On Friday my L5R game went back on temporary hiatus, and our friend's HALO game took up front and center. The session was a lot of fun, with a really good mix of combat and RP that just worked very well for everyone it seems. The session also got me thinking about combat, complications, and how the presence - or lack of presence - of something like Hero Points really can be the dividing line between a GM feeling comfortable/encouraged to push for that little bit extra, and not doing it for fear of 'PC Hunting.' Today, I want to talk about that.
What Is A Hero Point?
By Hero Point I am referencing the Hero Points in Mutants and Masterminds, but other systems have them as well. Hero Points are, essentially, a spendable metagame point that can buy the player one of a number of advantages. They can be used to slightly edit scenes, reroll checks, resist damage/status effects, and a few other things. The most important thing about them is how you earn them, which - for the purposes of this post - is going to focus on one of my favorite ones. Whenever a GM fiat works directly against a character - or characters - all impacted get a Hero Point. In short, you pay the player for things suddenly, and for no other reason then whim, getting worse for them.
This works great for two reasons. One is that the player now has the tools for making the GM fiat not hurt them at all/as bad with the point. Two, by being paid for the dramatic scene, it has a more positive view in the players mind. Yes, things just got rougher for them, but they also just grew more powerful in the scene as well.
In the game, we ended up in a big firefight while my character was planting demolition charges to take out our objectives. It was a really cool fight, with PCs in melee, at range, and working to try and down down the Covenant air cover that was harassing us with strafing runs. At one point, someone timed it just right and threw a plasma grenade at one of the banshees. The attack roll was ridiculously high, and they hit - sticking the banshee with the grenade. When the grenade exploded, the vehicle crashed. Now, I'm not sure if this was what was actually happening, but from looking at the GMs face he seemed torn between doing the Military Drama trope of the plane crashing down near someone in the fight or just having it crash. In the end, he chose to have it crash safely, and the PCs managed to wrap up the fight relatively safely.
This isn't a critique of the GM, but this is basically the problem he may have been facing. HALO is a fairly cinematic world/universe. All space operas are, really. The universe wants that banshee to come hurtling out of the air towards one of the players, making them do a dramatic dive for cover or be harmed/knocked out/stunned for a bit. However, if he does that, then he has just deliberately done a GM fiat to put a character in more danger during a firefight. What happens if he does it, the player rolls badly, and the group gets wiped? Well, he just TPK'd the game trying to be cool. But, he also just directly - and effectively non-mechanically - nuked a player and took them out.
The players might not see it like this, but it is still something the GM has to consider. Combat is generally the most mechanically laid out part of a system, and that can be hard to escape. Changing it up can almost feel like cheating your players. It's not really a situation I envy a GM of.
How Hero Points Solve This
So, how do Hero Points solve this? Well, first off, the rules flat out say that it is something that the GM can, and should, be doing. It is right there under "how do I gain Hero Points?" How do you gain them? The GM fiats against you and you become more awesome. That is step one. The second is the use of Hero Points. If I, as the player, am not comfortable with that Banshee crashing down on me, I can use the point the GM just gave me to edit the scene and say it hits near, but doesn't negatively impact me. I get no benefit out of the hero point, but the scene still gets that moment of 'Space Opera Military Drama Coolness' y'know? Alternatively, I can take the point and have it hit near/over me. The GM gives me my roll to resist whatever effect is coming, and I either make them or don't. Now, this shouldn't be a kill check, but other effects are ok. If they negatively effect the group (due to me being down) that's fine too. Worst case, give the group a hero point. However, I still have that point I was paid to either make sure that I make the resist check, or to mitigate any negative impact that comes from it.
Most importantly though - and yes, this is its own paragraph for emphasis - the ultimate choice of whether or not it happened was up to me, the player. If it goes into a TPK and I get nasty with a "y'know, if you hadn't fiated that plane coming at me this wouldn't have happened." Other players and the GM can simply say "you could have spent that hero point to make it not happen. You chose to keep it." Best of all in that line, is that my choice isn't between handicapping myself or not. It is "nothing changes" or "gain a bit more oomph for the rest of the scene." Which makes it a great choice to be there.
How about you? Have you done similar things? Have you felt the same way? I'm not trying to say that Hero Points should be added to every system, as they shouldn't, but they do bring a level of protection and awesome to the balance between PCs and GMs for things that I like. And should probably be considered for any cinematic style games.