Earn More Player Action With Push Points

Here’s a cool house rule sent to me by Jonathan Hardin from Sojourners Awake:

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My NEW favorite technique is Push Points.

For every natural 1 or 20 you roll, you experience the consequences of the roll as usual, but you collect 1 point for experiencing that event.

You can collect up to 10 points at a time and spend them to “push” any one of your d20 rolls to a success.

Roll a 14 when the target is 17? Spend 3 push points to succeed.

The kids absolutely love it and are always checking their sheets, weighing the risk of failure by my facial expressions before spending their beloved points.

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What I like about threshold pools like this is they encourage action. The more rolls you make, the faster you earn the bennie. How do you get more rolls? Play harder.

One caveat here with mechanics like this, though, if I may. Just so we know all the details before deciding whether to add house rules like this.

I prefer key player Choices be made before the dice roll.

You ever go down the stairs in the wrong rhythm and feel like you got roughed up a bit? That’s how it feels like to me when you have to rewind some gameplay to re-roll.

You set the scene, tension rises. Players make a Choice, tension rises more. Exciting roll, tension rises even more.

That’s great pacing right there, and it happens naturally.

But then, after the roll, players can UNDO the previous result and change it? That’s awkward. Tension doesn’t know what to do now. And everyone’s processing and figuring out what the new reality is, trying to erase the memories of the previous, discarded result.

Gameplay goes forwards. Then backwards. Then forwards again. Don’t miss that last stair step or you’ll fall, sir.

Put another way, we’re at a tension dip because we’ve learned the result. Even though failure (or Failing Forward) sucks, the built-up tension releases because we now know the outcome. And then along comes a new possibility, but it’s not dramatically exciting. It’s points being rubbed off a character sheet, then a reset, then a new outcome.

I argue that pacing and gaming momentum can take a hit when this happens, even though a failure has been transformed into a success.

But that’s just me. I like smooth gameplay flow. Retroactive mechanics tend to break that for me.

However, I still like Jonathan’s Push Points house rule. In my game, I would playtest a 10:1 exchange rate. Undo one result at the cost of 10 earned Push Points. Reduced frequency means fewer times I felt that weird stairs feeling, heh.

First though, I’d playtest adding a bonus to the roll before the outcome is determined. Instead of getting a re-roll or an automatic success, we put the decision to use Push Points into the player’s hands before the outcome.

This give us a few wins:

  • Tension spikes a little bit more as there’s extra stakes in the roll now (the party is consuming a scare and valuable resource to try to get a better result).
  • Player Fog of War is vastly tighter this way (before result is known) so the gravity of the Choice is amplified, which is more engaging.
  • We don’t have to retcon anything.

Either way though, as I mentioned, I like a type of player currency they can save up to affect their Choices. And I like that Jonathan’s Push Points are earned by taking actions, chances, and risks — the type of gameplay we want to reward.

If you decide to try Push Points in your game, I’d love to hear how it went!

Have more fun at every game!

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