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Is there a table top game similar to the video game Dungeon Siege where you don't really pick a class but what you become depends on what you do? You cast magic your magic skill increases, you beat someone with a stick your fighting skill increases that sort of thing.

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up vote 17 down vote accepted

The original Runequest was a lot like that: the world was quite magical, and most PCs had some magic available to them. Experience worked just like you're thinking about. When you used a skill, you checked it off, and if you could roll higher than that skill during the downtime, it'd improve. It was thus easier to get better at a skill the worse you were at it. Some of the other Chaosium games based on the Runequest system share the same method.

Mongoose has recently released Runequest II, which shares the same advancement mechanic.

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This is probably the purest version of that mechanic. Call of Cthulhu does it too, it's part of the core BRP system they derive from. – mxyzplk Aug 25 '10 at 3:19
Swedish games Eon and NeoTech use this advancement scheme as well. Not aware of any English version of those games, though. – evilcandybag Dec 6 '11 at 19:37
@evilcandybag A lot of Swedish RPGs do this (although for quite a few, there's some "standard packages" for starting skills although there's no strict class separation and allows a character to move in the direction that the player wants). – Vatine Mar 20 '12 at 11:22

Advancement in Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard require checks in skills--requiring a certain number of successes (and sometimes failures) in using a skill in order to advance a skill to the next level. It would probably match rather well to what you're looking for.

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You could do a variant of GURPS that did the same thing pretty easily, basically by requiring that a person has used skills in order to improve them (or you could track their improvement yourself). EABA would work similarly, and EABA doesn't encourage the glut of skills that GURPS tends do.

Or perhaps a PDQ variant, you could do the skills similar to the way Soul Cultivation works in the Dead Inside variant, or Hero Point gains in Truth and Justice.

A lot of this depends on the general feel of the game. For something pretty light, I'd tend toward PDQ. If you want a bit more crunch, EABA or GURPS could be made to work, I think.

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+1 for PDQ! Also, the PDQ# variant in S7S – gomad Sep 22 '11 at 16:20
We did this in GURPS. A character had to use the skill to spend that session's points on it. To learn new skills, you had to find a trainer or do research (or default it for a long time) before you could invest points. – user1637 Sep 22 '11 at 17:26

The old Universe game worked that way as well -- percentage-based, and if you rolled a 0 on either die, you got a point to increase that skill. The problem with that was you had people trying to use the skill on inconsequenial tasks ("I attack the tree").

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Ars Magica has a separate XP track for every skill and Art. You're only permitted to increase these if you've used them during an adventure or if you explicitly spend time (as in, a season or more) working on them during down time. That seems to fit your criteria.

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Star Wars d6 and the original Cyberpunk 2020 required the player to use the skill (or be trained in it by someone else) in order to improve them.

Note: Cyberpunk had classes (which only effect meant that they got one class specific special skill) while Star Wars d6 had character templates that didn't have any concept of class at all.

I believe Dandanon also required that as well, but it's been that long since I read the rules...

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We have a house rule for Alternity which does something similar, on an Amazing success a player earns a skill point to help them rank up the skill that was used. As skills require more than one point to rank up then it's not an instant win but a little more gradual.

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Technoir has a variation on this : Any skill(verb) you fail at using during a mission becomes 'primed'. Then, between scenes when the characters are resting and treating their wounds, they get a chance at raising their primed verbs. Succeed and the verb's dice pool augments by 1, the verb losing its primed status. Failure means the verb remains primed and the player can still try raising them next downtime.

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I'd think pretty much any system could do it. The DM just has to enforce it. IE: Why are you adding ranks to Performance: Hibachi cooking? You never used it!

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I didn't give you the downvote, but I was on the verge of it. I thought I'd give you a comment instead explaining why this got downvoted. If you hover over the downvote button, you'll see the text, "This answer is not useful." That's the problem here. The question asks specifically for systems that only support advancement through use. You didn't address that. Also, at RPG.SE in general, and system-recommendation specifically, the "You can do that in any game" answer is frowned upon. Love your avatar pic, though, and welcome to the site! – gomad Sep 22 '11 at 16:23
It is true though. I discourage my players from leveling up anything they hadn't actually used, and I do the same when I'm a player. This outlook works very well in non level based systems such as White Wolfs where your experience is spent directly on your skills and abilities. I will want to look into runequest though. – Arr MiHardies Sep 22 '11 at 18:29
Yes, it is true. It's a great answer to a different question. I'm just trying to help you out by explaining where I thought the negative feedback came from. Because uncommented downvotes are one of my pet peeves. – gomad Sep 22 '11 at 18:59

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