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    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Talents, are they inborn or what

    Dear All,

    We touched on this lightly in my thread some weeks back on wisdom vs. intelligence. I failed my save vs literary paralysis and by the time I felt able to respond the thread had vanished. So I'm turning to this topic rather than repeat.

    Question being, are there not inborn talents, essentially the ability to learn skills quicker than normal? Are some components of skills unlearnable but just demanding of constitutional prerequisites? Some singers, for example, seem to have a voice that is unlearnable. Other people take to chess. Other people seem to be born readers, or born cooks, or born mechanics.

    It seems to me that much or most of this is due to personal preferences. The "born cook" is not born with the skill, but the passion to learn. Perhaps some of it comes of a natural brain makeup that makes learning that skill easier, perhaps some grant components of a skill ready-made, just as colour perception aids art criticism.

    Thoughts would be appreciated, especially if related to examples for how one has translated talents into game terms.

    Donnadogsoth
    Last edited by Donnadogsoth; 2014-03-15 at 09:17 PM.

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Ability scores represent raw talent.

    Skill ranks represent your training and experience. Obviously, passion helps with acquiring said ranks.

    Pathfinder has "traits" which can give you a tiny +1 to a skill to represent being "naturally" good at something, or having a semi-useful personality trait.
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    By level 20 though, you aren't capturing a wizard. A character lives to level 20 by being the most ruthless, lucky, capable, and paranoid bastard around. A wizard is throwing around a 30+ Int score and has, entirely in character, planned contingencies for his contingencies. He may well be running around with flat out total immunity to harm, he does not walk outside without an entire bevy of defensive magics around him and enough magic items to buy himself a nation.

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Donnadogsoth View Post
    It seems to me that much or most of this is due to personal preferences. The "born cook" is not born with the skill, but the passion to learn. Perhaps some of it comes of a natural brain makeup that makes learning that skill easier, perhaps some grant components of a skill ready-made, just as colour perception aids art criticism.
    There's a whole lot that comes into it. Calling it inborn is very much a simplification, but so is calling it personal preference. Lets take a chess master as an example.

    There are some core skills such as pattern recognition, spatial awareness, and memory that come into chess. These are practiced, but there are also other advantages. Plain old genetics are part of it. Environmental conditions are also huge, throughout the life of the person, and even in utero. Someone born with fetal alcohol syndrome, or with some of the mental birth defects from thalidomide is at a disadvantage. Then there's the matter of development in childhood - malnutrition is not good for brain development, environmental lead is not good for brain development, so on and so forth. This is before getting into direct and obvious brain damage, in all of the numerous forms it comes in.

    Then there are the chess skills themselves. Even people who have the strong core skills are not born chess grandmasters, they have to play a lot of games, usually read theory, and absorb the information. Having the time and inclination to do this is a major factor, again with large environmental effects. Then there are cases like retention - being in environments which allows focus helps, whereas constant crowds, noise, hunger, etc. really doesn't.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    I can say rather definitively that talent does not wholly rely on personal preference. You see, I have considerable talent with the violin, and took lessons until I was pretty good with it. However, it was never really my thing, and eventually I managed to overcome the family pressure to keep practicing and stopped.

    In contrast, I spent a couple months teaching someone else the basics of the violin; he knew absolutely nothing about instruments, and wasn't necessarily talented as such, but what he did have, was passion for it. He really loved the violin and practiced more than I ever did, and so he got better quite rapidly.

    In second contrast, I spent a few weeks trying to learn the piano, and got precisely nowhere. It wasn't something I had either talent or passion for, so my Perform: Piano modifier is, and will probably always be, a big fat +0*.


    * Actually it's probably -1 or -2. My Cha score is … lacking.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    There was a great Radiolab dealing with this sort of thing. If you've got the time to listen to a podcast I recommend it. http://www.radiolab.org/story/91971-secrets-of-success/

    Long story short, people argue about this a lot and nobody has reached a definitive conclusion.

    Edit: In game terms? Do whatever fits the mechanics, whether talent is inborn or not shouldn't make a significant difference beyond perhaps whether a bonus begins at character generation or could be acquired later.
    Last edited by DodgerH2O; 2014-03-16 at 12:46 PM.

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    There's a whole lot that comes into it. Calling it inborn is very much a simplification, but so is calling it personal preference. Lets take a chess master as an example.

    There are some core skills such as pattern recognition, spatial awareness, and memory that come into chess. These are practiced, but there are also other advantages. Plain old genetics are part of it. Environmental conditions are also huge, throughout the life of the person, and even in utero. Someone born with fetal alcohol syndrome, or with some of the mental birth defects from thalidomide is at a disadvantage. Then there's the matter of development in childhood - malnutrition is not good for brain development, environmental lead is not good for brain development, so on and so forth. This is before getting into direct and obvious brain damage, in all of the numerous forms it comes in.

    Then there are the chess skills themselves. Even people who have the strong core skills are not born chess grandmasters, they have to play a lot of games, usually read theory, and absorb the information. Having the time and inclination to do this is a major factor, again with large environmental effects. Then there are cases like retention - being in environments which allows focus helps, whereas constant crowds, noise, hunger, etc. really doesn't.
    Dear Knaight,

    What you describe seems to be a field including many talents, rather than a single talent. I mean, pattern recognition, spatial awareness, memory, healthy gestation/brain maturation, and environments allowing focus, seem to apply to..well, to anything. Martial arts, cooking, engineering...perhaps scholarship might not need much spatial awareness, but everything else seems to need everything you describe. All these factors might be thought of as contributing to a single Learning characteristic. Am I reading them too broadly?

    Donnadogsoth

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Let's ask Bob Ross:

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Donnadogsoth View Post
    What you describe seems to be a field including many talents, rather than a single talent. I mean, pattern recognition, spatial awareness, memory, healthy gestation/brain maturation, and environments allowing focus, seem to apply to..well, to anything. Martial arts, cooking, engineering...perhaps scholarship might not need much spatial awareness, but everything else seems to need everything you describe. All these factors might be thought of as contributing to a single Learning characteristic. Am I reading them too broadly?
    They aren't really a single characteristic though - for instance, it's possible to have extremely good pattern recognition and spatial awareness so bad that you can't even visualize in 3D. If you're trying to learn a language, this is a pretty good start (though you also want a good memory). If you're trying to learn the more geometric side of math, you're going to find it difficult.
    Last edited by Knaight; 2014-03-17 at 07:52 PM.
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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    This is a worldbuilding question. Its broader than 'in real life, are there inborn talents?' because the basis for a tabletop game can draw from many traditions, both real and fictional.

    In mythology, there are often characters who have been 'blessed by the gods' with innate ability, or by three witches each proclaiming a boon at the moment of their birth, or whatever. Regardless of however talent works in the real world, the sorts of talents manifested by a heroic character can have many different origins, natural and supernatural.

    So the question shouldn't be 'are there inborn talents or is everything learned?', it should be 'do you as a worldbuilder have an idea for something cool to do involving inborn talents or the concept that talent is not born, only learned?'

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Donnadogsoth View Post
    [snip]
    Question being, are there not inborn talents, essentially the ability to learn skills quicker than normal? Are some components of skills unlearnable but just demanding of constitutional prerequisites? Some singers, for example, seem to have a voice that is unlearnable. Other people take to chess. Other people seem to be born readers, or born cooks, or born mechanics.

    It seems to me that much or most of this is due to personal preferences.[snip]
    Many of these things are strictly learned skills, whether you can learn a skill is in my experience more about attitude than anything else. Most people can learn most skills, it's just that they don't want to and rationalize that they aren't capable.

    For game design I would avoid inborn talents, you either train a skill and learn it and become good at it, or you don't. I think you ought to assume that PCs are automatically of able body and sound mind.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    From a purely game design perspective, it depends on the setting. In Exalted, for example, your talent and skills are inborn. A normal human, no matter how much they train, will never become the equal of even a minor Terrestrial Exalt, where as a newly Exalted Solar can be a danger to a whole squad of Dragon Bloods. The setting of Exalted is one of extreme stratification, the high ups are high ups, and the low downs are low down, and there is very little changing this, short of complete blind chance(ie Exalting).

    This is common among many medieval works of fiction, and by extension many RPG systems. In the middle ages your skills and prospects had more to do with the conditions of your birth than any effort. Knights were strong because they were trained from birth to fight by professions, and wore suits of metal while most people maybe had a couple of days of training and were lucky to wear boiled leathers.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Mastikator View Post
    Many of these things are strictly learned skills, whether you can learn a skill is in my experience more about attitude than anything else. Most people can learn most skills, it's just that they don't want to and rationalize that they aren't capable.
    I would agree with you up to a point. Practice and training will get you up to a very good level, but for certain skills you need something extra to become outstanding.

    Donnadogsoth's mentioned singing - most pop singers become very good with all the additional coaching and singing lessons, but the ones with natural talent are beyond that; compare Christina Aguilera and Britany Spears for example.

    Another example would be martial arts - provided that you're of sound body, I firmly believe that anybody can pick up the technical skills to become a black belt with sufficient dedication and practice. Transferring those skills to become effective at sparring, let alone a real life fight, requires some learning but also requires a temperment, physical ability and muscle memory that some people just aren't capable of.

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Brother Oni View Post
    I would agree with you up to a point. Practice and training will get you up to a very good level, but for certain skills you need something extra to become outstanding.
    [snip]
    And in RPGs always assume that the PC has that something extra if the game is intended to depict the PCs as heroes.
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    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Brother Oni View Post
    I would agree with you up to a point. Practice and training will get you up to a very good level, but for certain skills you need something extra to become outstanding.

    Donnadogsoth's mentioned singing - most pop singers become very good with all the additional coaching and singing lessons, but the ones with natural talent are beyond that; compare Christina Aguilera and Britany Spears for example.

    Another example would be martial arts - provided that you're of sound body, I firmly believe that anybody can pick up the technical skills to become a black belt with sufficient dedication and practice. Transferring those skills to become effective at sparring, let alone a real life fight, requires some learning but also requires a temperment, physical ability and muscle memory that some people just aren't capable of.
    Dear Brother,

    I'm inclined to agree with you, but wonder if a talent for one thing doesn't also imply a talent for another thing. Is there an "alternate set of attributes," like those mentioned by Knaight: pattern recognition, spatial awareness, memory, healthy gestation/brain maturation, and environments allowing focus, and maybe others?

    Also, shouldn't a character's interests be rolled up too, or should that be left to the player. After all, we find ourselves thrown into life with various interests here and disinterests there. It is not necessarily our free choice that we have them.

    Donnadogsoth

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    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    They aren't really a single characteristic though - for instance, it's possible to have extremely good pattern recognition and spatial awareness so bad that you can't even visualize in 3D. If you're trying to learn a language, this is a pretty good start (though you also want a good memory). If you're trying to learn the more geometric side of math, you're going to find it difficult.
    Do they clump, though, Knaight? ie, Can we come up with a set of learning-related attributes and then list what skills are aided by what attributes?

    Donnadogsoth

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Donnadogsoth View Post
    Do they clump, though, Knaight? ie, Can we come up with a set of learning-related attributes and then list what skills are aided by what attributes?

    Donnadogsoth
    You can make clumps out of them. It's the usual case where you can abstract it and in so doing lose some detail - which is the case with all modeling, so whatever. Something like Linguistics, Spatial, Patterns, Symbolic Reasoning, Muscle Memory, and Environment would actually cover quite a bit, even if the boundaries are odd and a lot of skills would pull from several of them to different degrees.

    In practice, it's probably not worth doing for most games, but it's worth keeping in mind at a non-mechanical level.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    You can look all you like for inborn talents, and it's certainly true that there are attributes that make learning some skills easier for some than for others.

    Nonetheless, every great athlete, musician, scholar, or anybody else with a great talent spent hours a day for years developing that talent.

    And there are lots of examples of people who overcame physical or mental defects. James Earl Jones is a great actor, and everybody envies his incredible voice. But as a child, he had such a bad stutter than he was nearly silent for years.

    There is a story told about many musicians, and no doubt it's true about one or more of them. After a concert, a member of the audience praised him and said, "I'd give my life to be able to play like that."

    The musician replied, "I did".

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    You can look all you like for inborn talents, and it's certainly true that there are attributes that make learning some skills easier for some than for others.

    Nonetheless, every great athlete, musician, scholar, or anybody else with a great talent spent hours a day for years developing that talent.
    Nobody is saying that people are born with a talent completely developed, and that they attain excellence without even having to work, merely that there are advantages.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    And there are lots of examples of people who overcame physical or mental defects. James Earl Jones is a great actor, and everybody envies his incredible voice. But as a child, he had such a bad stutter than he was nearly silent for years.
    There are also lots of examples where this didn't happen - and a stutter is fairly minor compared to a lot of things that happen, starting with the sort of birth defects in which one is born missing at least one limb and that is peanuts compared to the mental damage.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    It is difficult, but not always impossible, to differentiate talent from skill. Talent will almost never get you to the pinnacle of a field. It will make entry into said field easier.

    My brother is extremely talented in multiple areas. He disgusts my sister, who is a professional pianist, flautist, and singer (and makes her living teaching all three), because he has on numerous occasions put off practicing for a violin concert up to the night before, then pulled out the music to look it over and run through it a few times, and then play like a professional who'd worked for months on it the next day.

    This is not entirely talent; he HAS practiced and learned to play the violin. But he has a natural talent for hearing tone, picking it out, and keeping order and rhythm straight enough not to need to think about it too hard. His skill lies in the training to be able to do the fundamentals correctly.

    If he practiced, he could be a highly-paid professional performer. He doesn't wish to be; he is, instead, a civil engineer. And does well at it.

    Talent lies in how easily you grasp and apply fundamentals. Skill lies in how well you learn to put it all together from bottom to top.

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Segev View Post
    This is not entirely talent; he HAS practiced and learned to play the violin. But he has a natural talent for hearing tone, picking it out, and keeping order and rhythm straight enough not to need to think about it too hard. His skill lies in the training to be able to do the fundamentals correctly.
    He probably has perfect pitch. This is something that is a "talent" in that a very small percentage of the population actually has this ability, something around 2%. Does this mean that another person can't learn to do the same thing? No, but they have to practice that skill for a long time, while the person with perfect pitch can recognize any pitch an identify its specific note without instruction. This allows said person to learn musical skill with greater ease, but it doesn't make them professional soloist musicians without any effort.

    Or take Wayne Gretsky. Part of the reason that was such an exceptional hockey player is that he has a higher that typically reaction time. He processes his environment slightly faster than most people. This gives him an edge in hockey where milliseconds can make a difference, but he still had to learn how to play hockey, he just happened to have traits that made it much easier for him to be very good.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    Nobody is saying that people are born with a talent completely developed, and that they attain excellence without even having to work, merely that there are advantages.[snip]
    Were the members of the Beatles born with inborn talent, or was it simply that they played 8 ours a day for 7 days a week for 4 years (12 thousand hours) before they were recognized and successful.

    If there's any evidence for a "special something" being present it's the special something to never give up and always keep practicing.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Certainly being taller helps you with basketball, and being smarter helps you with math, but in both cases, the average person who trains or studies every day is far better than the person with all the mental and physical gifts who does not develop them. This is proven by the fact that very few top athletes are world-class in several sports, and that most professors are not world-class experts in other academic fields.

    The absolute top are the people with both the advantages and the years of work and dedication. But Michael Jordan, while quite tall, was not one of the tallest players in the NBA when he was the dominant player. He had good, but not the best, physical advantages, and he worked extremely hard for years.

    And yes, there are people with mental and physical defects that prevent any sort of serious development, but for the vast majority of people, your "talents" are the things you work at day in and day out for years.

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    I'd imagine this really doesn't matter for most (possibly all) RPGs. You're good at what you're good at - whether that's because of natural skill or years of practice is purely a fluff choice. In D&D, ability scores normally represent natural aptitude, whereas skill points represent training (generally speaking). Feats, if taken at character creation, could be used to represent either.

    Of course, no RPG will ever reflect the full range and uneven distribution of human ability, because real life gives you orders of magnitude more granularity than you'll find in any game.

    If you're asking outside of a game context, and just want to know how people learn to do things in real life, that's a complex question for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason is that, with billions of people in the world, you can easily find an exception to almost any generalization you could make. So the answer is never "this is how it is," because somebody will always be there to say, "but I know a person for whom it isn't like that." Rather, the answer, if there is one, is that, "more often than not, this is how it is, but sometimes it's one or more of several other ways, except when it's none of them."

    Put another way, the answer to, "are talents inborn, the result of hard work, a combination of the two, or something else?" is "yes."

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Mastikator View Post
    Were the members of the Beatles born with inborn talent, or was it simply that they played 8 ours a day for 7 days a week for 4 years (12 thousand hours) before they were recognized and successful.
    I don't know if the any members of the Beatles were born with any particular talent* (e.g. perfect pitch). I can say that none of them were born with sufficiently detrimental defects - for instance, being born with one arm makes drumming a lot harder, and makes playing a guitar darn near impossible.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    Certainly being taller helps you with basketball, and being smarter helps you with math, but in both cases, the average person who trains or studies every day is far better than the person with all the mental and physical gifts who does not develop them. This is proven by the fact that very few top athletes are world-class in several sports, and that most professors are not world-class experts in other academic fields.
    There's also the matter of in between cases. Yes, someone who puts hours a day into something will do better than someone with an advantage who doesn't do anything with it. At the same time though, someone who puts 10 hours a week into a class (beyond showing up) - which is some studying, but hardly a close focus on that particular class - could easily do worse than someone who just shows up, but who has some extant ability. Said extant ability could easily be from them studying earlier, but it still holds. For instance, I'm in an organic chemistry class. I routinely do the best on tests (it's a small class, this isn't that impressive). I also study the least out of anyone in the class, but I have read most of a Physical Chemistry textbook, a Polymer Chemistry textbook, and a number of scholarly articles for fun, which does give me a bit of an edge.

    *My interaction with them has pretty much consisted of listening to some of their songs, and thinking that some of them were kind of decent.
    Last edited by Knaight; 2014-03-20 at 02:53 PM.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    ...I have read most of a Physical Chemistry textbook, a Polymer Chemistry textbook, and a number of scholarly articles for fun, ...
    For reasons that completely escape me, you think this is evidence against my statement that you have to do the work of learning.

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    I don't know if the any members of the Beatles were born with any particular talent* (e.g. perfect pitch). I can say that none of them were born with sufficiently detrimental defects - for instance, being born with one arm makes drumming a lot harder, and makes playing a guitar darn near impossible.[snip]
    Being able body'd (and of sound mind) normal and assumed for most player characters in RPGs.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    For reasons that completely escape me, you think this is evidence against my statement that you have to do the work of learning.
    It's more a matter of being able to avoid the work of learning a particular thing if you already have background in related things, which tends to get rolled into talent as it's visibly different than actual work. Absolutely none of those were actually directly relevant to either the mechanisms or the reactions studied in O-Chem, but they still helped establish thought processes that make the actual learning easier. Thus, a benefit from extant learning that allows for doing better with less work.
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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    It's more a matter of being able to avoid the work of learning a particular thing if you already have background in related things, which tends to get rolled into talent as it's visibly different than actual work. Absolutely none of those were actually directly relevant to either the mechanisms or the reactions studied in O-Chem, but they still helped establish thought processes that make the actual learning easier. Thus, a benefit from extant learning that allows for doing better with less work.
    Yup. I still don't know why you think "I studied before so I don't have to study as much now" in any way disagrees with my contention that you have to study.

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    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay R View Post
    Yup. I still don't know why you think "I studied before so I don't have to study as much now" in any way disagrees with my contention that you have to study.
    Try "I studied something else, so I don't have to study this". Which still involves not studying the thing in question.
    Last edited by Knaight; 2014-03-20 at 11:22 PM.
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    Sep 2012

    Default Re: Talents, are they inborn or what

    Thanks for everyone's input.

    I've decided to have in my game TAP: Talent, Advantages, Passion. I don't know how they'll apply, but, those are the factors classified.

    I also learned of a book that anyone interested in this subject might enjoy; the link below is to the book's website:

    The Sports Gene, by David Epstein
    http://thesportsgene.com/

    Donnadogsoth

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