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Actions that agents can do which allow players to affect game states.

Players need to be able to perform actions in order for them to have gameplay. The actions that are coupled to specific agents in the game worlds are called the Abilities of those agents.


The various pieces used in Chess all have the Ability to move, and capture the pieces in the square they move to; The en passant[1] move is a special Ability of pawns to capture other pawns that just moved two squares.

In one sense Pac-Man only has movement Abilities, but a more inclusive view would add the Ability to eat pills, power pills, bonus fruits, and ghosts while under the influence of a power pill. Space Invaders only lets players move their ship left and right and shoot.

Fighting Games such as the Street Fighter or Tekken series have many characters with Abilities related both to movement and combat. In many cases these Abilities can be combined into various combos.

It is difficult to judge exactly how many Abilities players of Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons or Fiasco have. This since while there may be specific rules for certain actions, game masters can allow anything the players want to do based on how well they feel it works with the gameplay style they wish the game to have.


Seeing the stones used in Go as having Abilities is somewhat difficult to do since players but only use them to mark places on the game board. The capturing of surrounded enemy stones could be argued to be an Ability but since several stones need to be used to achieve this, it is difficult to see this as an individual accomplishment.

Using the pattern

Abilities can modify Avatars, Characters, Companions, and Units by giving players means of affecting the game state through using these game elements. Competence Areas, Orthogonal Differentiation, and Privileged Abilities can all be created by only providing certain Abilities to certain game elements. Skills can be used to differentiate how powerful Abilities are for different game elements.

Many games have rules regarding changing which Abilities players have access to, typically ass part of Penalties or Rewards, or related to Character or Abstract Player Construct Development. Ability Losses, Cooldown, Decreased Abilities, New Abilities, Improved Abilities, Power-Ups, and Unlocking are all general patterns related to this, in many cases making Abilities into Temporary Abilities or attaching Gain Competence goals to the Abilities. Area Control, Deterioration, and Location-Fixed Abilities are ways of relating access to Abilities to other parts of the game system. Requiring two or more players or Agents to perform actions, i.e. Collaborative Actions, is generic category of Abilities that requires Cooperation or Coordination.

There are many common actions in games that can be Abilities. Movement is a one (sometimes in the form of Quick Travel), and Capture is another which can be expanded to also provide Combat or make the game elements into Consumers. Aim & Shoot is the primary option to make Combat possible at a distance through Abilities. Two other common actions that can be Abilities are Construction and (somewhat paradoxically) No-Ops. Producers is perhaps not as common but found in many Real-Time Strategy Games and all FPS Games where shots actually need to traverse the space between shooter and target.

Powers is a specific type of Abilities. Ammunition can be this also when different types of Ammunition provide different types of Abilities. Combos can be seen as higher order Abilities that are created by offering sequences of more basic Abilities as a possible action for players. These Combos may provide additional effects or simply be Combos because they basic Abilities could not be performed otherwise (or performed as quickly). While Action Programming is often built by providing players with Abilities that need to be placed in a sequence, it does not create Abilities like Combos do because the resulting programming cannot be said to be done by the game element itself.

Abilities that have been design can be modified in a number of ways. Extended Actions can make them take longer time and add Tension if they are also Interruptible Actions. If they cause Irreversible Events, this can require more consideration before they are done and also increase Tension (and work against the presence of Experimenting or Pottering). Anonymous Actions can be used to let players not only have secret plans, but keep (at least part) of the execution of these plans secret as well. Linking the use of Resources to the use of Abilities (which Ammunition is an example of) introduces Resource Management as part of using one's Abilities well.

In many cases, Game Masters can both provide players with new Abilities or modify existing ones based simply on the players stating that they want to do something. Game Masters can also modify their own and players Abilities through Feigned Die Rolls.


Providing game elements with Abilities make it possible for players to interpret them as Agents. They case provide a basis for Character Defining Actions in games with Characters, especially those that result in Irreversible Events.

Since Abilities can give players possibilities to try and affect the game state of a game, the pattern typically gives players a Freedom of Choice of what to do and may cause them to have an Exaggerated Perception of Influence. While Abilities do affect the game state of a game, it does not necessarily need to cause player to focus on facing particular challenges, they can also make Pottering possible. Limiting the number of Abilities is one way of guaranteeing that players have a Limited Set of Actions while providing many Abilities can create Complex Gameplay.


Can Instantiate

Action Programming, Agents, Complex Gameplay, Combos, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Freedom of Choice, Limited Set of Actions, Pottering

with Characters

Character Defining Actions

Can Modulate

Avatars, Characters, Companions, Units

Can Be Instantiated By

Aim & Shoot, Ammunition, Capture, Collaborative Actions, Combat, Combos, Consumers, Construction, Movement, No-Ops. Game Masters, Powers, Producers, Quick Travel

Can Be Modulated By

Ability Losses, Anonymous Actions, Area Control, Competence Areas, Cooldown, Decreased Abilities, Deterioration, Extended Actions, Feigned Die Rolls, Game Masters, Gain Competence, Improved Abilities, Interruptible Actions, Irreversible Events Location-Fixed Abilities, New Abilities, Orthogonal Differentiation, Power-Ups, Privileged Abilities, Resources, Skills, Temporary Abilities, Unlocking

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



New pattern created for this wiki by Staffan Björk.


  1. entry for En passant on wikipedia.