Learning from HEART: Give your scenes HP



So, I have been busy with work and playing other games (always looking for cool easy mechanics that can be used in other games, playing TTRPGs is like being at a really cool buffet).
Last weekend I GMed some HEART: The City Beneath and found a solution to a “problem” I have been thinking about for quite some time (not a big revelation, I am just slow at realising things). I wanted to somehow abstract HP from enemies and give a whole situation or scene a threat level and something that needs to be overcome to resolve a scene.

I like the idea of a crisis pool, a mechanic used in Cortex Prime. The GM assembles a dice pool representing the threats in a scene and players roll and try to chip away at the dice pool removing dice from it. When all dice from the crisis pool are gone, the situation is resolved and the GM narrates the outcome.
ICRPG is not a dice pool system, though. So for some time I didn’t really know how I could translate a similar feel to an ICRPG-game (if at all).

Last weekend I was GMing HEART. HEART is a pointcrawl-adventure that reminds me a lot of Darkest Dungeon. Players venture forth into an underground city, delving into the depths to find treasure. The game is divided into starting at a landmark going into a delve. Landmarks are safe havens, where people regenrate the stress they incur, while delves are the dangerous dungeon-bits.

The interesting thing about delves is that they have a kind of statblock that looks like this:

ROUTE: delves are connections from A to B, so instead of some kind of travel montage one could use a delve as a template instead
TIER: every delve has a tier ranging from 0 to 3 to indicate how stable reality is going to be and how weird things are going to get, this could be represented by a target number
DOMAINS: same as for landmarks
STRESS: Characters in HEART don’t have hitpoints they have resistance tracks and can suffer stress to them.
RESISTANCE: This is the interesting bit. Delves have hitpoints in a way, which players have to collectively inflict for a delve to be over.
DESCRIPTION: a longform area description (could also be bullet points to keep it concise)
EVENTS: which can be a bulleted list of encounters while on the delve or a specific goal to accomplish within the delve (like establishing a connection between two landmarks or killing an adversary in the delve etc.).

What caught my attention was the idea of giving a delve hitpoints. For an ICRPG-game we could also give a scene hitpoints and apply an already existing rule: Effort is not only damaging things (although that seems to be the default) but could also mean appling effort to a task to resolve it.
Giving a scene hitpoints in an ICRPG-game could therefore look like this:

  • Cultists of the Drowned Queen and floods of water are coming towards the Temple of the Moon-Beneath
  • Help Sister Arielle to perform the warding ritual to keep the city from drowning (:heart::heart:)
  • define things characters can do to apply effort (and “damage” the scene to resolve it, work with timers to create time pressure)
  • build barriers to keep the waters at bay (D4)
  • lead the inhabitants of the city to safety (D6)
  • fight the cultists to keep them from entering the temple (D8)
  • help Sister Arielle chanting incantations (D10)

In this way, it’s not about fighting the cultists and killing them (because they have no individual hitpoits) but about trying to find other ways to “damage” the scene. Making checks and rolling effort stays the same (although the effort categories on the character sheet strictly do not apply here aymore), but this opens up the possibility for homebrewing abilites that are not combat-related.
What do you think? Does this sound like a hassle? Does it sound cool? Do you have alternative takes on the idea? Let me know and take care y’all. :slight_smile:

HEARTS as Distance, EFFORT as Travel
Hex Crawling with HEARTS & EFFORT
Travel as Challenge
Game design book, Ryuutama, and thanks to Runehammer

Holy smokes, this is an eyeopener for me. I love the idea of effort, but always thought it will get boring soon like always doing the same. Your thinking sparked so much Ideas, what I could do…
Thanks for sharing. :heart:


Dude. You should mention the cool character classes that could be converted to ICRPG from Heart and Spire:The city must fall. In my own game I’m am experimenting with idea of PCs having several types of “hit points”, including what I call Blood, Coin, Mind, and Honor. I will post more about that later.


Is this all one “room”? Curious because in my mind these would probably be several rooms with a timer to complete them all or X successes.

Your method sounds especially great for TotM, or resolving longer tasks quickly.

If I understood you correctly, this reminds me of clocks from BitD, combined with the defining question of a scene.

Every room/ scene has a single defining question. When it’s answered, you transition to the next.

For example: can the players stop the cataclysm?

The size of the clock is how difficult the task is, more ticks mean more effort needed

Usually, the level of success determines how many “ticks” of the clock are filled, but you can easily swap that. I normally think of this mechanic on a smaller scale (like completing each sub-goal on your list) but this is very interesting when applied to the whole session.

Thanks for the share!


this is something i picked up pretty quickly on ICRPGs potential and has been really fun the few chances ive gotten to try it out. Though i did it pretty simplistically i think there is a lot of potential to dig deep into it. Ive mostly used it for travel, like finding their way through a swamp after crashing a ship. Helping stop cultist from flooding a temple sounds like it would be really fun!


I really like this. Making a scene political in nature seems a lot easier in your proposal with with traditional Hearts.

In a kings’s council chamber, there are no guns, knives or bombs, so the usual effort dice don’t really apply as cleanly. But, using effort dice to describe the effect of various arguments and power positions, that could get really fascinating.

Excellent idea. I might use/steal this for a Lancer game I’m starting up.


I’d say this is one scene, except the scene has hitpoints. Does not need to be one room, as the above example shows. Could also be a whole village being invaded by cultists of the Drowned Queen, while some people help the warding ritual in the temple, others fight the cultists at the periphery of the village or try to get villagers out of the village in the other direction etc.

I really should play BitD. :sweat_smile: Having a dice pool with ternary outcomes offers more granularity then a binary d20 + modifier against target number of course (one could try to map, say, PbtA-probabilities on a d20 roll, but why not play a PbtA-game instead? :D).


I think one has to be a bit more freeform with effort types. ICRPG Master Edition codifies a D4 as basic, D6 as weapon and so on (as if doing damage with weapons, guns, magic etc. is the only thing to do here).
I would probably get rid of the combat-codified effort types, so I’m able to say “Bribing a guard” is D4 effort and D6 effort on a hard roll etc.

Giving hitpoints to a scene shouldn’t be overdone though and might sometimes not be the best way to handle things. In the king’s council chamber, I would probably solely rely on roleplay and rolls. Giving the scene hitpoints makes the whole encounter into a minigame and takes away the fun from roleplaying the interaction, I think.


Consider checking out Ironsworn: Delve or Ludic Pen’s “Quest Fronts” for additional inspiration. For the curious, Rowan, Rook and Decard have published the Heart/Spire game engine mechanics as a pay-what-you-want download (see The Resistance Toolbox).


This makes me think of “Skill Challenges” but since ICRPG doesn’t have skills, it’s up to the player to use their inginuity within the context to do something to progress the narrative.


A cross-link to some other ideas as well.


You could almost have the enemy or contesting group work against you to fill the hearts back up or deplete the hearts before you.

Very interesting. Almost like a chase in ICRPG.


Also noteworthy (and inspired by @FilBot3’s work): Hex Crawling with HEARTS & EFFORT


I have used hearts for important social encounters similar to The One Ring before and it tends to work out well. If say a King has prejudice or the PCs have evidence we just adjust the Effort Dice to whatever seems fair or make rolls EASY/HARD accordingly. The timer and usually just one or two Hearts seems to work.

Using your idea for giving an entire scene like that heart makes me think it would work in other situations too. I don’t think I’d use all the time (just like I don’t always use Timers) but it could work in some neat way.

Example: Preparing Defenses Against a Siege

Question: How do you know when you have done enough prepping? Just give it a Heart or two and after each preparation they get to roll Effort.

They prep the catapults - roll effort
They prep hot oil - roll Effort
Brace the gates - roll Effort
Send out Scouts - roll Effort
Train Pikemen - roll Effort
Set up barriers -roll Effort

Is that the main idea?


I come back to re-read this sometimes.

Right now I’m motivated to do the following for my next investigative session:

  • As the PCs start investigating, they’ll earn some information (with no roll) that will draw their attention.
  • They’ll investigate more and more with CHECKS and will gain new puzzle pieces.
  • Once they’ve reached a :heart: of investigational effort, they will reveal everything in that scene.
  • Meanwhile the timer keeps ticking.

I’m not sure if that’s a good idea but at least that’s what came to my mind after reading this again :slight_smile:


We think that Effort is one of the best ideas Hankerin added to the rpg hobby. We also feel that it is under used most of the time. We will be using it for many different things as we continue developing The Sword Marches for ICRPG.

Thanks for sharing this info. I’m glad to see other likeminded GM’s out there! :slight_smile:


Yeah, that’s the main idea. In this particular case there’s lots of things you could also tie it to timers and other conditions related to how much effort the players invested.

Prep for the siege :heart::heart::heart::heart:

  • load the catapults and supply ammunition D6
  • boil the oil D6
  • brace the gates D10
  • set up barriers D8
  • send out scouts D4

You have D6 rounds to prepare.

  • 4 :heart: of effort left: put some conditions here
  • 3 :heart: of effort left: put some conditions here
  • 2 :heart: of effort left: put some conditions here
  • 1 :heart: of effort left: put some conditions here

I think there should be an element of time-pressure involved otherwise rolling all the time might turn into a slog.

The cool thing about giving scenes hitpoints is that you can then also homebrew special feats for characters:
“Hey, so my character has the talent siege expert so every time I prepare or help in something related to a siege, I always roll max effort.” or something like that.


I am a big fan of backgrounds from 13th Age and think if people want more narrative injected in their game without coming up with an exhaustive skill list, they should simply use backgrounds, define a cap for them and enjoy. They reify story as this article explains: https://pelgranepress.com/2013/05/24/13th-age-backgrounds/

The main idea is this: you get 8 points to distribute in your backgrounds. They cap at +5 and can be used instead of skills to explain why you should add your background’s rating to a roll.
For example:
Player: My character’s background is Only a Few Survived Being Monster Bait +5 so I think, because I was always used as bait for really fast beasts, I sometimes have nearly preternatural reflexes and should add the +5 to my roll to dodge that attack.
GM: That’s cool. Why were you used as monster bait?
Player: I stole a bone comb from the village’s mayor and was sold to those mercenaries called… what’s a cool name?
Other player: What about Monsters & Mercenaries. Their leader is an orcish woman with an eye patch that she wears for effect and to cover her magical eye.
GM and Player: Hell yeah, what a cool idea!


I like the idea of time based bonuses or traits. Nest concept will try it out!