Ability Losses

Ability Losses

The loss of ability to perform an action in the game.

Games do not have to let players have the same possibility of actions the whole game. Such Ability Losses may be the cause of Penalties for failing goals or the effect of opponents' actions, but may also simply be due to different play modes.

Example: Respawning in multiplayer first-person shooters is typically done without any weapons, and the special abilities they provided, gained in earlier gameplay.

Example: Game masters in roleplaying games can sometimes be forced to invent events that are unavoidable to the players to strip them of equipment that gives the abilities that disrupt the game balance.

Using the pattern

The design of Ability Losses consists of deciding what action is lost, for example a severe form of Movement Limitation, and the reason for the loss, typically a Penalty for failing a goal. A loss of ability can be used to create Gain Competence goals in order to regain it, or Gain Ownership if the ability was the effect of a Tool.

A loss of ability affects Player Balance. If the lost ability was possessed by most or all players, it is a Penalty, but if the ability was a Privileged Ability and other players did not have other forms of actions that equaled the lost ability in value, the loss can affirm Player Balance and is a Balancing Effect if explicitly designed. The Penalty of Ability Loss can also be mitigated by having a Time Limit on the loss or by giving the same player New Abilities within other areas.


Ability Loss is a common Penalty, for example, by the effects of Damage. Losing an ability naturally restricts the Limited Set of Actions available and thereby players' Freedom of Choice, either on a Unit level or for the player overall, and may cause Competence Areas to be lost as well. In extreme cases, Ability Loss may cause players to have Downtime, and if the loss is temporary, this is equal to Player Killing and, if permanent, to Player Elimination. An Ability Loss may reduce the complexity of a game while increasing the difficulty, modulating Right Level of Complexity and Right Level of Difficulty in different directions.

Besides Penalties, Ability Losses may be the natural affect of New Abilities that had Time Limits. Other causes for Ability Losses can be Spawning after losing a Life or Role Reversals where the losses of some abilities are usually countered by New Abilities in other Competence Areas. If the Ability Losses severely affect how players can complete goals, they hinder them to have a Perceived Chance to Succeed and any Illusion of Influence.

The presence of Units in a game with Privileged Abilities regarding other Units controlled by the same player gives that player the Continuous Goals to make the Units Survive (or not be Captured) in order to not have Ability Loss. If the Units are under Indirect Control, the loss may not be so severe, as control can be regained.

Ability Losses are not commonly used to advance Narrative Structures unless they are Ultra-Powerful Events, since players may see goals in resisting the loss, especially in games that support Save-Load Cycles. One reason for enforcing these types of Ability Losses in Narrative Structures is as part of Character Development. When the losses are part of the game story, they do provide a form of Varied Gameplay, as players have to adjust to a Limited Set of Actions, which may be used to modulate the Right Level of Difficulty. However, Ability Losses may be enforced by a game design to ensure a Narrative Structure, although this may be in conflict with a Consistent Reality Logic, for example, making it impossible to attack shopkeepers in computer-based roleplaying games when it is possible to attack monsters.

In games with Game Masters, Ability Losses may be the outcome of Negotiation with the players in order to restore Player Balance and provide the Right Level of Difficulty.


Instantiates: Gain Competence, Continuous Goals, Character Development, Penalties, Downtime, Player Elimination, Limited Set of Actions, Varied Gameplay, Gain Ownership

Modulates: Damage, Player Balance, New Abilities, Narrative Structures, Right Level of Difficulty, Right Level of Complexity, Spawning, Player Killing

Instantiated by: Movement Limitations, Ultra-Powerful Events, Role Reversal

Modulated by: Time Limits, Units, Balancing Effects, Indirect Control, Game Masters, Negotiation, New Abilities

Potentially conflicting with: Competence Areas, Illusion of Influence, Save-Load Cycles, Freedom of Choice, Consistent Reality Logic, Perceived Chance to Succeed, Narrative Structures