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Privileged Abilities

Privileged Abilities

Privileged Abilities are those that let players perform actions that are not readily available to all other players.

Many games have different sets of actions possible for different players. The actions one player has, or possibly a few players have, are Privileged Abilities in that they allow different tactics and often different forms of goals to be sought.

Example: Computer roleplaying games, such as Neverwinter Nights and Diablo, make use of Privileged Abilities by making certain actions only available to specific classes, for example, only allowing wizards to cast spells.

Example: Online multiplayer first-person shooters such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory or Battlefield 1942 use the same method of dividing special abilities, such as repairing vehicles or providing air strikes, to specific classes. Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory further provides new actions as players gain experience in various activities.

Example: The board game History of the World uses cards with special abilities that can be played only on certain turns in order to loosely follow the historical development of civilizations.

Using the pattern

The design choices regarding Privileged Abilities can be divided into three main categories: the actual nature of the action, how the action is made available, and which player has access to the action.

Privileged Abilities can take many different forms, but common ones allow players to move differently than other players, avoid the effects of Penalties, allow special actions in Combat, create Resources, manipulate the Resource Management system in the game, create Asymmetric Information states by providing additional access to information, or affect the outcome of other actions. Examples are numerous: ordinary attacks and Combos for use in Combat; movement enhancement such as speed of movement or ability to jump longer, or in other ways making it easier to ignore or avoid Obstacles; Privileged Movement in the form of flying, swimming, or diving; activation of armor or invulnerability that make the effect of Damage little or none to avoiding Penalties, perhaps automatic when Spawning; being a Producer of Renewable Resources, for example to create health packs that remove Damage, or being able to employ Construction; for Resource Management, actions that affect Resource Collecting for example enabling card pick-up from the Discard Pile instead of the Drawing Stack; for information, having Units with less Fog of War than other Units or being allowed to look at another player's Card Hand; for outcomes, control of Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties or possession of replay and cancellation cards that force a new evaluation of the action or that a new action is taken instead of the one that has just taken place. In some cases, even the option of performing a No-Op action can be a Privileged Ability.

Privileged Abilities that are present from the beginning of the game allow players to perform extra-game activities in planning strategies if these actions are known or can be chosen. Those Privileged Abilities that are gained during gameplay can provide Stimulated Planning, including Planned Character Development and Team Development, and gaining the abilities is often done through some form of Investment. Privileged Abilities that only can be used or are useful during certain parts of the game put players under a Time Limit and strengthen the importance of Timing the actions.

Area Control, Chargers, and Power-Ups can be used to activate Privileged Abilities. In this case, gaining the Privileged Ability can become a question of knowing Strategic Locations, and the activation of Privileged Ability is tied to a specific location in the game. As the effects of Chargers and Power-Ups usually are under a Time Limit or otherwise bounded, the effects on Player Balance can more easily be controlled than for other types of Privileged Abilities.

Privileged Abilities may also appear due to Penalties inflicted on other players; the effect of losing your knights in Chess while your opponent still has them can be seen as if your opponent has the Privileged Ability of making knights move.

The question of who has access to the Privileged Ability can be split into the questions of what Focus Loci provides the action and which players have access to the action. When using Avatars representing Characters as the Focus Loci, the Privileged Abilities can be represented by Skills to allow further modulation of the abilities.

The choice of Focus Loci affects how player's can experience Ability Loss. If the Privileged Abilities are provided by Avatars or Characters, the loss is typically either due to the end of a Time Limit in the case of Power-Ups or a Penalty for losing a Life or losing Ownership of Tools. Besides allowing for Orthogonal Unit Differentiation, Tools and Units allow the Privileged Abilities to shift between players by different forms of Transfer of Control, e. g., stealing.

The affect of which player has the Privileged Abilities depends heavily upon whether the game involves Team Play. In Team Play, the Privileged Ability of a player can be matched by the same Privileged Ability in the other teams to create Player Balance. This makes the teams have symmetric abilities while providing Asymmetric Abilities within the team and allows individual players to have game-controlled Competence Areas. In games without teams but with Cooperation, the pattern can also support Competence Areas, while in games with Conflict, it is more likely to affect Player Balance.

Possible affects on Player Balance by Privileged Abilities can be mitigated somewhat if they are part of the set of actions selectable by Budgeted Action Points.


Privileged Abilities give players Empowerment in games since they have abilities that others do not. This is especially apparent in Self-Facilitated Games that make use of Game Masters, since the entire game state is controlled by them and all events in the game must be approved by them.

By their very nature, Privileged Abilities create a state of Asymmetric Abilities between players and thereby easily affect Player Balance and Team Balance. When unsupervised by the game system, this can create greater and greater differences in Player Balance as gameplay progresses, but by actively modifying what Privileged Abilities players have and when, e. g., by deciding the nature of a Power-Up due to the positions of players in a racing game, the pattern can instead be used to support Player Balance.

When combined with New Abilities, Privileged Abilities can be used as the goal for Gain Competence goals. When tied to Avatars or Characters, they can be used to explicitly indicate Character Development. In games with Team Play, this naturally can also affect Team Development and can strengthen the Competence Area of players and give them Social Statuses. Further, it can support stimulated Social Interaction, as players usually need to coordinate their activities to take full advantage of the set of actions they have. If the Privileged Abilities are matched between the teams, Team Balance can be achieved even though Player Balance may not be.

If competing players can gain access to the same or balancing Privileged Abilities through completions of similar goals in games using Competition, a Red Queen Dilemma situation can occur. In this case, and other cases where players can gain or have had Privileged Abilities but currently do not, not having the abilities can be a form of Penalty.


Instantiates: Gain Competence, Social Statuses, Competence Areas, Stimulated Planning, Penalties, Red Queen Dilemmas, Empowerment, Investments, Asymmetric Abilities, Orthogonal Unit Differentiation, Interruptible Actions

Modulates: Combat, Avatars, Fog of War, Character Development, Self-Facilitated Games, Penalties, Units, Team Development, Team Play, Characters, Player-Decided Distribution of Rewards & Penalties, Spawning, Timing, Social Interaction, Planned Character Development, Tools, Construction, Obstacles

Instantiated by: No-Ops, Chargers, Producers, Transfer of Control, Renewable Resources, Privileged Movement, Game Masters, New Abilities, Power-Ups, Combos, Area Control, Skills, Ownership

Modulated by: Budgeted Action Points, Team Balance, Planned Character Development

Potentially conflicting with: Player Balance, Team Balance

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(C) Æliens 04/09/2009

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