Monday, September 10, 2018

If You Haven't Tried a Bennies System, You Should Give It a Shot

As folks round here know, Pathfinder is my game of choice. But as I keep mentioning, it's far from the only game I've played, or run. I have a fondness for the Chronicles of Darkness, for example, I deeply enjoy Spycraft (with the right group, of course), and I've had my share of fun with Call of Cthulhu in its many different forms. But a game that holds a special place in my heart is Savage Worlds, and if I were to recommend one thing from that game that DMs should try at their tables, it's the bennies system.

Risky plan, guys. Sure you don't want to push fate your way a little bit?

What Are Bennies, And How Do They Work?

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, I'll give you a brief rundown. The short version is that, in a bennies system, the DM gives players certain token (typically poker chips, but colored stones or vibrant-looking plastic crystals work just as well). These tokens may come in different colors, each denoting a level of power or importance. Players can earn these tokens through epic deeds, cool roleplay, or just those moments where you make the DM snort Coke out their nose with an unexpected joke. It's up to the DM's discretion.

Then players can spend these bennies in order to get certain benefits.

For example, a player might be able to spend a bennie in order to re-roll a failed check. Or, if they spend the bennie before they roll, they may be able to add a bonus to their check. In some systems, like Savage Worlds or even Pugmire (a game I gave my recommendation to a bit ago in my post Is Pugmire Worth Playing?) you can spend these bennies to activate certain powers, regain resources, or even prevent NPC bad guys from using bennies against you. You could even make a case that hero points from Pathfinder are just an optional bennies system.

Oh no you don't. You want to stave off death, roll your dice and take the chance.

Why Should I Use Them?

Judging from a lot of the opinions I've seen other writers and gamers post, bennies are only acceptable if they're already a part of the core rules of the game you're playing. Otherwise it's just a DM coddling their players.

I disagree with this sentiment for two major reasons.

First is that, as someone who struggles with a dice curse, sometimes the ability to get a re-roll at a critical moment is really handy. And if your players are trying to do something that you really want to succeed, but you don't want to be seen as giving them pity re-rolls for coolness, this is an ideal system for putting that mechanic in place.

Secondly, a bennies system rewards players who keep their heads in the game, and who do cool stuff. While good roleplaying is often thought of as its own reward, it's nice to know that if you put in the effort to come up with a prayer for your PC, if you go through a whole, heartfelt dialogue with a side character, or if you toss off a great one-liner before delivering a death blow that you could be rewarded for that. And if you've already removed experience points from your game (something I recommended a while back in Run Smoother, More Enjoyable Games [By Removing XP]), then a bennies-style system gives you a way to toss out rewards to players who did cool stuff, who make the game better, or who just do something you personally thought stood out.

And, best of all, you get to feel like a king tossing out gold necklaces to the winner of a skalding. Everyone wins!

With that said, a bennies system isn't going to fit every game, or every DM style. You might find that, upon trying it out, that you just don't like the flavor, or that you feel like you're pulling your own threats' teeth. That's a perfectly okay opinion to have... but as all of our parents' said when we were kids, how do you know you won't like it if you've never even tried it?

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday! If you've instituted your own bennies system at your table, tell us how it went in the comments below. If you'd like to see more from me, check out my Vocal archive... or just click my Gamers page to see only my tabletop stuff. Or you could head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio, where I help out from time to time. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! Lastly, if you'd like to help support me and my work, then you can leave me a tip by Buyng Me A Ko-Fi. Alternatively, if you want to become a regular supporter, go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron! Either way, there's a boat load of gaming swag in it for you.

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1 comment:

  1. The now out-of-print Marvel Universe Roleplaying game (probably along with other systems, but I haven't seen it elsewhere) actually worked kind of like this, except with bennies replacing dice entirely.