Why train your squad members? Watch a group of sand ninjas carve their way through a hapless mob of hungry bandits and you've got your answer. Specializing your characters is a great way to make them more effective at their chosen jobs, as well as enhance their survivability when they do get into combat.
Unlike other games, the amount of experience needed to level up in Kenshi does not change depending on the level. Instead, the rate at which you will gain experience decreases with each level until reaching level 100, where your experience rate is 0.00x. The exception to this XP rate scaling is Field Medic and Robotics, which may behave this way due to a bug.
Recommended order for training combat skills
If you train up athletics and stealth first, this allows you to avoid (via speed or hiding) enemies in the wilderness, allowing you to engage in combat only where it would be beneficial. Next, build dexterity using light weapons, or melee defense by using block. Train strength last since a high strength will kill low level NPCs (hungry bandits) you will want to use for low level sparring partners.
Athletics and Swimming
Athletics and Swimming are trained in a very intuitive way. Athletics can be trained fastest by having a character's encumbrance percentage at or close to 0% and sending them running across the map. When at 0% encumbrance, characters will gain XP at 1.5 times their current level's XP rate. After a certain level, characters should be easily outrunning any hostile characters and can easily be sent running around without the user actively watching their location.
You can train swimming all you want, but your characters will never swim faster than they can walk. Avoid lakes like the ones in the Floodlands, South Wetlands, and The Swamp. Always avoid swimming in acidic water as weather protections against acid rain will not decrease your character's pain. Hive and Skeleton characters do not have to worry about Acid and are fine. Skeletons do not have to worry about swimming at all. They walk through the water and a good strategy for getting places fast is to just have a skeleton carry a character who has to swim. Note, characters cannot drown.
Weight actually has nothing to do with XP rate for Dexterity, despite the description. It's all based on the ratio of cut to blunt Damage on the weapon. The more cut relative to blunt, the more Dexterity XP. A higher Dexterity corresponds to higher cutting damage when performing Martial Arts.
Also see "Take Prisoners" in the section about Melee Fighting.
Martial Arts and Dodge
Martial Arts is a very dangerous combat method to train because characters engaging in 'unarmed combat' can be injured through their attacker's hits as well as when landing their own hits. Starting out training Martial Arts against characters who are wearing anything heavier than Light Armour can easily result in a loss of a limb. However, most Robot Limbs do increase Martial Arts damage.
Damage done while using Martial Arts depends on three skills: Martial Arts, Strength, and Toughness. Because of this, it may be better to train Strength up a lot before even starting to work on Martial Arts.
As with Melee Fighting skills, the XP rate of Martial Arts and dodge is connected to whether a character is fighting someone who is better trained than them. Wearing Equipment which increases Martial Arts stats will result in less stressful battle because of this. The fastest way to train Martial Arts is to wear regular armour, not Martial Arts boosting armour, as well as a Backpack with a very high drain on combat stats.
Around 30-40 points your characters should be hitting fairly often, and depending on your Strength and Toughness your damage should be fair. Remember to try and weight your characters down a bit while fighting to increase your Strength while you fight, due to combat Strength exp gain being one of the best ways to train it.
Dodge is trained alongside Martial Arts and will only be trained when unarmed. If characters have weapons equipped, they will try to use their weapon to block instead of dodge incoming attacks. An effective, yet dangerous method is to lower your character's dodge stats by wearing specific types of armour (E.g. the Samurai armour set) that reduce this stat, which will increase the speed of level gain.
- Use light armor - Early on (until you build up your melee attack and defend skills) it makes sense to keep your fighters light - nothing but light armor or less, and focus on items that improve skills (bandannas, martial arts handwraps, ninja or assassin rags, etc). This is both because a -1 skill or +1 skill effect means a lot more when your base skill is 1 than when it's 50. This has a second benefit: it makes them faster and better able to kite enemies (see below).
- Fly a kite! - Kite mobs of slower enemies to build up melee attack. Training dummies are useful (sort of) but slow. If you don't mind a bit of micromanagement, you can speed this up quite a bit. With one or two light fighters selected, attack a bunch of mobs (it'll probably work better if you use "attack target" from the right click menu on the nearest enemy). When your character(s) squares off against the enemy, watch carefully and use pause repeatedly to determine whether your character or one of your enemies is going to swing first. If it's your character, great. If not, run away just out of range and then reengage. Rinse, repeat. This will keep enemies from surrounding you and can often allow you to kill large groups of enemies without a scratch. Of course, if you make a mistake, you'll probably get mobbed and bludgeoned into the sand. But that's good for your toughness skill, right?
- Take prisoners - Once you can build prisoner cages, you can build training rooms that will help you level up fighters very quickly. Build 4 or 5 cages in a house, and fill them with the most skilled enemies you can capture on the battlefield. Don't forget to heal them before you bring them home, though, so they don't bleed out on the way! Once an enemy has recovered (enough), send one fighter into the building, close and *lock* the door behind them, and then let the enemy out. Fight them until one or the other of you falls. If the enemy wins, unlock the door and send in the rest of your troops to flatten them. Then heal your trainee and the foe and return your training "partner" to their cage to rest up (you can also use a bed for this, if you're willing to micromanage recovery times). This works much better if you give your enemies and yourself weaker weapons (rusted junk quality, craft them with a low level weaponsmith skill) and the best armor you have. Early on, this can result in a point of melee attack or defense and a point or two of skill in your chosen weapon every time you win (or a point or two of toughness when you lose). Depending on the weapon you use, you will also train Strength and/or Dexterity.
High Risk, High Reward
An effective yet high risk method of raising melee attack and defence quickly is by lowering your combat skills. This happens when you equip a backpack, chainmail, various helms or some armours such as the Holy Chest Plate. In combat, when your stats show a negative in brackets (e.g -10 from a traders large backpack) this is the base used to calculate your experience gain. Meaning, if you have 20 melee attack normally and find it is levelling slowly, if you equip a traders large backpack it will be counted as 10. You will then gain the amount of exp that someone with 10 melee attack would. This is also true of Melee Defence.
Pieces of equipment that lower your combat abilities are cumulative, for example a large traders backpack in addition to chainmail, the holy chest plate and a tin can helmet would lower your skills by (-18). Thus allowing for quicker exp gain.
No Risk, High Reward
This method takes advantage of the game's AI system and results in dummy battles significantly easier than the Take Prisoners method. Start by recruiting someone into your squad, give them the best armor you have, a weapon with a defense bonus, put them on block then exclude them from your party. Since they are no longer a member of your faction, you can attack them. However, their AI does not seem to have a command which allows them to switch out of block mode, even though they will be in combat with you. This lets you super overload your characters you want to train up and beat on someone way over their level with no danger. The guy you put on block will stay on block at least until you do an import (which should actually delete them). Yes this is a flag that's saved on saving the game and reloading. It's perfectly ok to give them your best armor, as you can loot it from them once they become unconscious during battle.
One governs accuracy and the other is friendly fire. The FF one is only trained by shooting your friends, if you fail to hit your friends by accident you get no XP. The Accuracy one is trained simply by aiming as I recall, so fire rate has no effect. Important to note is that characters can aim at enemies even if these are not in their line of sight. Thus, aiming at an enemy, which is not in line of sight, without triggering aggro may prove to be a useful training method. For example: aiming at an enemy mounted on a turret. A great way to afk train your crossbow skill is to kidnap an enemy, stop his bleeding and block him off with weapon cabinets. When he wakes up, he won't be able to move. Take your archers and put them on "hold", then have them attack the entrapped enemy. They won't have a direct line of sight on him, so they won't shoot, but their crossbow skill will go up continuously.
Reloading a crossbow also trains dexterity and is conducted faster with a higher dexterity skill.
Armour Smith, Crossbow Smith, and Weapon Smith are all stats which involve crafting Equipment and can be trained on the related Crafting tables. In the case of Armour Smith, experience can also be gained while creating the materials needed to craft Equipment. Make sure to keep a light source nearby the crafting station in order to avoid Working in Darkness stat drainage which will reduce the quality of the station's output. Working in darkness does not have an affect on XP rates aside from slowing production speeds.
Training Engineer is pretty straightforward. When building objects, simply have all the individuals you want to gain Engineer XP work on them. They'll all gain experience quite quickly. You can also semi-automate this process by shift-right-clicking on a build project with all your engineers selected before assigning any other permanent jobs. These characters will then drop whatever they're doing and rush over whenever an engineering project becomes available.
First, a point about healing. While it is reasonably straightforward to train specialized medics, there is a good argument to be made for spreading out medical training (and first aid kits) to everyone in the squad because having lots of people healing simultaneously is generally faster than one specialist running around healing everybody. If you have sufficient medical kits and want to boost healing faster, remember not to limit your healing only to your own squad; you can boost your healing ability by healing any NPC or animal you find that are injured. You can use this tactic on hostiles only if they are unconscious or playing dead since they normally try to fight you, preventing your healing.
Craft Medical Items
Build a Crafting table (Medical Workbench). Medical crafting increases Field Medic skill. This workbench is also used to craft Sleeping Bags, and while doing so continues to increase the Field Medic skill.
Also very straightforward. Just give them a labor job and leave them alone. Allegedly, strength improves labor performance, so loading a backpack up with heavy stuff and making them carry it around in their inventory (not on their back) might be helpful in the long run.
I haven't noticed much of a difference in labor effectiveness due to strength, but I'll admit I haven't tested it extensively.
These skills are almost exclusively used at a player outpost, but can still be trained at some buildings in towns. Make sure to keep a light source near these buildings in order to avoid Working in Darkness stat drainage which will reduce the quality of the station's output. Working in Darkness does not have an affect on XP rates aside from slowing production speeds.
The Cooking statistic will affect the speed of cooking. There is no specific skill requirement for different recipes, but some may take much longer than others at a lower skill level.
Farming stat will affect the success in which characters harvest crops from farms. The more farming skill a character has, the less likely they will fail to harvest a crop.
Science statistic is a skill which will enable characters to research Technology faster as the level goes up. The more science skill you have, the faster technology can be researched. Additionally, the science skill will determine the range and accuracy of Prospecting. Working at a Research_Bench or on an Electrical_Workbench will both boost Science experience.
Robotics is trained when doing repairs on a Skeleton or character with a Robot Limb. It can also be trained by crafting at a Robotics Bench or Skeleton Limb Bench. You can train XP continuously by having someone repeatedly craft Motor > Press > Skeleton Muscle > Robotics Component > Skeleton Repair Kit > Skeleton Repair Kit. Make sure to keep a light source nearby the crafting station in order to avoid Working in Darkness stat drainage which will reduce the quality of the station's output. Working in darkness does not have an affect on XP rates aside from slowing production speeds.
You can also station Skeletons in some place like Venge or The Fog Islands, where there are constant hordes of enemies. Have your Robotics character nearby - on Passive if they aren't a Skeleton, and Attacking Enemies if they are - ready to repair the continuous stream of damage. Taking Cutting damage is best, as Blunt damage cannot be repaired immediately.
If you wish to build your Strength up, the most common tactic is to get a stacking Backpack full of Raw Iron and keep the backpack in your inventory instead of on your back. This will maintain a high encumbrance percentage pretty much till 100. To achieve the full 50% XP rate, these characters should also be carrying someone.
When not training or fighting, overload your characters and assign them jobs where they'll do a lot of running. Alternatively overload them and assign them to follow a patrol or some other traveling character around. Make sure to assign "follow" as a job to prevent your characters from stopping once they get interrupted somehow. A carried (not worn) backpack full of stacks of ore makes a great set of training weights.
Gaining strength XP while melee fighting is actually based on the weight of the weapon, unlike Dexterity. More XP per hit for every kg the weapon weighs over your strength level, up to 20kg higher than your level.
Characters can earn strength XP fast by being heavily encumbered and unarmed. This can be a dangerous choice for lower level characters.
The absolute fastest way to train Stealth is by always leaving stealth mode on while doing other things. Stealth ability will only improve while a char is both moving and while also in proximity to a NPC or animal that might see them, so training stops if 'out of range' of NPCs or animals. Stealth improves whether you are visible or not to the NPC (i.e. being 'spotted' doesn't stop stealth training), so remaining in stealth while moving around in town is a good training tactic. Note that athletics also improves while running under stealth, but your character will just move more slowly. Since characters can remain in stealth mode while doing other jobs, a good way to auto-train stealth is to give them any job(s) that makes them move long distances while close to NPCs. One possibility is to have them stealth and then set a job to mining a node outside of a friendly town and then return the ore to a storage box inside town. They will train stealth from trying to sneak past the town NPCs. This works best in locations like The Hub, since the gate guard's 'bag-check' dialog in many towns halt the character's movement until you respond to that dialog.
The most effective way to train lockpicking early is by entering a cage, lockpicking it and then re-entering the cage. Unlike many locked objects in the world, cages do not have a skill prerequisite in order to be picked and will automatically lock upon entry. You can repeat the process as many times as necessary, lockpicking yourself out of the cage and then re-entering it. The most common place to find cages are inside the police stations located in every town.
You only gain XP in Thievery when there is a chance of getting caught. When buildings are entirely empty or when characters are unconscious, chance of stealing will be 100% and no XP will be gained. An effective method to quickly level up ones thieving skill is to find an enemy that is downed, but playing dead. Commonly, they will notice if you try to steal their items, but do not get up, which allows for fast experience gain. If they get up to initiate combat with the thief, that is okay too since they are already injured and therefore can be easily defeated again.
Stealing items that aren't in containers will give XP without any risk as long as you aren't seen. Pick up a bunch of items off of shelves while sneaking and repeatedly drop them and pick them up again at night, or behind an object that blocks line of sight.
In early stages, Assassination can be trained by making use of an Assassination Dummy, built by the player or used in Thieves Guild watchtowers. Once some levels are acquired, the player will have to try to assassinate other characters for experience gain. Safe, but perhaps a less effective method is by knocking out prisoners, which are held in cages.
An opportunistic way to skill up is by waiting until two groups fight each other. Eventually an opponent with damaged legs will attempt to flee by crawling away. Enter stealth mode and attempt a KO. A failure is preferred as it gives XP and can be repeated until a KO succeeds. Carry the now unconcious opponent away from any guards. As long as their legs remain injured they will only be able to crawl away when they wake up. Repeat. You can keep earning xp this way until loading a save which can break the cycle as they forget they should flee. Otherwise it can continue until they die of preventable hunger or bloodloss.
Some players reported that it is relatively safe to attempt to assassinate Fog Heavies while they are trying to eat their victims. After a failed attempt, they will ignore you and go right back to what they were doing. Furthermore, it has been noted that the Wandering Assassins do not respond to assassination attempts. However, this does reduce your relationship with the Shinobi Thieves.
In slave start you can repeatedly try to knock out fellow slaves who are placed on prisoner poles at night. This method will rapidly increase your skill but requires constant attention and clicking. However this method is completely safe and can be also useful for improving the stealth skill
Get beat up. Every received damage can get characters the same amount XP, but the best way to gain is by standing up instead of playing dead. The best enemies for training Toughness against are enemies which will not loot, capture, enslave or eat unconscious characters. A recommended enemy is Kral's Chosen.
Cannibalistic Hostile Factions can also help players increase their toughness. While a prisoner in a Cannibals camp or a Fog Deathyard, the location's residents will start eating their prey. This can easily lead to lost limbs. Players can create situations like this except without danger by building a Peeler Machine into their outpost.
Contrary to what the game suggests, wearing high quality Heavy Armour actually increases Toughness faster. This is because Heavy Armour reduces damages, meaning characters can take more hits before passing out instead of falling instantly because the enemy made a lucky shot. Characters which have been knocked out should wake up faster when wearing Heavy Armour because the hit which knocked them out is more likely to do less damage, meaning that the character shouldn't be damaged as far below their knock out point. Waking up from a knockout in the middle of a battle gives characters a chance for "Playing Dead," which can be stopped for a huge XP boost. By bringing more characters into a tough fight and keeping the fight going for a long time, players can train toughness quickly.