The crew in our game are the heroes of a story (even if they don’t always act the part). While they don’t always succeed (or even survive) every situation, the game wouldn’t be much fun if they always failed miserably at everything they tried to do. Impulse Points (or IP for short) are a way for major characters in the game to add a little drama to the story. Alongside the Luck advantage, they represent your best hope for evening the odds or turning the tables.
IP can be used to improve the odds for important actions, prevent someone from getting killed or badly injured, or even used to alter the story. Just note, however, that the Game Master gets a few Impulse Points for his important Non-Players Characters,
Mal: “I am a lost lamb. What in the hell happened back there?”
Wash: “Start with the part where Jayne gets knocked out by a ninety pound girl. ‘Cause I don’t think that’s ever getting old.”
Each character starts play with 6 Impulse Points. IP can be spent or saved as the player sees fit, but only 6 IP can be saved between game sessions, unless certain Advantages are bought (only at character creation or for a damn good reason). Once used, those IP are gone forever, but each Session of play restores 1 IP to a character’s pool (but not over his IP cap). There are other ways of gaining IP, however…
Impulse Points are awarded throughout the game, and their allocation is solely at the discretion of the GM. The general rule is that Impulse Points should be given out as a reward for good role-playing. Here are just a few possible rewards:
- “That was cool!”: The player comes up with a great idea, engages in some superior role playing, or just does something so gorram cool it must be acknowledged. Toss him a IP to encourage that sort of thing!
- Disadvantage in Play: A character’s Disadvantage makes life more difficult for her. Impulse Points ease the pain.
- Completed a Challenge: The character or group makes it through a threatening situation or overcomes a significant obstacle. This could be something physically dangerous—such as a fight, defusing a bomb, preventing the ship from crashing. It could also be a mental or social challenge, including completing a difficult negotiation, gaining access to a forbidden location, etc. The more challenging the situation, the more points awarded.
- Personal Goal: A character achieves an important personal goal in the current story. This could be anything from gaining a piece of information to acting out vengeance on a hated foe. Note these are personal goals specific to a smaller story. If a character achieves a life-long personal goal, such as buying his own Firefly, the rewards should be substantially higher!
- Crew Goal: This is a reward for each player for succeeding in an important mission. For example, the crew of Serenity obtains some illegal salvage and successfully outmaneuvers undercover Alliance marshals, Reavers, and Niska’s thugs to get paid. When they do, everyone deserves the Impulse Point reward (and hopefully a share in the cash).
Each player can decide how to make use of his hard-earned Impulse Points. Just remember that only 6 Impulse Points can be saved in between game sessions.
Impulse Points are a way for the GM to reward good roleplaying without penalizing the long-term character progression of those players who might not always take a front seat in the series. Remember, every player gets the same number of Character Points as a reward after each episode, but amazing role-playing can gain a player many Impulse Points to spend along the way.
Now, what can you do with Impulse Points? That’s a very good question…
When a character spends Impulse Points on success roll, the player gains an extra d6 to roll for every 3 IP spent. The player then takes the best (lowest) 3d6 out of the dice pool for his skill roll.
A player can spend points to alter the outcome of his immediately previous success roll. This is generally more expensive than spending points before the roll. Each Impulse Point spent decreases the dice total by only 1. Note that you are allowed to spend Impulse Points both before and after the roll.
Example: Mal is riding horseback through some light scrub with an angry lynch mob hot on his tail. (Why can’t things ever just go smooth?) He sees a small ravine up ahead. Mal decides to make the horse jump the ravine. The GM decides that this is a Hard task and assigns a -5 modifier on Mal’s Riding (Equines) skill of 16, giving him an effective skill of 11. Mal’s player decides to spend 6 IP, so instead of rolling 3d6, he rolls 5d6 and takes the best (lowest) 3. He rolls and gets (5) (4) (4) (5) (6). Tzao-gao! Even with the extra two dice, the total is still a 13 – failure! Instead of allowing Mal and the horse to plummet into the ravine, Mal’s player decides to go ahead and fork over 2 additional IP to convert his failure into a success. Mal’s horse makes it over, sending a cascade of rocks and dirt clods down into the ravine.
When a player is required to attempt a success roll that he wants to fail or even critically fail, apply these point costs in the other direction; e.g., 3 IP spent beforehand adds a d6 to the roll – then take the worst (highest) 3d6 or each IP spent “after the fact” increases the dice total by 1. This has its uses! For instance, a deadly warrior, mind-controlled to attack a defenseless ally, might spend points to critically miss and drop his weapon, while an interrogation victim may prefer paying once to fail a HT roll that means he passes out from torture to purchasing a success each time he’s asked a question and blows his Will roll to resist Interrogation.
Simple success or failure doesn’t always matter as much as the margin.
Upgrading Margins: If the player rolls a natural success but with a margin so narrow that he may face miserable defeat – especially in a Quick Contest – he can still spend Impulse Points “after the fact” to decrease his dice total to achieve the desired margin of success.
Note that bought critical successes are forbidden in certain situations:
- No buying critical hits in combat
- No buying critical successes on certain Influence rolls or Resisted abilities (GM’s determination)
- No buying critical successes in situations where they visit critical failure, serious injury, or comparable disaster upon an NPC or a fellow PC.
- GM has the final say on whether or not IP can be spent in a given situation
A second important use of impulse points is Player Guidance A player can spend points to add a plausible element to the scene or game world. He may only do so immediately after making a success roll and obtaining a success or a critical success, or in a situation that didn’t call for a roll in the first place. He cannot mitigate the effects of failure or critical failure this way – that’s what Improving Actions and Buying Success is for!
Tank: So what do you need? Besides a miracle.
Neo: Guns. Lots of guns.
In addition to being plausible, the suggestion must be acceptable to the GM and the other players. Acceptable suggestions are ones that are imaginative, move the plot forward, or save a PC’s life. The GM will not approve a suggestion that would short-circuit the plot, contradict a previously established fact, or harm or steal the scene from another PC. In borderline cases, the player(s) and GM can negotiate.
After weighing the above considerations, the GM sets the price for the proposed addition to the scene or world:
- Minor: An element that fits the scene perfectly – one the GM might have included if he had thought of it first. 1 point.
- Moderate: A believable coincidence or addition, similar to the effects of Serendipity (p. B83). 2-3 points.
- Major: Something that, while plausible, stretches disbelief – anyone watching would find the result quite unexpected! 4 or more points.
If the player proposes this addition after rolling a critical success, and wants the effect he’s proposing to replace the usual benefits of a critical success, reduce all of these costs by 1 point, to a minimum of 1 point.
The GM will make a note of any element added using this rule, as it becomes a permanent part of the game world!
All of the above assumes that the situation is one the PC can usefully exploit. He may need to make further success rolls to do so, but as the addition is permanent, he can keep trying if he fails. Occasionally, however, the proposed change is fleeting, and if the hero fails his first roll to exploit it, his points are wasted. In the interest of fairness, when the player specifies an adjustment to the world that merely lets him attempt something once, reduce the cost by 1 point, again to a minimum of 1 point.
Example: Zoe is exploring a small abandoned town on Whitefall and the GM has determined that she’s perilously close to some Alliance Goons. She requests a Hearing roll, which succeeds. He tells the player that Zoe hears footsteps nearby.
Zoe is not a run-and-gun maniac, so her player wants to avoid close-range trouble. If the player proposes, “I sneak up behind some safe, solid-looking rubble to take a look,” the GM might charge 1 point; he didn’t specify any rubble, but an abandoned town has tons of it, and his guarantee that it isn’t dangerous or crumbly, and is substantial enough to stop at least one attack, is worth a point. If she suggests, “I climb the rusty steel trestle of an old water tower and peer over the rise,” the GM might want 2 points; he hadn’t mentioned any tower, but as Zoe is in a ruined frontier town, it’s plausible. And if she says, “I enter a mostly intact saloon building, bar the doors behind me, and snipe from a 3rd-floor window,” the GM might insist on 4 points; a defensible 3-story building would be a valuable find! In all cases, the new scenery (solid rubble, rusty tower, or building) becomes a lasting part of the landscape – at least until it’s attacked by Reavers again…
Zoe’s player would pay a point less (1, 1, or 3 points) if the original Hearing roll was a critical success, or if the GM requires a Stealth roll to reach cover, with any failure meaning that the Alliance soldiers cut her off before she gets there. If both situations apply, then even the building would cost just 2 points, so the player might as well ask for that!
Only suggestions offered with one particular PC or player’s personal benefit in mind cost points. Players ought to feel free to propose interesting plot directions without fear of being charged for it! A useful test is for the GM to ask himself whether he would award bonus points (p. B498) out of gratitude for a wonderful idea. If he would, then it’s simpler to incorporate the recommendation, avoid the accounting, and neither charge nor award points. And when the answer to “Who benefits?” is “The entire group, including the GM, because it tells a better story,” it should never cost anybody anything.
The most basic ways to spend points to stay alive, intact, and sane are covered under Improving Actions & Buying Success. Purchasing successful defense and resistance rolls ought to do. However, even if those options are used, danger doesn’t always come in the form of attacks that can be dodged, curses that can be resisted, and scares that can be shrugged off.
There will come times during a game when you’ll want your character to not be dead. As we’ve said often enough—the ‘Verse is a dangerous place. One bullet might put you over the top as far as HP goes, and some hwoon dahn out there is using auto-fire against you! Whenever you take damage, you have the option of spending Impulse Points to reduce it. Essentially, you’re doing a quick re-write of the story—making sure you live to the next scene.
Immediately after you suffer damage, you may declare that the attack that damaged you (which can include multiple hits, if your foe used rapid fire) was a glancing blow or “just a flesh wound” (you hope). This lets you reduce the final injury from that attack by 1d6 per 3 IP.
Be aware that this rule affects injury, not damage. If the hit inflicted knockback, knockdown, stunning, unconsciousness, crippling, or the like, those effects persist. In true cinematic tradition, a graze from a giant’s club can hurl the hero across the room, a bullet in the shoulder can cripple his arm, and a head blow with a tire iron can “just” knock him out, even if he’s in no danger of dying.
You can use Impulse Points to deal with damage, but you have to do so as soon as the GM announces it. You can’t go back later and decide you would like to reduce damage dealt from a previous injury. Another thing to keep in mind is that you’re stuck with the results of the roll. If it comes up as a 1, deal with it and call for a medic.
Example: Shepherd Book is caught in the crossfire when a negotiation between Mal and a potential buyer goes south. Book catches a bullet that does 12 points of damage after armor (injury) – some serious damage! Book’s player opts to spend 6 Impulse Points, and rolls 2d6 to reduce the damage. He lucks out and rolls (4) (6), reducing the damage to 2 points. Book is hit but the bullet lodges in his copy of the Bible, stunning him slightly and knocking him down from the impact.
Note that the GM does not announce that Book saved himself by spending 6 Impulse Points! The GM provides an exciting account of Book diving head-first into a ditch as the bullets kick up dust all around him.