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The numerical representation of how likely a Unit or Character is to succeed with an action, and what possible consequences the action has.

This pattern is a still a stub.

Many games uses numerical values to indicate how good the characters or units controlled by players are. The Skill values can be used directly to determine success or failure or let players know the likelihood of success or failure before doing the actions associated with the skill values. Further, having certain levels in particular Skills can allow extra effects to occur when the action is performed.


Example: tabletop roleplaying system such as GURPS or d20 use skills as the primary way of showing how experienced a character is in a particular area. Basic Roleplaying

GURPS Call of Cthulhu

Example: the Deus Ex series of computer games allows players to develop skill areas by acquiring implants.

Bloodbowl Bloodbowl (computer game) Torchlight

Elder Scrolls series Fallout series

Using the pattern

some things called skills are privileged abilities since if they have no degrees of skill...

Designing use of Skills in games depends on the type of game. Real-Time Games usually let the success or failure depend on how the player performed the action but let Skill levels affect the difficulty or allow Privileged Abilities linked to the action. Turn-Based Games make richer use of Skills, both regarding the evaluation functions used as well as the number of actions that are determined by Skill levels. Skill levels may be adjustable by players before gameplay to allow Handicaps to be set to achieve Player Balance.

Actions based on Skills can in Turn-Based Games either have dynamic or static evaluation. Static evaluation promotes Predictable Consequences but may ruin the Illusion of Influence if the value used in the evaluation functions is known. Dynamic evaluationusually contains some form of Randomness and thereby gives players the chance to have Luck, and can give players the Illusion of Influence through the use of Dice. Skills in Turn-Based Games can be further detailed by the introduction of prerequisites, specializations, maneuvers, and the process of basing skill levels on other skill levels.

The possibility to increase Skill levels instantiates Character Development (and Team Development) and can be done in several ways: the increase can be aReward for completing a goal; Extended Actions in the form of Investment may have Skill increases as their main result; or Improved Abilities through Tools, Power-Ups, or Chargers. The chance of increasing may be governed by Randomness, or may be automatic given use of the Skills. If players can affect which Skills can be raised, this allows for Planned Character Development. Budgeted Action Points can be used to control the amount of Skill increases in games with many Skills, and may ensure Player Balance in Multiplayer Games. Another way to limit Skill increases is to use Diminishing Returns, either by requiring more Investments to be done to increase the Skills or by making the chances of improving the Skills lower as the Skill gets higher.

Having Skills as numerical values that indicate competence levels makes it easy to implement both Improved and Decreased Abilities.

Can Instantiate


Can Modulate

Aim & Shoot, Combat, Controllers, Crafting, Critical Hits, Freedom of Choice, Game World Navigation, Health, Tools

Can Be Modulated By

Bookkeeping Tokens, Character Development, Damage, Decreased Abilities, Gain Competence, Handicap Systems, Improved Abilities, New Abilities, Player-Created Characters, Randomness, Self-Service Kiosks, Tools

Armor together with Decreased Abilities

Being able to choose which Skills one should have and what levels one should have in these is a common feature both for systems that support Player-Created Characters, and being able to raise Skills during gameplay is a common form of Character Development.

Diegetic Aspects

Interface Aspects

Narrative Aspects

Skills do not in themselves relate to narrative aspects of games, but the Character Development increases in Skills can represent can be seen as a form of Narrative Structures.


Skills are one way of differentiating Avatars and Characters and thereby giving players Competence Areas. When this is used to create Privileged Abilities, it promotes Varied Gameplay and choosing what Skills to raise in games supporting this can be seen as a form of Character Defining Actions. Given that Skills represent chances of succeeding with activities, the use of them can affect how well players can perceive Predictable Consequences from their intended actions. The possibility to increase Skills is one way in which games can provide players with Gain Competence goals. Skills can naturally also be used to create differences in Companions and Enemies in addition to doing so in player-controlled entities, and limit the usefulness of Mules.

Skills that directly affect how well players can perform physical actions, e.g. aiming in Aim & Shoot activities, give rise to Player/Character Skill Composites. In Multiplayer Games, difference in Skill levels can both encourage Team Combos but create problems with Player Balance.


Can Instantiate

Character Defining Actions, Competence Areas, Crafting, Gain Competence, Player-Created Characters, Player/Character Skill Composites, Privileged Abilities, Varied Gameplay

with Multiplayer Games

Team Combos

Can Modulate

Aim & Shoot, Avatars, Character Development, Characters, Combat, Companions, Controllers, Crafting, Critical Hits, Enemies, Freedom of Choice, Game World Navigation, Health, Mules, Predictable Consequences, Tools

Can Be Instantiated By


Can Be Modulated By

Bookkeeping Tokens, Character Development, Damage, Decreased Abilities, Gain Competence, Handicap Systems, Improved Abilities, New Abilities, Player-Created Characters, Randomness, Self-Service Kiosks, Tools

Armor together with Decreased Abilities

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With


with Multiplayer Games

Player Balance


An updated version of the pattern Skills that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.