Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dash and Glory

A recent thread on theRPGsite asks the question, "Karma, action points, extra dice/points are they a sign of a weak system[?].

I first ran into what John Kim calls "Hero Points" - "a type of mechanic where the player can spend from a limited supply of abstract points to gain successes on actions, cause background events, or perhaps manipulate the plot in other ways" - with Top Secret's Fame and Fortune points, which can be used to turn a fatal wound into a miss, a nice feature in a game with such a high potential for lethality as TS. Later I encountered them in d20 Modern, where Action Points are used to power certain class abilities or as a beneficial modifier to many combat and skill checks, and I really liked them in actual play - for me, they represented a character really 'bearing down' in an attempt to succeed, and like the best resource management rules, they presented the players with an interesting choice of when to spend them and when to hoard them against a future need.

When I picked up Flashing Blades again, I decided to add something similar via a house rule for my campaign. Adding a 'hero point' that worked like d20M Action Points seemed pretty straight-forward, with a point spent providing an extra die added to the target number the player wants to beat. These I called Panache points, and I awarded them as a perq for attempting something swashbucklery, as a roleplaying bennie of sorts.

Lately I found myself revisiting that approach, though; re-reading John Kim's essay, I was reminded of the eponymous Hero Points from James Bond 007, which are received for rolling a critical success. The same rule would work with Flashing Blades, with a roll of 1 on 1D20 providing the player's character with a Panache point instead. This approach short-circuits attempts at players pandering to what they think the referee wants them to do. However, tthat's definitely not a problem with my current players, and honestly I can't think of too many players I've known over the years who would try to take advantage of such a rule; it seems more like one of those 'encountered mostly on the intrewebs' things rather than a real-world problem, at least in my own experience. With that in mind, I can't see why I shouldn't do both: allow a Panache point on any roll of 1 during a martial or non-martial skill check, or as a roleplaying bennie when the mood takes me or the other players.

There is one area of the game where Flashing Blades characters could definitely use a helping hand, and that's in rolls for openings and promotions in careers. The simplest solution would be to allow characters to use Panache points here as well - one rule to bind them all - but I liked the idea of a separate pool of points awarded not for swashbuckling antics but rather for fulfilling the character's professional obligations as well. This pool of points was named Gloire points, and they could be acquired, again at the referee's discretion, for doings something noteworthy in pursuit of that character's career. One Gloire point could be spent for each opening and promotion roll - when Riordan O'Neill recently had the opportunity to roll for promotion to ensign of the King's Musketeers, he spent both of his Gloire points to bump the two rolls necessary for him to gain rank.

Where Panache points represent a character devoting extraordinary effort or concentration to a task, Gloire points represent a favorable reputation which opens doors to opportunities.

And that brings me back to the RPGsite thread linked above. While most of the posters see them favorably, and not as a patch for "weak" games, a couple of gamers with whom I normally share similar outlooks on gaming are strongly opposed to 'Hero Points,' as described here.
For me, the difference isn't so much about the 'do over' or not nature of the mechanic but rather the relationship of the mechanic and how it is understood to work from an in-character POV.

A bennie or action point or whatever, has no meaning whatsoever to the character being played. It is a 4th wall mechanism that pulls you right out of first person roleplay every time you deal with it.

While perhaps not a 'weakness' in a strictly mechanical sense, such tools are antithetical to actually roleplaying a character ( unless that character is in fact a storyteller and not supposedly living the events happening in game.)
Now, I absolutely understand where Exploderwizard is coming from; a number of games I've seen use Hero Points in ways that are antithetical to how I approach roleplaying games, such as spending a point to gain a useful contact or a needed piece of equipment on the spot. At the same time, my sense of immersion isn't impeded by the use of something like Action Points, even if the connection between rationale for the benefit to the in-character action and the player's decision to spend the point may seem fairly tenuous.

More importantly, my experience of using them in actual play is that they're fun. They're fun to hand out, and they're fun to spend, and that's why I chose to add them to my campaign, and so far they've worked out great.

8 comments:

  1. Definitely need to add a mechanic like this to FB. But that raises another question in my mind: at what point has the game been modded into something new?

    Pondering a lot of these questions as I prepare to run FB at NTRPG Con this year.

    Thanks, Mike.

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    1. For me, one of the hallmarks of a good game is that it provides a robust enough framework to be heavily modified to fit the tastes of a particular game group.

      I've extensively house ruled FB for my campaign, yet a player only familiar with the core rules should be able to pick up the nuances fairly quickly.

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  2. "Now, I absolutely understand where Exploderwizard is coming from…At the same time, my sense of immersion isn't impeded by the use of something like Action Points, even if the connection between rationale for the benefit to the in-character action and the player's decision to spend the point may seem fairly tenuous.

    More importantly, my experience of using them in actual play is that they're fun. They're fun to hand out, and they're fun to spend, and that's why I chose to add them to my campaign, and so far they've worked out great."

    I really wish more people would approach conversations about bennies and immersion the way you have.

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  3. In The Queen's Cavaliers, we use Style Points which power a character's style maneuvers -- a set of dice boosts which are unique to each character (based on class and nationality). A player gains a style point by rolling well and then choosing not to use all the success points on damage, but instead to look good. She describes her character's stylish flair and gains a point which can be used later on to empower style maneuvers.

    For example, let's say that Jenevive gets 6 style points on a Lunge, but only wants to spend 3 inflicting Yield on her target. She can then spend 3 success points to gain 1 style point, and then describe it: "Jenevive spins around and then leaps up suddenly, the tip of her rapier dragging across her opponent's chest, leaving a tiny trail of blood visible through his torn shirt." Then she gets a style point which she can use on a later action, such as (if these are her style maneuvers) maximizing a Lunge die, rerolling a Defense roll, or adding her Arts dice to her Feint roll.

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    1. Oops, terminology mistake in the second paragraph. It should read:

      "For example, let's say that Jenevive gets 6 SUCCESS points on a Lunge..."

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    2. PS: There will be 4 playtests of TQC at Gamex (Strategicon) next weekend!

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    3. Cool! I look forward to hearing about those playtests.

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