Rules Experimentation: Action Points

Back in 2013, I ran a one-shot game (called “Rules Experimentation”) where I made some significant changes to the Pathfinder rules. One of those changes was to get rid of the PF action costs (full-round/standard/move/swift/free) and replace them with a system where actions cost from 0 to 5 action points (AP), and each character has 5 AP to spend on actions on their turn. Most actions that were a standard action became 3-point actions, and most move actions became 2-point actions, but I fiddled with some of the numbers. As an experimental one-shot game, it went pretty well, and the players had good feedback about some tweaks to the system.

Five Moons RPG uses a similar action points system. I’ll be posting an introductory rules document about the system later this week, but for the sake of historical curiosity, here are my original notes on that prototype action point system for PF. This is not exactly how it works in Five Moons RPG, but I thought it would be interesting to see its origins as a PF experiment.

Action Point Rules (Old Prototype Rules Experiment)

Everyone gets 5 action points (AP) per round.

A standard action attack is 3 AP.

At level 5, martial characters get a pool of extra AP per day, which are usable just for making attacks (for some characters this might be limited to melee attacks or limited to ranged attacks). Casters had a similar mechanic for extra AP that could be spent on casting spells.

Some effects grant you additional AP per round that can only be used for specific purposes (frex, haste gives +2 AP per round that can only be used to make attacks with weapons, and +2 AP per round that can only be used to move).

Single-target spells cost 3 AP to cast. Multi-target spells cost 5 AP to cast (this makes casters work more like a martial character making a full attack… if you want to hit multiple creatures, you must spend extra AP to do so).

Action Point Costs

An asterisk indicates the action provokes an AOO.

[Apologies for the heavily-spaced formatting, the original document is not blog-friendly.]

Martial Actions [tab] Action Points

Load a heavy or repeating crossbow 5*

Coup de grace 4*

Lock or unlock weapon in locked gauntlet 4*

Prepare to throw splash weapon 4*

Attack (melee) 3

Attack (ranged) 3*

Attack (unarmed) 3

Bull rush 3*

Disarm 3*

Draw a hidden weapon with Sleight of Hand 3

Escape a grapple 3

Feint 3

Grapple 3*

Overrun 3*

Sunder 3*

Trip 3*

Use extraordinary ability 3

Draw a weapon 2

Load a hand crossbow or light crossbow 2*

Ready or drop a shield 2

Sheathe a weapon 2*

Aim a shot (+2 damage) 1

Attack of Opportunity 0

Defensive Actions [tab] Action Points

Escape from a net 5*

Extinguish flames 4

Total defense 3

Movement Actions [tab] Action Points

Control a frightened mount 2*

Mount/dismount a steed 2

Move a heavy object 2*

Open or close a door 2

Pick up an item 2*

Stand up from prone 2*

Move or charge 10 feet and provoke AOOs 1*

Move 5 feet with no AOO 1

Run 20 feet and provoke AOOs 1*

Drop an item 0

Drop to the floor 0

Miscellaneous Actions Action Points

Light a torch with flint and steel 5*

Aid another 3

Light a torch with a tindertwig 3*

Stabilize a dying creature 3*

Retrieve a stored item 2*

Magic Actions [tab] Action Points

Cease concentration on a spell 0

Use a touch spell on up to six allies 5*

Cast a multi-target spell 5*

Activate a magic item other than a potion or oil 3

Cast a single-target spell 3*

Channel energy 3

Drink a potion or apply an oil 3*

Use supernatural ability 3

Cast a cantrip or orison 2

Concentrate to maintain an active spell 2

Direct or redirect an active spell 2

Dismiss a spell 2

Draw a potion 2

Lower your spell resistance 2

Aim a single-target spell (+2 damage) 1

Cast a quickened spell 1

Cast feather fall 0

(Spell-like abilities and supernatural abilities use the same AP costs as spells.)

Meta-Actions [tab] Action Points

Ready an AOO 1

Ready an action (same)

Delay 0

Skill Actions [tab] Action Points

Appraise (one item) 3

Appraise (most valuable object) 3

Bluff (a person) 3

Bluff (secret message) x2

Climb 5 feet and provoke AOOs 1

Disable Device (simple) 5

Disable Device (tricky) 5–20

Disable Device (difficult) 10–20

Disable Device (extreme) 10–20

Handle Animal (handle) 2

Handle Animal (push) 5

Heal (first aid, treat poison, treat wound) 3

Intimidate (demoralize) 3

Perception (searching) 2

Sleight of Hand (normal) 3

Sleight of Hand (fast) 1

Stealth (move, no check penalty) +1*

Stealth (move, –10 check penalty) +2*

Survival (find tracks) 5+

Swim +2*

Class Abilities [tab] Actions Points

Bardic performance 3

 

To Repeat…

These rules were the original setup for a variant game based on PF. Five Moons RPG is a different game, and it strongly deviates from PF in many ways. This prototype system was the original concept, but in Five Moons RPG it’s evolved beyond this original state. If you spot anything unusual in the above text, feel free to post about it in the comments, and remember that we’ll be playtesting the actual revised system later this year. In other words, don’t freak out if there’s anything weird in the above rules. 🙂

If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!

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13 thoughts on “Rules Experimentation: Action Points

  1. Quite interesting. Putting swift actions into the same pool as other actions is a dramatic change for classes like the monk and magus. Pretty much all swift action abilities were written with the assumption that a creature could only perform one swift action per round.

    I’m actually quite startled to see this article! Just this week, I started doing Machinations diagrams to study the action economy of Pathfinder so I can understand the flow of play with my homebrew classes. Machinations is a neat game design diagram and simulation tool created by Joris Dormans http://www.jorisdormans.nl/machinations/ . Modeling attacks of opportunity and the interaction between immediate actions and swift actions was such a nightmare that I had to completely redo the diagram.

    One of my pet projects involved an action point system. Like your experimental system, I first began with five points, but narrowed it down to three, changing standard-actions to 2-point actions and move actions to 1-point actions. I added an extra type of attack action called a “light attack” that costs 1 point but deals minimum damage and cannot be performed with two-handed weapons. Instead of granting bonus attacks, full-attacks instead deal maximum damage.

    Overall, I’m really excited and can’t wait to see the introductory document for Five Moons.

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    • { I first began with five points, but narrowed it down to three, changing standard-actions to 2-point actions and move actions to 1-point actions.}

      I understand the simplicity of that, and Five Moons might go that way, but I want to stick with 5, at least through the playtest period. The players in the one-shot I ran didn’t have any problems with it.

      I like your “light attack” idea. 🙂

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      • {I understand the simplicity of that, and Five Moons might go that way, but I want to stick with 5, at least through the playtest period. The players in the one-shot I ran didn’t have any problems with it.}

        Admit it! You just want another reference to the number five, don’t ya? 🙂 Almost like the Rule of Three from Planescape.

        {I like your “light attack” idea}

        Thanks! My goal with the idea was to give heavy-weapons and light weapons their own play style. Heavies will want to stay engaged and maximize the big damage dice of their weapons. Minimum damage isn’t as much of a loss for a weapon with low damage dice, allowing a swashbuckler to save their action points for mobility or reactionary abilities. I’m considering adding Dex-to-damage for light weapons and a rule that you cannot attack with the same weapon. Characters can bypass this with special abilities that let them do flurry-of-blows-styled attacks with certain weapons.

        I’m curious how Five Moons will do haste. In your experiment, haste gives you a +2 AP that can only be spent on an attack or move. I’d probably word that differently so it just simply gives you a one-time free action attack or move since there’s not really any point to saying how much points you receive when you can only spend them on two things. In my experiment, haste gives you a non-stackable +1 point. I did this mainly because I feel like haste suffers from the same binary mobility issue as the monk class does in 3.5e/PFRPG. It’s great when you need to catch a target outside of your base speed or within full-attack range. However, you receive almost no benefit from haste when engaging a target within range of your base speed.

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    • {Admit it! You just want another reference to the number five, don’t ya? 🙂 Almost like the Rule of Three from Planescape.}

      Let’s just say this was almost called the “Rule of Five RPG.” :p

      {I’m curious how Five Moons will do haste. In your experiment, haste gives you a +2 AP that can only be spent on an attack or move. I’d probably word that differently so it just simply gives you a one-time free action attack or move since there’s not really any point to saying how much points you receive when you can only spend them on two things.}

      Well, there’s a lot you can do with attack AP or move AP. In the original rules experimentation, frex, the fighter class at level 5 got a daily pool of extra AP they could spend (1 max per round) on making attacks, which is how it got a 2nd attack per round (5 AP available, a standard action attack is 3, spend 1 attack AP and your remaining 2 AP for a second attack that round).

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      • A pool of extra AP for attacks? Huh, that’s pretty interesting. This is largely why I choose to experiment with point pools for action economy. It simplifies the economy system by having a single pool of one type of resource while also expanding the design space in a way that makes trade offs between different actions obvious. (My Machinations diagram for PFRPG exploded with complexity with five or six different types of action economy resources, each being used differently at different times and some convertible into other resources.)

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      • That’s why I’m sticking to one universal pool, as well–I don’t consider “this is a subset of what you can do with the universal pool” to be a separate type of resource.

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  2. While its hard to judge this system on its use in Five Moons, I will comment on whats presented, in reference to it.

    “Draw a potion 2
    Drink a potion or apply an oil 3*”
    I’ve always disliked the idea in D&D how hard it was to drink a potion, minor as they were, and basically something you’d use to Pre-Buff for anyway. I hope in Five Moons, in times of simplication, you’d simply fuse the action of quaffing the potion into a very “minor/swift” one. In my own games, I let Potion quaffing be a Swift Action, as its too minor for me to cause it forgo combat actions, and it happened to be appropriate to the game I was running.

    “Cast a quickened spell 1”
    Despite I could see arguments whether you could use Area-spells w/this, and/or cast it two times a round, I like the idea here methinks. I like the idea of limiting the spellcasters more to the action Economy and not letting them bypass it. I would like to see Martial and other times having better better use of the Action Economy than the spellcasters (regardless of their form). Where Mages cast slower than martials can move up to them, and swing their swords at them (or fists, or arrows, etc.), and minor stuff like that list above are lower to encourage their use more often.

    I feel its sad a “Draw a hidden weapon with Sleight of Hand 3” costs more than “Draw a weapon 2”, as it meant undercover agents, guy who holds a person at knifepoint couldn’t happen in the same turn as making an attack, and that’s just sad. Stuff like this make those actions not get done as much, as people who’ll do them more pay more in their action economy to do them, and hoping it’ll be equal, or the spellcasters paying it up more now. Regardless to those specific examples, I get the idea, ones hidden, others not, but emulates a less interesting genre-appropriate result (hurting the Non-casters out there, whereas casters don’t care & can just cast Web or something).

    Course, I suspect Five Moons won’t have as dense a list of actions you can do like that, but all the same.

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    • {While its hard to judge this system on its use in Five Moons, I will comment on whats presented, in reference to it.}

      Lemme point out that the above list is basically the PF table of actions, converted to point increments. If you don’t like the point cost of an action, 95% of the time that’s just a direct conversion of the PF rule.

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      • Fair enough there, its criticisms I felt to point out that should be avoided replicated in Five Moons in some way. So I agree Different game, but sometimes some parts of an original idea get transferred over in some way without realizing it.

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  3. I am exceedingly excited to play with these rules. I think they kind of screw things up in Pathfinder but it could work great if the game was built around this kind of action economy.

    Pathfinder would probably need like 7 points to maintain the game as it had been previously balanced:
    “Full attack”= 6 points
    “Standard action”= 4 points
    “Move action”= 2 points
    “Swift action”= 1 point [with possibly the prohibition that you only get one per round]

    You could maybe even do something pretty interesting by making full attack just 5 points so martial characters could move and then full attack (and thus make their full attacks more often and thus alleviating some problems people have voiced on pathfinder), but that is neither here nor there in regards to 5 Moons. I bet what you make will be cool.

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  4. I like the idea, however I think that list might be a bit intimidating, especially to less experienced roleplayers. I’d like it to see it condensed down to about half a page (in list form), in a format that is flexible enough for DMs to make a decision on the fly for anything not explicitly covered.

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    • That list is basically a copypaste of the Pathfinder action list, with AP values substituted for standard/move/swift/free actions. I agree it is a bit overwhelming, and the actual system in Five Moons RPG will be a bit more generalized, with fewer explicit action callouts.

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