Thursday, April 25, 2013

Guest post by Ross Watson

Hi there guys, Herrick here. Today I have a wonderful suprise for you all! My friend and Colleague Ross Watson is writing a guest post for my blog!

Boost Resources

Greetings, readers! I was very pleased to work alongside Herrick when I was writing quests and dialogue for Darksiders II at the ill-fated Vigil Studios. When Herrick invited me to write a guest post for his blog, I jumped at the chance – I have my own gaming blog where I’ve been chronicling my thoughts on gaming for over a year now.

So what I’d like to talk about today is the concept of “boost resources.” This is my term for mechanics in RPGs that are used by players to get some kind of mechanical advantage during the game.
These resources go by many names; Fate Points, Hero Points, Bennies. What I think is really interesting about them is that it puts some control in the hands of the player towards achieving meaningful success – which is a huge goal for most roleplaying games.

Anything that helps give a player more opportunities to be awesome is a good thing in my book!

Now, the specifics of how these resources vary from game to game. For me, a good “boost resource” offers the player meaningful choices, adds some control to the character, is /not/ a replacement for experience points, and has a possibility of a small amount of narrative control. Sometimes, boosts are merely re-rolls, but others are strict bonuses.

I spoke already a bit about meaningful choice above, in that a boost resource can offer a player a better shot at doing something fun and awesome during the game. Unfortunately, many systems in the past have used boost resources as experience points as well, which in my book is a cardinal sin of game design. Boost resources should not be hoarded to improve the character over the long term… instead, those boost resources should be used during each game to provide those memorable moments of awesome. I vastly prefer a resource that gives an undeniable bonus rather than a simple re-roll… re-rolls have the side effect that sometimes a re-roll will be the same or even worse than the original test.

Now, narrative control is the most unusual of the options I mentioned above. What narrative control represents is the ability for the player to describe events or elements of his surroundings, or even some minor developments in the story. The boost resource represents a form of bargaining with the GM. In effect, the player says “I want there to be a fire extinguisher on the wall,” or “The evil king happens to be standing underneath a massive tapestry,” and the GM responds with “Sure, but you need to turn in a Fate Point.”

Results for this kind of bargaining are going to vary wildly from GM to GM, so keep in mind that YMMV!

In my own personal experience, I enjoy this kind of back-and-forth communication with the GM, and sometimes a boost resource is well-spent to have a convenient chandelier to swing on when the time is right!

Below I have listed some RPGs and briefly explain how their boost resources function:

Feng Shui
Resource Name: Fortune Dice
Resource Notes: Fortune dice can be used to roll an additional positive die for tests, meaning that the test will always be better. A character’s total Fortune is used for general “luck” of the character. This resource refreshes every session.

Resource Name: Hero Points
Resource Notes: Spent for re-rolls, bonuses, going first in a combat round, restoring spells. 2 points can be spent to avoid death. Limited narrative control is spelled out in the abilities of a Hero Point.

Star Wars D6
Resource Name: Force Points
Resource Notes: A spent Force Point doubles the effect of the character’s roll (as long as it affects the character himself; it can’t be spent for the spaceship’s armor roll, for example). Force Points are awarded for doing cool, cinematic acts. Force Points also act as a form of tracking a character’s morality – force points equal “light side” vs. the “dark side.” Dark Side Points can also be awarded for acting villainously.

Warhammer 40K Roleplay
Resource Name: Fate Points
Resource Notes: Spent for re-rolls, bonuses, going first in a combat round, limited healing. Can be “burned” permanently to avoid death. Fate Points typically refresh every session.

Shadowrun 4e
Resource Name: Edge
Resource Notes: Spent for re-rolling failures (so no roll will ever get worse), going first in a combat round, additional actions. Can be “burned” permanently to achieve critical success on a single roll or to avoid death. Edge typically refreshes every session. Edge is also used as a general measure of the overall “luck” of the character.

Resource Name: Possibilities
Resource Notes: Unfortunately, Possibilities are also a character’s XP. Possibilities can be spent for limited narrative control and to boost a character’s result for any test. Possibilities are always an improvement – there is no way that the test will be the same or less than it was.

Marvel Super Heroes
Resource Name: Karma
Resource Notes: Unfortunately, Karma is also a character’s XP. Unlike the other resources on this list, Karma is much more granular – it is spent 1-for-1 to improve a roll on a percentile system (d100). MSH’s unique chart system means that karma can be spent to achieve any level of success desired. Karma is awarded for acting in keeping with the tradition of a classic superhero.

Savage Worlds
Resource Name: Bennies
Resource Notes: Bennies are meant to be awarded by the GM in return for clever play, keeping the players entertained, and cinematic action moments. Bennies can be spent to recover from being “Shaken” (allowing your character to take an action he would otherwise be denied), to soak physical damage to the character, and to gain a re-roll of a particular test.

Ross Watson

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  1. You forgot to mention Hollow Earth Expedition by Exile Games, which has, IMO, one of the best implementations of the concept.

    In HEX, they're called Style Points, and players can earn them by roleplaying their character's goals and faults, performing an outstanding or creative action, or generally increasing the fun for the group.

    One of the benefits I see in using boost resources, as you call them, is that it allows the GM to directly encourage productive participation from the players by giving them a tangible immediately usable reward.

    Players love manipulatives (to borrow the education lingo) and nothing gets them into the game than having a stack of chips piled in front of them. :-)

    1. Likewise with FantasyCraft and 'Action Dice'. They function very similar to HEX's Style Points, but even Critical Hits/Misses are fueled by them. So if you roll ones all day, it can only hurt so bad for so long. I love these kinds of mechanics. XD