There are awesome moments in the game: A critical that drops the rampaging dragon, dodging the sorcerer’s lightning bolt, or seducing the noble woman so your companions can make their escape unnoticed. There are moments in the game when the character fails in a way that isn’t fun, or even breaks the table’s suspension of belief– like the ranger who can’t shoot anything with his bow tonight, the rogue who blows her one chance to forge a document, or the mighty fighter who fails a routine save and dies.
A lot of systems have ways to nudge the dice. Force points in SAGA and Action Points from Ebberon (and Unearthed Arcana) allow you to add an additional die to your roll– often a d6 added to your d20 roll, but it varies. This style of point allows you to “rescue” a close die roll– convert a narrow miss into a hit.
More definitive are FYIA tokens— first mentioned in Deeper in the Game. These tokens allow you retroactively change a miss to a hit, a hit to a crit, and so on. In my current campaign, each character has a hero token they can use each session. These tokens act much like the FYIA tokens above (since the article inspired my introduction of the tokens into our game).
We have a ritual doling out of the tokens at the beginning of the session. During play, it’s interesting to see how different players use the tokens. There’s a temptation to horde them, to keep them as insurance– just in case there’s a save the character needs to make later. Characters suffering from poor die rolls will often use the token to break their bad streak, to feel effective and make a contribution at least once.
Jennifer is a big fan of using them early. She noticed that in early sessions, a lot of the players ended a session with their token unspent. Ever since, she has encouraged people to throw them out there to make the characters look cool. Her persuasion has been successful… and has led to eager narration as players spend their tokens to achieve awesome feats.
So far, the experiment has gone well in our group. Do you use action points (or anything similar) in your group?
I use action points in every game I DM since I first picked up the Eberron campaign setting. I encourage players to use them in dramatic, swashbuck-ily type situations whenever possible. However you can’t stop a player from using it to simply make a spot check. (no matter how boring that is)
I like action points because quite often they don’t guarantee a success, just improve a near miss. Also sometimes I will let a player burn an action point INSTEAD of rolling a die to do something truly dramatic. Like letting the somewhat frail elven mage kick in a door that normally he wouldn’t be able to do. Since in the long run it wouldn’t matter, the fighter would just do it on the next round anyways, why not let the elf feel dashing for a round?
I run a lot of Fudge games and each player starts with 3 Fate Points as I like to call them. 1 will buy you a re-roll of the dice, 2 will buy you a roll equal to the minimum rank needed to succeed, and 3 will buy you a critical success. I give each player 3 tokens at the beginning of each game session and the GM gets 2 +1 for every player at the table.
I think every system should have mechanics like these, and I tend to buy games that do have such mechanics included. The game is just more fun when you have that strategic option to make something happen when you really need it. As long as the resource is limited it really does add a nice touch to the game.
I’ve seen a variant that I’m exploring in my own campaign: award Action Points for FAILED actions.
Here’s the rationale: D&D is not a system that rewards risk taking or creative exploration of your options. The most effective players know that the best option is taking a 5′ step and using Full Attack. They don’t bother leaping on tables, attempting to run across logs and attempt ranged disarms with whips.
The reason these actions aren’t taken as often is they are gambles. There is a large chance you will lose an action doing nothing. However, if they know even on a failure they will receive an Action Point, they will be more open to trying the crazy schemes that pop into their heads. On a success they’re already rewarded (performed cool action), on a failure they get a compensation.
Actually? I’m designing a game around them and little else (well, a ‘roll under the number’ resolution system).
I sure hope it works!
Rhev: Your decision to let them burn an action point to do something dramatic instead of rolling is almost exactly what what I was aiming at. It sounds like it’s working well for your group– cool to hear!
Patrick: I enjoy FATE, including Spirit of the Century, because their Aspects work a lot like the Fate Points you invented. In the right genres, a wild “wahoo” moment’s what it’s all about.
PW: Awarding action points for failed actions sounds like a great solution. That seems like an excellent way to promote the activity you’re aiming for (leaping on tables, etc.) and ensures that the fiction matches the die rolls. I like it a lot… I may have to try it out in our next session.
Fang: I kept an eye on your Game Design Heretic and was thrilled to see your post when you said you’d figured out how you were going to put it all together. Scattershot’s design discussions were some of the most inspiring discussions I’ve stumbled across yet. Good to see you around again!
My group has used action points in both of our most recent d20 games (D&D and Modern), and is not using them in our Mage game. They’re persistent, and are awarded for doing cool stuff as well as finishing adventures.
In both games where we’ve used them, they’ve made the game more fun for everyone. They’ve also become a bit of a running joke, because most of us usually have a surplus — I think my druid has close to 40 right now.
I love the idea of limiting them but making them much more useful, so FYIA tokens sound great to me. Shouting, “Fuck you, I’m awesome!” when using them would be a definite bonus, too. 😉
Martin: I haven’t played the New World of Darkness, but in the Old World of Darkness Willpower worked a lot like action points/FYIA tokens. You used to spend willpower for auto-successes or to cancel botches. Does it not work that way anymore?
I’ve been using Action Points in Eberron, and I’m hooked. I expanded the mechanics a bit with some of the optional rules from Unearthed Arcana. For instance, I allow them to use it to emulate a feat for one round, provided they have the prereqs (and it’s not metamagic or similar). My players love having them, and it does help the cinematic, high adventure feel.
I’m definitely sold on the Action Point ideal, so much so that I’m interested in taking the concept a bit further, such as narrative input, “save vs. GM”, and such. Things like this.
I’ve fudged in my past and allowed rerolls when they were just too depressing. Now, with 4E, we will be using D&D “Action Points” but they aren’t quite what is described by the OP. I no longer fudge and we don’t use action points. As the DM, I roll directly in front of the players and call it the way it comes up. It has heightened the tension and the special moments, as the group knows I’m not overtly manipulating the results.
@Scott: In nWod, Willpower buys you 3 extra dice before you roll. I don’t think it ties into botches anymore (they’re much, much less frequent), and I don’t think it buys you successes, either. I should really know, but I’m only pretty sure. 😉
As soon as I read them in Eberron, I fell in love with Action Points. I immediately introduced them to my D&D group (not Eberron), and they didn’t really take off. Mostly, they were still learning D&D at that point.
My next game was Serenity RPG, which has them as a core concept, and that went better. The players developed a habit of blowing them all on key rolls, usually late in a session. What I appreciated, and rewarded, was the special effort at RPing and imagination that accompanied that roll.
Similarly to Rhev, I allow my players to use action points to do out-of-the-ordinary things. The more heroic – and unlikely – the action they’re attempting, the more action points I’ll charge them for it.
They also use them for adding to dice rolls (and activating criticals (instead of rolling to confirm)), but I’d much rather they spend ’em on the more unusual stuff – it feels more heroic (which is cool), and is always more surprising for everyone at the table (which is even more cool).
After all, we expect action points to spent to ‘guarantee’ important rolls – we don’t expect tables to be kicked into villains’ faces, or charges to get intercepted in order to allow the rest of the party a chance at escape.
Obviously some players are a bit more imaginative with this sort of thing than others, but that’s to be expected really.