Kenshi – Complete Combat Guide (How to Level)

Leveling combat skills is not as difficult or slow as you think, understanding how “combat level” is calculated is key to maximising gains. I will share in this guide some of my grinding methods, and why it is most efficient to level first Strength (+Athletics), Toughness (+Dodge), then Melee Attack, Martial Arts, and everything else, to avoid slowing down experience gain. Expect Strength, Dexterity, Toughness and most other combat skills to hit 70 (and beyond if you have the patience) with these repeatable steps.

Leveling Combat Skills Guide

Combat Mechanics Explained and Outline

Experience gain (XP) is optimal when a lower combat level character fights one with a higher combat level. But how exactly does that work?

Combat level between 2 opponents is calculated by the combatants’:

  • Melee Defence: Armed, with weapon and using it (no crippled right arm or glitching out).
  • Martial Arts: When unarmed. If you click over the NPC you should be able to see whether MA or Melee Defence is being used.

So when 2 opponents are fighting with weapons, it is actually Melee Defence versus Melee Defence when calculating XP! Melee Attack does NOT factor in at all in XP. If one is unarmed, his Martial Arts skill is his “level”. It’s that simple. So armed vs unarmed? Just take M. Def. vs. Martial Arts.

This is the reason why it is possible to slow your XP gains to a crawl, if you have a character with e.g. 60 Defence/30 Attack, vs. an NPC with only 30 Defence/60 Attack. In fact, if that happens in your dojo, it is most likely your prisoner actually gaining more Attack XP than your guy, because your guy is the one with the higher “Combat Level”.

Bottomline: Keep your Melee Defence low at the start, if not you will slow your Attack and Dex skill gains! Defence is the easier skill to train later on, and just involves getting hit a lot by a high defence NPC while armed (and well armoured).

A small sized training dojo.

A larger, more spacious dojo.

An outline of how a new, fresh recruit is trained in my method. More details and explanation in the rest of the guide.

  1. Strength to 50-60, by hauling between 2 storages. Can train higher to 70+, but gains are painfully slow after that. Trainee encumbrance is maintained at 70%+, but must be also carrying a body for the maximum XP gain!
  2. Toughness to 70. During this phase, Dodge is leveled to about 40-50, and possibly a few points in Martial Arts but that is not important. Trainee is unarmed at this stage, against an armed opponent. If trainee’s Martial Arts is only at 1, that is the best- his Dodge skill will go up really fast even against a bandit of 30 Defence. The reason why we train Strength first is so that we can equip the heaviest armour, to prevent your trainee from going down too fast, and yet Dodge XP is minimally affected. I will explain later how the toughness can get to such an obscenely high level within an hour of this training phase, as it involves some planning and micro-managing, but it is worth it.
  3. Dex to 70, Melee Attack to 50+. At this stage, 2 to 3 trainees (armed with crappy wakizashis) will attack 1 heavily armoured opponent armed with a Horse Chopper and other gear to make him attack slower. We want to be doing the hitting here. Because your Trainees are green, at first they will get hit a little and level up their Defence themselves. But over a few sessions, you will see their Dex and attack skills going up really fast, because their Defence is kept low compared to their opponent.
  4. Optional: Martial Arts using similar method as above, but if you are knocking out your opponent too quickly, lower your MA by equipping stuff which gives you penalties. The nice thing about this part is even more easy Dexterity gains! You shouldn’t go down too quickly (unless you are a Hiver) because of the prior toughness and dodge training.
  5. Optional: Melee Defence. In my opinion, quite unnecessary to train in a dojo setting. In my playthroughs, my recruits come out of training with 70 Attack and about 35-40 Defence. Because quite a lot of enemies in the world have 30+ Defence, over lots of combat and getting hit in the wilds, the Defence gains are still good, and they usually end up in the 50-60s. BUT if you really want to train it up in the dojo, equip your guy with the heaviest armour, and a crappy sabre like the Horse Chopper (reversing the training for attack) and just let him get hit repeatedly by your high Defence opponent.

Strength Training

Super boring, but thankfully not so many clicks or micro-managing once you set it up.

  • Set up 2 storage boxes, (distance between them about the width of 5-6 Stormhouses). Test if you are able to transfer between them using a recruit, by Right-Clicking on one box (it opens up one inventory), then left-clicking on the other. You should have both storage boxes inventories open. If you can drag the entire stack between the 2 boxes, perfect! This is especially important to reduce micro-managing later.
  • Accumulate as many building materials as you can into 1 box. Buy, craft etc. In Mongrel, I could buy up about 100 materials in 2-3 days, I don’t think I use the shopping mod.
  • Left click on the storage box with the building materials. Drag it out, you should see the whole stack on the floor (Note that Importing saves removes all items on floors! Be warned!).

  • Order the recruit to haul to the other storage box further away. The recruit should start picking up the building materials from the floor, and start hauling it into the storage box.
  • When the box is full (check periodically whether your recruit is “Aimless”, and not “Hauling to” so you don’t have to keep loading back to the strength circuit), order him by R-Clicking on any of the box, then left-click on the other. With both boxes open, drag all the materials back to the starting box, then drag out, dropping all the materials on the floor. The cycle should continue again.

Arrange the inventory in a way, so as to allow only one building material per trip.

  • The recruit must be encumbered above 70% and must be carrying a body to have the maximal strength gain (50%).
  • For the recruits inventory, arrange it in a way that he can only take one building material per trip. I suggest for the bulk of the weight, to avoid so many clicking to add/remove stuff as the training progresses: Load up a trader’s backpack with Steel Bars, or Iron Ore if you have alot lying about.
  • Then drag this loaded backpack into his main inventory. It will fill up most of the inventory’s grid space as well, so you don’t have to add too much junk to clutter it up. It also still gives you space at the side to add some food/meds. (Be warned: Importing a game clears the contents of these “loaded” backpacks within inventories!)

Other suggestions: Hauling water, ore, anything works, but I find that something with a larger inventory footprint is the best, to make them haul 1 at a time.

Example: In my game Mongrel had 2 small shacks with almost the perfect distance. Sho-Battai might have a similar setup, between a Longhouse and a Small Shack (may be randomised, so no guarantee) If you have your own base then this is a non-issue.

Toughness Training

Toughness XP is of course given when being hit.

But the best Toughness XP is when your guy is “Playing dead” and you force him to get up, giving him a chunk of XP immediately.

Your character “plays dead” only in the following conditions:

  • No other squad mates/or even allies within about 1 screen (fully zoomed out).
  • At least 2 conscious enemies in the direct vicinity.
  • He is not below his KO point (recovery coma). Head, chest, stomach knocks out a person, but head knock outs last a bit longer (more annoying).

I discovered this by accident as I was using the Dust King and Ninja Tower as my toughness training spot. It worked well, but is too risky. Occasional patrols and bandits will come disrupt the entire thing, leading to wasted time and increased recuperation hours. And if you KO too near to the entrance, they will put you in their prison, wasting even more time.

Another important note: Toughness gains from being hit is not about the amount of injury, it is the amount of intended damage. I tested this by using a captured Security Spider and letting my guys get hit by it. The armoured and unarmoured guys got about the same amount of XP, although of course those without armour were nearer to death..

The Toughness Training Centre

Set up a training house, Stormhouse is good enough. Place it about more than 1 screen away from your base, in as safe a place as possible. I placed mine just outside Mongrel, so in case manure hits the fan, I could get my strength haulers/cook/researcher to come save the trainee.

Finding the suitable training partners is the tricky part. Some NPCS are overly aggressive, once you are KO or they are released they start bashing out of the house. We don’t want that. In my experience, Dust, Starving Bandits are quite good for this. I used a Fog Prince as my “attacker” in this case.. strange that at first, he was always trying to get out of Mongrel, but after a while of imprisonment he becomes docile. But the main thing is this attacker shouldn’t be that type of NPC. Test first. Arm this guy with a crappy Horse Chopper and maybe some armour (if your trainee is a MA pro he will probably KO this prisoner).

Screenshot: Having a legless, conscious enemy nearby, forces your trainee to “play dead” when knocked down, as there is at least 2 enemies around. Also make sure no other friendlies are nearby.

The second prisoner you need is the thing which is the cheesing part. You will need to find a leg less prisoner.
Fighting lots of Fogmen helps- occassionally you find one whose legs are gone or bleeding out. Patch that Fogman, but stop before you aid his legs. Let the legs fall off, then re-bandage to prevent death. Whatever your method, you need this prisoner being unable to escape. This immobile, but conscious(important!) prisoner is what will force your trainee to “play dead”, and is the crucial part of this phase.

Trainee: unarmed, and in heaviest armour possible. You need the strength training prior to this, so that you can actually gain Dodge XP while getting good protection. We don’t want to get Recovery Coma at all. If his MA is 1, even better, means he won’t be knocking our prisoner out at all, and most likely he is getting hit. Remember, this phase is to train 1) Toughness, then secondarily Dodge, MA can always wait.

Put the crippled prisoner in a bed, release the Attacker prisoner, and fight. If your guy is MA pro, make him block instead, and encumber him even more with some large backpack. It will also force his MA skill down, and Dodge should skyrocket.

I tend to speed up time here, but pause and slow down whenever your guy is KO. Assess the situation, if it’s okay, speed up, get up from “playing dead”, watch your toughness level go up. If his damage to limbs or head is getting too heavy and risky, let him rest in a bed first. Our Attacker Prisoner should be courteous enough to wait. If not, knock him out and put him back in the cage first.

In my experience, getting to 60 toughness isn’t a problem, grinding to 70 and beyond starts to get tedious. I noticed that at a certain stage past 70, your KO time shortens to an extent that you get up faster too. But by then, you need to get up 10+ times to gain 1 toughness level.

Depends on your patience, I find 70 sufficient for most characters. Highest I got was 90, but do note that with Shek or Hiver it may be slightly easier to go higher.

Beep undergoing toughness training (He went on to 71 Toughness)!

The “Playing dead” status seems to be triggered even if the other prisoner is in a cage! If I can confirm it works everytime, then maybe you don’t have to find a legless prisoner- just make sure no allies are close to your toughness training base.

Dexterity, and Melee Attack

Note: If you cannot capture a Skeleton at this stage, kidnap a few Shek Dust Bandits, that is the next best prisoner for this.

Kidnap a Broken Skeleton from a Deadlands Workshop. At the same time, if you haven’t done so, buy 2 Engineering Research to unlock the skeleton repair bed. Save up some skeleton repair kits too, we need it for our prisoner.

Skeletons are naturally resistant to our crappy wakizashis, so will make an ideal training dummy for our recruits. Make this Skeleton prisoner a crappy Horse Chopper. You can equip this Skeleton with armour too, but it may not be necessary, unless your recruits are knocking him out way too fast.

Note: Nikon’s stats when just starting this phase, Dex is at 3..

Within one day(look at the time), Dex at 59, Attack at 55!

  • Release him and have your recruits have it at him. This method works without the 3x combat mod too, but if you have the 3x Attack Slots mod by HaTsUnE_NeKo (mod link: Link), it speeds things up even more, as your 3 guys can stun and hit at the same time.

I speed up time to the fastest until Skeleton goes down. Then quickly get him to the Repair Bed, and have all 3 recruits patch him up for the next round. Keep doing this until you get bored.

The Skeleton will have higher and higher defence, thus gaining more XP for newer recruits. Your recruits will get hit occasionally, so they will still get Defence XP. Especially for the races which have Dex bonus, they easily hit 70+ dex in less than an hour with this method.

Martial Arts and Other Tips, Notes

Martial arts is done the same way as the above, and is good as you gain even more Dex XP and small amounts of toughness (like you need any more, if you had followed the toughness training method in part 2) I will write more on this when I get my first guy to 80 MA (past 65 seems to be so slow, without always KO’ing my opponent instead).

Here are some random tips:

  • Why do I keep saying, use Horse Chopper for the opponent?
  • Because it is the weakest cutting weapon which adds Defence to our prisoner, and lowers attack. A wakizashi will make our opponent attack too often.
  • Being a cutting weapon, your trainees will recover faster too. Blunt injuries, because they remove the part of the health bar completely, seems to always take longer to recover.

If you remembered how Combat Level is calculated- the most important thing is that your training prisoner attacks less than your guys. The ideal training partner is one which the Defence is highest, but attack the slowest. Use large backpacks or anything which slows the prisoner’s rate of attack.

The reverse is true when you are training up your defence yourself. So you can use this information to figure things out for yourself.

There are many, other methods of training, but why I like this the best is because:

  • 2 guys can be on strength hauling training.
  • And you can micro the toughness training for that 1 other person.
  • Then rotate.
  • And get back all 3 of them for the Dexterity and Attack class.
  • Then Martial Arts.

Another tip about setting up your training camp: It is easier to wall off a section of your base with a gate, as opposed to setting the non-trainees to “Passive” or “Hold”, in case you really do get a raid. When the gate is locked, the non-trainees will not rush to attack or medic, so you don’t have to set them to “Passive”. Note that if you have mercenaries in your base, this will not work- mercs will bash your gate to get into the training compound.

I grinded the 3 hivers to 81+ Melee Attack, and close to 90 Dex. Gains were slowing down, so I tried to artificially increase the Broken Skeleton’s Defence, and to lower my recruits’ Defence level (So as to increase the difference between their “Combat Level”).

  • I equipped Large Backpacks on the recruits (-10 skill, including Def).
  • Gave the recruits polearms (I think -8 Def total, because indoor).
  • Broken Skeleton gets a crappy Desert Sabre (+7 Def IIRC).

In the end, my Broken Skeleton had 90+ Defence. After training for a day or so(on fast-forward), repairing/resting when necessary and repeating, temporarily lowering the Defence level of our trainees does seem to help in the 70-80+ grind. But beyond 80+ the returns really slow down.
The trainees get hit sometimes, so they ended up with Defence of 55 in the end. Also note they had the racial Dex bonus, so their Dex increases at a higher rate than Attack.

Special Section: Your First Character, Stealing as an OP Start

Initially I wanted to put this section in front, but realised it has little to do with Combat Mechanics.

This is for the new players who have not understood why stealing and stealth is so overpowered, or they find the game too difficult (actually it is too easy because of these, that’s why we need to set limitations on ourselves).

Your first character will most likely not be trained in the efficient combat methods above, but will be key to setting up your first training centre, as you will need to capture a bandit, and do research in a town to unlock storage, beds, cages, among other things. Stealing is of course a very overpowered start, but for new players who are still figuring out the game, it gives you a major head start as loads of money can be earned within the confines of a safe town.

Level up his/her stats this way:

  • Stealth: Just by running around a lot in stealth. I had a Hive start, and at Day 2 my character was at 50 just by continuously running through the Hiver crowds. I used to think the XP gain is from being un-encumbered, but the best gains seem to come by running in darkness with the presence of many enemies around. Just level this naturally. IIRC around 50 stealth you will start to move quicker while in stealth.
  • Thievery: Go to a large town building like a Bughouse. Usually there are 1 or 2 corners which the NPCs will not see you even in daylight. While running (Stealthed!) around the shop steal as many cups, bowls, pickable small items as you can. The trick is this: Stealing items not in containers does not require a skill check, and will always give you XP to Thievery. Go to the quiet corner, pause game and drop the stolen items, unpause and pick them all up. Repeat as many times as your patience allows, but I find 60 skill to be more than sufficient at the beginning. IIRC 60+ skill allows you to steal from a container right next to the shopkeeper without getting caught. Use your common sense, only do this training when you are not seen (blue eye icon), picking up these stolen goods from the floor is a crime too.
  • Lockpicking: Faster than using the practice boxes, lockpick whenever an opportunity presents itself. A chunk of xp is awarded on successful picks, more than failures, so sometimes you grind by picking all those 90% success rates ones first. Stealth is more important, so you can get into more places to pick more locks. I recommend having a dedicated lockpicking thief, so you can concentrate all that skills in one guy to pick those really high level locks. The rest of your squad mates can just have some, enough to escape a fogman or cannibal cage.
  • Assassination: XP is given for failed attempt as well, although of course you do not want to attempt this on town NPCs. When you manage to capture your first bandit, leveling this is much easier. It sounds cruel, but if you can get a legless bandit with high toughness, that gives you the best gain. Put the bandit on a camp bed, then repeatedly try to knock him out. If it gets too easy, slowing the process of XP farming due to the KO time, equip Samurai Armour etc. to give yourself a penalty. Sometimes, certain bandits like Dust/Starving bandits “glitch out” in the training building, meaning they won’t retaliate even if you fail an attempt. It’s really cheesy but most of my trained characters have Assassination in the 70s in a few minutes (on x3 speed setting), due to how easy it is to cheese it once you have it set up.

Buy the cheapest house in town. Research T1, storage, etc.

Not sure if this exploit will be fixed.

The Crossbow Locker accepts any item and cleans it of its stolen tag, allowing you to resell it. If not, dumping stolen weapons in weapon storage, armour into armour chest etc.. cleans it of its stolen tag. This is super overpowered way of making loads of money right from day 1 (or 2), you may still need to fence your first stolen goods in another place before you are able to make your own house of fencing goods (hehe).


I wrote this guide to record down some of the things which I learned in the past year of playing Kenshi, to help out the newer players and to give back to the community. Kenshi is easily one of the best games I have ever played, and I hope that people see that at the end of it, it’s not about grinding the skills to 100 or accumulating tons of money (there are always ways to cheese the system or through mods), it is about creating a playthrough which you decide how you want the story to pan out, maybe setting yourself some limitations. For example, one can decide not to steal at all, then in that case getting that Masterwork armour for our training will be only through crafting or a lucky purchase. Or if a race has a penalty to Strength, I will not bother grinding it past 60-70, etc. So you decide how you want to play. I hope this guide only serves as an inspiration to start your own creative methods of training. It is certainly not the best or only way, as I have experimented with other methods prior to this. I plan to update with more images to better explain the concept of the training centre, setting up the inventory and house, etc.

That said, have fun and happy trails!

Bo’s stats weren’t the highest I grinded, but at Str 75, Toughness 90, Dex 86, Atk/Def 80/56, MA:66 Dodge: 81 and a host of stealth skills, attacking the slavers was a walkover. This was on an Anti-Slavers/HN/UC playthrough. You can see the training dummy, the Broken Skeleton has 80+ Def for us to train on.

Volodymyr Azimoff
About Volodymyr Azimoff 13703 Articles
I love games and I live games. Video games are my passion, my hobby and my job. My experience with games started back in 1994 with the Metal Mutant game on ZX Spectrum computer. And since then, I’ve been playing on anything from consoles, to mobile devices. My first official job in the game industry started back in 2005, and I'm still doing what I love to do.

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