Watching the discussion "Dice: the love, the hate, the fear, the need" ( http://adeptplay.com/consulting/dice-love-hate-fear-need ) led me to consider the role of Hero Points in several role-playing games I'm familiar with. By Hero Points I mean a fund of points that a player can spend to influence the outcome of a resolution system that calls for a dice roll.
John Kim in his online essay, Hero Point Mechanics ( http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/systemdesign/heropoints.html ) lays out a history of early RPGs that used a hero point mechanic. He sites the use of fortune and fame points in the 1980 edition of Top Secret as a precursor, only allowing players to mitigate damage that would take the character out of play. By his reckoning and mine, the James Bond 007 (1983) is the first implementation that allows players to change any task resolution roll.
In the James Bond RPG, a task is resolved by rolling percentile dice less than or equal to a "Success Number (SN)." Degree of success, called "Quality Rating (QR)," is determined by the resulting dice roll: rolling at or below 1/10th the number is a QR 1; 2/10ths or less is QR 2; half or less is QR 3; SN or below is QR 4; and rolling above is failure, rated QR 5. QR dictates details of level of effect, such as wound inflicted or, outside of combat, time required to act, the amount of information gained, or the difficulty of opposing a player character's action. (The Seduction skill, for example, allows the NPC the option of resisting by rolling against a success number equal to the PC's Quality rating times the NPC's Will score [a very neat formulation for opposed rolls!]).
PCs have "Hero Points" that can be spent to shift the Quality one point per point. The text indicates that hero points can be used after a roll to modify the results, with an exception made for "hidden" rolls, where the player must commit points before knowing the outcome. The rules also mention using Hero Points to add fortuitous elements to the fiction, such as finding a gold brick to augment hand to hand damage against Oddjob, or encountering a kid with a can of gas when one's vehicle runs dry during a chase. Meanwhile, villains and major henchmen have "Survival Points" that can only be used defensively.
At character creation, the player characters each start with no Hero Points and gain one each time they roll QR 1 in a noncombat task. Unused points can be accumulated across sessions. Meanwhile, major opponents enter play with a healthy number of Survival points.
For its time, 1983, James Bond 007, was a radical and elegant game design, and remains so even in comparison to modern designs. You can find an almost identical implementation of the games, scrubbed of James Bond references, in the 2014 game, Classified. I think any RPG designer or hacker should have a look.
What effect do Hero Points have on game play in James Bond? Let's note some design choices first:
- PCs don't start with hero points but villains do start with survival points.
- PCs gain hero points by exceptionally good noncombat rolls.
- Villains get survival points just for being villains.
- Villains have no means of gaining survival points.
- Hero and survival points can be spent after the result of a roll is known.
- Any number of available points may be spent on a single roll.
- Hero and opponent can spend points back and forth against each other over a particular result until someone runs out or decides to stop.
The text says that the purpose of hero points is to emulate how the cinematic James Bond manages to do super-human feats or have timely luck. Note that the games referent is the movies. The game was designed during the Roger Moore era of Bond, when stunts were becoming more and more ridiculous. (Having read most of Ian Fleming's Bond books, I can attest that the literary Bond never approaches this level of absurdity -- nor, incidentally, is the literary manifestation as misogynistic or womanizing as the cinematic versions or the 60s and 70s.)
An attempt to provide plot pacing, just as in the movies, is a hidden function of the hero point system. (Thanks to Ron for pointing this out in another post). While the text doesn't state it, the design choices support it -- Villains start with survival points, while players enter a scenario with their Hero Point supply usually exhausted from the previous adventure. This means the villains have a kind of plot armor against player interference until the players gather enough points to wear down the villains.
GM advice encourages the GM to provide players with opportunities early in play to make easy noncombat rolls that can produce the QR 1 results they need to accumulate Hero Points. Game advice and the published modules all recommend a "teaser," like those in the movies, and then a period of investigation before major confrontations. This supports the accumulation of Hero Points.
How does this affect the experience of play? As my experience of actual play of James Bond 007 was 30 years ago, I only have vague memories. Let me start with some questions for play test instead:
- How does the method of gaining Hero Points affect play? Aiming for a QR 1 (10% of success change) would seem to encourage players to pursue activities with which they have a high chance of success. Does this require the GM and players to work to create those opportunities?
- How do players value the different uses of Hero Points? Do they use them for super-human feats? For fortuitous advantages? What I remember is players hoarding the points to defeat villains or prevent being wounded--but that might also be because I, as GM 30 years ago, didn't really understand the other options. Anyone have more recent experience?
- Does the system produce the experience of a gradual build to a climax? Is it satisfying to produce this effect by spending hero and survival points?
- Does the expenditure of hero and survival points reduce the importance of dice rolls? Do they actually reduce the excitement of players taking risky actions?
Does anyone have memories of how actual played worked for you? What was your experience?
Ron Edwards and Lorenzo Colucci. (2019). Dice: the love, the hate, the fear, the need [Discussion on video]. http://adeptplay.com/consulting/dice-love-hate-fear-need [Accessed 12/1/2019].
John Kim. (2004). Hero Point Mechanics. [Accessed 12/1/2019]. http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/systemdesign/heropoints.html
Gerard Christopher Klug. (1983). James Bond 007: Roleplaying in Her Majesty's Secret Service. Victory Games, Inc.
Joseph Browning. (2014). Classified: The Role-Playing Game of Covert Operations. Expeditious Retreat Press.