Author’s Diary for February 11, 2020

We’re rounding out the mechanics that players can use to control the story with Covenant’s version of hero points. Read below the fold to learn more.

Many roleplaying games have some kind of “hero point” or “brownie point” system that the players can use to improve rolls or their characters’ situation. Covenant is no different.

Characters get one token at the end of each chapter. They can use this to buy assets or improve their ties to give them more Discipline. However, they can also save their tokens and spend them during the game to control the story.

Spending a token to control the story gives the character one of several benefits, including:

  • Editing a scene to give the character an edge or an item that will help xir
  • Recharging all scene damage or assets
  • Curing all conditions and drains
  • Automatically succeeding at a bid or forcing another character to fail a bid

I keep coming back to this question: is this kind of player control over the story appropriate for a science-fiction game? Especially one that is making at least some attempt to be hard science fiction.

I think the key word there is “story”. If this was a simulationist game, then yes. Players shouldn’t have this much control over the game’s engine. That’s because you’re trying to simulate reality, or at least the reality of the game.

Covenant, on the other hand, leans heavily into the narrativism corner of the GNS triangle. It is, to get pretentious for a minute, cooperative storytelling, with the players telling the story alongside the Force Majeure (FM). If that’s the case, they should have some direct control over the story – maybe not as much as the FM, the main storyteller, but some.

Getting back yet again to The Cold Equations, you could see the story as a scene in a roleplaying game. If it was a simulationist game then, according to the game’s laws of physics, Barton’s ship wouldn’t have enough fuel to soft-land on Woden while carrying him and Marilyn, so the FM Tom Godwin would tell Barton’s player to toss Marilyn out the airlock if he wants to survive. Or you can see it as a narrativist game, where Marilyn’s player opts to sacrifice her character in order to save Barton’s player and the NPCs on Woden.

Different paths. Same destination. Both paradigms apply, but each in its own way.

Here’s what I wrote today.


  • Tokens can be used as “hero points” or “brownie points” during chapters.
  • A player can spend 1 of her character’s unspent tokens at any time during a chapter for 1 of the following benefits:
    • Scene Edit: Edit a scene to gain something beneficial
      • EXAMPLE:
        • Cover to hide behind
        • A weapon capable of harming a powerful foe
        • A necessary ingredient for a recipe
    • Second Wind: Immediately recharge all scene damage
    • Recharge: Immediately recharge all traits, abilities, and gear
    • Cure: Remove all conditions and drains
    • Succeed:
      • Automatically succeed at 1 bid
      • Cancels out another character’s Fail use of xir tokens
    • Fail:
      • Force another character to fail 1 bid
      • Cancels out another character’s Succeed use of xir tokens
  • Characters can share tokens like traits and discipline.

That’s it for now. Talk to you later.

Published by radiofreecovenant

A podcast about the science-fiction roleplaying game "Covenant" and the urban fantasy novel "Crossing the Line", soon to be published by Black Opal Books.

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