BIND's Story Point System

The Problem

While I'd hope to rock up at the gaming table and just game with friends, the DM had other ideas. Everyone had to write a character back-story.

Having three jobs at the time, I didn't feel enamoured with my homework, but a while later, I had read enough about the campaign world to begin writing something that could fit into it.

A few people had character backstories which entered the plot, but not mine. I could see why - with five players, the DM had a monumental task ahead to fit all of those ideas into an existing campaign, and limited time.

I didn't mention the story itself. Very few people can write well, and hearing other people's backstories showed this well enough that I didn't want to add anything to the drove of standard back-stories. The stories all made sense, nothing cringe, but I couldn't see anyone really feeling engaged with them. A halfling had lots of siblings. An elf was very rich. Standard stuff.

Well, mostly standard. The rich elf meant this character required loads more starting money than any other character. It made sense for the story, but from the point of view of the rules, one player just received a whole bunch of free stuff.

The Solution

Each player in BIND starts with five Story Points, and spends them at any point to add some small deus ex machina from their history. If the party encounter elves plotting something in Elvish in the local tavern, one player might declare 'I know elvish'. The player then has to justify how they know elvish. Perhaps their home village regularly traded with elves. Perhaps they learned so many elvish songs that they eventually learned the language properly.

Any reason should get a pass, so long as it makes sense.

At this point, we can ignore two problems: no more homework, and no more dull backstories. Each player only lets out a small amount of their character's backstory when that story helps the party, and anything which helps the immediate situation should interest the rest of the players.

Compare these two:

I come from the streets of a major city.

1    "ok?"

I can pick this lock. Despite training as an alchemist, I grew up on the streets and had to steal to survive.

1    "Cool! So you can get us in?"

Players can also spend points on gaining fabulous wealth, or knowing many languages. This solves the fairness problem - everyone spends points as they please, so nobody gets ripped off by the system, but the system still supports outlandish, varied, backgrounds; including fabulous riches. This problem of non-varied backgrounds shows a problem solved that I initially missed - D&D characters should all come from nothing, with no friends, cash, or special backgrounds, as far as the system goes. The as-written rules can only promote murder-hobo backgrounds, who start with 3D6 silver pieces.

Lastly, the DM no longer needs to accommodate anyone's tales. Character's don't need to show a large family by writing it down, then having the DM plan those family members, and then shoe-horn them somewhere into a pre-written plot. Instead, they can spend all their Story Points introducing helpful family members to help the group out of trouble. The third time someone walks into a village and says 'oh it's my cousin Margaret', the entire group has firmly understood and established that this character has a massive family. When a character spends all their points knowing obscure languages and facts, we can see they have spent their life studying.

Without a single plan plotted, or anyone having to read about the world's background, the party's backstories all make sense and gain relevance to the current scenario.

Unexpected Bonuses

Additionally, the Story Point system provides deus ex machina moments, where a party in over its head can demand the plot save them, but only so many times.

Another unexpected use for the system came later, when dealing with the general problem of player character death. Players already have the ability to introduce allies, and for an additional Story Point, those allies can have the Combat and Projectiles Skills. This lead to a natural conclusion: whenever a player character dies, they must select from the pool of non-player characters, introduced via Story Points. This means that once Gerald the Alchemist, and Spritz the elven archer have come into the game, and played a part, they can return, and join the party on their quest, as people already known to the party, and aware of previous missions (and perhaps some wider plot-arc). Having someone's identical brother, named 'Fighter Number 2', show up and replace the old character simply won't happen.

System Failures

Nobody spends any fucking points.

Story Points don't regenerate. They exist to create a story, then cease. As a result, players don't spend any, fearing they may need them for later. The only remedy I could think of? Grant XP simply for spending the points. I've not played a game since implementing this ugly kludge, so I can't say if the incentive scheme will work.

For all the uses of the system, and despite players universally liking the idea of the system, very few actually use it.