Bonus Action Points for the Party

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 2, 2011

Action points are designed to give every PC a chance to be truly heroic and do something extra when it’s needed most. The very name “action point” brings to mind the potential for something truly remarkable. Unfortunately this has not been the case in my experience.

I’ve found that at my gaming table actions points are generally used in one of the three following ways:

  1. Make another attack after missing with the first one (essentially a re-roll).
  2. Use your second wind.
  3. Take a move action after standing from prone.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all perfectly acceptable actions all well within the rules as written, but honesty, these are all pretty boring ways to spend (waste) and action point. Action points should be used to keep the action going. There should be excitement when a player declares he’s using an action point. These three examples are all sort of blasé.

The problem is that you only get one action point every two encounters. If they were more abundant in the game then using one in the ways I’ve listed above wouldn’t seem so bad. After all, you’re not going to be knocked prone during every encounter. So the question becomes how to let PCs use more action points more often without breaking D&D.

Award Action Points More Often

The most obvious solution, which has been discussed ad nauseam on the blogs and forums, is to award action points to the PCs after every encounter. I’m on the fence with this approach. Despite the benefits I think this might make action points too common. I have played in adventures where the DM takes this approach and it is certainly a lot of fun. In these cases the DM had to ramp up the difficulty a little bit since he knew everyone would spend an action point every encounter.

Adventuring Company Bonus Action Point

Another approach that exists in public play is the idea of a bonus action point that the table shares. I first discovered the “action point for the table” while at GenCon a few years ago. If at least three PCs at the table belong to the same adventuring company then the table is awarded a bonus action point. This is above and beyond the action points each player already has.

What I found particularly interesting about the way this works is that when a PC wants to use the bonus action point the majority of the players at the table had to agree. What we found was that the trivial actions were always voted down. The bonus action point was always used to accomplish something truly heroic.

It is important to note that paragon level characters who get benefits when spending their own action point do not receive those bonuses if they spend the table’s action point.

The more I’ve thought about the “shared” action point the more I see the potential to change how action points are assigned and rewarded. By building on this existing framework I think there is tremendous potential to make action points a lot better and a lot more exciting.

Party Action Point Pool

Similar to the way adventuring companies get one bonus action point in Living Forgotten Realms (LFR), the DM begins the adventure by creating a pool of party action points. Each party member still gets their own action points following the existing rules as written and earning another after each milestone. The pool begins with one action point that anyone can use, but the action needs to be approved by the majority of the table.

Using an action point from the pool does not count against the “one action point per encounter” rule. So a PC could use his own action point and then on a different round use an action point from the pool. The action points from the pool gives you another action and that’s it. My initial thought is that you’d only gain peripheral benefits (including paragon path features or bonuses from feats or other characters) when you uses your own action point, but I think I’d need to see this in use before making a final ruling on this caveat.

At the end of each encounter the DM will top up the action point pool based on how the party did during the previous encounter. If the party was defeated or ran away then no additional action points would go into the pool. If the party defeated the monsters but nothing really stood out as exceptional, one action point would be added back into the pool. And if the party did something truly awesome then the DM could award multiple action points into the pool.

The idea that action points become part of the reward for good role-playing and creative ideas not only encourages this kind of play and has a greater likelihood of the PCs actions being exciting, especially those taken with an action point from the pool. Remember that the players need to approve usage of action points so using one from the pool to stand from prone is likely to be voted down.

No Individual Action Points

If you like the idea of an action point pool then here’s another variant on that idea. None of the PCs have their own individual action points; they are all shared collectively by the table. If there are five PCs then the pool starts with five action points. Using an action point from the pool still requires the majority of the players to approve it. Whenever that PC uses an action point all normal benefits apply since this is technically their action point anyway.

Since the action points aren’t assigned to an individual it is possible for the same PC to use more than one action point during the same encounter while another PC doesn’t get to use one at all. I don’t see this as a really big issue. I know that there are plenty of times when I don’t use my action points and don’t feel slighted at all. Sometimes I wish there was a way to let someone else use my action point when I don’t plan to use it.

Allowing one PC to use more than one action point per encounter carries a tremendous potential for abuse so I’d suggest the following guideline. Once a PC uses an action point they are not able to use another until someone else uses one first. This eliminates the possibility of the PC with the highest damage output using five action points in the first five rounds.

The Effects of More Action Points On PCs

By adding a pool of action points, and allowing PCs to potentially use more action points more often, it might change the way some players build their characters. Warlords are already a pretty common staple at my gaming tables, but when you add more action points to the mix their Commanding Presence ability becomes a lot more powerful and has a lot more potential. Chances are we’d see more Warlords and they’d in turn take more feats to better their Commanding Presence ability.

Similarly feats and magic items that provide some kind of benefit when you spend an action point would get a lot more consideration. Today they’re often overlooked by my gaming groups, but I suspect that would change if one PC could potentially spend more than one action point in a single encounter or spend an action point every round.

As I stated in a previous article, when PCs spend action points the rules as written should be more of a guideline than an absolute. Action points are supposed to be a big deal and it’s important that something cool happens when a PC uses one. The changes I’ve suggested above should help facilitate and encourage the thrill that every action point should bring to the table when it’s used.

What are your thoughts on action points? Are PCs at your table using them in marginal ways? Do you think my suggested changes to action points would make things more exciting or just be an excuse for the power gamers to further exploit the game? Has anyone used company action points with any regularity or another variation of this rule? What have your experiences been like?

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1 Sentack November 2, 2011 at 9:51 am

I like the idea of the Party AP but, I strongly suspect that at a lot of tables, this would tend to be spent only by the strikers in the party since it might be seen as the most effective way to spend the point. Not all strikers do extra damage on a second attack on their turn (i.e. Sneak Attack and Hunters Quarry being good examples) but strikers tend to do so much more damage then non-strikers in general, and given how damage is king, it ends up being just a way for the party to burn through the combat faster.

Now, if the monsters also got a “Group AP”, then that actually might be kind of interesting as well. I’m at the point in the game where literally, one monster dies before it’s turn comes around in nearly all encounters if it’s non-Elite/Solo. So letting at least one of the other monsters in the encounter a chance to attack twice before it falls, that might be advantageous if I didn’t want to include an extra monster just to act as that alpha strike target.

2 Megan November 2, 2011 at 9:57 am

At my table, we almost always use action points for second attacks, whether or not the first hit. In one situation, I used an action point to use two daily attacks in one turn, doing a significant chunk of damage to a boss that really needed to go down quickly. I don’t actually think any of us have ever used an action point to use Second Wind or to stand from prone, though there have probably been situations where that would be a good idea. My table tends to (unwisely) be stingy about healing ourselves though.

3 BeanBag November 2, 2011 at 10:31 am

Very nice ideas. My group is already very “power gamery” and to give them too many more tools will likely end with them being overpowered. That being said, I like to have incentives to push them to role play more than roll play, so I think i will toy with a group action point as a story reward.

4 Thorynn November 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm

We’ve been using the old Living Forgotten Realms table action point for awhile now. Having the table vote on whether the action is sufficiently heroic to justify it’s use has worked really well, especially when we know the big baddie is on the ropes. Nice article!

5 Quirky DM November 2, 2011 at 12:02 pm

My group uses action points for the reasons you said, plus what Megan said, though mostly it’s for extra attacks. For me, I’m trying Fate Points and Aspects in place of action points, but it’s still a work in progress.

I don’t think you’ll find group action points change how action points get used- there’s really only so many ways to use them. But I think when they get used will change. Current action points are used immediately because there’s no incentive to save them- you gain them quickly and you can’t use more than one per encounter. Group action points would instead be used when they’re needed to pull together in times of crisis. Normal action points are like encounter powers. Group action points are like daily powers- less frequent, carefully used and more devastating when they occur.

From that point of view, I think it will change the tone of your action points and make them more exciting and grandiose. I think you’ve hit on a winner here.

6 Jess November 2, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Maybe it’s just that I came to D&D from playing White Wolf’s Exalted, but action points have always seemed like dramatic stunts to me. I convinced my DM to let me use my Dragonborn fire breath in order to negate the ice breath of a white dragon using an action point. Everyone loved it.

I’ve been running Action Points like Exalted stunts in my games. The action point lets them take a special action, but if it’s described really well, creative or wows everyone at the table I often give them one back as a reward for their addition to the game. It makes them more powerful, but gets them more cinematically involved.

7 Thorynn November 2, 2011 at 1:12 pm

@Jess Ooo… awarding action points for awesome play. I dig that.

8 William November 2, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Each character at our table has a Theme Song on the party playlist. When it comes on you get a free action point that you must use before the end of the encounter. This action point may be spent in addition to any action points you have normally. This does mean that sometimes you an absolutely amazing turn with three standard actions but it happens for everyone now and again. Other times we’ll use Action Points for whatever we need the action for. Sustaining Powers, Healing Allies, Extra Attacks…you name it we use an action point for it.

9 Soklemon November 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Wow, I like the shared pool for all PCs approach. I have a session this weekend, I’ll use this mechanic and report on how it goes!

10 Sunyaku November 2, 2011 at 10:54 pm

I could really go for an “action pint”.

I completely agree that I find myself ignoring feats and magic items in the builder that have effects related to action pints. I’m sure I’d give them a closer look if action pints were in greater supply. I like the group action pint in addition to individual actions, as I think it would be less prone to abuse, and would allow individuals the freedom to make rash decisions that their fellows may not agree with.

For example, at LFR last week, my character, a level three bard, took three opportunity attacks trying to save an NPC that was being dragged to certain death that round. Although the action was completely character and situation appropriate, I could see players “telling each other how to play” by voting these kinds of actions down.

11 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 3, 2011 at 9:00 am

Damn, I thought I’d caught all the point-pint typos. That’s what I get for making some last minute re-writes just before I publish. I’ve fixed the typo. Thanks for not drawing any attention to it or making fun of me in the process. 😉

12 marko November 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I like to use Action Points for Total Defense. Waaay more useful…

13 Thorynn November 4, 2011 at 7:53 am

@marko Practical, maybe, but not very heroic

14 Tom Mueller November 5, 2011 at 10:03 am

This got me to thinking about making AP more … action-y? Instead of granting another action, AP use can make an action better. Max out a skill roll, turn a miss into a hit, expand a power’s target to an extra target, turn an opponent’s hit into a miss, extend the range of a power, etc. I suppose some Paragon Paths already do this, but a more general “expansiveness” of ability to act using Action Points lets characters (and monsters?) go a little bit beyond the expected.

15 Jess November 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm

@Tom: I’ve seen rules for something similar on the web, though I can’t remember where now. They retooled things a little bit, calling them Hero Points, so that each Hero Point was half the “value” of a RAW Action Point (2 Hero Points got you an extra attack, etc.), but even one Hero Point had effects that players could buy such as bumping up a roll after the fact (by +5 for a Skill, and +2 for an attack). Spending more got you bigger and better effects as well.

16 marko November 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm

@thoryn: not when a big ass wereboar was charging right after my drow! I stood my ground like a frickin champion 😉

17 Ian November 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm

@Tom/Jess: I know a version of the Hero Point thing is in the World of Warcraft RPG 2nd edition, that would add +20 to d20 rolls or add +20 to defenses, or allow “dramatic” actions like the RP-type stuff described above. It’s a pretty decent system, though could easily be abused by powergamers, but if you want inspiration for such a thing it’s not a bad place to look.

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