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Action Points Revisited – Hero & Villain Points (5e)

Back in October, I looked at three alternatives to Inspiration for D&D Fifth Edition. One of the three alternatives I looked at was Action Points (or Hero Points). This week on the Campaign Trail, I’m looking at tweaking Action Points that we have been using in my weekly game where I’m running Tomb of Annihilation in Eberron’s Xen’drik.

When Eberron was released way back in the D&D 3.5 days, the campaign setting introduced Action Points as a mechanical way to to reflect its swashbuckling action and adventure tone. Action Points allow a player to add a bonus on any d20 roll so that characters can dodge or at least mitigate the effects of bad luck. Eberron’s “Action Points” inspired 4e’s Action Points and the 5e copycat “Hero Points” optional rule presented in chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. We also saw a playtest ready version of Action Points for 5e in Unearthed Arcana : Eberron, which mirror “Hero Points”.

Like Inspiration, Action Points give players a way to affect mechanical game play, by improving important rolls. Unlike Inspiration, a player does not earn Action Points from gameplay, but is given a limited number of Action Points, beginning at first level and each time they level up. Once an Action Point is spent, it is gone for good, but they are meant to be spent as they can’t be saved up and carried over during level up. In 3.5, Action Points have even be used to gain extra uses of certain class powers.

As mentioned above, in my current campaign we’re using Action Points.We’re 13 sessions in, and I am not feeling like this rule is providing the heroic moments I was hoping they would. I really liked the idea of giving the players a resource they could use to prevail over tough challenges. What I have found is that in practice, Action Points aren’t feeling all that heroic, and seem to be a much lower reward for spell casters who require enemies to make saving throws. I decided that I would tweak action points to become Hero and Villain Points, which I outline below.

Action Points

Here is the original Action Points I was using. Pretty close to what you find in UA Eberron or the DMG’s Hero Points section.

The Eberron campaign setting introduced this concept to reflect characters who are larger-than-life heroes destined for great things. Action points allow a player to add a bonus on any d20 roll so that characters can dodge or at least mitigate the effects of bad luck.

  • Each time you gain a level, you lose any unspent action points and gain a new total equal to 5 + half your level (rounded down).
  • You can spend an action point whenever you roll a d20 to make an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw.
  • You don’t have to decide until after you make the roll and learn if it succeeded or failed.
  • If you spend an action point, roll a d6 and add it to your d20 result, possibly changing a failure into a success.
  • You can spend only 1 action point per roll.
  • In addition, whenever you fail a death saving throw, you can spend an action point to make it a success.

Hero and Villain Points

Here are my homebrew rules to replace Action Points that I’ve talking to my players about implementing for this week’s game. Hero and Villain points borrow heavily from Action Points, but add a new twist borrowed from games like FATE Core and Star Wars: Edge of Empire, where spending a hero point puts a villain points in the hands of the Gamemaster.

Hero points allow a player to “take a 20” on any d20 roll or force an enemy to “take a 1”, changing the outcome of a pivotal moment in the game.

  • Each time you gain a level, you lose any unspent hero points and gain a new total equal to half your level (rounded down, minimum 1).
  • A hero point must be spent before a roll is made.
  • You can spend a hero point whenever you are asked to roll a d20 to make an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw (including death saving throws), allowing you to “take a 20”.
  • You can spend a hero point whenever an enemy is required to roll a d20 to make an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, forcing an enemy to “take a 1”.
  • You can spend only 1 hero point per session.
  • A spent hero point become a villain point that can be spent by the GM in a future encounter.
  • Villain points can be spent by an enemy to “take a 20” on an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw.
  • A GM can only spend one villain point per encounter and any unspent villain points are lost when the PCs gain a level.
  • A spent hero or villain point roll should be considered natural, the same as rolling the result with a die.

From a strategy standpoint, this allows for big heroic final battles at the end of a level where players can spend hero points and not have to worry about them burning them by putting them into the hands of the enemy. That being said, if you have to burn them earlier in the level (to not die), things will get tougher as you face subbosses and BBEGs with villain points. I like the idea of a big play token versus action points which are more numerous, smaller plays meant to reduce the swingy nature of d20 rolls (especially at lower levels).

I’m a little worried about “a spent hero or villain point roll should be considered natural, the same as rolling the result with a die.“, which is an automatic critical in many cases – but would be exciting. It would also provide a 20 on a death save, which brings a PC right back up and fighting again. I may rewrite the rules to make the rolls to be non-natutrals, to allow for a roll of 20 or 1, but avoiding criticals and automatic failures.

This is still a work in progress, let us know what you think in the comments below.

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  • Raymond Nichols

    I haven’t tried anything like this but intend to do so when one of my campaigns restarts. My concern about using the points as a natural 20 would be when players over optimize the situation in order to trivialize an opponent. The flip side being a villian knowing they have a crit in their pocket would likely target the most susceptible character with the possibility of killing them. My experience has been players in that situation feel they have been wrongfully targeted and become upset. An unnatural roll would help alleviate these issues.

    • Yep. I’m going to discuss with my players about going natural or not. Half my players like to super optimize, so whatever I do, they will try to punish me.

      I’m leaning 75% not going natural, 25% going natural right now.

  • Mike Greszler

    This sounds like a great idea, but what about death saving throws? An auto 20 on a death saving throw means the PC regains 1hp.

    • Yes. That is exactly what would happen. They’d be back up again and fighting. The cost would be the villain now basically has an auto-hit or auto-save next fight.

      If you take away the nat-20, then it’s just a guaranteed death save success, which is what the d6 Action Points already provide multiple times per level.

    • Mike Greszler

      I didn’t see the once per encounter. That definitely sounds more reasonable.

  • This system as proposed is similar to legendary resistance, giving 1 auto success in an encounter for a player (used for save, skill check or attack roll). I might revise the whole thing to just be that simple. No dice. Just a “You choose to automatically succeed on a skill check, save, attack roll…”

    Another alternative to taking a 20/take a 1, would be to give the player am extra d20. They can choose to roll it themselves and keep the higher (advantage) or force an enemy to roll it and take the lower (disadvantage).

    Basically, the player has a resource pool of advantage/disadvantage dice to draw on each level, at the cost of giving them to the DM to use later.

  • Manos Ti

    Is this system used in accordance to DM Inspiration?

    Back in ol’ 3.5e days though, the Action Points system used to work really well for us.

    • this could be used to replace Inspiration or could be used with it. I am planning to run both.
      I am currently running action points and no Inspiration in my Eberron ToA.

  • John_NL

    I really like the idea of this. I use hero pts currently but will def try it for my next campaign.

    When I use it, I will leave it to the players if they want it to be a nat 20 or not. Most I assume will want it to be a nat 20, but they will be reminded that when used and I claim them, they are still natural 20s on my side as well, that may change their minds.

    • What are the good and bad about hero points in your experience?

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