Variant Action Economy for Boss Battles: Hero Points

From a singular beast of legends to the hordes of mooks led by a charismatic leader, boss battles should be exciting and challenging for the players. The base combat system leaves a lot to be offered when dealing with bosses, and sometimes the battles can drag to a halt or the players become frustrated when the floor-shattering boss monster deals 75% of their HP in one-hit. My proposed solution to this is a Hero Point system.

How It Works:

  • Characters are given a certain amount of Hero Points during boss battles to engage the players in more thrilling combat and to be more interactive.

  • The amount of Hero Points is based on the character’s proficiency bonus and the modifier of their Ability Scores for which they have proficiency in saving throws. For instance, a Fighter’s Hero Points would be dependent on their proficiency bonus and their STR and CON modifier, since the Fighter’s saving throw proficiencies are STR and CON.

  • Hero Points recharge at the beginning of each combat round.

  • Tentative number calculation of Hero Points is [proficiency bonus + save throw ability mods].

  • Actions performed under the standard 5e action economy do not cost any Hero Points. Actions performed beyond the standard 5e action economy are called Heroic Actions, which cost Hero Points.

  • The kinds of Heroic Actions are listed below.

  • Heroic Actions can be taken at any time during the combat round by any player, as long as that player has the Hero Points to perform it.

  • Heroic Actions can be “stacked”, or used as many times as desired, according to the amount of Hero Points available to the player. For example, expending 2 points to move an extra 10 ft., or expending 3 points to empower an attack roll by +3.

Table of Heroic Actions

  • Attempt to break Grapple - 1 point
  • Move 5 ft. - 1 point
  • Use nonmagical object - 1 point
  • +1 bonus to attack roll to single attack- 1 point
  • +1 bonus to AC vs. single hostile attack - 1 point
  • +1 bonus to DEX save when performed - 2 points
  • Hide Action - 2 points
  • Use magical object (with bonus action/1 Action cast time) - 2 points/4 points
  • Search Action - 2 points
  • Intervene - 4 points
  • Make one attack (weapon/grapple/disarm,etc.) - 3 points
  • Help Action - 6 points

The “Intervene” Heroic Action
This Heroic Action allows a character to take a hit for another character, push them out of the way, attempt to interrupt a hostile attack directed at another creature, etc.

  • The character can move up to their Speed to Intervene.
  • The kind of Intervention allowed is up to the DM.
  • It is strongly recommended that the DM exercises discretion with the Intervene Heroic Action, to prevent players from abusing Intervention as a means of moving farther using less Hero Points.

Special Considerations

  • This system is more likely to thrive in a live, in-person session environment, as opposed to a digital tabletop environment.
  • It is recommended that players are given physical tokens to represent their Hero Points at the table.
  • Narrate hostile combat actions in such a way that allows players time to react and prevents retroactive resolutions.
  • For example, lead with narration such as “The balor rears its fiery whip, ready to lash out at Player 1…” and allow a few seconds for players to declare their Heroic Actions in response. If they do not declare a Heroic Action before the balor’s attack is resolved, then do not retroactively inject the Heroic Action.
  • Another example, the players are fighting against a horde of mooks led by a sorcerer. “You [the players] mow your way through the endless horde of weak goblins, when suddenly, the hairs on your neck stand on end, and the air pressure changes as you see a small red streak fly through the air…” Player 1 declares to Intervene by moving to Player 2 and brandishing their tower shield in front of both of them. “Player 2 dashes through a break in the goblins to Player 1, as a Fireball explodes in the midst of everyone, with Player 2’s tower shield protecting the two from the momentary inferno!”
  • The Hero Point system is ideal for homebrew boss creatures that do not necessarily make use of the standard monster action economy as used in 5th edition, though it can still work with the standard monster action economy.
  • It is highly recommended that the boss’s threat to the player is not merely attack rolls. This system is intended to equip players to react to multiple facets of a boss battle, such as lair and environmental effects, as well as special attacks made by the boss.
  • Additionally, it may not be best to resolve all threats to the players merely by “attack roll vs. armor class”. For instance, a dragon’s claw attack could be dramatically illustrated with narration and making use of a DEX saving throw on the player’s part, rather than a 1d20+7 attack roll vs. the player’s 15 AC. Be creative with the boss creature actions and be mindful of the tools at the players’ disposal with this Hero Point system.

So is this sort of like Legendary Actions for PCs?

Essentially, but restricted to boss battles, and not limited by happening only “after another creature’s turn”

I’m thinking this may be too much; it would max out at 16, which is a lot. What if it was (Proficiency * 0.5 +1)? That would give a range of 2 to 4, and given your suggested values, wouldn’t necessarily grant the player an entire extra turn. The other usual consideration for boss battles is that the boss has a lack of action economy, thus they gave them legendary actions (because 4 player turns vs 1 boss turn makes for an AE imbalance). How do you consider this variant in light of that usual critique?

I think another consideration is the potential for this to slow things down as each player’s turn takes longer and longer to complete.

Any thoughts on the above?

The optimal setup for this kind of variant rule is using homebrew bosses with variant combat pacing. For instance, once I declare a player’s turn in combat, they have 5 seconds to begin telling me what their action is. Because of this, combat is paced much more quickly, and I often ignore a singular boss’s action economy (with regard to 5e’s stated economy for monsters). A sample boss action sequence would consist of a dragon clawing at a player and creating deep furrows in the ground (players react to this attack), raking its claws back toward it across the ground (another reaction instance), and the players feeling the air become thin as the dragon’s mouth fills with flames. This is the kind of direction I’d like to take with bosses and making them difficult, as opposed to “the dragon makes 2 claw attacks at you, with total attack rolls being 25 and 19, for 24 and 32 slashing damage respectively”, which is underwhelming and boring in my opinion.

In a given turn, the players take standard turns, but with very little time to think. Previously, players had all the time in the world to plan their turn (after their turn was declared by the DM), but on this system, their turn would be skipped if they took too long. The Heroic Actions is a way of redistributing a player’s thought process and actions during a turn. Instead of cramming all their thinking into 2 minutes of planning their 1 turn with the DM, they instead make snap reactions in 5 seconds, and then they continue making snap reactions throughout the combat round. Additionally, Heroic Actions must be declared and executed immediately. I would not allow “wait! I want to use a Heroic Action here, let me look at the list…” because “a fleeting thought crossed your mind, that you could jump in the way of Delwyn to save him, but you hesitated, and your chance has passed” or something of the like. Their declaration would not be accommodated because the purpose of this is to quicken combat, and, they have had many many many seconds to decide their Heroic Actions beforehand. I also plan to pass out quick reference papers with the Heroic Actions listed, during boss battles.

I don’t think a max of 16 Hero Points per turn is too much. That happens at level 20. Things should be feeling epic. The players should feel like absolute heroes when they face off against the Dragon of Ages, or a squadron of Tarrasques. This system should not be used on the likes of Shambling Mounds or Bullettes as bosses.

EDIT: I intended to include Heroic Actions to increase AC against a single hostile attack, or attack bonus on a singular attack, but had forgotten it during the post’s initial creation.

I think that classifies as horror, not a boss battle.

Okay, so this is to expand on an already different Action Economy in general. Perhaps a write up on how to handle this alternate Action Economy with an Optional Rule for Hero Points/Heroic Actions would be a strong addition?

The Hero Points is the alternate Action Economy for players. It’s meant to mesh with homebrew bosses, as opposed to Monster Manual type bosses.

Whatever way that the homebrew bosses will be made and how they will interface with this Hero Point system is entirely up to the DM making use of it. Would be difficult to standardize a boss system, but I will add on to the Special Considerations for how to handle this system.