ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN
Essay Fourteen: The Ability Hoard
THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
When it comes to my own characters (be they fictional or gaming) and even the players and characters I DM I think of Skills, Capabilities, Abilities, Attributes, (innate personal and individual features) and so forth as much more important character elements and possessions than magic items, spells, money, and other types of what is normally thought of as “standard treasures.”
To me the single greatest types of treasures a character (or a real person) can possess are what they can actually do for themselves (and for others) in the world, devoid of all outside help, material/materiel, and extraneous accoutrements. So I’m going to call this idea and post the Ability-Hoard, or the Treasure of Personal Capacity. I think that this is where the true emphasis of “characterization” should be evident, and most brightly shine.
Let me, at this point, briefly define the Ability Hoard.
The Ability Hoard is that accumulated set of skills, talents, abilities, capabilities, extraordinary qualities (be they physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual), educational and individual merits, virtues, and sensory capacities that a character or person possesses which allows them to resolve difficult problems or to gain some beneficial advantage over others or over a particular set of circumstances.
Now I realize that this may be an entirely personal opinion, or at least very probably a minority opinion, but to me the Ability Hoard (similar to the poetic term Word-Hoard in this respect), be that in a fictional world, a gaming environment, or in Real Life is by far the greatest wealth a person may possess, and as such accumulating and developing and increasing your own Ability Hoard is of paramount importance to both your success in this world (or in any fictional world) and to your favorable development as an individual.
(At least in the gaming world, it has been my observation, and far too often in the Real World, possessions, especially powerful and valuable possessions seem to consume much of the emphasis and interest in any setting. However the Ability Hoard is not only a treasure and a possession in its own right, it is the one possession you own which actually allows you to grow and multiply all of your other possessions – be they physical, financial, material, mental, psychological, or otherwise.)
Thus in my opinion, whether you are speaking of gaming or Real Life a person’s Ability Hoard is their Chief and True Treasure, and the one source of wealth that is never subject to theft or plunder by another. (Unless, of course, you intentionally allow some particular element of your Ability Hoard to be stolen by another.)
I will return to the idea of the Ability Hoard in later posts, because for one thing, it constitutes a vital and fundamental part of my Games of Personal Advancement and Development series. For now, however, I just wish to introduce the concept.
In closing, what is your opinion – is a character’s or an individual’s Ability Hoard their single greatest source of treasure, or do you consider some other form of treasure a more valuable possession?
Hnefatafl is indeed an impressive (war) game, for many different reasons. Not least of all, to me, because as this article implies it is a game of asymmetrical warfare. But even going beyond that it forces the player to think not only of the immediate goal but of how (if he is a really good player) the pre-combat conditions (what they will face in the Real World) arose in the first place.
And if you know how the pre-combat/pre-game conditions arose then this gives you a great set of tactical clues about who to engage first (or not engage first, or maybe even not at all). The movement is simple as are the rules, but the tactical methods and implications are superb. What I like best about the game is how easily it translates from a tactical game environment to Real World applications.
In other words the game has immediate Real World applications.
Or put another way it is an early wargame version of a Game of Personal Advancement and Development with obvious, useful, and fundamental Real World applications.
Viking warriors storm into the torch-lit camp of a rival clan. Outnumbered, the ambushed Norsemen are far from their boats. Their one goal: flee to a nearby castle while keeping their king alive.
At first glance, Hnefatafl (prounounced “nef-ah-tah-fel”) might just look like a knock-off version of chess with Norse helms and impressive beards, but the game is at least 600 years older—already well-known by 400 A.D.—and is perhaps a lot more relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.
“I love the asymmetry in this game. To win in this game, you absolutely have to think like your opponent,” emails Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at U.S. European Command’s Intelligence Directorate. “Geography, force structure, force size and objectives are different for the two sides. If you can’t think like your opponent, you can’t win. I don’t know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict.”
The game is similar to chess, but with several important differences. Instead of two identical and equal opponents facing each other, Hnefatafl is a game where one side is surrounded and outnumbered—like a Viking war party caught in an ambush.
White has an additional unique unit, a king, which must be surrounded on four horizontal sides to be captured. Hunns require being surrounded on two sides, and that’s pretty hard by itself. White’s goal is also simple: move the king to one of four corner squares known as “castles.” Black’s goal is to stop them.
Other rules? All pieces move like chess rooks. Black makes the first move. Black cannot occupy a castle, which would end the game in short order. But black can block off several castles by moving quickly, forming the equivalent of a medieval shield wall.
“If the king goes as hard as he can as early as he can for the corner and the other side is not really on its toes, the non-king side typically loses in just a few turns,” adds Wheaton, who now teaches intelligence studies at Mercyhurst University. “Among experienced players, however, this rarely happens.”
If lines are solid, they have to be flanked. Thus, it’s in black’s interest to force a symmetrical battle to force a likely win. If white can avoid engaging in a battle on black’s terms, then white’s chances of winning improve…
“Welcome to the Tome and Tomb. Treasures lie hidden where the fearless still roam.”
This blog is my Gaming Blog. It is dedicated to my various game creations and designs, and all other similar Career Pursuits.
I will therefore be posting in this blog excerpts and examples, including entire sections, from my various game articles, books, creations, and designs, as well as posting copies of supplementary materials including maps, milieus, notations, rules, scripts, and sketches of some of the games I have created and developed over time. The pages of this blog will discuss all of the different types of games I create, design, and write on such as; board, card, computer, parallel reality (PRGs), pen and paper, role play (RPGs), video, virtual reality (VRGs), and wargames, etc.
I will also be discussing in some detail my Games of Personal Advancement and Development (GPADs) and the projects that will be used to form them as start-ups.
Agents, manufacturers, and publishers you are most welcome to look around these pages for anything that might interest you and please feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss anything you see posted. I am also open to being contacted by any designer, manufacturer, or publisher who might wish to enter in a partnership with me regarding my game creations and designs.
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