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Representation of how likely diegetic agents are to succeed with a type of activity.

Not everyone is equally good at everything, and this can be explicit represented in games through the use of Skills. These may be simple labels to indicate who can perform the activity and who cannot, but it is quite common to uses numerical values to Skill levels and thereby indicate how good characters or units are compared to other diegetic agents. These Skill values can be used directly to determine success or failure - very often through comparing it to a random number - but can also give players strong hints on the likelihood of success or failure before the actions associated with the skills are actually done.


Many Tabletop Roleplaying Games, including Basic Roleplaying, Call of Cthulhu, GURPS, Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and the World of Darkness series make use of Skills in some cases extensively so with more than hundred different Skills available. This is echoed in Computer-based Roleplaying Games such as the Elder Scrolls series, the Fallout series, and World of Warcraft. In some cases, including more action-oriented games, the skills are represented as development trees; examples of this can be found in Borderlands, Dead Island, the Dragon Age series, and Torchlight.

Bloodbowl and Talisman are examples of Board Games that make use of Skills as well.

Using the pattern

Skills are typically used in games to allow

Areas which need to be considered when designing Skills for use in games include which exist, if they contain additional information specific to each

specialties familiarities

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

Real-Time Games usually let the success or failure depend on how players performs action but lets Skill levels affect the difficulty (i.e. by creating Player/Character Skill Composites) or by allowing Privileged Abilities. For Turn-Based Games it is more common for success or failure to depend entirely on Skills, although Game Masters of Tabletop Roleplaying Games often modify the difficulty depending on how the players have planned to perform the actions.

Skill-based actions can either have dynamic or static evaluation. Static evaluation promotes Predictable Consequences but may ruin the Exaggerated Perception of Influence if players can notice exactly what is possible and what is not. Dynamic evaluation usually contains some form of Randomness and thereby gives players the chance to have Luck.

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.

Further, having certain levels in particular Skills can allow extra effects to occur when the action is performed.

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, Development Trees, 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

with Randomness


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, Development Trees, 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

Exaggerated Perception of Influence

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.