Hero Points / Improvement Rolls ratio?


The book says to hand out HPs at the end of every story, and says the same for IRs but also says to hand them out at natural stopping points... would anyone else care to flesh out how they manage this in practice?

It seems like handing them out HPs at the same point as IRs would be excessive, at least based on our campaign where over four evening sessions we've had IRs awarded twice, and none of the PCs have needed to use a HP yet. I'm tempted to say hold off handing them out until at least 1 PC has run out? But a "story" is a fairly "piece of string" measure, whereas "natural stopping points" can be introduced whenever the PCs really need a rest to survive.
The number of Hero Points that you hand out can have a significant impact on the feel of your campaign. Hero points provide characters a certain level of "plot immunity", enabling them to survive stuff that would be deadly for regular folks in any realistic setting. If you don't give out many hero points, your campaign will have a grim and gritty feel where life is nasty, brutish, and short. At the other end of the scale, if you give out too many hero points, your campaign will have a highly cinematic feel where heroes can regularly do amazing stunts and survive deadly peril like the old pulp heroes. With enough hero points, you can run Legend as a lighthearted swashbuckling adventure game!

My advice would be to think about the feel that you want your campaign to have and allocate Hero Points accordingly.
A good time to hand them out is as a reward for truly embodying their character and doing some awesome roleplay. If, for example, a character follows his nature despite the fact it's probably a stupid thing to do I'd give a Hero Point. If they do something heroic I'd give one too. Chances are they'll spend them again soon enough...!
I like the way that the Pirates & Dragons book from Cakebread and Walton handles the concept. Their approach to Doubloons (the equivalent to Hero Points) is inspired.
I allow a couple of additional uses for Hero Points:

  • Last Chance Combat Action: If an Adventurer has exhausted his Combat Actions during a fight and needs to find that last burst of desperate energy to perhaps avoid a messy end, he may spend a Hero Point to gain a Combat Action.
  • Second Chance: An Adventurer can re-roll any dice roll that affects his character. This can be a Skill Test, damage roll or anything else that has some effect on him. He can even force an opponent to re-roll an attack or damage roll made against him.
  • Flip the Digits: An adventurer can spend a Hero Point to flip the digits on any percentile dice roll that affects his character – turning a 91 into a 19 or a 50 into 05. This option is less potent than Second Chance but compensates by producing predictable results. If you roll double-digits such as 66 or 88, this option is of little use. An adventurer can modify an opponent’s attack roll to gain an advantage in combat. For example, if an opponent rolls a 69 on an attack roll, the character may spend a Hero Point to convert it into a 96, possibly causing the enemy to fumble. Adventurers can only spend Hero Points in this way to influence the rolls of NPCs – they can’t use them against other PCs.
  • Automatically win an Opposed Test: If one character spends an Action Point, they will automatically win an Opposed test unless the other also plays an Action Point to counteract it, in which case it is treated as a failure by both sides.
  • Cause Maximum Damage on a Single Attack: This includes the maximum possible damage of the weapon and the character’s own Damage Modifier. The Hero Point must be spent before the Adventurer rolls to see if the attack is successful - this does not guarantee that the attack will be successful.
  • Enhanced Dodge: An Adventurer may spend Hero Points to dodge multiple attacks with a successful Evade or Acrobatics skill test. The character may attempt to dodge a number of attacks equal to DEX / 2 (round down) with a single skill test.
  • Glancing Blow: An Adventurer who suffers a Major Injury may spend a Hero Point to downgrade the wound to a Serious Injury. This reduces the damage taken to one Hit Point less than what would be required to inflict a Major Wound.
  • Second Wind: If a character has one or more levels of Fatigue, Hero Points can be spend to get rid of the Fatigue at the rate of one Hero Point per Fatigue level.
  • Swashbuckling Stunt: An Adventurer may spend a Hero Point to perform a cinematic stunt appropriate to a swashbuckling adventure story. The character must make a skill test against Athletics or Acrobatics to succeed, but the GM should not apply modifiers reflecting how improbable the stunt would be in real life.
  • Heroic Insight: A Hero Point may be spent to gain a hint or clue from the Games Master that helps the Adventurer resolve a situation that has him at an impasse.
  • Heroic Abilities: The Adventurer may spend Hero Points to purchase a Heroic Ability he has qualified for. For more details see the Heroic Abilities chapter.
  • Activate Heroic Abilities: Some Heroic Abilities require the Adventurer to spend a Hero Point each time they wish to activate them. Only the most potent Heroic Abilities – such as those that simulate inherent supernatural powers – require the expenditure of Hero Points in this way. For more details see the Heroic Abilities chapter.
  • Empower Spell: A Hero Point may be spent to double the range, duration, or area of effect of any single spell cast by the Adventurer. The Adventurer cannot double the damage inflicted by the spell by expending a Hero Point, but may elect to increase the size of the die used to determine damage by one step (d4 to d6, d6 to d8, d8 to d10, d10 to d12, etc).
  • Great Summoning: The Adventurer may spend a Hero Point to call a powerful entity when using the Summon (Entity) spell. Some unique entities (such as demon lords, elemental princes, or specific eldritch horrors from beyond time and space) can only be summoned by the expenditure of one or more Hero Points. Adventurers cannot spend additional Hero Points to bind or otherwise restrain such powerful summoned entities unless they know the True Name of the being – the summoning of such powerful extra-dimensional entities should always be perilous.
Few there I will use, and a few I won't. Must say if the list is too long the players/refs feeble minds can't remember too many of them. Had this in a few games, too many options sends them in to a panic frenzy or paralyses them in thought. We have used a variation of them in our RQ3 for a while and I use them in Traveller and have done for a few years.;;;;;;34vbgggggggggggggggg sorry cat on keyboard.
legozhodani said:
Few there I will use, and a few I won't. Must say if the list is too long the players/refs feeble minds can't remember too many of them. Had this in a few games, too many options sends them in to a panic frenzy or paralyses them in thought. We have used a variation of them in our RQ3 for a while and I use them in Traveller and have done for a few years.;;;;;;34vbgggggggggggggggg sorry cat on keyboard.
Your cat gets a free Hero Point!
legozhodani said:
Few there I will use, and a few I won't. Must say if the list is too long the players/refs feeble minds can't remember too many of them. Had this in a few games, too many options sends them in to a panic frenzy or paralyses them in thought. We have used a variation of them in our RQ3 for a while and I use them in Traveller and have done for a few years.;;;;;;34vbgggggggggggggggg sorry cat on keyboard.

Did your cat get a Critical Success or a Fumble :)

I tend to like systems that have a simple core system but lots of options for those occasions when you want some extra crunch.
"Gamesmaster Discretion" is always something that gnaws on novice Gamesmasters. GMs need coaching too, almost as much as players do, because GMs aren't just the world builders and runners of stables of NPCs, monsters and villains: they are also judges and arbiters, and that "discretion" thing can be exasperating if a novice GM isn't exactly sure what mechanic to apply, because it isn't actually written down anywhere.

GMs are responsible for two aspects of Adventurer growth: character improvement and character development. Character improvement is simple mechanical bookkeeping - acquisition of wealth, physical and mental development, recovery from injuries, and Improvement Rolls and acquired Hero Points, not to mention improvement of skills, new skills, spells and Heroic Abilities.

Character development is something else. Character development is where the Adventurer learns something about his place in the world, acquires and loses friends, mentors, Allies, Contacts, Rivals and Enemies, learns how to handle tragedy and loss and generally grows as a person. This is story-related, and it can only be measured by how greatly your guy has changed after, say, a dozen individual Adventures and a few Quests, compared to the callow youth he was with a gleam in his eye, his Dad's old war sword strapped to his snakehips, a half dozen silvers in his pocket and fresh new shoes on his feet from his mother.

Apart from the purely mechanical aspects of handing our IRs and HPs, in general if your guy does something noble, surprising, uplifting, hilarious - or conversely, something nasty, sneaky, downright despicable - that changes the way everybody sees your guy, then that's the point where you, as GM, should feel free to hand out the IRs and HPs, because the Adventurer will have changed, grown (or degenerated), and both IRs and HPs are tokens marking these turning points in the evolution of your characters.

Roleplaying's come a long way from just killing random monsters, collecting XPs, gathering dropped treasure and levelling up. Legend, in particular, has a goal for your Adventurers, and it's right there in the subheading. Forge Your Own Legend. Your Adventurers aren't just on a crusade to get their Sorcery skill to 150% so they can cast devastating touch-range spells for 1 Magic Point. They're there to become legendary, or to die trying. IRs are a measure of how competent your guys become, but HPs measure how heroic they are - how far they have come to doing just that, forging their own Legend; how much they are willing to push through hardship and failure, defeat and humiliation, pain and loss and suffering, to come up out of the darkness, crawl on bloodstained hands onto the top of the mound of the corpses of their enemies and scream defiance at the gods - and let the gods themselves know fear.

To borrow from B5, your guys should be like John Sheridan, or conversely like Londo Mollari or Vir. One ascending towards the light; the other, crawling inexorably towards the darkness of his own damnation, a damnation that is written in the stars themselves, and in all the crawling shadows.

This is where your Gamesmaster's Discretion comes in. This is not written as such in the rulebook, but it's something learned through experience. GMing is a skill, too. You must learn to judge when it's right to hand out a HP or an IR to each player, above and beyond the basic points they acquire for just turning up and warming the seat. And the rewards can be given for events which are meta, too - out of character events, which have to do with the gaming group rather than with the development of the story.

If they unexpectedly bring an extra pizza to the session (e.g. it wasn't their turn to bring in the food that session, or it was their turn and they decided to buy two instead of just the one) feel free to drop their guy a free HP just because they did something for the group's enjoyment of the game. If they do something so hilarious that the group will be talking about it for years to come, give everybody's guy a HP - and give the poor schmo, whose dice never seemed to roll anything but fumbles that night, 2 HP.

Such a development can be rationalised as your guy emerging, bruised and battered, from a quest in which he barely managed to keep his head, and vowing never to let anything that bad happen to him ever again, and then coming home to find that, for a time, he can do no wrong because word has spread of his heroism, rather than stupidity or sheer bad luck; and the free HPs represent how the community now see him as a heroic figure. HPs, in this respect, measure how the community sees your guys, rather than a source of rare Extra Special Magic Dots to spend to unlock new achievements. HPs are a measure of how his war stories will be able to buy him free hot suppers in posh establishments for years. And in the end, they are the syllables of that last scream of defiance to the gods at the end of his campaign, when his Legend crystallises and he meets his fate.

That is what HPs should mean to you, as the GM. Hand them out when they have meaning.