I’m not a fan of bennies. For years now I’ve said bennies are for people who can’t handle their dice and the resulting failures that come from the randomness they provide. Of course, that’s just me being a dick for the most part, but I think there is a bit of truth in there. And, hate me if you must, but whether bennies work or don’t work in your game, I firmly place the blame or praise on the GM. I’ve seen bennies used in ways I consider good and bad. I’ll go over them below with commentary.
Too Many Bennies
In this session we started off with a few bennies, but then, every time someone said something even remotely funny, they got another bennie. Within 10 minutes everyone had nearly 20 bennies. I got bennies for saying something funny when I was talking to the the guy sitting next to me about something non-game related. WTF? Nobody gave a damn what they rolled, because they always had a stash of bennies they could use to keep rolling until they got the result they wanted. I literally sat and watched a guy roll an attack 7 times until he hit…because he could. He just kept tossing bennies back to the GM. Can you imagine that in real life? You get forced to fight and the person stands still until you manage to hit them on the 7th swing? And then, and only then, do they get a chance to block or dodge? Ridiculous.
I think the GM was just nervous and overcompensated, but it killed any possible tension and turned what was supposed to be a serious, deadly game into a screwball comedy.
Not Enough Bennies
Since I’m not a fan of bennies, you’d think this would be ok with me, but it’s not. If bennies are available, but the GM is stingy with them, players often try to do wacky, stupid, sometimes painful things in hopes of getting a bennie for their trouble. Almost always this is not in their character concept. Even more irksome, even though they do this out of character, when they get injured, which tends to happen more often or not, they expect the rest of us to stay in character and go rescue/heal them. So then everyone else gets forced into the decision to meta-game and let them suffer or stay in character and help them out. It’s a choice that shouldn’t have to be made because the bennie seeker shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
But if the GM was very clear on how they viewed bennies and for what actions could a player be rewarded with a bennie, most likely the players wouldn’t be doing stupid things in the first place. If the GM specifically says they won’t reward someone for doing something out of character, not matter how successful, odds are that player won’t even make the attempt.
While out in California for work last Summer, I was invited to play in a Savage Worlds game with some of the Happy Jacks crew. I had a total blast and it is included in my list of Top 5 RPG sessions I’ve ever played in. In no small part was this due to that this was the first time I played a game where I thought bennies were handled perfectly.
JiB from the podcast was GMing. Everyone got 3 bennies to start, which, as a player, I find psychologically satisfying. It’s enough to allow me to use one without agonizing over the decision because I have two left. And once I’ve used one, it makes it easier to use the others. The bennies were there, but I never gave them a second thought because neither did anyone else. They were used when needed, but it never took over the game. We just played and had fun.
Also, once per session, the players are allowed to reward another player with a bennie if they did something the others found cool. It could be a funny comment, an act of bravery, the killing blow on a powerful enemy, etc… Bennies were there, distributed fairly, and more importantly, everyone knew they the best way to earn another was to stay in character and play the game as intended.
Most importantly, even though the group had been playing together for a while and knew the bennie rules, JiB took a minute to explain it to the guy from Iowa who was only going to be in that one session. I did end up giving a bennie away that game. One of the PC’s was playing a prim and proper young English woman. We had to dive into a large body of water underneath an infested temple. Things were tense, but she took the time to whip out her bathcap and put it on before diving in. When this happened I busted out laughing. It was hilarious, slightly insane, but completely in character so I gave her a bennie. It was then I discovered rewarding other players for good role-playing, when I’m not GMing, is awesome.
So do bennie’s suck? Not entirely. I think a good GM can make them into a useful tool, but for me, strictly as a personal choice, I prefer to roll the dice without mulligans and living or dying by the result. Your mileage may vary, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.
Filed under: Misc