Player/Character Skill Composites

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Outcomes of player actions that depends both on both player and character characteristics.

Many games make the outcome of actions depend on player skills, but other games make use of the skills and equipment used by the diegetic characters. When games make use of both simultaneously, so both player and character characteristics are merged to form a synthesized skill, the outcome of actions become dependent on Player/Character Skill Composites.


Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS have Player/Character Skill Composites for two reasons. First, although players may choose the actions performed by the characters, it is their skills, levels, and equipment that determine the outcome (at least for rule-based versions of this type of games). Second, game masters often provide bonuses (or penalties) depending on how well players planned, described, and enacted the characters' actions. The Roguelike Unexplored works similarly but as a real-time Computer Game also puts demands on players manual dexterity and reflexes.

While all FPS Games (e.g. the Quake and Half-Life series) that have different types of weapons have a certain level of Player/Character Skill Composites some games make more explicit use of the pattern. Left 4 Dead 2 lets players find laser sights that upgrade weapons so that they sway less when one aims. This makes shooting a combination of player skill and character equipment. Borderlands allows many different upgrades of weapons and lowers the sway of weapons for skilled characters (the "Aim Assist" option in the game can be seen as a version of the pattern as well).

Zero-Player Games such as C-Robots have a form of Player/Character Skill Composites in that outcomes depend on players' skill in programming the robots that then perform them. Dragon Age II has a limited form of this in that both players' characters and companions can be given tactics, simple rules for how to behave in combat.

Using the pattern

Creating Player/Character Skill Composites consists of designing the outcomes of actions so that they depend both on how (and when) players perform actions and on attributes tied to Characters. Examples of ways players can show personal skills or competences include performing Dexterity-Based Actions, Memorizing, Tactical Planning, or Timing. Examples of how Characters can affect outcomes of actions are by having Skills related to the actions, and by providing Tools and Weapons. First-Person Views augmented with Point of Interest Indicators or Vision Modes let perception of Game Worlds be a composite of players and Characters abilities. Automated Responses and Enforced Agent Behavior are ways to more directly tie Characters to the actual performing of the actions, and Zero-Player Games (or games such as Dragon Age II that allow players to have Creative Control over Automated Responses) make players into the creators of Algorithmic Agents that provide Enforced Agent Behavior. Setting Automated Responses can allow a lesser form of Player/Character Skill Composites to exist when players can influence Non-Player Characters behaviors (done in Dragon Age II and more weakly in the Fallout series). The pattern can be used when no abstract features of players' Focus Loci exist except Weapons and Tools, i.e. the Characters pattern is not used, but is then rather a way to modulate Avatars. In general, Player Augmentations can be used to create Player/Character Skill Composites in all cases where the augmentation can be traced to the diegetic representation of a character.

Combat is an activity that quite often depends on Player/Character Skill Composites. One example is making hitting depend on player skill while Damage depends on character Skills and Weapons. The difficulty of performing Aim & Shoot actions can more tightly merge the two components through having player do the aiming but let the sway of the aim depend on Weapons and their Upgrades, as well as on Skills to produce Variable Accuracy. All these options can also be used to initiate or influence Auto-Aim functionality and thereby create Player/Character Skill Composites.

Player/Character Skill Composites have to balance the Improved Abilities of Character Development with Gameplay Mastery if any of the two are to exist in a game. Those where Gameplay Mastery over time influences outcomes more than Character Development lessen the Value of Effort for the Character Development; this may however be compensated by the Value of Effort having the mastery represents. It may however also make Player Balance difficult to achieve without other Balancing Effects. Dominating influence from Character Development can directly work against Gameplay Mastery occurring (see Linderoth 2010[1] for a discussion related to this), and even if Gameplay Mastery occurs Character Development works against its Value of Effort. Note that this is not the same type of balance that needs to be maintained between difficulty and chance to succeed to create Red Queen Dilemmas.

Combos is an alternative way of achieving Player/Character Skill Composites since actions, and even the performance of them, can be attributes of Characters but players decide when they are done. Likewise, the presence of Game Masters can allow Player/Character Skill Composites by letting Enactment and Tactical Planning beyond that possible from the game state modify the chance of success for any action.

Player/Character Skill Composites are likely to be affected by Handicap Systems in games that contain them, so the co-presence of these pattern should be considered in any game design process using one or the other.

Diegetic Aspects

In games where players control Characters that are supposed to be skilled, Player/Character Skill Composites can help maintain Thematic Consistency until the players have gain enough Gameplay Mastery to be able to enact these levels of skill.


Per its definition, Player/Character Skill Composites combines the attributes of Characters and skill of players to determine outcomes of actions. This can provide Smooth Learning Curves initially since the outcome from novices may not be that of diegetic novices. When the Character part actively performs actions, e.g. through Automated Responses or Enforced Agent Behavior, this makes Player/System Action Composites emerge and naturally affect Performance Uncertainty. Player Unpredictability is typically lessened by the presence of Player/Character Skill Composites.

The pattern may also give rise to Grinding since players can compensate a lack of Gameplay Mastery by playing more to have Character Development or better Tools instead.


Can Instantiate

Gain Competence, Grinding, Smooth Learning Curves, Thematic Consistency

with Automated Responses or Enforced Agent Behavior

Player/System Action Composites

Can Modulate

Aim & Shoot, Avatars, Combat, Performance Uncertainty, Player Unpredictability

Can Be Instantiated By

Automated Responses, Auto-Aim, Characters, Combos, Dexterity-Based Actions, Enactment, Enforced Agent Behavior, Game Masters, Memorizing, Player Augmentations, Skills, Tactical Planning, Timing, Tools, Variable Accuracy, Weapons, Zero-Player Games

Damage in games with Combat

First-Person Views together with Point of Interest Indicators or Vision Modes

Can Be Modulated By

Character Development, Gameplay Mastery, Handicap Systems, Improved Abilities, Upgrades

Potentially Conflicting With

Value of Effort

Gameplay Mastery when Character Development is present

Player Balance when Gameplay Mastery is present


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Linderoth, J. (2010). Why gamers donʼt learn more - An ecological approach to games as learning environments. In proceedings of Nordic DiGRA 2010.