99.99999 percent of all Pathfinder games are about brave heroes delving into forgotten ruins and making a stand against evil beings trying to take over the world, blow it up, or just warp it to be just as evil as they are.
Sometimes just rolling dice isn’t really enough for the player characters to really feel like they really have the utmost in agency.
To that end, there is a limited resource the players can use to shift the odds more into their favor and subtly change things to give them an edge to change the narrative.
Both Editions of Pathfinder have this, and to that end we are going to break down what they can do and how you can get them.
Pathfinder First Edition
Hero Points in Pathfinder First Edition were introduced in the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide. Hero Points can ONLY be given to and be used by Player Characters. No other characters or player character-adjacent creatures (mounts, minions, companions, or familiars) can earn hero points.
All Player Characters start play with 1 Hero Point. They don’t replenish with time or rest, but instead are awarded by the GM during play.
What Can PCs Do with Hero Points?
PCs can spend Hero Points during gameplay to influence certain important events or take actions to shift the narrative of a moment.
Hero points do not take an action to use, though they may modify actions being taken or cause some actions to take place.
You may not spend more than 1 Hero Point in a turn.
Act Out of Turn
You may spend a Hero Point to immediately take your turn in the initiative order. You immediately jump to the point in the initiative order just above the current acting creature. When you do this you only get to use a move or a standard action.
Bonus on Roll
Before a roll, you can spend a Hero Point to get a +8 bonus on any d20 roll. You may also choose to spend a point after the roll instead, giving you a +4 bonus on the outcome.
If you are in the same location as a party member making a roll, you may spend a Hero Point to assist them with a bonus either before or after the roll. These bonuses are reduced to +4 and +2 respectively.
You may spend a point on your turn to gain another action on your turn. This can either be an additional standard or move action.
As a PC, you can spend a Hero Point if you are stuck on a puzzle or are not sure where to go next in your adventure. If you do so, the GM can give you a hint as to what to do next. If the GM feels like no other hints can be given, you don’t lose the Hero Point.
You may spend a Hero Point to recall a spell or ability that you might have already used that day.
You may spend a Hero Point to reroll one failed d20 roll. The second roll must stand, and you cannot take any more Reroll actions.
This one’s a bit more confusing. You may spend a Hero Point to attempt a task normally deemed impossible. This might be something like using diplomacy to stop a raging monster from destroying a town/city, or managing to pierce an enemy’s damage reduction with a non-magical weapon.
This does not mean you automatically succeed though. You still have to make a relevant roll at extreme difficulty in order to succeed. The GM is the final arbiter of if this can work at all.
If the character is about to pass away from combat damage, a player may spend 2 Hero Points to survive the blow. This is the only time a player can spend more than 2 points in one turn.
This may or may not negate the damage completely, Generally though, this will stabilize a character even if they have negative hit points.
How to get Hero Points?
Each character begins the game with 1 Hero Point. They also gain a Hero Point every time they level up.
Additionally, the GM may award Hero Points. Some of these things are specifically Out of Game activities that improve the gameplay overall, while some are in-game goals. The SRD has a few suggestions for these:
The GM can award the character 1 Hero Point for a complete backstory of the character, a Character Portrait, or a Painted Miniature of the character for simulated play. In addition, if the Backstory comes up in play and aspects of it are resolved, they may award additional hero points.
The GM can award Hero Points to PCs who are active in the participation and completion of a major campaign arc or plot line.
The GM can award Hero Points to PCs who roleplay their character’s personal religion in the game.
GMs can award Hero Points for Out of Game actions that help out the group as a whole. This might be buying Pizza for the group, helping to clean up after the game, or volunteering to run background music for the GM.
Whenever a character performs an amazingly heroic act, the GM can award them with Hero Points. This could be heroically standing up to impossible odds, rescuing innocents from a life-threatening situation, or sacrificing their life for the greater good (in which case the Hero Points would go to the next character).
If the character uses a Hero Point to complete this Heroic Act, they don’t qualify for the Hero Point Reward.
If a character passes away, they do not lose any Hero Points. If they are brought back through resurrection magic without any Hero Points, they will gain 1 back.
A Player cannot have more than 3 Hero Points at any given time. Any additional points that may be rewarded are discarded.
Pathfinder Second Edition
Pathfinder Second Edition continued the Hero Point Rules from Pathfinder 1e for Hero Points. Rather than have them be in an optional supplement, they included them in the Core Rule Book.
At the beginning of the Session everyone starts with 1 Hero Point. Certain actions can allow you to gain more Hero points as well, awarded to you by the GM.
You can never have more than 3 Hero Points at any given time, and at the end of the session you lose all remaining points. At the start of the next session, you are once again reset to 1 Hero Point. This gives you incentive to spend them rather than horde the points together.
What Can PCs Do with Hero Points?
Options in Pathfinder 2e are more limited than in Pathfinder 1e, but no less powerful.
A player may Spend 1 Hero Point to reroll a check, but they must abide by the second result. This is considered a Fortune Effect, so you cannot use another reroll effect on this same roll.
A player may spend ALL their remaining Hero Points (1 minimum) to avoid dying. The Dying Condition is removed, and you are stabilized at 0 hit points. Typically when coming back from the dying condition, a character will have the wounded condition, but this is negated.
How to Get Hero Points?
There are a few different ways for characters to receive Hero Points. These are all handled by the GM themselves.
Characters can earn Hero Points by completing Heroic Deeds, demonstrating character growth from past sessions, advancing the plot of the current game through innovation, or exceptional roleplaying.
They may also receive hero points by contributing to the overall game through providing supplies, snacks, or helping to clean up after the session is over.
As a GM, you typically want your players gaining close to 1 Hero Point per hour of gameplay. This can be dialed in further back or further as you ramp up the intensity of the game or slow it down for less intense sessions.
As a GM, make sure you work to give each of your players a chance to shine and gain Hero Points. You don’t want just one player to hog the spotlight. If there is a moment when everyone cheers, laughs, or has an intense moment, award a hero point to everyone involved.
Stay Heroic Pathfinder!