 hours. Two hours, five days per week would be 295 weeks, or six years.

For grappling, you want to get to Wrestling at DX+4 by RAW, which is about a year and a half – of fighting people better than you, or at least as good, presumably. The interesting thing here, in my experience, though, is that it’s a lot easier to get quality training in grappling, because you can go all-out without as much fear of injury. It’s the striking that’s really hard to recover from. So at 945 hours required, and (say) five hours per week of “rolling” hard with people to get better and improve your skill, you’re still talking on the order of four years of solid training. And DX+4 in Wrestling is pretty much on every character sheet I’ve made where someoene’s serious about grappling (esp. because you get +3 to Trained ST at that breakpoint, as well as the first boost to Trained ST in Judo).

What Else are You Doing?

Part of the trick is that you are rarely going to get the chance to spend all that time doing only one thing. Some of what you’re doing is conditioning, so spending time to get points in Fit, HT, and of course, ST. Other time might be teaching, or reviewing. This is doubly true for real jobs, which are likely dividing time between multiple job skills, as well as Administration.

And finally, most work is boring, and not high intensity. If you apply something harsh, like the 1/2, 1/5, or 1/10 multipliers casually mentioned above, for “routine time on the job, and how much of it is actually challenging,” you’ll see that punching a clock for 8 hours per day for 10 years is likely only the equivalent of 2,000 hours of real learning spread across 2-4 skills. 250-1,000 hours, or basically IQ/DX to IQ/DX+4 in any given skill, after ten years. And that’s likely an “art” form, which would have significant penalties in high-stress situations.

Pushing the values around

The table above is probably too generous even with extreme rationalization. You can see that quite competent skill values can be had after pretty limited time on a job, even if part-time allotments are made. A harsher take might put someone with (say) DX or IQ of 12 and 10,000 or so spent in intense training be on the order of Skill-18, akin to some of the tops in pro operators using guns casually (plus a lot of points in particular techniques, but that’s off topic).

That would make the chart look like this:

In this one I included the partial points for Dabbler, just on a lark. But you can see here that it would take just shy of 600 hours to get that first quantum point through study. Two hours a day for about a year, and after that, perhaps you’ve learned enough to apply your skills at non-default level in an emergency. More importantly, DX+1 to DX+4, the sweet spot for skills in a lot of ways, are in the 1,500 to 4,500 hours range – even total focus you’re looking at 1-3 years, likely more, of non-adventuring expertise here. That doesn’t perturb me much.

What About RAW?

Well, just to be complete . . . what do the current rules look like on this chart?

It’s actually harsher in many cases than my first scaling, and still rates somewhat credibly relative to the second. So as long as you don’t take too many trips into crazy-town, it’s not too bad. Where it tips over is how much time it takes to get to high skill levels. The geometric progression of my second house-rule chart is probably more sensible than the linear one of RAW at the high-skill end of things.

Parting Shot

Really connecting time spent to points or skill levels is a borderline insane activity in any RPG. Games, even GURPS, are not reality simulators. GRUPS Fourth Edition is less geared to this sort of thing than Third Edition was, as well.

However, because GURPS is based on some pretty good scaling principles (the SSR table being one of the best examples), it can be taken farther than most – a fact to which I owe a small amount of money due to certain Pyramid articles.

The observations here were an exploration of using my favorite scaling factor in GURPS and seeing what having each additional relative bonus in skill follow that boost of +50% time giving the next level. The key is “where do you start,” since my first trial was probably too generous, and the second a bit too harsh, perhaps – though I do like where it ends up.

None of this would replace the school of hard knocks – that is, CP earned in play. But the upward-scaling nature of how much time it takes to gain each boost in ability makes intuitive sense to me, and so I wanted to chase it down.

Overall, it may well be that if I owned GURPS and were in charge of a Fifth Edition, the answer may well be “there is no hour-by-hour equivalent to earning CPs,” and just remove that from the game. This would either force characters to go adventuring, or just let the GM and player work out what, if anything, happens to skill levels after the PC spends five years in a monastery training with the ShoKosu clan. One or two bad die rolls can saddle a character with an arbitrarily large point deficit in the form of an earned disadvantage. In the past, if my players do something heroic, I might just say “you all get Reputation, +1 (Certain Group that’s Relevant). No reason why the GM and player can’t work out the value, if any, of time spent on study.

I know why it’s there, though. I’m just not sure it’s overall worth it. Though it does give me something else to try and fit the Size and Speed/Range Table to, so there you go.

3 thoughts on “10,000 Hours and GURPS

  1. I dig it. I question the CP-from-learning rules as something that should come up in a typical adventure game, but people have spent dozens of hours speculating on the dungeon ecology of D&D and other effects of the game rules on society. It's nice to know that, in GURPS, commoners have some way to get to Farming (Dirt) TL/3 without going on adventures.

  2. Its probably not a good idea to have both cps and time to learn skills in the same game. After all I can sit down and study, but I dont get a cp award in real life after I come back from an exciting holiday.

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