I’ve heard the term “differently abled” suggested for use to refer to people who have developmental disorders, handicaps, or various disabilities. It reeks of Political Correctness, which I’m generally loathe to support, but I understand the reason for its existence, even if I think it’s generally mishandled or abused.

The basic idea is to try not to think of certain abilities as necessary to daily life or function. Just because you might consider the ability to walk, or lift objects that weigh more than twenty pounds, or hear, or see, smell, feel things with your hands, recognize facial features, or speak, move under their own power, breathe with their own lungs … people find a way. Somehow, people find a way to have their lives.

If you assume that every person must function a certain way in order to solve day-to-day problems, it severely narrows your own ability for thinking up alternative solutions in solving your own problems. Considering anyone to be “disabled” relative to one’s self, is a disability unto itself. Not everyone draws on the same toolbox, but that doesn’t mean they have fewer (or less useful) tools.

Now, to bring this concept over into game design. One problem encountered with Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons, and Fourth Edition to a lesser extent, is this idea that every character has to be able to compete (or even compare) in mortal combat for them to be considered a playable character. The game system supports this by having a much stronger in the area of combat than anywhere else.

The skill system is incredibly weak, and it isn’t just Dungeons & Dragons, many roleplaying game systems suffer in the same way for the same reason. Conflict in games, more often than not, appears in the form of mortal combat — one or more parties engage in a fight to survive. One side wins by annihilating the other.

Altering this formula even slightly would create entirely new conflicts for the player to explore. If enemies might be spared, they could come back to butt heads with the player again. Skirmishes in Ogre Battle might result in multiple encounters using the same enemies, as battles can (and often do) end with survivors on both sides.

In some ways, it might be unintentional, but it creates a more dynamic situation, as both sides (or at least the player) have the opportunity to change their tactics for the next encounter. Sometimes facing the same enemies more than once can be a lot of fun, as you have the chance to anticipate maneuvers and plan accordingly.

And there’s absolutely no reason these concepts need be applied solely to physical combat. Verbal combat is a great area where characters might repeatedly clash without resolving a particular conflict. It might take a series of such encounters (maybe amounting to an entire adventure itself) before you can convince a character of something. Consider the forms and styles of essays, for instance.

There might be different goals for an encounter, than driving your opponent into the ground. If the goal of an encounter is to, say, “compare and contrast” yourself and your opponent, the goal might be to use your abilities in as varied and effective ways as possible. A “critical” encounter might focus on finding and exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. Er, sorry, I’m kind of scattered right now.

I’ll have to come back to this once I’ve had a chance to mull over it some more.