A long time ago I decided to make a move from the standard D&D-style collection of actions to a system based on Action Points, or AP. Instead of having different slots of actions–Major, minor, bonus, move, etc.–I wanted players (and myself) to be able to choose a wide array of potential actions on their turn without being locked in to categories. Sure, a normal round using AP in Shattered Empire still may have the superficial look of One Move, One Attack, Drink One Potion, but there will be tons of times when it doesn’t. You can use your AP in any way you want, which means that some characters will attack multiple times instead of doing anything else. Situationally, you may take three move actions on your turn instead of attacking at all. You might sit back and save up AP for the next round, unleashing a giant combo, or make a skill check, read a spell-scroll, and then fire a crossbow. You have a max amount of action points to use, and depending on the situation you may use them in any number of ways. It lets strategy and variety rule over combat encounters.
But, lets be fair. It can slow down a turn.
Some players are really good at keeping numbers in their head, thinking about actions before their turns, and making quick decisions based on context. And some players will inevitably ask “How many AP have I used this turn again?” It might take a little training to get the flow down perfect, and it might even take the GM urging a certain player to pick up the pace. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a better one.
My favorite thing to shake my head at is when a player realizes they still have AP left over, so instead of just ending their turn they take a superfluous action. They may have put themselves in the perfect position strategically, performed every action they planned, and had great results, but by-the-gods they are not going to waste 2 AP. “I’ll move five feet to the right.” There. A nice even 0 AP.
But, to be fair again, those slow players are going to be slow no matter what system they use.
Perhaps the biggest reason AP wins over Actions is in spellcasting. Varying AP costs for spells encourage combos and synergy. All too often in RPGs the Standard Action is used up when you cast a spell, and there’s no way to cast another one. With that type of system, how often does a Controller or Leader say “screw it, I’ll just attack” instead of casting a buff or debuff? They don’t want to “waste” their Standard Action on granting their ally a bonus to attack. They may entrap an enemy with a spell, but by the time their turn comes back around and they are able to attack it the effects may have already worn off. I’ve watched it happen over and over. With a rich AP system, you can make those combos where you cast a spell that makes an enemy vulnerable to poison and then apply poison to your mace and attack them. You might not be able to move that turn, or maybe you sacrificed some defense in order to save up AP…but there is a path to your ideal actions.
AP also introduces the concept of situational value to a spell or power. Different powers cost different APs, so you might choose one or another based on the other actions you want to take that round. You can stack powers because they aren’t all “Standard Actions.” You can put your head down and run all the way across the battlefield instead of going one “Movement Action” per turn.
Weapons too can be affected in a different way because of AP. You might be able to take two stabs with your little knife, dealing minor damage to two targets instead of swinging your giant halberd and dealing massive damage to only one target. AP effectively grants an “attack speed” to different types of weapons; an attribute that is completely missing in so many tabletop RPGs.
Does using an AP system cause more bookkeeping? Technically yes. But it’s so marginal that it doesn’t matter. Usually your AP isn’t going to change outside of leveling, and the system is easy. There is no need to physically chart your AP usage every turn. You can quickly and easily track it in your head, and it resets every turn anyway.
Finally, AP resets at the END of your turn. This allows for multiple actions to take place during the round, even if it is not your turn. Reactions, interruptions, extra defense…You spend AP on these, so if you are willing to limit your actions during your normal turn you can perform more actions during someone else’s turn in the round. This adds another layer of strategy and gives a feeling like things are happening more in real-time and in response to multiple other players and NPCs, instead of just having a “Reaction Action” slot.
If you are interested in an AP system, check out the BASE12 system or shoot me a message to playtest the Shattered Empire campaign setting!