Project Zomboid, developed by The Indie Stone, is an open-world, isometric sandbox game in Knox County, Kentucky, during a zombie infection outbreak. It’s challenging, intricate, and one of the most realistic survival games. There are multiple cities for players to explore, hundreds of weapons to procure, and thousands of zombies to avoid or kill.
It’s a game that will frustrate and intimidate players who don’t do their research beforehand. It’s a game that doesn’t come with a hard mode because it’s all hard.
One of the many areas players don’t understand at first are the skills in Project Zomboid. How does one level up different skills? Why do some characters start with more levels in their skills? What’s the quickest way to reach the max level of any skill?
I have explored all the cities in Project Zomboid, including the ones not on the map, and I’ve survived for longer than most. I’ve leveled up my carpentry skills and built a house, then focused on mechanics so I could pimp out my ride, then pivoted to foraging to survive in the wilderness.
I’ve done all the things with all the skills. And today, I’ll share my hard-earned kernels of wisdom with you so that you may live to see a cure.
Just kidding, you’re still gonna die.
It’s Project Zomboid. No one wins.
Welcome to a Project Zomboid Skills Guide.
Key Info Up Front
Let me drop a knowledge bomb on you real quick.
There are 26 skills in Project Zomboid grouped into six categories. The only way to level up those skills is to use them. I.e., sprint to level up sprinting, sneak to level up sneaking.
The Basic Skill Groups
There are six general skill groups in PZ that house 26 different skills. I’ll break down the various groups, the skills within each, and which ones you should focus on first.
Group #1: Passive – Fitness, Strength
The passive skill group only contains two skills: fitness and strength. Fitness is used to describe the amount of stamina your character has. How long can they sprint before getting exhausted? How long can they keep up physical combat before they get fatigued? Both are determined by fitness.
Strength determines how much weight your character can carry on themselves and inside the bags they hold, as well as damage and pushback power. When swinging a weapon, the higher your strength, the higher the chance of causing a critical hit.
Group #2: Agility – Sprinting, Sneak, Lightfooted, Nimble
The agility skill group holds skills to help you escape zombie hordes more easily. You’ll be a parkour master in no time if you focus on the agility skill group.
Sprinting, pretty self-explanatory, determines how fast you can sprint. Both sprinting while standing up and sprinting while crouching are determined by this skill.
A higher sneak skill will help you avoid detection by zombies. I personally haven’t seen this skill help much unless it’s level four or higher, but it’s absolutely worth putting time into for your character’s survival. Zombies won’t notice you from as far away. But in the early levels of sneak, zombies from across the map can notice you if you simply peek your head out of a window. Which sucks. Level up the sneak skill enough, and you can ninja your way right through entire groups of zombies.
Lightfooted is all about how much noise your character makes. The higher the level, the quieter they are while moving. They quieter they are while sneaking, walking, running, climbing, vaulting – whatever.
Nimble determines how well your character can climb fences and – most importantly – their strafe speed. Strafing in PZ is a necessary skill for survival. Strafing around while keeping your sights on the horde following you is vital. Having a quicker strafe speed means you can keep your distance easier while still monitoring the situation.
Group #3: Combat – Long Blunt, Short Blunt, Long Blade, Short Blade, Axe, Spear, Maintenance
Your combat skills won’t get as much action as you think they will. At least not all of them. Depending on your character build, you’ll find yourself gravitating toward one type of weapon throughout your gameplay. Trying to spread yourself around and level up everything is unwise. Pick one type of weapon – two max – and focus on just those.
Long blunt weapons are, you guessed it, long and blunt. They can hit multiple enemies with each swing, usually don’t damage clothing, and pack a punch. Examples are the crowbar and baseball bat.
Short blunt weapons are used for closer range and don’t require the use of two hands to reach maximum power. Things like wrenches, hammers, and pipes fall into this category. They attack quicker but do less damage.
Long-bladed weapons are some of the best weapons in PZ. They keep enemies at bay and do lots of damage. They are, however, more rare than their counterparts. The katana is the best long-bladed weapon and the most rare.
Short-bladed weapons are everywhere in PZ and should be used liberally. Kitchen knives, butcher knives, and cleavers all work well against the zombie hordes. And short-bladed weapons all come with a significant chance to one-hit-kill the enemy with a jaw-stab maneuver.
Axes fall into their own category. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hand axe, stone axe, or fire axe; if you’re using it to chop something, the experience you gain goes into this skill. Axes quickly became my favorite weapon in PZ, because they do crazy damage, don’t break easily, don’t weigh too much, and you can stock up on several at any fire department.
Spears also get their own skill. Spears are an excellent weapon solution if you don’t have any luck foraging through houses or stores. Get an axe and a knife and head into the woods. Chop down some trees, get a few planks, and turn them each into spears. You can increase a spear’s damage by adding knives and tools to the end of them, like screwdrivers and scissors.
Maintenance is oddly located in the combat category, though it services more than just weapons. Maintenance is the skill that determines how well you repair items and how long items last before breaking. As you use tools and weapons in PZ, you’ll notice their durability decline. Repairing them can keep them functioning for longer, but increasing your maintenance skill will increase an item’s durability and make your repairs much more efficient.
Group #4: Crafting – Carpentry, Metalworking, Mechanics, Cooking, Farming, Electrical, First Aid, Tailoring
Do not sleep on crafting skills. You can’t forage forever; eventually, you’ll have to start farming your own crops if you want to survive for the long haul. For example, you can’t rely on finding cars that still work and have fuel forever; eventually, you’ll need to learn how to repair and refuel them yourself. Crafting skills are essential for making it more than a few days in PZ.
Carpentry is a highly sought-after skill in PZ and, thankfully, one of the easiest to level up. You’ll find yourself building all sorts of things in PZ, from rainwater collectors to barricades for your base’s windows. The higher your carpentry skill, the more things you can build and the more health they will have. That means your barricades, though made of wood, could be as strong as metal.
Don’t feel like messing around with wood? Then metalworking is the skill for you. You’ll need far more tools – like a propane torch and a propane tank – but you’ll craft far more valuable items. Your base will be much safer with metal protecting it instead of wood, and you can alter vehicles with metal sheets to add extra defense.
Mechanics is a skill you should begin training with whenever you can. Once you get your mechanics skill to level two, you can hotwire any vehicle in the game. And the higher your mechanic skill, the easier it will be for you to replace car parts, upgrade engines, and maintain your vehicle.
Cooking is a mostly useless skill. As you level it up, you’ll gain more and more nutrition from your meals. But not in any way that’s meaningful. The biggest perk from cooking comes at level seven when you gain the ability to eat rotten foods even if you have the weak stomach trait.
Farming is one of the most important skills to upgrade. You will need to farm your food eventually, so the sooner you start investing in the skill, the better. The higher your farming skill, the more detailed information you’ll receive about your crops, and the more fertilizer you can craft.
The electrical skill will go completely unused for the majority of your game. Not until you’re sitting safely in your military compound with several generators, making lightswitches and timers and motion sensor gates will you find this skill useful. That said, this skill will be essential once you start relying upon generators for power, so don’t sleep on it too long.
First Aid is one of the most complicated skills to upgrade in PZ. But thankfully, even at higher levels, the skill only adds a little bonus. A higher first aid skill means your bandages get dirty at a slower rate, and you heal from infections, cuts, and scratches quicker than average.
Tailoring is overpowered; no two ways about it. With the tailoring skill, you can repair your clothing and enhance it. Add extra protection and padding, throw on some denim patches, and watch as the zombies try and try but can never bite you. I use tailoring immediately in my PZ games to give my character extra defense from all sources of damage. To start altering your clothing, you’ll need some thread, a needle, and whatever material you want to patch your clothes with.
Group #5: Firearms – Aiming, Reloading
Guns: more deadly for you than they are for zombies. In PZ, guns are loud and attract any zombies within earshot. If you’re not prepared for the ensuing fight, don’t even put a bullet in the gun.
One shot is enough to trigger a horde, and you’ll be overwhelmed before you know it. That said, when you are finally ready to clear the hordes from Knox County, you’ll have two skills upon which to focus.
Aiming is pretty easy to figure out. The skill dictates your character’s aim, critical hit chance, and maximum range. The higher it is, the better accuracy your character will have.
Reloading. Also easy to figure out. The higher your reloading skill, the less time it takes to reload. Which is an essential skill to foster if you’re looking to be the next Rambo.
Group #6: Survival – Foraging, Trapping, Fishing
I found myself often focusing on survival skills more than others. I mean, this is a survival game, isn’t it? Yes, farming is important, but you can’t farm meat. You can trap it, catch it, and even forage for it.
Foraging is a skill you should use whenever you’re walking somewhere and don’t need to pay attention to zombies. Foraging can help you find valuable items like chipped stones, berries, seeds, rocks, and bugs – oh, glorious bugs. Bugs are overlooked as food because, well, they’re bugs. But in PZ, bugs provide lots of protein and fat, are easy to cook, and are plentiful with a decent forage skill.
Trapping takes a lot of work to get the hang of at first. You need to set up your traps 75 feet or further away from where you live/work, or you’ll never catch anything. And you need to have suitable food to place as bait, like acorns, berries, mushrooms, and vegetables. And then you wait. Make sure to freeze your meat or cook it right away, so it doesn’t spoil.
Fishing is an activity that dates back to our neanderthal ancestors. And it’s how you’ll fatten up your character before winter if you’re smart. Fishing might be ignored by some players who focus on staying within cities and suburbs, but it’s a skill that can provide bountiful bounty. Not only can you catch fish by fishing (duh), but you can catch shoes, socks, tools, clothes, and other odds and ends you might put to use in your base.
Leveling Up Your Skills Quicker
“But sir, how does one acquire experience in said skill?”
Easy. Use that skill.
Want to level up your fishing skill? Go fishing. Set your character next to water, ensure they won’t get ambushed from behind, and waste a few hours seeing if anything will bite.
Want to get your long blunt weapon skill higher? Get a bunch of guitars, long metal pipes, and baseball bats, then start beating the shit out of anything that moves.
The best way to level up skills in PZ is simply to use those skills. That said, there are a few caveats to this. Like, how does one level up their First Aid skill in a zombie apocalypse where getting attacked by a zombie might get you infected? How does one become more nimble and lightfooted?
Fitness and Strength: use the exercise feature located in the health menu and give your characters some pushups and situps. Chopping down trees, carrying lots of weight in your inventory, and good old-fashioned exercise are the best ways to level these skills up.
Sprinting: Run, Forest! Run!
Nimble: to increase strafe, you must strafe. Find a nice corner in your base, enter the combat stance, and press in any direction to start strafing. If you can rig a few heavy items to sit on your keyboard and mouse to keep your character strafing, you can level up your skill without ever encountering a zombie.
Sneak: Sneak, Forest! Sneak! But also, if you reach the roof of a building, you can call a horde to the ground below you and sneak around undetected. This will give massive gains in the sneak skill in a few days. You only get exp in sneak if you’re unnoticed by the zombies. If they notice you, no exp.
Lightfooted: jump more fences. Just jump as many fences as you can. Even if you don’t need to. Jump them all. Every fence jumped gives experience.
Combat: virtually all weapons gain experience the same way: by being used. If you want to increase spears, start using more spears. Same with axes, long blades, and short blades.
Maintenance: every time you break an item, this skill gains experience. You can also gain experience by repairing items but don’t waste all that duct tape if you have a surplus of tools you can burn through. Craft some stone axes and chop down as many trees as you can. With each broken axe, your skill grows.
Carpentry: thankfully, you don’t have to build things to increase your carpentry skill. You can also dismantle things. Find any wooden object you’re not using – like every single chair in the game – and dismantle it. Indeed, you might not get any usable materials from it, but you’ll gain experience.
Metalworking: similar to carpentry, you don’t have to build things to level this skill up. Find metallic objects and break them down into pieces. Each object dismantled is more experience.
Mechanics: head to the nearest vehicle and pop the hood. Take a look at all the vehicle’s guts. If you can successfully remove any part of the car, anything from the headlights to the carborator, and put it back on, you’ll get experience. But be careful; if you break the item while removing it, you’ll get no experience. And you can only get experience for each item once per day. So you can’t just spend hours removing and reattaching lightbulbs to get a bunch of exp in a single day.
First Aid: You can’t just let yourself be attacked by zombies and then heal the wounds to level up first aid. Every time a zombie attacks you, there’s a chance of being bit. And once you’re bit, there is no cure. So, you can damage yourself, as suicidal as that sounds. Digging furrows in the ground with your hands will scratch them up, which allows you to bandage them. But I’ve found a better way. First, get naked. I know, I know – trust me. Next, find a window and break it. Then, climb through. You’ll step on the broken glass, cut up your feet, cut your hands grabbing the windowsill, and scratch your body climbing through. It’s an easy way to gain a bunch of damage you can patch up. And each successful wound healed is more experience.
Electrical: do what you did with carpentry. Dismantle everything you find, from radios to walkie-talkies to digital watches.
Tailoring: rip all the clothes you’re not using. You’ll gain ripped sheets and occasionally some thread when you rip clothing. Every time you gain thread from ripping clothing, you also gain experience.
Trapping: with every successful catch, you gain experience in trapping.
Foraging: every time you discover something while foraging, you gain experience. And what’s nice about foraging is it shows the exact experience amount over your head with each find. Even better, you don’t have to pick up what you find. You can leave it on the ground if your inventory is full or you don’t want it; just finding it was enough.
Fishing: go fishing. You’ll catch something. Even if it’s just an old boot. That old boot gives experience.
Books & Magazines
Psst. Hey, you. Yeah, you. The person trying to level up their skills. Did you know there are ways to get bonuses for your exp gain? It’s all about reading. You have to broaden your horizons!
Books are an essential resource in PZ. You’ll find books for most skills, like mechanics, farming, trapping, carpentry, etc. And you’ll find books have levels. Ex: Carpentry 1, Carpentry 2, Carpentry 3, and so on.
If you were to read Carpentry 1, you’d gain an exp boost to all the exp you gain in the first level of carpentry. If you read Carpentry 2, you’d earn the same exp boost to all the exp you gain in the second level of carpentry. Reading a book before using the level can speed up how quickly you gain experience.
Dismantle one chair and gain eleven exp points. Read Carpentry 1 and then dismantle that same chair and gain eighteen points.
For any player trying to survive in PZ and not spend days irl having their character grind skills, they should invest serious time into reading.
But then there are magazines. Magazines contain recipes or formulas for your character unlock. You’ll need to read some magazines to craft fertilizer for your crops.
If you want to work on different kinds of engines, you’ll need to find the corresponding magazines. While most characters will start with 70-80% of the game’s recipes unlocked, the ones you don’t have can make the difference between life and death. Don’t just look for books, remember the magazines as well.
TV & Radio
If you have a TV in your safehouse or base, or you find yourself bunking down in a house with power and a TV, use it to your advantage. Every day at 6 am, 12 am, 6 pm, and 12 pm, the TV will have shows for your character to watch. Turn the TV over to the Life and Living channel and sit your ass down at one of the times I mentioned.
Your character can watch a TV show and get reduced boredom, reduced stress, and they’ll gain experience in whatever skill the show is demonstrating. There are carpentry shows, cooking shows, and nature shows that talk about trapping and foraging.
Watching TV in the first days of the outbreak before the power gets shut off is a free way to get experience on some of the most critical skills in PZ. It’s not like reading. TV doesn’t give you a bonus to exp gained; it straight gives you exp. You can reach level three of carpentry, cooking, and survival without ever using those skills.
But don’t forget about the radio! If the radio is set to an emergency frequency, you can listen to it for news about the weather and if a helicopter is en route. You can also get tons of lore about PZ by listening to other frequencies or tuning to different TV channels.
Perks & Traits
So we went over the exp boosts you can get from books. But did you know you can get exp boosts from your perks? When creating your character at the beginning of the game, you can select from different professions and perks. Each profession comes with an exp boost for the skill associated with that career.
Carpenters come with 125% exp boost to the carpentry skill. Mechanics start with a level two mechanic skill. Park rangers have increased exp gains in trapping and foraging, starting at level two. The burglar profession starts with levels in sneaking, nimble, mechanics, and firearms.
You get the point.
If you’re going for a specific build, you’ll want to pick the right profession. And if you don’t like the professions, you can always be unemployed and choose a bunch of perks instead. Perks are small positive traits that add a boost to your character.
Not as impactful as entire careers, perks can give you extra levels in skills or 50% exp gains. Just make sure you choose negative traits that you can handle.
Question: What’s the Best Perk in Project Zomboid?
Answer: That depends entirely on the build of the character you’ve made and your specific playstyle. Some people argue that the Organized perk is the best: good old-fashioned inventory space. Many players argue Brave or Dexterous are essential for your build.
I’ve found myself grabbing the Outdoorsman perk no matter what build I make. Outdoorsman makes your character immune to adverse weather conditions, so you can’t catch a cold from being wet.
I’m always wet, either because I’m foraging in the rain or because I’m running with pounds of gear. And once I make it to winter, not having to worry about exposure or frostbite is a weight off my mind.
Question: Do I Really Need the Tailoring Skill if I Never Take Damage?
Answer: Ye – totally up to you. Nobody plans to take damage. Nobody expects to get bit.
That’s not true; I do.
That one stray zombie waiting in the upstairs bathroom of the house I’m clearing always gets the better of me. And I always get bit at some point while clearing out my safe zone.
You don’t need to focus on tailoring if you already have suitable protection or added mods that put legit armor in the game. Otherwise, seriously, it doesn’t hurt to add an extra layer of protection.
Question: So, what’s the Best Skill in Project Zomboid?
Answer: Good question. For me, it’s got to be foraging. My games always go better if I start with good foraging. I can find rocks to make weapons out of, food to eat, bait to set traps, wood to make traps, seeds to plant, and plenty of other useful items. I could skip farming and fishing entirely if foraging is high enough.
Project Zomboid is a challenging game. You’ll have a rough time for, like, the first year of gameplay. It’s hard to survive in Knox County, partially because it takes so long to gain the necessary skills. So don’t waste your time pursuing skills you’re unlikely to use until late game – who knows if you’ll live that long.
Prioritize skills that will get you through the early game and into a fortified base. Or better yet, pick a profession that gives you those skills immediately, and you can focus on other aspects of a zombie apocalypse.
Skills can take time to develop in Project Zomboid, but with the right direction and information, you can skip a lot of the headaches and become proficient in just about anything. Remember to read those books, watch those TV shows, and always keep an eye out for zombies.
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