5 Action Point Variants

5 Action Point Variants

Buffalo jumpDo you want the ability to “juice the combat”? Do you want a mechanic to smooth over the rough spots, increase PC interaction with the game world, and avoid the occasional character death?

Here you go! These five variants on the action point rules—fate points, hero points, kickers, player biscuits, and short takes—are ready for play, even in addition to existing action point rules, no matter the edition…

Fate Points

Players can steer the plot. Inspired by Spirit of the Century, here’s a version for D&D.

Gameplay Solution—Encourages roleplaying by giving incentives.

Dispense—During roleplaying moments, the GM offers a player a fate point to further the plot, to accept a mild mechanical consequence, or to take or forego a specific action. Players can spend fate points any time during the rest of that session.

Mechanics—Players may spend fate points to reverse the ill fortune of comrades (negate and reroll a “bad outcome,” but the new roll must be accepted).

Limit—There should be no more than 2 fate points/player each adventure.

Hero Points

Everyone wants to be a hero, right? To be a hero, you have to aim big.

Gameplay Solution—Significant actions can be taken outside the orderly flow of initiative.

Earn—When a PC does something really, truly heroic.

Dispense—Players receive a large token (perhaps a cardboard circle 3 inches in diameter) any time they do something completely selfless (or completely evil if using the villain point variant). Spray paint it silver, write “HERO” in black, and attach a glittery chain. Or just give them a hand-written, torn-out chit and paint a glowing verbal picture.

Mechanics—Players may spend hero points at any time, allowing them to act when a PC or NPC is in danger. The player using the hero point may take an extra full round action for their character.

Limit—Players may only have one hero point at a time.


This is the tried and true, easy boost to try to avoid certain doom.

Gameplay Solution—Players improve rolls.

Dispense—PCs gain 1 kicker/2 levels at the start of an adventure. Unused kickers evaporate at the end. When a new adventure starts, new kickers are handed out.

Earn—PCs earn 1 kicker every play session.

Mechanics—Add 1d6 to any d20 roll. Players must declare the use of kickers before rolling.

Limit—None. If a player has 6 and wants to add 6d6 to a single roll, go for it!

Player Biscuits

Player biscuits were inspired by Francie S., who had the original idea 24 years ago. Player Biscuits are non-refundable.

Gameplay Solution—Players improve successful rolls by feeding GM.

Dispense—Provide each player with a homemade or store-bought cookie at the start of the game. They may eat them or redeem them later. (Those who actually eat the cookies should be noted for special treatment later.)

Mechanics—If a player wants to improve an already successful roll, they hand the GM a cookie. The GM promptly eats the cookie and allows the player to modify the result of their attempt.

Limit—Uneaten cookies become the GMs property at the end of the night. Burp!

Short Takes

Gameplay Solution—Banks low rolls into later success.

Dispense—The GM hands out tokens to players that roll a 1 on a d20.

Mechanics—Players hand in a short take token to get +1d6 (2 tokens are worth +1d10, and 3 tokens are worth +1d20) on any roll. Players may declare using short take tokens any time during their action, even after the roll. Short take tokens cannot be used on the roll for which they were earned.

With thanks to Monte Cook for the hero points system in Monte Cook’s Arcana Evolved.

10 thoughts on “5 Action Point Variants”

  1. To complete the spectrum, you could add Impartial Points for the True Neutral players.

    GM: The villagers scream for your help, as the raiders attacks. One of the raiders spots your party and says, “Join us and we’ll give you a share of the loot.”
    Player: I leave town, as this doesn’t concern me.
    GM: One Impartial Point for you!

  2. You could collect a lot of impartial points, but you couldn’t use them because you have no feelings one way or the other about passing or failing the roll.

  3. The Impartial Points idea was joke, but just to clarify:

    True Neutral doesn’t necessarily mean a total lack of conviction; it means you don’t feel strongly about good or evil. You may still be dedicated to a particular cause (protecting the wilderness, preserving the balance between good and evil, etc.), but good, evil, law, and chaos have nothing to do with it.

    For example, the player from above could be a druid, who doesn’t care one way or another about the townsfolk. However, when the raiders decide to build a base in the forest, they incur his wrath for desecrating the wild. A righteous paladin chops down tree branches as he hunts the raiders, and he, too, angers the otherwise neutral druid.

  4. Ross, sometimes the value of a variant rule depends on your playstyle. Since these variants come from long decades of play, and seem to work in actual play for several rules systems, they have the weight of evidence favoring them.

    So, you are going to have to sharpen your critique quite a bit. Which variant do you dislike, and what do you think is wrong with it? And how would you improve them?

  5. Bill "Varianor" Collins

    Ben, villain points let the DM do exactly the same thing as the players get to do for one of his villains. The best variant that I’ve played with allows you to spend 1 for every 2 Hero Points turned in by the players. (Although when I’ve used a Kicker or Action Point type system where the mod is usually +1d6, I typically go 1 for 1.)

    Ross – I’m DMing at Gen Con. I’d be happy to find you a spot at one of my tables and let you try out one (or more) of these in play. Please email me.

  6. Bill: Ahhh, see now I thought you were handing them out to player characters and got all excited. ;)

    Ross: I’d take Bill up on his offer. From what I understand, he runs a great table.

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