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Chapter 4: Subsystems

Victory Points

Source GM Core pg. 184
You'll often find that your games could use a way to track progress toward a goal so that you don't have to just keep everything in your head. This section explains how to build your own subsystems for tracking success via Victory Points. Many other subsystems throughout the chapter use these as well, though often by a different name.

Victory Points (or VP) are a powerful tool in your GM arsenal, as they allow you to track the PCs' progress using a subsystem to go beyond the results of a single check. Victory Points are versatile; you could track and resolve them within a single encounter, or you could collect them over the course of an entire campaign to determine the ending of the story.

Naming Your Victory Points

Source GM Core pg. 184
It can be fun to rename your Victory Points, to better reflect the subsystem they track. The term “Victory Points” is unspecific, so you can create a name for your Victory Points that fits the theme of your adventure and helps the players feel more like they are taking part in the type of activity your subsystem represents. Examples of renamed VPs include Influence Points (page 187), Infiltration Points (page 196), Research Points (page 190), and Reputation Points (page 200). The name should be representative, and the PCs should understand what it refers to. You can leave off the word “Points” if you prefer, though this section often retains it while describing how Victory Points can be used.

Victory Point Subsystem Structures

Source GM Core pg. 184
There are a few common structures for tracking Victory Points that you might use for your new subsystem. You could come up with a structure based off one of the subsystems below, or you could create your own completely different structure if none of them match the way you’re running your game. The most important thing is to consider how the PCs or their opposition gain or lose various forms of Victory Points.

Accumulating Victory Points

Source GM Core pg. 184
The most common structure is to accumulate Victory Points toward a total, either stopping after reaching a success threshold or collecting as many Victory Points as possible in a given time frame and then measuring the results against various thresholds. The influence subsystem on page 187 is a great example of this structure in action: each PC has a certain number of chances to influence various NPCs, and after reaching a particular threshold of Victory Points with an NPC, the PCs have convinced that NPC.

In a variation of this structure, the PCs' adversaries can also accumulate Victory Points, giving the PCs a moving target—either to reach the goal before the adversary or to have more Victory Points than the adversary at the end of a given time frame. This is a great structure for you to use in a situation where the PCs face opposition rather than having the PCs accumulate Victory Points while adversaries decrease the total, since it's dynamic and less at risk of resulting in a stalemate.

You can track a subsystem at a larger scale, like over the course of an adventure or campaign, by granting the PCs Victory Points for achieving difficult goals or making particular decisions. Such subsystems usually ask the PCs to compare their accumulated Victory Points against several ranked tiers that each having varying results on the story. Typically these results become more positive for the PCs as they acquire more Victory Points, but sometimes succeeding too fully could have unintended consequences, like convincing the workers to support a rebellion so thoroughly that it riles up a mob. If you're making your own subsystem, you might not define these ranks in full, but just use your best guess at the end.

Accumulating Rolls

Source GM Core pg. 184
In cases where the PCs need to make checks to gain Victory Points, the amount they get for the degrees of success is up to you. The default scale detailed below works in most cases.
Critical Success The PCs gain 2 Victory Points.
Success The PCs gain 1 Victory Point.
Critical Failure The PCs lose 1 Victory Point.

This means that the result of a PC's check usually results in the party gaining either 1 or no Victory Points. However, specialized PCs have a solid chance of earning the party 2 Victory Points, and hare-brained schemes have a fair chance of losing the PCs 1 Victory Point.

Diminishing Victory Points

Source GM Core pg. 185
Using this method, the PCs start with a certain number of Victory Points, and rather than accumulating them, they attempt to avoid losing them. Perhaps the PCs are trying to keep dragon eggs from cracking, or are otherwise attempting to minimize damage, loss, or danger. This variant is less common, but it’s great at conveying the urgency of a situation as the PCs lose points. Sometimes it’s necessary to add that sense of tension with this subsystem! Typically, when the PCs lose all their Victory Points, a negative event occurs. If they’re on a timer, the final results might be better the more points they manage to keep before the time runs out.

Diminishing Rolls

Source GM Core pg. 185
Using this structure, the PCs typically lose Victory Points as a result of failed checks, though they can still lose them for making particularly poor decisions or behaving recklessly. Once again, you can use any scaling consequences that make sense, but the default degrees of success are as follows.
Critical Success If regaining ground is possible, the PCs gain 1 Victory Point. Otherwise, as success.
Success The PCs avoid losing any Victory Points.
Failure The PCs lose 1 Victory Point.
Critical Failure The PCs lose 2 Victory Points.

Multiple Point Subsystems

Source GM Core pg. 185
In a multiple point subsystem, you have more than one point system, each measuring something different. For example, in a long-distance race, the PCs and their opponents both try to gain their own Marathon Points, and whoever gets to 10 points first wins!

Infiltration on page 196 offers a different example of a Victory Point subsystem with multiple types of points. PCs try to get a certain number of Infiltration Points to successfully infiltrate a location while avoiding giving Awareness Points to their enemies through failure.

Consider combining the multiple points with a time factor, like in infiltrations, where the PCs automatically accrue Awareness Points over time at a slow rate.

Obstacles and DCs

Source GM Core pg. 185
When preparing your subsystem, think of the obstacles PCs might face or avenues they can exploit when engaging in your subsystem. Set some DCs for them in advance, using the normal system for setting DCs. Everything else, you can improvise on the spot. If you think your DCs will be higher overall, when you set the number of points needed, choose a value on the lower end (see Setting your Scale below).

Think of some possibilities that are much easier and some that are harder. Who are your PCs opposing, and what weak points might that opposition have that the PCs could exploit? Set those DCs lower or make overcoming them grant more VP. PCs who do their research or come up with clever strategies should find it easier to overcome the challenge.

Setting Your Scale

Source GM Core pg. 185
The number of points it takes to reach a goal will greatly affect how your subsystem feels during play. If you want the subsystem to be used for a single scene, such as one negotiation with a powerful NPC, set the number lower than if it's meant to take up most or all of a game session. The Victory Point Scales table (page 186) suggests possible values for your Victory Point scale. The “adventure-wide” scale is for subsystems that are part of a larger narrative, granting Victory Points when the PCs overcome entire encounters or dungeons, rather than as an encounter unfolds.

This larger scale is intended for subsystems that take a lot of the party's focus. A subsystem that runs in the background during an adventure should use a smaller scale. This is usually the “adventure-wide, sideline” value. It could be even lower, such as if you have a dungeon-based adventure including several opportunities to interact with a kobold tribe to get some small benefits. Though they appear throughout the adventure, you would use a lower value because attaining the VP is a minor part of the story. In fact, you might choose not to use a VP subsystem at all.

The table also lists numbers for one or more thresholds. These are the point values at which the PCs get a partial benefit (or, for a diminishing subsystem, take a drawback). You should grant partial benefits when the PCs reach a certain threshold or introduce twists to the subsystem to ensure they continue to feel engaged and rewarded over time.

Table 3-1: Victory Point Scales

Duration of ChallengeVP End PointVP Thresholds
Quick encounter3–5
Long encounter7–104
Most of a session15–255, 10, 15
Adventure-wide, sideline15–205, 10, 15
Adventure-wide, forefront25–5010, 20, 30, 40

The values also depend on various factors. These might include the DCs, the number of chances the PCs get to gain Victory Points, and the flexibility of how the PCs can deploy themselves (for example, if PCs are all forced to try something they might not be trained in, it could cause critical failures). They might also include the amount of effort the PCs need to spend on tasks that don't directly earn Victory Points—such as checks to Discover information about NPCs using the Influence subsystem. Keep all these in mind when deciding what end point you want to use.

Running your Subsystem

Source GM Core pg. 186
When running your new subsystem, be sure to keep the challenges fresh by using a variety of different skills and options to encourage creativity and cooperation, rather than just using the same check over and over again, where PCs can expect diminishing returns. You can also use timers to encourage each PC to participate or even create mechanics that directly encourage each PC to participate, like setting penalties for the same PC attempting checks repeatedly, or for two PCs attempting the same check.

You can even have challenges that require all the PCs to participate. For instance, if the party's host is welcoming every guest individually, each PC might have to make an impression in their own way, or during infiltration, each PC might have to test their ability to Impersonate or Sneak. You'll likely find that some approaches should be automatic successes if they're well-suited to the task, or automatic failures for ideas that are likely impossible.


Source GM Core pg. 186
How you structure rewards for your subsystem depends greatly on its scope. A subsystem resolved in a single sitting usually gives accomplishment XP unless it is particularly demanding, in which case it could be considered a full-scale encounter. Meanwhile, subsystems that span over the course of multiple sessions or the entire campaign might generate accomplishment XP at meaningful milestones along the way. If you have a long-spanning subsystem that’s fairly low profile and behind the scenes or is not success-oriented, such as a subsystem to track what type of ruler the PCs’ patron will become based on the PCs’ decisions, you might not give XP directly from the subsystem, since in that case “success” is undefined.