The Gassy Gnoll: Learning Mad Skillz…

After this Gassy Gnoll drove farted bounced an ATV around Taylor Park Reservoir (about 35 miles northeast of Gunnison,
) this past weekend, I started wondering about how characters gain new skills. Yes, it may seem like a non sequitur, but really the two are related. This is only the third time in the last 5 years that I’ve actually driven an ATV, so I’m still pretty new to the notion. I’ve done a bit of four-wheeling in my Toyota 4Runner, but typically only in winter and rarely even then.

So here’s the question that came to mind… Does three times of driving an ATV over the course of 5 years for maybe a total of 5 hours qualify for me to add “Driving (ATV)” to my skills list?

Taylor Park Reservoir Sunset Panorama

Image by ColoradoImage1 via Flickr

As a GM, I can tell you I probably would say it doesn’t based on the criteria of time.

But let’s approach it from a slightly different angle (and get a bit off topic), as not all rules systems have the same structure. Some games may have a generic “Driving” skill and then have characters specialize in various forms of transportation – i.e. a motorcycle isn’t the same as an automobile, which isn’t the same as a big rig or a train, which isn’t the same as a single-prop airplane, which isn’t the same as a helicopter, which isn’t the same as an F-15, etc. That might work in a modern or futuristic game, but what about fantasy games? Riding a horse isn’t the same as driving a chariot, but driving a chariot is pretty similar to a driving horse-drawn cart or buggy…

There are general groupings however that might make sense.

Let’s assume that we have a few categories of transportation skill available:


Image by freeskier via Flickr

  • Riding Animal
  • Animal-drawn Cart/Carriage
  • Ride Bicycle
  • Drive Motorcycle
  • Drive Automobile
  • Drive 3+ Axle Automobile
  • Drive Locomotive
  • etc…

I’ve been driving an automobile since I was 16, and rode a bicycle for several years before (and after) that. I’ve ridden one horse in my lifetime and I’m pretty sure he did all the work and I was just along for the ride. And I’ve driven a 24-foot truck a few times in the last decade between AZ and CO a few times, though that doesn’t require a CDL and probably just falls into the “automobile” category.

So let’s say my skill list looks like this:

  • Ride Bicycle (Lvl 3)
  • Drive Automobile (Lvl 5)

I honestly think that driving an ATV is more like driving a car than a motorcycle, so I’ll have to just lump it in with Drive Automobile for now. But I might argue that “Offroading” experience might come into play. Perhaps as a specialization to an existing skill that adds a bump?

Quad Biking in Namibia

Image by macloo via Flickr

That might change my skill list to:

  • Ride Bicycle (Lvl 3)
  • Drive Automobile (Lvl 5)
  • Specialization: Offroading (Lvl 1)

Now I can drive an automobile (or ride a bike) and add my offroading bonus if it comes into play… Though I’d succeed more with the ATV/car than the bike because I’ve not applied it quite that way…

Anyway – back to my original point. If I wanted to learn a new skill as a character – whether it’s “offroading” or “Drive (ATV)” or some other variation on a theme, how long would I have to spend learning it? If I was feeling philosophical, I might say that there’s no way to learn all there is to learn about any one topic – it should get harder and harder to add to a body of knowledge or skill as the skill goes up in level.

In-game, is XP worth more than time and practice? Out of game, time obviously wins out. So the more time you put into something, the better you should get.

As such, I’d say that a character practicing off-roading in his downtime would gain a level 1 skill fairly quickly. If XP is required by the system, XP would need to be spent to get the skill, but the time requirement would be non-negotiable unless the character could have a new skill directly pumped into his brain Matrix-style.

What do you think? As a GM, do you require additional conditions be met when characters are gaining new abilities, skills, or equipment? If so, what sorts of conditions?

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