Character Contributions, take 2

As I’ve mentioned before, a character’s role within a group can be defined by the services they provide. This time, I’d like to look at some of the common properties of combat oriented services.

It seems that the most useful combat services manipulate at least one of the following:

  • The output or effectiveness of one or more participants.
  • The actions of one or more participants.
  • The conditions and/or environment where the conflict takes place.

Output Manipulation

In most games, combat centers around pushing every opponent into a state where they are no longer a threat. In effect, this means dropping the enemy’s contribution to zero and keeping it there for the duration of the conflict, if not longer.

This makes threat elimination the core service of a combat force. In fact, this service is pretty much required as without it you can’t force opponent in the losing state, which in turn makes winning a difficult proposition. This drive to push enemies out of the fight forms the core of various offensive effects.


Offensive services make enemies drop out of the fight more quickly. Direct offense covers abilities that can take an opponent out of the fight on their own while indirect offense relies on additional actions to deliver their final payload. Classic examples of indirect offense include making an allied attack deal more damage or making an enemy more vulnerable.

The most forms of direct offense are abilities the outright inflict a persistent “can’t fight” condition. However, in most games such one-shot knock-pouts are usually deemed to potent to be used as is. The most common ways of toning this down is to use “save or die” or damage effects instead.

“Save or die” effects can outright drop an opponent with one use, but only have a limited chance of doing so. Each save or die attack give the target a chance of escaping a KO and many even have a chance of avoiding harm entirely.

In contrast, damage effects spread the knock out over multiple shots. Each shot basically adds a little more damage to the target and when a certain threshold is reached, they drop out of the conflict.


The counterpoint to trying to drive enemies out of combat is trying to keep the same from happening to your own side. As with offense, defenses can be either direct or indirect.

One way of doing this is by reducing the effectiveness of enemy attacks. For example, a save or die can have it’s chances cut down while damage dealing attacks can have that damage reduced. I’ll collectively refer to these kind of defenses as dampers.

Another approach is preventing the knock out condition from ever occurring. I’ll refer to these KO blockers as lifelines. These effects usually involve a certain amount of damping as well. However, some focus more on adjusting or redistributing an attack’s impact instead of outright reducing it. For example, a lifeline couple spread damage over multiple allies to keep the original target from dropping.


Note that just as defenses counter offense, other abilities can counter these defenses to raise enemy offense. In fact, this cycle of counters can be taken a few steps further if desired, though few systems go beyond the first few levels of counters.

We can collective refer to many of these counters as maintenance effect as their purpose is minimize the enemies ability to lower one’s offensive or defensive ability. It’s worth noting the the importance of these effects depends on how frequent and power the target ability lowering effects the are.

Action Manipulation

Another useful service is controlling the actions or tactics of combatants. In games, this kind of control is usually directed at enemies, but pushing allies toward certain actions can be useful at times. These manipulations usually take one of the following forms.

  • Blocking or preventing certain actions.
  • Making new actions available to the target.
  • Changing the cost of the target action.
  • Changing the results of the target action.

With enemy actions, this usually means preventing action, making them more costly, or making them less effective. In contrast, allied can be given new actions or have their existing options made cheaper or more effective.

Note that action manipulation usually has offensive or defensive side effects. After all, with enemies you usually want to shut down their strongest attacks (defensive effect) or counter their defenses (offensive effect).

By the same token, you want to give allies strong attack or defense options that as strong or stronger than the options they already had, which tends to mead a net increase in their offensive or defensive abilities.

Situation Manipulation

That leaves manipulation the environment and conditions to swing things in the groups favor. The final effects of these services tend to overlap the other types of services (output and action manipulations), so I won’t go into too much detail here.

Wrap Up

It looks like the three most prominent services types are offense, defense, and control. I’ll look into these and how they apply to various roles in later posts.

Published in: on May 12, 2011 at 10:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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