I have a strange relationship with some mechanics. I’ve gone through, as I’m sure most long-time gamers have, stages in my appreciation for different styles of mechanical design. One of those design bits that I am very conflicted about is “Points.” Whether you call them character points, or Fate points, or hero points, or action points or Bennies I’m just not sure what I think of them.
I remember exactly when this happened to me to. We were starting a new Cybergeneration game and I remember looking at the Luck stat and thinking, I don’t want this. Luck in CyberGen basically works as a pool of points equal to your luck stat that you can draw from to improve rolls on a 1-to-1 basis. And I remember thinking to myself, “this is a crappy way to spend your stat points.” Add to that my dissatisfaction with Star Wars D6 character points and the way they served two functions — roll enhancement and experience points — and this was the beginning of my struggles with these mechanically.
But I also have a problem with rules for “points” on the basis of integrating them into play seamlessly and in such a way that they actually feel like part of the whole gaming experience and not just the “gamey” parts. I’m not big on the “gamey” parts of RPGs. I realize they are a game, but for me they are a game second and something else first. I have found that card-based games do an interesting job of this sometimes… Castle Falkenstein uses cards instead of dice and does an interesting job of making them a part of the play experience, especially with the magic system. Magic in CF is slow. A character has to take time to build power for a casting and the use of cards handles this in a simple way. The old Marvel Saga system also had interesting card mechanics, especially the Edge mechanic which set your hero’s base hand size as a function of experience, resourcefulness, and overall story-based awesomeness.
I think the worst part of these mechanics for me is the way they can interrupt the flow of the table. That’s a big no-no for me. I’m never fond of seeing a player start agonizing over whether to spend their action point in D&D and further interrupting what is already the slowest combat on record… Seriously though, I don’t really like being taken out of the flow of the play to make purely mechanical decisions as a player.
I’ve written many times about how I dislike the use of points as a permission mechanism to let players know they have the “ability” to affect the game in some way. I won’t go into here but it is another strike against these mechanics for me.
But clearly, there is something about them. I used two varieties of “hero point” style things in my first self-written system. I used drama pools in my Mary Sue game. My original game idea was to let characters spend points for improved success (or even auto-success). This was a reaction on my part to my frustration with dice and the way they’d allow for someone to potentially fail, repeatedly, at something their PC was supposed to be good at just because it was a lousy dice night. Not a fan. The problem is, when you design a system bit meant to improve play when things are going poorly for the heroes, that bit can then be overwhelming when it is used when things are already going well for the heroes. So that’s another consideration.
Player control is a powerful lure. It seems like a great idea to allow players to futz with their rolls, their wounds, their… everything with pool of “points” which let them purchase greater prowess on a limited basis. Overall though, for me, the gamey nature of these bits often tends to overshadow their role in improving the ability to impact the emergent story of a game session. I realize that the two things are not mutually exclusive, but that’s the problem. More often than not, I see these pools of points creating situations where the two become more exclusive rather than the opposite.
Right now, it’s a conundrum. I’m still hashing out what I want to do. Since my new system carries several assumptions over from my old system (LoR is a bridge more than a base) I need to decide how to dispense with the “points” mechanics, especially if I decide I want one.
Chime in, tell me what you think, how do you feel about “points?”
Thanks for reading.