Hacking the DnD Action Point rules

So I looked over the various gaming threads that had come out of discussions of Action Points and how they were used — I agree and disagree in equal measures with what folks are saying, so I’m just writing down my thoughts on Action Points from my own point of view.
This essentially codifies the House Ruled Action Point system I’ve been using.
First, my thoughts:

1. Action Points are cool. I don’t necessarily love how they’re implemented in the game, because:
– 1a: They can only do one thing (take an additional Standard Action).
– 1b: That option is alternately kind of lame or potentially game breaking.
2. Due to (1b) and the risk of a game breaking series of Action Point expenditures (two or three rounds in a row of additional actions would kind of break things, yes), the game designers opted to:
– 2a: Heavily restrict the number of APs a player can have.
– 2b: Heavily restrict how often APs can be used.
I understand why they did that, but I think it simply treats the symptomatic problems of the system as implemented — it doesn’t fix what’s busted.
3. Since Action Points, under the standard system are both (a) rare and (b) unstable in terms of payoff, they’re rarely used by the players.
– 3a: Their primary purpose (allowing players to combat the unavoidable whiff-factor in a dice mechanic with no bell curve and roughly a 50/50 chance of success on any given roll) is alternately too weak or too powerful in practice.
– 3b: Their alternate purpose (as a way to make characters more awesome) is diluted.

Truly, they might just as easily not even be in the game: as written, they represent a lot of bookkeeping (“a new Action Point accrues every two encounters, but the total resets to 1 after each Extended Rest”? Really, Wizards of the Coast? Really?), for a rare and often anticlimactic pay-off.
They are, alternately, “too much” and “not enough”, in my opinion.
So here’s my hack. Changes and additions are italicized.

1. Your character starts with one Action Point. For the purposes of drifting as little as possible from the core rules, we’ll retain the standard accrual rules I just made fun of:
– 1a. You gain a fresh Action Point every other encounter.
– 1b. Your current total of Action points resets to 1 after an Extended Rest.
2. You can use your Action Points for one of three things:
– 2a: Spend an AP to take an additional standard action. (Once per Encounter)
– 2b: Spend an AP to reroll a failed (or successful) d20 roll. (Once per Turn)
– 2c: Spend an AP to add +3 to (or subtract 3 from) a d20 roll. (Once per Turn)

Edit to Add: A natural 1 can’t be rerolled, and always misses. Sometimes, you’re just screwed, and that’s awesome too.
3. At will, as a free action, you can cross off a Healing Surge and give yourself an Action Point, which can immediately be used in one of the ways listed under 2. Healing Surges reset per the normal rules.

The end result allows players to “push” by sacrificing some resources in a way that I already know I like a lot from playing lots of other games with similar options. (Vincent Baker uses a phrase “trading in your future for your present” and I like that term quite a lot.)
It’s also relatively “trad gaming” in the options it presents: if I really wanted to hack it into some kind of Indie co-authored hippie craziness, I’d add a few Meta-options under #2, like spending an AP to let you add facts to the game fiction, a la Spirit of the Century.
Even without that option, I’d definitely consider a player who really wanted to take part in a scene and suggested paying an Action Point to conveniently show up, if it was remotely plausible.


  1. Soooo…in general, I agree. There needs to be a way to deal with terrible rolls, and another action isn’t always the best way.
    However, I’m not sure that your 3a premise for AP’s is correct. DMG p.118:
    “Action Points: Action points encourage
    characters to take on more encounters before
    stopping to take an extended rest.”
    DMG p.123:
    “Action points help balance the depletion of
    character resources (expended daily powers and healing
    surges) by providing a new resource that can help
    characters adventure longer before taking an extended
    So, it seems as though the idea of action points *as written* is to enable a longer adventuring day (also reinforced by the fact that you only gain them after multiple encounters before rest).
    Since burning healing surges to get AP’s is a way of *shortening* the adventuring day (less surges = rest needed sooner).
    In addition, without a limit on the number of AP’s you can spend in an encounter (other than your max surges), you still have the issue of someone burning all their surges immediately in an encounter and taking two actions a round for the next 5 rounds, which could be pretty nasty in a situation where they can easily go home and rest right afterwards.
    I like the relative simplicity of what you’ve outlined, but I wonder if you might need to either split AP’s from Hero Points (rerolls and +3’s), or limit them to X per encounter, or perhaps 2 surges to take an action, 1 surge for a reroll or +3?
    I also think, that even without the hack for the uses of action points, there are cases where it might pay to let them accumulate more, especially for smaller groups…

  2. My sense from play yesterday using the above is that #3 might tilt the other direction — making rerolls too easy or common. I have a limited dataset to base that on, though. Obviously a lot more playtesting is required …

  3. @Tim: I’ll concede that that’s what the DMG says Action points are for. In *practice*, in the vanilla rules, I think they’re going to see more use for “well, I missed my roll, but I really need to hit this guy this round, so I’ll burn an AP and try again.”
    You said: “In addition, without a limit on the number of AP’s you can spend in an encounter (other than your max surges), you still have the issue of someone burning all their surges immediately in an encounter and taking two actions a round for the next 5 rounds.”
    Note that the “taking an additional action” option is “Once Per Encounter.”
    @Dave: I think we burned a ton of healing surges on rerolls simply because we were running throwaway characters for a single combat. I think that knowing (a) the opposition was really – albeit unintentionally – hard (b) there was essentially no long-term husbanding of resources to worry about so (c) might as well blow it all on that fight skewed the expenditure a lot.
    Or not. More play will, suren, illustrate how much it affects slightly more long-term play.

  4. Ah, I see, once per encounter is the same limit that the standard rules apply, which I think makes sense.
    I will that that from *my* experience, the most common use for AP’s is to Second Wind *and* attack in the same round, or run away carefully, and then do something else.
    I think it depends on the mindset of the people using them. If you are used to the way that indie games use such points, then you might think of them in a different way.
    I do think that the tradeoff between AP’s letting you adventure longer, and burning surges to get more is an interesting one. Like Dave says, needs to be tested in a full-on game to see how it plays out…

  5. And just to reiterate, the way I wrote it:
    You can only use an AP to take an additional action 1/encounter. This is not a change from the Core rules.
    You can only use an AP to reroll or get a +/-3 once per turn. This is to make it clear that you can’t drop 4 healing surges on one roll to give yourself a +12 to a roll or something.

  6. And I cross-posted with Tim.
    Yeah, I think you may be right about the normal AP use being something like “I Second Wind and attack.” or “I stand up, attack, then move away.” Or something. I can see that.

  7. I’m 100% behind reducing whiffs in order to speed up combat.
    Having run some higher-level monsters, including solo monsters, that have their own AP’s, you can do some really nasty things with them. Some high-level monsters even get second wind.
    So then you start to wonder if the monsters should be able to get more APs as well…

  8. So, I used this hack with my wife-n-kid group, and it went really well. Since there are only two of them, the extra insurance provided by the extra AP’s and extra *uses* for AP’s was really handy.
    For my larger group, I am going to go for a few sessions with the vanilla rules. They don’t seem to have as much need of it.
    One suggestion for further enhancement would be to spend an AP to force the DM to reroll, instead of just your own rolls.
    That sort of opens the box of “can I spend an AP on behalf of another PC”, which could be ugly.
    But there have been enough nasty crits by the monsters that the PCs would’ve liked to have me re-roll that it might be worth a try…

Comments are closed.