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Game elements used to provide actions, or make them easier to perform, in game worlds.

Tools are game elements that enable players' avatars and units to perform actions better that usual, or perform actions otherwise unavailable to them. By being separate entities that can exist independently of avatars or units, Tools can be designed so that they can be picked up, dropped, destroyed, traded, and so on.


Roleplaying games Dungeons and Dragons and Hârnmaster make intense use of Tools, often in the form of weapons and armors to affect combat. GURPS includes detailed rules for Tools that give bonuses to various skills if the player characters have them, and have entire source books dedicated to Tools and other game items[1][2][3] (Dungeons and Dragons have these as well[4][5]).

Weapons are common Tools in many computer games, including Left 4 Dead series, Torchlight, and World of Warcraft. While also doing this, Minecraft and the Team Fortress series, through dispensers and sentry guns respectively, allow players to create Tools that can act independently in combat, needing only to be resupplied. Minecraft and Ultima Online also have various Tools to support crafting and farming. Players of Just Cause 2 and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (and some mods and expansions for the Quake series) can find grappling hooks that allow players to move by swinging.

Using the pattern

Besides the design choices available to all Game Items, the fundamental characteristic of Tools are which actions they support. They can support actions by giving Improved Abilities, either through Buffs or through increases in Skills, or by giving New Abilities that may also be Privileged Abilities. They can also change the risks of Critical Failures and the chances of Critical Successes. A common functional type of Tools are Weapons to allow or affect Damage, or dictate how Aim & Shoot is done in Combat (but some Tools are meant as diegetic tools but can be used as improvised Weapons). Maybe not too surprising given this, Tools allowing the regain of Health are also common. Although not always perceived as Tools, game items such as keys, id cards, etc., that allow access to Conditional Passageways may be even more common that Weapons even if they may not be used as often. Other Tools allow or affect Crafting, Farming, and Privileged Movement (e.g. grappling hooks in Just Cause 2). Effects more specific that Tools can have is allowing Controllers to be activated, Achilles' Heels to be exploited, or Alarms to be turned off (or on). Types of Tools defined by being noticeable game elements in their own right in Game Worlds include Installations, Self-Service Kiosks, and Vehicles. The use of Tools can be designed so it require player actions to be successfully completed, e.g. Aim & Shoot.

Where and when they can be acquired is an important consideration regarding Tools, and may make places into Resource Locations. This may be modified by Difficulty Levels, and this is especially common for Tools to replenish Health. Besides what actions are affected and how common the Tools are, several other design options exist regarding Tools. One is which Units or Avatars can use the Tools, possibly controlled by the presence or absence Powers, Privileged Abilities, or Skills. Another option is which begin with them, and this can be more important for Tools than other Game Items if Enemies can use them as well. A third option relate to adding Trade-Offs or Risk/Reward considerations by linked the use of Tools to the consumption of Resources, the activation of Cooldown periods, or their Deterioration. Tools that only can be used once are quite closely related to Power-Ups but differ in that players can choose when to used them - the most common case of this type of Tools are probably those that restore Health. Limited numbers of uses and Deterioration are ways of ensuring that the Tools provide Temporary Abilities, but this may also happen due to Stealing or Trading if they are Transferable Items. While not as commonly used as Armor or Weapons, unique Tools can be part of the Loot in Endgame Quests to provide those in Endgame phases with the chance of improving the actions supported by the Tools.

Finally, game designers need to consider if the usage of several Tools together simultaneously should be allowed, and if so if it should give rise to Combos.

Although not as common as for Armor or the more specialized Tools of Weapons, Tools can be used to create Sets. Likewise, Equipment Slots can be assigned to particular types of Tools but this is probably most present through such slots for what Tool or Weapon one holds in one's hand.

Diegetic Aspects

Tools are a way of providing Improved or New Abilities without breaking Thematic Consistency. Maintaining Thematic Consistency can also be used to explain restrictions of where one can acquire Tools, e.g. only through certain Factions. This can also be used to regulate who can used them also without noticing that Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences.

Interface Aspects

Tools can provide sensory abilities besides providing improved or new types of actions, and this makes them have strong link to a game's interface. Examples include ordinary binoculars (found for example in Fallout: New Vegas), sniper scopes (built-in into several weapons found in Counter-Strike, the Halo series and the Battlefield series), or more exotic equipment that provide Vision Modes (e.g. thermal sights in the Call of Duty series).

For games with Live Action Roleplaying, the construction of game Tools may need to be the construction of functional Tools that can be used like any other non-game version or replicas that are indistinguishable from real Tools. Any Tools that have physical representations or are assigned physical locations open up for making their proximity to other things into gameplay mechanics, i.e. Artifact-Location Proximity and Player-Artifact Proximity.


Tools are Game Items that change how Avatars, Characters, or Units (all which may be Enemies) work in games by being Equipment. This through how they provide ways to temporarily or permanently provide Improved or New Abilities. For players, this may give Collecting and Gain Ownership goals to acquire them and Facilitating Rewards when receiving them. Depending on how common the Tools are, they may or not give Privileged Abilities, and when affected by Deterioration they can be Limited Resources. As Tools can give New or Privileged Abilities, they allow the fulfillment of Gain Competence goals. In Single-Player Games, Tools can let different Characters or Units have different Competence Areas.

In Multiplayer Games the presence of usable Tools can create Privileged Abilities in relations to those that do not have the Tools. This inequality can spawn also goals of Gain Ownership, which in turn may give rise to Trading, and even the Game Element Trading and its associated Extra-Game Consequences, unless made impossible by game rules. Alternatively in can give rise to Stealing or Eliminate goals.

Since they can change the outcome of actions done by Avatars or Units, Tools provide a way of constructing Player/Character Skill Composites. The change can also lead to players having an Exaggerated Perception of Influence, especially if players can choose between which Tools to use (a form of Freedom of Choice). They may also cause problems with Player Balance in Multiplayer Games since those in possession of Tools may have a distinct advantage. This however also lets players cooperating to develop Competence Areas.


Can Instantiate

Actions Have Diegetically Social Consequences, Aim & Shoot, Buffs, Combos, Competence Areas, Collecting, Crafting, Damage, Equipment, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Facilitating Rewards, Farming, Freedom of Choice, Gain Competence, Gain Ownership, Game Items, Improved Abilities, Limited Resources, New Abilities, Player/Character Skill Composites, Privileged Abilities, Privileged Movement, Sets, Resource Locations, Temporary Abilities, Thematic Consistency, Vision Modes, Weapons

with Cooldown


with Resources or Deterioration


with Multiplayer Games

Eliminate, Game Element Trading, Stealing, Trading

with Game Element Trading

Extra-Game Consequences

Can Modulate

Aim & Shoot, Alarms, Avatars, Characters, Combat, Controllers, Crafting, Critical Failures, Critical Successes, Enemies, Health, Skills, Conditional Passageways, Units

Can Be Instantiated By

Installations, Self-Service Kiosks, Vehicles, Weapons

Can Be Modulated By

Achilles' Heels, Artifact-Location Proximity, Cooldown, Deterioration, Difficulty Levels, Endgame Quests, Equipment Slots, Factions, Live Action Roleplaying, Player-Artifact Proximity, Powers, Privileged Abilities, Resources, Skills, Thematic Consistency

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Player Balance in Multiplayer Games


An update of the pattern Tools that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[6].


  1. Official page for the Low-Tech sourcebook for GURPS.
  2. Official page for the High-Tech sourcebook for GURPS.
  3. Official page for the Ultra-Tech sourcebook for GURPS.
  4. Official page for the Adventurer's Vault book for Dungeons & Dragons.
  5. Official page for the Adventurer's Vault 2 book for Dungeons & Dragons.
  6. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.