New Abilities

Gaining new abilities during gameplay.

Many games provide players with additional actions that they can perform after they have started playing. These New Abilities give players more freedom in the game and allow them to be more empowered as gameplay continues.

Example: Roleplaying games that use character levels often, especially to wizard or cleric character classes, award players with new spell-casting abilities. Other examples of new abilities include new forms of attack for fighters and new stealth possibilities for thieves.

Example: Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory allows players to gain experience in several different skills during game play. When players "level up" in a skill, they gain new abilities connected to that skill, e. g., being able to call air strikes based on observation with binoculars, fully reviving team mates with health injections, or having more ammunition in supply packs.

Example: Becoming a zombie in Zombiepox does not automatically mean game over, since players can cure their Avatars by finding brains. However, the players' Avatars have the ability to spread the zombie disease just like other zombies, which does not aid in player success.

Using the pattern

Besides what abilities should be given, the primary design choices for New Ability are if the ability gains are temporary, if the ability is linked to a certain Focus Loci or to the player, and if players can affect what ability is gained. Further, the New Ability may be the cause of a Reward or the result of an Investment.

When New Abilities are linked to Units or Characters, they may be in the form of Chargers or Power-Ups that give temporary effects with Time Limits, or they may be in the more permanent form of Tools. Tools may allow a Transfer of Control of the New Ability and may have limited numbers of uses due to Limited Resources.

Linking New Abilities to Characters is not much different that linking them to players, unless the ability can be lost with the loss of Lives. Giving the New Abilities to Units increases the value of individual Units of the type that received the ability and can create Orthogonal Unit Differentiation.

When players can influence what New Abilities they gain, this gives Freedom of Choice to the players and makes Planned Character Development possible. In games with Team Play, this also allows Team Development and player-directed Orthogonal Unit Differentiation.

Like Privileged Abilities, any New Ability can affect Player Balance negatively. This may be countered by the Balancing Effect of linking the New Ability to an Ability Loss of another type, forcing players to perform Risk/Reward choices. Another way to provide a Balancing Effect is to have the New Ability as part of a set of Budgeted Action Points, which means that use of the New Ability is done instead of using an existing one.


New Abilities are the objectives for Gain Competence goals, Gain Ownership goals of Tools, and give new possibilities for new Competence Areas. As they give players increased Freedom of Choice and the New Abilities often are Privileged Abilities, receiving them is almost always considered a Reward. This may affect players' Perceived Chance to Succeed and creates Illusion of Influence even if no actual influence needs to exist. The ability to have more influence over the game state makes goals of acquiring New Abilities into implicit if not explicit Supporting Goals and give players Empowerment. Having diseases and the ability to spread them is an example of how a New Ability can be a Penalty. Role Reversal events often give players New Abilities while at the same time imposing Ability Losses of existing ones.

New Abilities given to Characters are a form of Character Development and as such can move the development of the Narrative Structure forward. In games with Team Play,New Abilities also foster Team Development. Giving New Abilities as the gameplay unfolds lets players have Smooth Learning Curves and provides a means to support Varied Gameplay over a game session. New Abilities give rise to Red Queen Dilemmas when a game allows a series of New Abilities to be acquired by competing players.

The difference between New Abilities and Improved Abilities can be defined in several different ways: if the new action is activated in the same way as the old, if the consequences of the action affect different parts of the game state, or if the explanation given by the Alternative Reality differentiates them. New Abilities, unless present in other game elements or part of Predefined Goals, fits less well with a Consistent Reality Logic than Improved Abilities.


Instantiates: Gain Competence, Competence Areas, Character Development, Red Queen Dilemmas, Planned Character Development, Empowerment, Investments, Team Development, Supporting Goals, Rewards, Freedom of Choice, Perceived Chance to Succeed, Privileged Abilities, Varied Gameplay, Orthogonal Unit Differentiation, Illusion of Influence

Modulates: Units, Smooth Learning Curves, Team Play, Characters, Ability Losses, Risk/Reward, Gain Ownership, Narrative Structures, Focus Loci

Instantiated by: Chargers, Transfer of Control, Role Reversal, Power-Ups, Tools

Modulated by: Time Limits, Budgeted Action Points, Lives, Freedom of Choice, Ability Losses, Alternative Reality

Potentially conflicting with: Player Balance, Consistent Reality Logic