Luck Points

Posted: 2024-01-15
Last Modified: 2024-02-22
Word Count: 2408
Tags: rpg

Table of Contents

Note that these rules are a work in progress.

Inspirations

Luck Points represent the intervention of the Fates, the marvelous luck of heroes, or something similar. The GM should represent them with a distinctive and non-edible token, e.g. poker chips, fake metal coins, or unusual dice that can’t be confused with the players’ dice. The GM should have a large supply of these tokens, at least twice as many as he distributes to the players at the start of each session.

Luck Points draw from similar mechanics in a number of games, including:

A GM may add the Luck Point mechanic to virtually any system, or use it to replace a less versatile mechanic (e.g. Inspiration in 5th Edition D&D). These mechanics might be redundant or hard to integrate in a few systems, notably the ones listed above and the Year Zero Engine.

Gaining Luck Points

At the Start of the Session

At the start of a game session the GM gives every other player a number of Luck Points determined by the GM, generally one, three, or a function of their character’s level in class-and-level games. (Masters)

A Player may not keep Luck Points from the last session. All unspent Luck Points return to the GM at the session’s end, and reset to the GM-determined starting number at the beginning of the next session. Players are therefore encouraged to use Luck Points freely during play. (Mason)

When the GM Likes Your Roleplaying

The GM may award a Luck Point to a player for one of the following reasons:

  1. The GM was amused by the player character’s antics.
  2. The GM was moved by the player’s performance.
  3. The GM was surprised by the player’s ingenuity or quick wits.
  4. The GM was astounded by the player character’s self-sacrifice.
  5. The GM was otherwise pleased by the player’s decisions in-game.

When You Roll a Critical Failure

When the player’s dice roll comes up a Critical Failure, a.k.a. a Fumble or an Automatic Failure, and the player did not spend a Luck Point on the roll, the player earns a Luck Point.

The definition of a Critical Failure depends on the host system. For example, under a d20 roll high mechanic any roll of 1 on the die (a “natural 1”) counts as a critical failure. In a system using percentile dice, a roll of 00 usually counts as a “fumble” or critical failure. The GM may also rule that in a system without attack rolls a damage roll of 1 does no damage and counts as a Critical Failure. And so on.

When Another Player Gives You One

A player may simply give another player a Luck Point, either for the same reasons the GM might or simply because they need it.

Using Luck Points

A player may spend a Luck Point for one of the following benefits.

To Roll With Advantage

Before rolling, the player may add an extra die to the roll and drop the least desirable result. If the player is rolling percentiles, they may add a tens die. Especially when rolling a single die, this usually produces a better result.

Alternatively, with GM approval1 the player may roll the normal dice twice and take the more advantageous result.

After spending a Luck Point for this option, a player may spend another point for a reroll if necessary.

To Reroll Your Dice

After rolling anything but a critical failure the player may select one of the following alternatives:

  1. Reroll all dice but take the result of the reroll.
  2. Add a fixed bonus to the die or dice, based on the chart below.
  3. With GM approval1, add the result of rolling 1d6 to a 1d20, 2d10, 3d6, or D&D-style damage roll2.
  4. With GM approval1, reroll just one die in a die pool.

The player may expend as many Luck Points as they wish on a single roll.

Bonus by Die Number and Type

#dice d3 d4 d6 d8 d10 d12 d20 d100
1 +1 +1 +1 +1 +2 +2 +3 +17
2 +1 +1 +1 +2 +2 +3
3 +1 +1 +2 +2 +3 +3
4 +1 +1 +2 +3 +3 +4
5 +1 +1 +2 +3 +4 +4
6 +1 +2 +2 +3 +4 +5
7 +1 +2 +3 +3 +4 +5
8 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6
9 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6
10 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6

To Add To The Narrative

The spending player may add an element to the current scene, subject to the GM’s approval. This may be a previously unnoticed ladder or coil of rope, an unlocked door, or something similarly small but significant. They may also establish a “fact” about the world that does not contradict previous facts.

The spending player may not erase a previously established element from the scene. They may not send enemies to the Cornfield or cause an improbable “accident”. This is not a genie’s wish. The GM’s decision is final.

Complications (Optional Rule)

Complications provide a more formal method of earning Luck Points through roleplay, and to spend Luck Points on changing the environment. (Kenson; Underkoffler as “Foibles”)

What Is a Complication?

A Complication is an inherent condition that prevent a character from performing certain actions. Complications include the following:

A good PC Complication should be restrictive but not debilitating. Complications do not directly threaten the life or health of the character; they are conditions that the character can manage, albeit with some restrictions on their abilities. A good Complication should be restrictive but not debilitating. A character who’s blind but has a mystical sense that functions like sight has few if any restrictions; a character who’s blind and deaf cannot function effectively in a typical action-oriented game.

The GM is the final arbiter of what is and isn’t a valid Complication.

When Do Complications Matter?

At any time GM may offer the player a Luck Point in return for the character automatically failing a task or otherwise make a sub-optimal choice based one of the character’s Complications. The player may also offer to fail at a task in return for a Luck Point; the GM is free to accept or reject the offer.

Under no circumstances should a Complication provide a constant stream of Luck Points. A player shouldn’t get a Luck Point every time their one-armed character wants to use a two-handed weapon but can’t. Complications should only earn Luck Points when a character faces an insurmountable obstacle in a critical situation.

Do NPCs and Objects Have Complications?

Yes. NPCs, objects, places, and situations may have inherent Complications. Obviously NPCs and things can’t earn Luck Points. However, by recognizing these Complications and spending a Luck Point, a player can cause a Complication to “act up”. Examples:

Unlike players, the GM cannot refuse Luck Points for a legitimate Complication. However, the GM may require multiple Luck Points if the players’ desired use of a Complication is especially unlikely.

Are Complications the Same As Fate’s Aspects?

(See also Balsera.)

No. Complications are about half of Fate’s Aspect mechanic; the GM can Compel a Complication much like an Aspect to trigger a failure, and players can Invoke a Complication against a person, place, or thing. However, players also spend Fate Points to Invoke their own Aspects, while simply spending a Luck Point provides a comparable bonus. The author thought that omitting the full rules for Aspects and the Fate Point Economy would make a game with Luck Points simpler (and less like a poor man’s Fate).

Great Luck Points (Optional Rule)

(See also Mason.)

A player may exchange three Luck Points for a Great Luck Point, indicated by a different color or style of token, e.g. a gold coin instead of silver, a blue chip instead of a white one.

A player may spend a Great Luck Point to accomplish one of the following:

  1. Turn a failed roll that isn’t a Critical Failure into an automatic success.
  2. Turn a successful roll into a Critical Success or the equivalent.
  3. With GM approval1, reroll all the non-successful dice in a dice pool.
  4. Force the GM to reroll their dice, and use the results of the second roll.

Bad Luck Points (Optional Rule)

For a darkly humorous or simply darker game, the GM may also use Bad Luck Points. The GM may represent Bad Luck Points as tokens of a different color or shape, or more economically as Luck Point tokens placed in a dish or other receptacle, preferably one that makes an ominous clank.

Gaining Bad Luck Points

Borrowing Luck

When a player (other than the GM) has no more Luck Points and can’t borrow them from other players, they may “borrow” a Luck Point from the GM’s endless supply. Doing so, however, generates an equal and opposite Bad Luck Point.

Unlucky Actions

Depending on the genre and setting, some actions may generate Bad Luck. These may include:

Players should all be aware of what actions generate Bad Luck.

Spending Bad Luck Points

At any time the GM may spend a Bad Luck token to impose a temporary Complication on a character, or to activate a Complication a character already has. Effects of Bad Luck may include:

For more ideas, see Härenstam pp 345-346.

The Luck Point Economy

The Luck Point Reserve

A GM can regulate the flow of Luck Points using the following parameters.

Other parameters, like the number of critical failures, are out of the GM’s control. Knowledge of the host system and its probabilities should allow a GM to estimate.

GMs should also remember that an excess of Luck Points can lead to Great Luck Points.

Bad Luck Points, on the other hand, depend wholly on player actions, specifically their desire to cheat fate or use forbidden techniques and technologies. While the GM does have the power to define what actions are unlucky, the GM cannot know how readily the players and their characters will make Faustian bargains for survival and power.

Encouraging Player Spending

Ultimately the Luck Point economy depends on player spending. (Imagine that.) The following techniques encourage players to spend Luck Points.

Emulating Other Systems

Since this system merges three or four others, a GM can emulate one or another of the inspirations through control of the Luck Point Reserve:

  1. Complications and roleplaying awards emulate the economy of Style Dice (Underkoffler) and partially emulate the economy of Fate Points (Balsera). For a true Fate Point economy one would have to introduce Aspects (Balsera pp 55-83), but at that point one might as well be playing Fate Core or one of its derivatives.

  2. Tightening up on Complications and roleplaying awards brings this system back to the principles of Luck Dice (McFarland). Only critical failures, or perhaps even simple failures, generate Luck Points.

  3. Bringing the starting Luck Points to one or even zero emulates Darkness Points (Härenstam). Without critical failures one would need to borrow Luck Points, which automatically generate Bad Luck Points.

Ludography

Balsera, Leonard et al. (2013) Fate Core. Evil Hat Productions.

Diaz, Evan. (2023) Nimble. Self-published.

Donoghue, Rob, Hicks, Fred, & Balsera, Leonard. (2007) Spirit of the Century. Evil Hat Productions.

Härenstam, Tomas et al. (2017) Coriolis – The Third Horizon. Free League Publishing.

Kenson, Steve. (2002; 2005; 2011) Mutants and Masterminds. Green Ronin Publishing

Mason, Robert. (2023, Jul 19) “How Hero Points Make Combat Epic in D&D”. Bob World Builder.

Masters, Dan. (2022) Deathbringer RPG. Dungeon University Presents.

McFarland, Scotty. (2020) “Luck Dice”. Quest Givers.

Underkoffler, Chad. (2009) Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies. Evil Hat Productions.


  1. The GM should give blanket approval based on the system and type of die roll, regardless of the specific game-world situation. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. “D&D-style damage” not only includes all D&D variants but damage in D100 systems like Basic Roleplaying, Call of Cthulhu, Mythras, and OpenQuest↩︎