RMU Update: An Action Point System in Action — Divinity: Original Sin 2

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Each character gets 4 Action Points to spend on activity each round. Spells like Haste increase that number. You can spend action points to move.

That sounds much like RMu’s new action economy, but in fact it is also the system in the videogame Divinity: Original Sin 2. I am blogging about this because I think the RMu’s new action point economy sometimes gets dismissed by players before they’ve really tried it — who wants to change a system you’ve been using for decades? But I wanted to suggest that if you are on the fence about this issue and really want to experience a game with an action economy like RMu’s, you can try Divinity: Original Sin 2. (I recommend you try Divinity 2 rather than 1, because for reasons I explain below, Divinity 1 had a somewhat different system). If you liked the old isometric Baldur’s Gate games, I think you will probably like Divinity. And note that the studio that made Divinity (Larian Studios) is now busily at work making Baldur’s Gate III.

Basically, the idea behind an action point economy is that instead of actions costing a percentage of your round’s activity, they instead just cost points. This simplifies the game math because you’re never left with 17% activity remaining in your turn, trying desperately to find your calculator to figure out what 17% of your BMR of 45′ is, and whether that will get you within melee range of the orc archer over there. You either have a point left for movement or you don’t, and you either spend it to move up to your BMR or you don’t. You also don’t need separate rules for all the combinations of things you can do in a round, like ‘move-and-melee’, ‘move-and-cast-spell’, ‘react-and-attack’, ‘press-and-attack’ and all of the other combinations RM2 and RMSS tried to account for. You just spend your points and combine your actions any way you want.

I’ve learned a few lessons from playing Divinity’s Action Point system. First and foremost is that everything is easier if you just charge Action Points for movement rather than if you try to make movement some sort of different, special action that doesn’t cost points and has its own rules. Making movement a different beast creates a whole host of problems that you can already see in 5e Dungeons and Dragons, which treats movement differently than all other actions (a backwards step, IMHO, from what 4e DnD did in that regard). One problem is that you need to write entirely different rules for the different types of actions: not just normal actions vs. movement, but interactions (for opening doors, drawing weapons, etc.), bonus actions, reactions, etc. Not only does this lead to rules bloat, but these types of actions are now even less comptabile and interchangeable now than they were in 4e DnD. In 4e for example, you used to be able to spend your standard action to charge (move-and-attack), but you can no longer do that. In 5e, characters have to buy a feat in order to be able merely to charge! Similarly, our group has been playing 5e (on and off) since it was released, but it was only last month that we realized that casting a spell as a bonus action prevents you from casting another spell as your normal action in the same turn. Who knew?

Another lesson that the developers of the Divinity series learned is to resist the temptation to give quicker characters more action points. Divinity 1 actually allowed this: characters got a bonus to their number of action points dependent on their Speed stat. This was unnecessary, however, because Speed already gave boosts to distance moved and initiative. It also created balance issues. So, in DOS2, all characters get the same number of AP to spend each turn (barring spells and special abilities).

The big news recently, which I mentioned above, is that Larian Studios is now busily at work on Baldur’s Gate III, which will use the 5e DnD ruleset. I will be eager to see what they do with it. Will they try to implement the 5e DnD style movement rules, which treats movement as a separate action that has different rules than all other types of actions? Or will they try to implement a more streamlined system like the one they used for the Divinity Games? I’m guessing the former, but I will be eager to find out.

For now, if you want a preview of what the RMu action economy is like, you can get a pretty good picture by playing Divinity. I have to say, it is not only simple and intiutive, it is also a lot of fun!

Edit: I just realized I should have noted that RMu currently offers two ways of handling movement: it allows you to pay AP to move, as I explained above (it calls this ‘Sequential Movement’); but it also allows you the alternative of not paying AP and instead incurring pace penalties to your actions for how far/fast you move. So if you really want to require your players to pull out a pace chart every time they move, you do have that second option (yes, that’s sarcasm!).

Edit2: One last thing to note is that Pathfinder 2 is going the Divinity route, and making movement just another action like all other actions (and without separate rules). In Pathfinder 2, players get 3 actions per turn instead of 4, but the basic idea is much the same. The developers quite eloquently explained why they made this choice, and how it enabled them to simplify their action economy and reduce the number of special rules they needed for unique types of actions, right here: https://paizo.com/community/blog/v5748dyo5lklh?All-About-Actions

13 Replies to “RMU Update: An Action Point System in Action — Divinity: Original Sin 2”

  1. For the system I’m working on I don’t think the fixed AP model works, but that’s because I’m using a different combat model. Think John Wick. Initiative alone doesn’t allow for the modeling of the kind of combat you see in things like that, nor does it really model the advantage training and experience provides (reloading, snap aiming, and all that stuff).
    I see the utility of fixed APs for an RMU-type situation (fantasy, having to account for magic, and so on), but I’ve never seen it work well in non-magic settings (which usually rely on a stat or a mechanic to give more skilled or experienced characters extra actions or abilities).
    I also plan on keeping movement tied to AP use. Kudos for pointing out the issues that can arise if you have two separate ‘systems’ for dealing with things that really only need one (whatever it happens to be: APs or something else entirely).

    1. Did you ever play Living Steel? It was a Sci Fi RPG that revolved around the use of powered armor (and mostly firearms/energy weapons) that I mentioned on the blog a few weeks back. It was totally obscure, but when I thought about it I had you in mind. It had some interesting rules for firearms combat; the main one that stuck in my mind was that they had charts for each firearm, with a graded scale of how accurate it was depending on how long you took to aim. I thought you might find that interesting (and the company I think went out of business, so you could probably find a .pdf online without becoming a pirate).

      I have heard a lot about ‘John Wick type combat’, but I haven’t seen any of the movies. Could you summarize what is unique about it?

      1. Combat in John Wick has been called “gun-fu,” and it’s a uniquely fascinating blend of HTH and firearms combat. What makes it unique to me is the smooth nature it has; Wick transitions from firearms to martial arts and back again using integrated moves and techniques. It’s also notable for actually using real ammo counts (Wick has to reload quite often) and multi-shot kills (modeling one firearms technique designed in theory for close combat but is also not as accurate as more traditional styles – you see Wick shifting techniques depending on his range from his opponents). I got to thinking of it in RM-type terms, and to model Wick’s fluidity (built in theory from years of training and experience) you really HAVE to give him more actions. Simply having initiative doesn’t capture the number of transitions he does in a combat round. He might not have more time, but his training allows him to make more efficient use of that time, which means more APs. It’s also interesting because the first move (at least) was low-budget and no serious special effects.

        Thanks for the game tip! I have a bad habit of collecting rules systems just because, and firearms ones are always interesting just to see how they try to wrap the game around them.

        1. Thanks for the explanation of Wick’s Gun Fu. I will have to check that out!

          In regards to giving more action points, I did want to note that I think it is crucial in an action point system to give out more action points per turn than the cost of a basic attack, or else you run into the problem of a static, turgid battle where no one wants to move because it will inhibit their attacks. One initial problem with RMu was that the AP allotment of 4 was the exact same as the cost of a full attack. This meant characters incurred penalties for even basic movement. By contrast, when I developed my own AP system, characters got 5 ap per round (a 5-second round) but a melee attack was only 3 ap. Similarly, in Divinity, a weapon attack is only 2 ap. This allows characters a reasonable chance to move around and fight; they don’t have to worry that moving two feet to the right will give them a -10 penalty to their attack.

          RMu has since adopted the solution of creating a ‘Footwork’ skill that eliminates penalties for movement, but that solution also presupposes that you treat movement differently than other actions, and are not charging characters AP to move. I’m not sure how that will all shake down, but I prefer to treat movement like any other action (i.e. charge AP for it), so I’ve just adopted a houserule of giving all characters one ‘free move’ per round.

          1. The option I’m testing now is having APs derived from a combination of stats (simple table). Each AP is equal to a quarter-second of game time, and my round is two seconds. No character can have more than 8 APs, so it never exceeds the actual time in the round. AP costs all feed into the time formula, and APs just represent how quickly a character can react/perform an action. Since stat gains come with levels, more experienced characters will have more APs naturally (reflecting their experience and training). I’m also using Initiative mostly to break AP ties and for declaration purposes. Still fine-tuning it a bit, but the goal is a more fluid system.

            1. I like sort of what you might be saying, though I don’t know your details. I like a physical speed stat+mental speed stat to determine = # actions per round. Very few games actually do such mechanic. Instead most move it over to a level or class secondary stat; or some separate it as an additional advantage/feat—if they do it at all.

              1. Skills come into play when you determine if an action is successful or not, but I don’t see why that should influence how many actions you can take. That’s a direct function (to me) of a character’s ability to process and react to things. That comes from stats. APs can and do increase as they improve their stats ( to the maximum of 8 APs per round…you can’t move faster than time in modern games). In the stuff I’m working on, APs come directly from DEX, although I’m also testing an interaction with INT (to model physical and mental reactions, although INT may be removed or replaced with another stat depending).

  2. Ironic that you mention Divinity. There is a huge sale on Steam Games for Divinity and all incarnations of it. I had put Divinity in my Wish List years ago when the game was first released. No I can get it for $7 (I believe).

    The action point system you are using is pretty much Fallout Tactics. Agility directly affects the number of AP and there are Perks that grant an extra AP if players want to invest.

    1. Yes, in fact Fallout (the original two games) were my prime inspiration when I devised my own action point system for RMU. That was between Beta1 and Beta2, and before RMU had even presented an action point system (the RM2 companions did have something like it,, but much more complicated and with many more action points per round).

      I highly recommend Divinity 2. It has a very goofy sense of humour that is not really my cup of tea, and can be a bit too cutesy, but if you can get beyond that, there is a surprising amount of depth to the combat and character building (lots of different viable builds), especially if you like elemental stuff (you can make it rain to create puddles of water, for example, then cast a lighting bolt into the puddles to electrocute enemies).

  3. What was wrong with the number of seconds it takes to….?
    Why are AP all the rage?
    Would it not have been easier to say 5AP if it was the new 5 sec rule.
    Heck, why don’t we just go to rolling time and do away with initiative except for conflicting actions? Then your reaction time is important in how fast you can respond to a new event. Bleeding might be a bit of a pain to track though.

    1. It would indeed have been easier to give characters 5 ap and make each ap equal about 1 second, but if you are using the Phased Round (each character spends an ap, then the next does, and there are five goes of that in a turn), it would slow down the game by adding an extra step to the turn. It would work fine in the Simple Round (where each character spends all his ap at once, then the next character goes) though. RMu offers both.

      Another option that we lobbied for was to instead reduce the length of the round to 4 seconds, so that each ap again equalled about 1 second. Then you really could just think of ap as seconds. I think you could certainly do that as a houserule (and I just might).

      You could also actually do away with rounds altogether too.

  4. The Pathfinder 2 SRD that I saw on the OGN has three actions. Action, Reaction, and Free Action—I’ve seen that in some other games, I forget which ones. I’m not in the PF2 playtest, but that looks slightly different than the Pathfinder Unchained variation that they tried, the Simple Action (1pt), Advance Action (2pt), and Free Action (0pt)—though the end result may be slightly similar. Did Paizo change from the action-reaction-free action in the 2.0 SRD?

    1. I’m not sure. I haven’t played Pathfinder, but I have been reading up a bit on their development process, and I will be at GenCon for the PF2 launch (that’s probably the game I’m most interesting in seeing played).

      The gist of their development update about actions was that by treating movement as any other form of action, they were able to reduce the number of actions in the game. There would no longer be ‘move actions’, ‘standard actions’, ‘full round actions’, etc. There would just be actions: you get three of these on your turn, and then, if triggers are met, you could also take a reaction on someone else’s turn. So basically the standard allotment for actions per turn was ‘three actions and a reaction’. That sounds to me pretty close to RMU’s ‘four action points and an instantaneous action’, though RMu’s instantaneous actions are a bit different than PF2’s reactions.

      I’m really looking forward to trying PF2 at GenCon.

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