Or whatever you want to call them – Action Points, Fate Points, Karma Points, Plot Points, et cetera. For reference here’s a good but somewhat dated summary of a bunch of hero point mechanics by John H. Kim.
Here’s the deal. I want to use something like this for my new Pathfinder campaign. We’ve been pretty constantly using the Eberron “Action Point” mechanic (Eberron Campaign Setting, p.45) in all our group’s campaigns since we saw it. You get 5 + 1/2 character levels of them, and they let you add 1d6 (or best of multiple d6 at high levels) to a roll before you know whether it’s successful or not. They work pretty well. But I’ve begun to be dissatisfied with them.
I noticed it some in Rise of the Runelords and even more in Curse of the Crimson Throne that we’d end a level with a lot of action points left over. There were a couple reasons.
1. You would hoard them “just in case.” This was somewhat mitigated by them refreshing every level, but you didn’t know when you were going to level.
2. They didn’t do all that much – you wouldn’t use them unless you were ultra desperate or thought you were within 3 points of the DC you needed. As levels get higher and numbers range more widely, a lot of the time you knew there was no point in using the action point on a given miss.
3. Because of the inconsistency of the core D&D mechanic in terms of what is a d20 roll you are making and what isn’t, you could use them to make a save but not to not get hit in combat, so their utility in saving your bacon was reduced. Though you can use an action point to stabilize when at negative hit points, again as levels get high it’s rarer a shot lands you in that magic 10 point range; it’s more likely to overkill you by like 30 points when it comes. D&D 3.5e number scaling past level 10 is a cruel mistress.
4. The APs tried to give hero points of their own, like Crimson Throne had Harrow Points that gave bonuses to a different stat with each chapter. This was frustrating in and of itself when the stat was a poor match – as a priest, fighter, and ranger was the party most of the time, I was the only one to use the Wis and Cha boosts. But it also created a “too many different boost points” problem and they got totally forgotten most of the time.
5. It was a buzzkill when you used one and still didn’t make the roll.
We’re also playing Alternity, which has Last Resort Points. These points are better in some ways. They’re worse in that you get from 0-2 of them and they don’t regenerate with level, you have to buy more with XP, which means they’re too scarce. They’re much better in that they just flat turn a failure into a success (or boost a success to a higher level of success).
Also, some systems (like PDQ Sharp’s Style Dice) let you use such points to make actual narrative plot changes with points. “A Chelish warship appears on the horizon!” “Our old ally Vincenz shows up!” “The dungeon passage collapses!”
So there’s a couple different axes that a hero point mechanic can work on.
- How do you get them/how do they regenerate? (Buy with XP, when you roll a crit, when you roll a fumble, when you do something cool, when you act according to some character trait, when you level, every game session, per adventure)
- What can they do? (Reroll, small fixed bonus to roll, small variable bonus to roll, large fixed or variable bonus, automatic success level upgrade, change plot/world, activate powerz, make a save/get missed/soak damage, get init or an extra action)
- When can you use them? (Before you roll, after you roll but before you determine the result, after you determine the result)
- How many does someone get and how often can they use them (anytime, once per scene, once per session, something else)
Here’s what I’m thinking about doing.
First, I want the points to “do more” – ideally fully turn a miss into a hit or whatnot, not add on a small bonus. Seems to me that the mechanic’s not worth having unless it does this much; otherwise it’s a lot of fiddliness (and worse, a breaking out of immersion) without enough punch to justify it. So one option is that the points are fairly rare, but can:
- Turn a miss into a hit
- Turn a hit into a crit
- Turn a hit into a miss (usually, if you’re the one getting hit)
- Turn a crit into a hit (same)
- Make a save
- Make a target fail their save (maybe… but maybe not. With save-or-dies seems too powerful. Maybe make a target reroll their save.)
- Bypass SR
- Override a bad condition (possessed, feared, paralyzed, etc.) for a round
- Otherwise “save your damn life” somehow
However, one of our group has an interesting alternate proposal – that the points go up in efficacy as you use them. First point you use is a +1 (or -1 on an opponent’s roll). Second point, +2. And so on. This is a clever way to both ramp up effectiveness over time (I’m neutral there) and to discourage hoarding (I’m very on board with that). It does mean that eventually the points become worth +20 or more, at worst that reduces to auto fail/success but in higher level 3.5e play it may still not be enough sometimes. It is a little more fiddly though, they have to be strongly paced at about two per level.
I’d also like them to be usable to make narrative changes, with DM oversight. Any kind of hero point is already stepping outside the simulation for an explicitly narrative concern, so in for a penny, in for a pound, I figure.
In general you should give them for behavior you want to promote. I don’t really like giving them for crits or whatnot, that seems too random and also generates undesirable interactions with crit feats. I’m doing slow advancement in this campaign, so there’ll probably be a couple adventures per level. I plan to call them “Infamy Points” to match the pirate theme. Perhaps give one per level and one per adventure, to semi-reflect the character becoming more bad ass and feared and… infamous. Maybe bonus points whenever anyone does something spectacular that could rightfully be said to raise their infamy level.
I’m also considering having the Infamy Point total be used as a bonus to certain Intimidate/Bluff/Diplomacy rolls as a kind of raw fame and deadliness bonus, though the problem is that if you get 2-3 per level that bonus gets out of control. Maybe a bonus equal to unused Infamy Points?
What do all of you think? Do you use any kind of hero point mechanic? Do you like lots of them with wimpy bonuses, or fewer with more guaranteed results? Have any clever ideas for me?