So, I’m writing this in hopes of sparking conversation. But, I get the feeling it will get me lynched.

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Now, as some of you may know, Savage Worlds quickly became my “go-to” system. There are very few things that I can complain about when it comes to this fantastic system. Now, I will be the first to admit that I have never picked up or played using a GURPS book. I have heard great things about that system, but when you find something that already works pretty damn good, why look for the same thing elsewhere?

When I first got into Savage Worlds and finally wrapped my head around the way the system really works, I was absolutely hooked. There wasn’t a bad thing I could say about it and I promoted it in any way that I could. I loved the “bolt on” feel that it had and could apply it to ANY genre I could think of. It’s a feature of the system that I still have a hard time believing it can be done better with any other system. You really can take anything that you enjoy (comic books, TV shows, movies, you name it) and “savage” it. What more could you ask for?

But, (there’s always a “but’, isn’t there?) I have started to really question the benny mechanic. If you’re new to Savage Worlds and don’t understand what this is, I can tell you the most basic concept of it- “bennies” are nothing more than tokens that you get at the start of each session that you can turn in to your GM to allow a re-roll most die rolls during a session. You can also be awarded more during a session by the GM for various reasons. That’s the simple answer.

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The problem I am starting to have with the benny mechanic is that it almost feels like a way for the players to make sure not to fail. I know that not every player will always use them, but 9 out of 10 times, we, as gamers, don’t want to fail. We want to see our characters to bad-ass things in bad-ass ways. Failing doesn’t usually equate to being a bad-ass. And now I know there are plenty of other systems that don’t have a “re-roll” mechanic built into it, therefore failure does happen. Doesn’t make those characters any less of a bad-ass, right Jaime? No it doesn’t. But, we have commonly come to accept failure in these other systems because “that’s just how the game works”. But, not in Savage Worlds, right? We have poker chip mulligans!

There are times that I really do enjoy the bennies, but overall, I am starting to dislike them. I’ve noticed that they can help strip some of the tension in the game. Most of the time if a player fails a roll, it just becomes “ehh, oh well. I’ll spend a benny”. And in many cases, it turns that failure into a success. Players have lost the ability to really feel the impact of a failed roll. And when you can use them against damage your character just received, where’s the tension? Again, does it always work this way? No, of course not. But, it does happen. This is just another way to desensitize ourselves to the dangers that come our way in these games. GM- “Your character just took 3 wounds!
Player- “I’m gonna spend a benny to soak that. *spends a benny and rolls* No I didn’t”. Straight to limp…… Tension- lost….. And this works the other way against players too. They just got the shot of a lifetime off… Hit the big bad with 3 wounds! Holy crap, everyone is excited! GM- “I’m gonna spend a benny to roll to soak that. *rolls dice* Yeah, you didn’t do shit”. Players erection- destroyed

I understand that these are minor (mostly) situations and a mechanic that the system was meant to use. I don’t hate it by any means. It’s just something that I have been thinking about lately when it comes to Savage Worlds. Will this make me not play the system? Hell no! I love the system and it will continue to be my “go-to” system. This is just one aspect of the game that I have come to not like so much.

What are you thoughts on bennies? Or any “re-roll” mechanic for that matter? Do you enjoy them in your game or do you think we should live by “may the dice fall where they may”? Please comment below and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading everyone!

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14 thoughts on “Are Bennies Too Much?

  1. Good post
    As for myself, I like bennie because it helps the players to succeed, and I like it when they succeed.
    My objective is not to make them fail, but to let them create the conditions to fail. With a good challenge, they will have to spend bennies. It also create good interactions between them when one of them spend a benny on a selfish or useless action.

    I also consider a double 1 as a critical failure with no benny allowed.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So mechanically the Benny is providing the PCs with some defense against the randomness of the dice. Your assessment of what happens in the immediate is correct in how the benny has the potential to deflate tension but there’s also how it builds tension. When a play doesn’t have a benny every dice roll is way more important and they’re at the mercy of the dice. They don’t have a back up plan, a way out, a safety net. So if a GM wants the immediate tension of the die roll the benny is a mechanic that kills that. If we start thinking of the benny as a resource which allows the players control, and when it runs out they have less control, then I think we’re getting closer to what the designers of game — Shane and company — were intending with the benny. For someone to create that experience they need to have excellent benny management at the table. That means deciding what to give bennies out for, how often to give them, if a benny has any setting rules, and how much a GM would need to push the players to spend them at a rate where they’re always trying to get them because they’re always just on the verge of running out of them.

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  3. Great read, and valid criticism of the system and perhaps more so of the players.

    As a GM I don’t enjoy a dice roll. It means we didn’t agree on something and as such dice were left to arbitrate the occurrence. With that said as a Rules guy I understand why we roll the dice and I think those two things work in opposition. We choose not to roll dice for “everything” and then we “worry” more about the times when the dice do get rolled. This makes Bennies feel huge when in reality if we added more dice rolls to the session it dilutes the effect Bennies have as you have a limited quantity of them per game. Remember, the average game should see a player have no more than around 5-6 Bennies total. If that player makes 20 dice rolls all night that means 1 in 4 rolls can be Bennied. If the same player makes 40 dice rolls that drops to 1 in 8 making the Bennies more precious and more chances for the player to look at a failed roll and accept the consequences.

    Honestly, failure is and always has been more interesting to me as a GM. Success means everything went according to plan, failure adds the needed twist for drama. The narrative among the community for a bit over a year now is “Let your PCs be Heroes”. The problem is Heroes require adversity to be heroic. Superman saving a cat from a tree is not heroic, he has the ability to save every cat from every tree and never bat an eye, but making Superman save two cities at the same time from nuclear launches? Asking Superman to face an enemy capable of killing him to save the earth? Those are acts of heroism. If you don’t have failures, challenges with tension then you can’t have Heroes.

    My suggestions when you get the feeling you talk about would be to reduce the number of Bennies being awarded (hard cap at 6 per player per session), and increase the dice rolls. If that means adding more combat, social conflicts, dramatic tasks or just means making the player roll to incite a cantrip, pick a locked door, etc, then that is what you do to make that “resource” more precious. The average player may want to succeed but are they willing to throw a Benny at a lock pick when they know they have 40 more dice rolls this session?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a good point David. I think from a GM standpoint, I need to up my game with how many dice rolls I’m requiring.

      Thinking on you saying that also makes me think about how I’m not using enough of the rules, which in turn, would require more dice rolls

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Much ado about nothing, really. You ARE right: That’s the point of bennies, though, to mitigate failure. That’s clearly part of the Savage Worlds design philosophy, as evidenced by the change in the Shaken rule.

    But issues with the idea that it makes the game less dangerous is addressed by controlling benny flow (see every newbie GM/player post about how brutally lethal and unforgiving the game is).

    As for killing the players’ erections, as it were, over a big hit? Here’s an idea: Keep the stack(s) of NPC bennies out in the open. When you spend one, ESPECIALLY to soak, give it to the player whose boner is getting busted. It serves a tangible reward for that big hit, as well as an actual, trackable swing in momentum as the NPC’s benny is not only spent, but it’s now in the hands of the PC who hit them.

    No lynching here. Not on my part. But it’s not really a problem, either.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Well Jaime, your post has certainly incited discussion on FB, G+ and here. Which is good. I may be repeating some of what’s been said, but whether you like them or not, bennies are an integral parts of SW, unlike the Adventure cards which are totally optional. I noticed that all new players to SW, myself included, saw bennies are extra hit points. But as you play more and more, you see that this is not strictly true. They are a chance for you to have a bit more control ove the narrative, but not an automatic success, as Clint said. Just another chance to change it. With experience, we see the value of failures for the stories’ sake. Look at our ETU game, many times all of us have said “I stand by that roll”. Because bennies are precious, you don’t just give them out at the drop of a hat.

    And, again Clint said it too, SW has dials you can use. Gritty damage for example to make the players think twice before engaging in combat, or Critical Failures to make snake eyes rolls stick. The bennies will get used other ways.

    I don’t quite agree with David about die rolls are just when the player and GM disagree. It can also be about when the outcome is simply not guaranteed. I’ve had players search a room without requiring Notice checks, just tell me what they are doing because they had the time to search properly, their characters were intelligent enough and trained enough to eventually find something or come to the conclusion that there are no clues in the room.

    D&D 3rd ed+ introduced the idea of the Take-10 or Take-20. Instead of rolling dice over and over, the character takes 10 or 20 times more time to attempt his task and assume he rolls a 10 or a 20 on the dice. If the total with modifiers meets the T.N. she succeeds, and move on.

    If you want to reduce the number of die rolls, ask or look at their skill die and make a judgement call. If you think he’d have decent chance to succeed, give it to him and move on with the story. Has the rogue seen this type of lock 20+ times today? Is he in a hurry to open it? No? Then he does it. Do you require a driving roll just to drive to the supermarket? No, unless some event like a kid running suddenly in front you. Then you make a driving roll to avoid the stupid kid. 😉

    In conclusion, no, in my opinion, bennies are not too much. They can help move the story, save the heroes bacon (hmm, bacon), and encourage role-playing. Don’t you even think of removing bennies from SW, or else! 😜😜

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  6. I agree that if bennies are flowing a little too much then the players will have that cushion and not feel the tension. But once again it depends on the game you are playing. I mean in Savage Rifts, with the crazy amounts of damage that can happen… you MIGHT just blow through 7 bennies to soak that wound. That being said for MOST games it might make sense to limit how many bennies are going into the system….OR add tension to the mechanic. How about this: Setting Rule, “The Tides Turn” GM starts with no bennies. Players start with the standard…When a player spends a bennies it goes to the GM to do as he pleases. This will limit the bennies economy to only using it for “critical” items and not so much for the…i’m going to bennies that roll because I really really want to hit that goblin in the first 5 minutes of the game. This way you can still reward players with bennies for playing in character, doing something awesome, telling a joke, ect…but the more they use, the more “the tides turn” allowing the GM to start spending bennies as well.

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  7. Savage Worlds is one of a few systems where player characters can be killed in one shot. An enemy Wild Card dropped an AoE attack on three players in my last game and rolled up 26 damage. That’s where Bennies even things out, letting players cinematically jump behind a wall and have this monster explosion just catch them in the leg rather than completely evaporating them.

    One thing that my table enforces is descriptions of what you do when you spend a Benny. I think that’s more important that people realize. At the GM’s discretion, it might even make sense to have a character drop or break a piece of equipment in order to Soak damage. When thinking about the cinematic approach, I think of that scene in Daredevil season 2 (no real spoilers) when the Punisher shoots Daredevil in the head. He gets off a clean headshot, which would mechanically be a hit with a raise and a 4-wound shot. But Matt (spoilers- Matt Murdoc is Daredevil) soaks the shot with some Protagonist Points and his mask takes the brunt of the damage, shattering, but leaving him only lightly wounded and shaken enough for the Punisher to escape.

    I don’t think that this sort of scene breaks anything mechanically. The other place I see Bennies being used is on minor things that the character *should* be great at, but flubs due to a bad roll. When the “ranger” character tries to track a bear through the woods and rolls a 1 and a 2, maybe it just makes more sense that they succeed, even if the event has nothing to do with the adventure at hand. I see our “face” character using Bennies a lot to succeed at little RP things to make his character look cooler to the NPCs. We then reward this behavior with more positive RP and allies.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Jamie!

    What do you think about using bennies for things other than just re-rolls? I was reminded of the Star Wars RPG mechanic above as well and why not use bennies as kind of a more narrative tool like the light side/dark side chits?

    I also feel some of your pain while I’m DMing 5E D&D with the Inspiration mechanic as well. Rolling for advantage, which equals about a +4 or 5 to the roll.

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  9. more rolls can fix things as can also remembering to apply circumstantial modifiers to the target number. to shoot a prone person through a smokescreen by star light from a moving car. you need a 14. -2 for the moving car makes it 6, -2 for star light makes it 8, -2 for prone makes it 10, -4 for smokescreen makes it 14. and these are all fairly easy modifiers to stack.

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