There are tons of games that use Hero Points, but in my opinion every game can benefit from them. Hero points are a great way to add a small currency to your game so that you, as the GM, can reward players for playing to the themes of the games and their characters - even when it isn't mechanically optimal - and do a number of other things. They allow the players to be that little bit more awesome when they need to be in return.
So today let's talk about hero points.
What Is A Hero Point
A hero point is a small, temporary point that a player can spend when they attempt to do something to give themselves a mechanical advantage. The advantage is normally fairly small - a bonus on a check, a re-roll, advantage - but can be significant in a number of ways. A bonus as small as a +1 to a check can be the difference between success and failure in the right moment, and a hero point can help make that happen.
Physical Tokens Work Best
In my opinion if you are using hero points, you should have a physical token for them. There should be something that you - the GM - hand out to the player when they do whatever it is that earns the hero point. The actual physical handing over will do a lot more for the feel and the impact than just having the player make a hash mark on their paper.
This works both ways. It feels bigger when you receive a physical object. It feels bigger when you give over a physical object. And it can also feel awesome when you let a player spend their hero point to give it to another player - or, in other words, just hand over the token to the other player.
The physical token does another thing well too. Since it is a present, physical object, it is easier for the player and you to remember it is there.
Give Them Freely, Encourage Them To Be Spent
Hero Points work best when they flow like water. Hand them out for things you like. Don't be stingy. Did a player solve a puzzle? Give them a hero point. Did something bad happen? Give them a hero point. Did they say something funny and in character? Give them a hero point.
At the same time, don't let them build up. Depending on the game, I will limit players to some number at a time and they go away at the end of the session - unless the game system itself specifies otherwise. This, combined with me giving them out freely, encourages the players to spend them. Which in turn encourages the players to do things to earn them, and to try things worthy of spending the hero point on. Which in turn makes the game more fun for everyone.
They Let You Soften GM Fiat
One of the other things I love about Hero Points is they let you pay your players for GM fiat. Sometimes the story needs something to happen. It is unfair. It makes things worse. It is going to prevent a player from doing something they want because of something their character will need to happen.
The best example of this is how a lot of villains escape in Super Hero shows/comics/movies. Joker throws a bomb which puts people in immediate danger. Batman must then choose between saving lives or stopping joker. Batman, obviously, saves lives. No matter how quick he does though, in the time it takes him to do that Joker is gone.
In a game this is when the players would try to track. Joker couldn't have gone far, right? And just saying "he's gone" can feel kind of blah - no matter how thematic and true it is. But if you give out hero points (they did choose to save civilians over their goal of stopping joker!) it softens the blow. The players know it is done. They have a thing to help them in the future. And in a sense they've been paid in exchange for the 'unfairness' so they still gain.
It doesn't change that the GM fiat happened. And it is not something to use all the time. But it does make it go smoother. And in a sense it rewards them for finishing the scene.
End Of Session? Carry Over
If you have hero points expire at the end of the session, be aware of when in a session you are. If the player characters do something deserving a hero point at the end, instead of making them have to spend them then and there have them start the next session with one. It makes things go smoother. It also helps keep in mind where the players ended the session. After all, they're going to remember "I'm owed a Hero Point" and part of that is going to include why - either what they did, or what happened to them.