How I Balance Ability Usage vs Recovery Time

To keep things simple, the way I have it set up, my characters can have up to five different abilities or use one ability in five different ways, or a combination of both.

With those abilities from one to five, they are ranked from weakest to strongest, Level Five being the most powerful and Level One being the least powerful for a character’s set of abilities. Each of these levels dictates how many times an ability can be used. To further keep it simple I just went with 5, 10, 15, 20, 25. So, the level one ability can be used up to 25 times and the level five ability can be used up to five times. From there, I pretty much just reversed the scale when it comes to the recovery time per use of each ability.

If a character uses their level five ability one time, it will take 25 minutes to recover that one usage. Now, they can use the ability four more times, but with each use, the clock starts on the recovery time for that usage. For their level one ability, one use takes 5 minutes to recover.

5 min
10 min
15 min
20 min
25 min

I really came up with this because I don’t like for my characters to use their abilities all willy-nilly like unless that’s just their personality. I want their powers to mean something and to feel special and important the more powerful the ability is when they use them. I want my characters to use their abilities strategically and in order for them to be strategic, I have to be strategic, and in order for me to be strategic, I had to look it at almost kind of like a video-game.

So like okay, If my character is in this particular situation, I/they have to think what’s the best way for them to use their powers to get out of it keeping in mind their ability type vs power level vs recovery time. Because, if you have a really powerful ability, you don’t want to use it all day because you only have a limited amount of times to use it with considerable recovery time.

Say like with a gun or if you have a single shot grenade launcher, you’re not going to shoot that at just anything because you’re going to be wasting a shot and it’s going to take time to reload. So, you would hold that grenade launcher for a situation where you can really use it on a target that you are sure you can hit or at least catch within the explosive radius of that grenade impact.

I want my characters to use their abilities in that same fashion and thought process unless of course, their personality dictates otherwise. Also, I thought of it that way because there are times in books and films when a character may have a particular ability and then in a climactic moment “I’m too weak and I can’t use that ability anymore.” To me, it always seems like it’s for dramatic effect (of course it is) and it’s also just too convenient that at this point in time this character’s ability can’t be used because they’re suddenly too weak. So, I kind of came up with this so I won’t write such convenient situations myself.

So far, it’s working out well, as I’m using it on my current sci-fi WIP. Also, it stops me from making my characters use their abilities frivolously unless that’s just their nature. The way I back that up is in real life we can walk, jog, and run to places. Now, because each of those things uses a different amount of energy we don’t run everywhere. Although, yeah, we could get there faster if we ran, but we physically just can’t run everywhere because we get tired and need time to recover.

So, depending on the situation, or I should say, our perception of the situation dictates our mode of travel. If I really have to get some place, or it looks like somebody is about to get hit by a car, most likely I’m going to try and run to push them out of the way, I’m not going to walk. If I’m just going to the store for a few things, I’m not going to run there, I’m most likely going to walk. If I see a friend up ahead, and I want to catch up to them, I’m not going to run, or walk, most likely I’m going to jog.

I want my characters to use their special abilities in that fashion. So that way, when they do use their abilities it’ll seem like a big deal as opposed to them just using them all willy-nilly. To me, that’s more realistic. Even if an ability at first is new to you, after a while, it becomes normal and you most likely won’t use it unless you really need to based on the amount of energy/effort you have to put into it.


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