Tuesday, November 13, 2012

About Hero Points

Recently my Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign reached 9th level. Half of my players are what you could call ‘narrativists’ – they read fantasy novels, watch fantasy movies and want all those clichés to happen in their games. Things like redemption, corruption and death – and by ‘death’ I mean ‘final death’, including the monologues by the dying. Yes, no gonzo or light-hearted stuff here, which is a shame since I’ve been reading lots of OD&D material that thrives on that style. Nevertheless, I have amazing players and I’m not letting taste issues destroy our entertainment.

As some you can guess, 9th level marked the spot where my gaming group decided that they don’t want raise dead in our Pathfinder games. Death should be ‘dramatically’ significant and resurrection should be something that comes only from divine intervention (literally a miracle). Actually, after talking with them I figured out that what they don’t want is high-level traditional D&D. It’s curious, but requests like this only confirm my suspicions that 10th level should be the official end-game of all my d20 RPGs (possible exceptions including 4E, OD&D/BECMI and – maybe – AD&D).

Anyway, thanks to the dark gods of Paizo, I didn’t have to break my head over the issue. I just banished raise dead and resurrection from my game and started to use Hero Points, from the Advanced Player’s Guide. This is probably my all-time favorite rule from Pathfinder, given that it allows me to use some FATE principles on my d20 games.

Player character now gains Hero Points and can use them to Cheat Death. However, although one of my premises with this campaign was to run rules RAW, I give in to my designer dark side and changed some things. I don’t give 1 Hero Point per level, as predetermined by the APG. I give Hero Points when the PCs are dramatically and appropriately heroic – I want to encourage this behaviors because Paizo’s Aventure Paths are usually about saving the world (‘world’ here can mean your city, your region and not necessarily the whole planet/plane). I also like to give Hero Points as an alternative reward system – they’re something a lot more “concrete” than XP and not so unbalancing like magic items, new powers or permanent bonus. And finally, they’re an awesome metagame tool to simulate the dramatic structure of novels or movies – with Hero Points on the table you can bet that the hero will usually die only in the final battle (or in an otherwise significant encounter).

Because I removed raise dead magic and don’t give Hero Points every level, I allow my players to Cheat Death by paying just 1 Hero Point.

So, Hero Points are amazingly customizable. Here are a few other suggestions:

  • You can use Hero Points to stress a low-fantasy campaign. For example: potent spells and save-or-die dweomers now require 1 Hero Point (or Villain Point) to be cast/activated. Spells like raise dead could also require 1 Hero Point from the victim to work – this easily simulates the fact that just heroes, touched by Fate, can cheat Death (and even then, just a few times). Some class features may also require Hero Points.

  • Hero Points can be used to balance characters with different power levels. This can be applied to parties with powerful races (like a minotaur or a full-fledged celestial) or just with divergent character levels. It also allows troupe-style parties to work better: while player A and B control the archmage and his cohort, the rest of the party control their followers and gain Hero Points. People that like Tolkien-like uber-Elves could use them freely by giving Hero Points to the other races (I believe that Warhammer Fantasy 2nd does just that).

  • Hero Points can represent the favor of the Gods and thus add a cool mythological bent to your game. Heroes who follow the right ethos and perfom quests that honor a particular deity gain ‘boons’ in the form of Hero Points.

  • Hero Points can be used to allow wild and rule-breaking stunts (or ad hoc spell modifications). Spent a Hero Point and do something different or cool with you class and racial features or abilities.

  • In games where honor and fatalism are rewarded (like Samurai and Viking campaigns), you can allow a player to pass his Hero Points (maybe with a bonus) to his next PC if the previous died honorably and gained entrance into Valhalla.

  • Hero Points can reward behaviors not supported by Pathfinder rules in general. For example: the classical scene where the hero/king/etc. is buried with his magical gear. This would never happen in a normal D&D games, unless you gave Hero Point to all PCs for honoring their fallen ally/sire.

If you have any other ‘house rule’ for Hero Points, I’m very interested in hearing them. So, please, feel free to post them here.

I also recommend Hero Points to other d20 games (or even non-d20). They’re easy to understand and can help lots with the modulation of your campaigns. They’re a great add-on to solo d20 campaigns, particularly at lower levels.

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