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What are some ways one might implement a more story-driven spell/skill acquisition? Hopefully in a way that isn't a complete slog.

The idea of the players' handbook being used as a shopping catalogue kinda ruins the immersion for me. It doesn't make much sense that a character can go to sleep one day and then wake up the next suddenly knowing a bunch of new spells or skills if they happened to reach a new level. Especially that often those spells/skills have nothing to do with any in-game actions or backstory of the character. I'd love to see a game where the characters have to actively work towards acquiring their skills, and not just waiting till they've passed the next level threshold.

The question is largely about how a DnD5e system might get modified to fit my concerns because I don't really have a group yet and 5e players are easiest to find. That said I'm open to hearing about other game systems.

In the context of 5e I was thinking of flipping the relationship between levels and skills/spells on its head and not have levels grant you skills but rather the achieving skills bumping your level up (at GM's discretion). By "achieving skills" the character pursuing an RP way to acquire a skill. Depending on what's going on in-game it might be super easy for some skills (e.g. you find that move that you've been trying to do all this time suddenly just works after enough practice) or verging on impossible for others (e.g. getting an ice-y spell for a character who is all about fire stuff). I imagine this could create a greater sense of anticipation and, ultimately, reward at the advancement of characters. Or I might be completely wrong and it's only going to scare off potential players who just want to minmax.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like asking for a completely different mechanical base for the game, and it likely way too broad to answer here as asked. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Mar 1 at 10:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ When you say spells/skills do you really just mean spells (as that's your only examples) and level-acquired features?. Because in 5th edition you don't really improve skills individually anyway; proficiencies are usually chosen at start and then all improve when proficiency bonus increases (barring feats or features). So not sure how that fits with your proposed changes. \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Mar 1 at 10:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah spells and level-acquired features. With skills I suppose I'd ideally want to have some way to make points distributed between them make sense. Like, if the characters did nothing but fight why should they be allowed to pump their points into Persuasion? \$\endgroup\$
    – KubaFYI
    Mar 1 at 11:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KubaFYI: Well - a character that did nothing but fight would, possibly, be a Fighter class that doesn't have access to Persuasion proficiency naturally anyway. Unless, of course, they get it as a racial feature which would then explain it. But being able to put points into individual skills instead of using the Proficiency system is really asking for a completely different system, which I think falls into the "opinion-based" category. \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Mar 1 at 11:59
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The mechanics and the narrative are separate

Mechanically a player 'goes shopping in the PHB for new skills' but narratively, they have been practising these skills possibly from the get go. All you need to do, if you (and your players) care, is get your players to roleplay this.

For example during a long rest my wizard (currently level 6) spends time playing around with the components for arcane eye and polymorph, which are the spells I am going to learn next level. Some players know what I am doing and why and others don't, but I like the idea that my wizard is learning as he goes.

One of the other players spends time practising certain fighting abilities.

One thing I have found however is that some players don't think ahead enough, so have no idea what abilities they will get at next level, let alone try and plan how they 'learn' then, others don't care, and others find the explanations of practice boring, and quite possibly needlessly repetitive.

If you are looking for a game where you have to go and see a trainer to learn new skills then you can implement that, or more likely find a different game, because that isn't really what D&D is about, but generally you need to separate the mechanics from the narrative around how they work.

The easiest way to do this is keep prompting your players 'how did you learn that' and let them come up with the explanations. In my experience your view on how skills just 'appear' is because you have taken a literal reading of the rules, but it is imagination that turns that into a game, you don't need to add new rules.

If you do want to add new rules, then you are probably better off looking for a different game rather than trying to redo some of the key rules in D&D.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess what bothers me with making up downtime in-game explanations of how they acquired a skill is that it is always an afterthought. The narrative is made to fit the new awesome power the player wants, as opposed to the new awesome powers players get being a direct result and consequence of their actions.. \$\endgroup\$
    – KubaFYI
    Mar 1 at 11:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KubaFYI I think that is a player choice, it is only an afterthought if you think of it afterward. I certainly think about it well in advance, but have never met a player as well prepared in that respect as I am, and the reason is because most don't enjoy it. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Mar 1 at 11:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KubaFYI on the topic of not enjoying it, one of the reasons that 5e does so well is because it has trimmed a lot of the stuff that the majority don't enjoy, so adding new rules based on what you enjoy is highly likely to alienate a lot of players. That may be a good thing for you, but might make it harder to find games. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Mar 1 at 11:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ gotcha. I'm beginning to think that maybe DnD isn't for me then. The only groups I've ever gotten to play with seemed to focus mostly on churning out the most epic character they could completely giving up on the narrative ever making sense in-universe and that's a massive pet peeve for me. \$\endgroup\$
    – KubaFYI
    Mar 1 at 11:35
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Starting on the Dungeon Masters Guide Page 131 under the heading "Training to gain levels" there are a set of variant training rules.

Asking characters to use this system and to require role-play of the training, should work, and has for me in the past

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