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Bennies Suck

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.

Useful Bennies

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.

Written by

Living in his secluded mansion off the coast of Iowa, JimTo often spends evenings reading, role playing, and writing for DoucheyDM. His best qualities are being loud, rude, and obnoxious, but for some reason, people still love him.

Filed under: Misc

10 Responses to "Bennies Suck"

  1. shortymonsterNo Gravatar says:

    In games I’ve played in, they’re given out sparingly. Start with 2-3, and then something awesome has to happen to earn another one. not awesome as in crazy stupid, but awesome as in the entire table thought it was fantastic. I like the idea of players making the choices of rewarding each other, and I might do that myself at some point.

    In a recent game, the Gm gave out little sweets as Bennies, and when used, they were eaten. Eat it before you spend it, and it’s gone. This made everyone think about bennies in a different way, and get tasty treats too…

  2. JiBNo Gravatar says:

    JimTo,.

    First, thank you for coming out and playing. We had a blast with you in the game I am very glad that you had a good time and flattered that you rank the game so highly.

    Like every other story element, a bennie should have meaning. Both in the getting and in the using of them. Having great players is (as with all facets of gaming) an important part of it. I don’t know how man times Gina has rolled a fail looked at her stack of bennies, shaken her head and said, “No, I’ll keep it.” and gone on with the game. The others have done similar things many times. I am blessed to have truly amazing players in both of the Savage games that I run.

    I do really like the idea of player awarded bennies. I have noticed with the players in my games that they most often get awarded for something truly memorable from a role play standpoint. But then for these players success and failure isn’t really the measuring stick, it’s the play itself.

    Looking forward to when you come back out so we can play again.

    Cheers,

    JiB

  3. RabaliasNo Gravatar says:

    My take on this is, they don’t suck, but I find them partially superfluous.

    I like having a means to make the really key rolls more likely to succeed, and to save a character’s life in a pinch. I also like the fact that bennies (fate points, etc) make players a bit bolder, and allows me to throw bigger threats at them without worrying they’ll be TPK’d.

    However, I don’t like bennies as a reward mechanism. To be honest I think I may not really like reward mechanisms at all, but that’s by the by. The way I see it, you busting out laughing was the real reward for the good roleplaying on display in that game. The bennie is incidental. Imagine if you had busted out laughing but not given a bennie; the player might have felt hard done by. Players start (as you point out in your article) playing to get bennies, and become resentful if they feel they get less bennies than other people. Now imagine the same situation but with no bennies at all – the player will feel good because you bust out laughing. They aren’t worried that they didn’t get a bennie because they weren’t expecting one. Next time they’ll be looking to make you laugh, because they get a kick out of entertaining you – which is what roleplaying should be like.

    So in my games, I give people bennies as a sort of lubricant to the mechanical system, reducing the tendency for bad rolling to mess up key scenes and inhibit courageous play. I don’t give them as rewards for good roleplaying.

  4. buddyNo Gravatar says:

    Firstly, you rock & KEEP WRITING! You write insightful articles & the show rules.

    I agreed with you on “live or die” by dice rolls – kind of. It depends on the dice, imo.

    The characters should appear “heroic” and when those crucial scenes emerge, where you can do something heroic/cool, dice like the (ever-friendly) 1d20 can ruin things. A succession of low rolls can turn your hero into Barney Fife real quick.

    I think this is exactly why Mutants & Masterminds has Hero Points, versus a system like GURPS, where the “rolling curve” complements your Ability & Skill levels. Come to think of it, if OD&D had Bennies, modules like “Tomb of Horrors” might have been a little more-forgiving (maybe).

    Great topic!

    1. JimToNo Gravatar says:

      Thank you! More writing is in my future.

  5. brasshatNo Gravatar says:

    Well of course bennies are part of Savage Worlds: the system is literally built on the assumption that they will be available as they soften the swings of the dice and encourage stunts. They give me as a GM a way of rewarding cool behaviour, in or out of character. At one table I know there is a house rule that it you make a funny that causes the GM to snort coke out of his nose he is obliged to give you a benny.

    Also, as you become an experienced Savage GM you become adept at milking players of their bennies…

  6. ArturickNo Gravatar says:

    “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?”

    AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!! Sorry, but you triggered a major pet peeve of mine here. In a turn based game, the movement and attacks are an abstraction. The target is probably NEVER “standing still.” Also, a reroll is not another attack. A reroll is a reroll. Only the final roll resulted in something actually happening.

    1. JimToNo Gravatar says:

      I can see that, but I still maintain it is ridiculous to reroll anything 6 times.

      1. Will LawNo Gravatar says:

        That’s why I have a limit on both the number of bennies you can have at one time (five works best for me) and the number of times you can use them to reroll (depends on the setting, but 1-2 works best for me).

  7. Curtis JacksonNo Gravatar says:

    Great article JimTo! I’ve been pontificating on the HJ’s forums about how I use bennies in our Pathfinder games and as Buddy says “the friendly d20″ can be mitigated by a few opportunities to re-roll a critical failure. I have a hard time watching a single roll dictate a life or death situation (i.e. tight rope walking over a chasm, etc..) Sure, I love the dramatic tension of things possibly falling apart at the most difficult moment but in my experience with the d20 they do it with obnoxious regularity. A few buffering “luck point” re-rolls seem to help with this.

    But, I DO NOT hand them out at the game table. I think this creates a weird sense of stand up comedy expectation that favors more extroverted players. It’s like giving out XP for “exceptional role playing” its such an arbitrary thing that I find time and again it leaves my players feeling overly competitive and annoyed with differential rewards.

    What I do is award them between sessions. I ask several questions regarding character background, motivations, impressions and based upon the answers I give each player 1-3 “luck points” i.e. re-rolls. This allows players to be more comfortable taking risks making the game more dramatic and less immediately deadly. More importantly it helps my befuddled brain create a more immediate, character driven story that “the royal we” as group help create.

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