[WOEd20] – Pushing the Limits

If you play enough RPGs long enough, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually run afoul of a character who haughtily describes themselves as a ‘true roleplayer’. The implication here meaning that you aren’t. This infinitely punchable specimen prides themselves largely not on contributing to collaborative storytelling or exceptionally good character backgrounds or personalities, but on not being good at combat encounters.

Now, I’m not personally a fan of min-maxing, or ‘optimization’ as it’s called these days. Min-maxing being the practice of building one’s character to have the maximum mathematical advantage that can possibly have. However, I do try and do expect people who play under me as DM or with me as a player to not be a massive burden.

For all their talk of being soooo into roleplaying and character and such, these folks seem hellbent on making sure they and their party die as quickly and brutally as possible. Believe me: character deaths and the replacement of those characters are far more disruptive to the story than not playing a blind and deaf bard with no ability to defend themselves or others.

Alas, these tend to be some of the very few players who will voluntarily do anything to make their characters anything less than 100% awesome, and that’s a shame because it stunts the options one has for characterization. One can hardly blame other players though, as they, of course, don’t want their character to die because they were missing something.

In order to alleviate this problem, many roleplaying games have mechanics designed to compensate players for taking handicaps, limitations and other things that could weaken the character. In theory, this would figure out to be no net gain or loss mechanically for the character while adding characterization, drama and maybe some extra hooks for the DM to use.

This is usually called a Flaw system, though it often has other names such as Advantage/Disadvantage.

Occasionally, you’ll see a similar system or merely a few examples within a traditional Flaw system where the Flaw is meant to still be a net negative in exchange for a relatively lower power boost, or completely ruinous in exchange for a powerful effect. At other times, this is the end result regardless of if that was intentional.

The problem is that whle this does allow players to take ‘weaknesses’ without making their characters liabilities, the fact that these weaknesses are traded for power opens them up to abuse by the above mentioned min-maxers.

Most famously, these types of players will take flaws that almost never come up or that can be negated more cheaply than the flaw cost, giving them a net positive amount of power at minimal cost.

To me—and I am in no way claiming that I am a master game designer here—the problem comes in the fact that the player gains the benefit immediately and the ‘payment’ only comes later if at all. So I ended up talking to my friend, Fyrasha about this and what we struck on was the idea that the player gets their reward after the flaw comes into play, whenever it comes into play.

So if you choose a Flaw that never comes up, you never get the reward. Meanwhile, if you choose a Flaw that actively hinders you often, you get rewarded often.

But what kind of reward? In the d20 system, you usually get a feat in exchange for a Flaw. Yeah… feats are usually awesome when they aren’t at the and of a long line of lame ones like Mobility. Plus, they aren’t the sort of thing you turn on and off, so they don’t work in the risk-reward scheme they have set up.

We discussed adding various positive conditions like an anti-sickened or something like that, but then I thought about a concept I already wanted to include: action points.

Action points, sometimes called Hero Points, Bennies or Inspiration are usually a sort of meta-resource that players have in order to give a short-term boost of some kind to their character. Different systems have them doing different things: re-rolling a dice, adding an extra action, granting a bonus to a stat, skill or other attribute, getting clues on puzzles, etc.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition had Action Points highly integrated into its system, with some feats and classes using action points as a resource to activate other abilities. At their base, a 4e action point grants an additional standard action, which allows an extra attack or move or minor action, but the real power lies in the aforementioned feats and classes.

Pathfinder has Hero Points as an optional variant that have a large number of native uses and doubles down on it by including a handful of spells and magic items that grant, consume or manipulate them.

In 5e D&D, Inspiration allows a reroll, similar to what having Advantage in that system already does. The re-roll is also the mechanic behind the Savage Worlds Bennie, and the Mutants and Masterminds Hero Point, but in both of those cases, it’s often in the form of a bonus on top of the re-roll in some cases, or some other add-on that makes the point worth more.

I’ve picked and chosen a number of uses for action points to add into WoED20:

  • extra action
  • re-roll
  • +5 to a roll before it’s rolled
  • change your dying condition to stable
  • get a hint from the DM in regards to puzzles and riddles

A character normally gets one action point per day and they only gain one naturally if they have zero at the end of the day and you can only use one per encounter. You can gain more by doing something that the DM and your fellow players think was exceptionally awesome, good roleplaying, or just making the game more fun. The exact conditions are the kind of thing I feel should be decided by the group. The Ere DM’s guide will have a pretty extensive set of recommendations on things a group should talk about before the campaign starts.

In any case, no one can gain action points in the WoED20 setting if they have three or more action points in reserve. And that’s where the rewards in the WoE version of Flaws, called Limitations, come into play. Called Triumph Points, they function as Action Points except in two very important ways: first, you may gain as many Triumph Points as you want and save them up with no limit, and two, you cn spend one Triumph point per encounter and it doesn’t count toward your action point usages.

You get a Triumph Point at the end of any encounter during which one or more of your Limitations imposes its penalty on you.

So what are the Limitations?

Well that’s another interesting question because of the philosophy here: something that can come up in some encounters and not others (so the players isn’t constantly gaining Triumph Points), but also something that could impose a penalty to checks in a given combat or non-combat encounter.

Fy and I came up with a list, which I’ll give a rundown of here:


When faced with the thing they have a phobia for, the character becomes shaken as per a visceral fear effect (a type of fear that is defended against by Fortitude instead of Will). If the character takes damage from the source of the phobia, the must make a Fort save DC 10 + damage taken or become frightened (save ends)


The character is wanted, hunted or has a bounty of some kind on their head. They will occasionally be attacked by NPCs for this reason, or suffer a -4 penalty to CHA-based checks and skill rolls and Knowledge (Local) checks in locales where they are wanted by the authorities or their bounty is public.


The character is openly disliked or feared by many people and where they are known, the NPC attitudes start on step closer to hostile, making all interactions with them more difficult.


Curse is a variable catch-all for unique curses the DM or player might come up with, using the other Limitations as a guide.


Dependents are NPCs that are important to the character who can be threatened, need help or cause other problems without offering much in reward because of mutual bonds of loyalty, duty or other relationships.


A code is a professed lifestyle, vow or other self-imposed limitation a character will not break unless under extreme duress. This can easily cause them to have to take prisoners, not take certain tactical advantages, not attack a type of opponent, or incur several other consequences that can hinder them.


a prejudices character cannot control or conceal their hatred for a given group. They take a -2 penalty to attacking enemies not of that group when there is a valid enemy of that group within 100ft they could target, and a -4 penalty to all CHA-based checks and skill rolls when interacting with them.


Exposure to a vulnerability or allergy causes a character to become sickened for the length of the encounter. Taking damage from that source causes them to become nauseated until the end of their next turn.


A rival is an NPC who is in competition with the PC, either friendly or unfriendly. They may attack the party, spread rumors, or even get ahead of the party when they’re hunting treasures, necessitating the party hunting them down in order to get their prize.


These are all beta versions, so feel free to suggest or criticize (it’s the only way I’ll learn).

I can see these requiring more lines added to the DM’s guide, with ideas like replacing some encounters with Rivals or Wanted encounters so the Limitations can’t be used to attract ‘bonus’ XP and treasure, and examples for all of these, like a Rival who specializes in destroying the character’s repuation (essentially becoming a personified Infamy Limitation), or how to use Limitations as a way to put more or less custom treasure into the PC’s hands.

And that’s it for this week.

It’s September again, and this being my birth month, I’m going to try and go lazy and self-aggrandizing again with the blogs. I tihnk I’ll do a rundown of my favorite Rune Breaker moments, favorites from the other stories, and an essay on why Iw rite Superhero works for the Pen and Cape Society.

If you really want to give me a birthday present, a guest blog post or fan fiction would certainly be welcome!

Until next week, folks!

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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  1. -_- I really feel like complaining about the assumption that combat is always central to any and all role playing games. There’s plenty of systems where it’s not so, and even more where combat is a possibility but not mandatory. Just because D&D is a tactical war game with light rpg rules glued on doesn’t mean that’s all rpgs can be.

    The system as presented here seems fairly standard. The only thing I wonder about is whether the double reroll point system is necessary or a needless complication.

    • I think the problem is that RPGs never got into genre labeling. D&D is an Action-Fantasy RPG while something like Call of Cthuhlu is an Exploration/Survival Horror RPG.

      My assumption is Action RPG because I’ve only played two non-Action RPGs: Wraith, which sucked until we turned it into action and School Daze, which has pretty much the one rule when it comes to dice rolling (roll d6 and get a bonus if your Ranks or Favorite Subject apply; roll 5+ to succeed).

      I prefer rules light or even diceless when it comes to non-action games because I feel the variance of dice get in the way of pure roleplaying.

  2. Some more limitations, many stolen from GURPS and Hero systems:

    Physical limitations and handicaps
    Mental limitations and handicaps
    Emotional limitations and handicaps
    Lack of control over powers (this would apply more for a supers game)

    • We actually cracked open the HERO book and harvested the Disads. I decided not to go with Phys. Lims or any other continual Limitations because they’re ‘always on’, so the player would get a Triumph Point every encounter.

      I also decided against Addiction because it adds this weird sidequest thing to the character where they are ALWAYS looking for their addition substance instead of playing the game. Addictions seem to work better in supers games where they need the substance to keep their powers, have a steady supply (or make) their substance, and only occasionally get separated. In Fantasy, it’s almost always played as an actual drug addiction with all the bad behavior that comes with that.

      I actually used Dark Secret in the original Ere campaign and can’t believe I forgot it.

  3. That’s a bit like the way Seven Seas handled it IIRC; in that game you gained XP when your flaws came up in a session. You had to actually pay out of your starting points to have such a flaw.

    Note that rivalry (and to a lesser extent code of honor and wanted) are flaws the party can share. The character with the flaw gets the triumph point, the party as a whole may pay the cost of rivals needing to be defeated, or of not taking a useful course of action which one character’s code of honor makes impossible. Yes, I’ve seen this happen in other games.

    Vulnerability and phobia maybe should both have a save for the condition upgrade, or neither should.

    It’s more a player problem than directly a system problem, but some things aren’t really a problem for the guy playing a brooding badass in the corner with points spent no social skills. You know the type. Infamy making people start fights with him? Sure!

    • In the Academy X game, we were actually all required to take Hunted: Sentinels and Hunted: Friend of Humanity. I like the idea of the whole group taking the same rivals/wanted.

      The reason I didn’t add ‘party compensation’ is that I’m assuming that everyone is in some way upping the difficulty for the party through limitations and also the new encounters still give everyone XP and treasure. Maybe Rival/Wanted encounters should give extra XP and treasure to people without that limitation?

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