2012-02-28 I don't like Bennies


I don’t like bennies, action points, hero points and fate points. I’ve seen them and did not like them in Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, Savage Worlds and Barbarians of Lemuria. (And I’m still playing in a Barbarians of Lemuria campaign with GM Florian. Just because I don’t like a particular element of the rules doesn’t mean that I don’t want to play or that I can’t enjoy the game.)

I recently listened to an episode of RPG Circus on Out of Print Games and Dead Lines where one of the hosts absolutely loves hero points. He said something along the lines of “in the old days, no matter how much my character wanted to succeed, all I ever got to do was roll a d20 to hit!” He wanted his character’s desires to influence the story. I think he even called them “script points” at the beginning of the segment.

When I play games that have bennies, however, I realized that using them robbed me of excitement at the table. I only got excited when I ran out of bennies. Thus, bennies just delayed my excitement. I think the reason is that I as a player only get excited when there are unfulfilled desires. When I desperately want a roll to succeed and I don’t know whether it’ll work or not, when I fail the roll and agonize over my character’s fate. When I have bennies, the experience is not as immediate. First, I’ll check how many bennies I still have. Then I’ll consider whether I can spend them now or whether I need to save them. Then I’ll pay a benny or two for rerolls, and as it turns out, by the time I fail my second check, I’m already rather detached from the action. If the bennies saved my character, that’s cool, and if the bennies didn’t save my character, I’m just back to the situation without bennies in the first place.

In addition to this cushioning of the player from the blows of fate there is an additional problem with bennies: their use devalues the decisions I have made. I made the decision to enter a fight and now I’m using bennies to save myself. I made the decision to do something and now I’m using bennies to change elements of the scene. If I’m playing in a game where Player Agency is paramount, the referee will have made sure that I could have evaded the fight, that I could have prepared myself better. By cushioning the consequences of my actions, the decisions I made to get there are being devalued. It’s very subtle, but one of the telling signs is when players are overly confident at the table and are willing the take the low road, follow the obvious plot, fight any monsters encountered – a slight whisper of “it doesn’t matter anyway, we have bennies to save us from our laziness.”

I’m sure other people have other reactions to bennies. I imagine some people play a Conan character and use bennies to steer the action in a way that would make a great movie. They like to see their characters act and succeed like movie heroes. That’s cool – but it’s not what I am looking for. Personally, living through a movie in a role-playing game is not what I’m looking for. I’d rather agonize over a decision to fight, I’d rather weep because of the blows of fate bringing me down (and not because I made a deal with the referee and got a fate point for it but because I made a mistake).

I’m tempted to say: Play unsafe! Play without bennies.



Same here... I find such systems just drag me away from what’s happening in the imaginary world and a step further into some kind of abstract management... most distasteful! ;)

Gavin 2012-02-28 13:58 UTC

In games with Bennies and the like I tend to put them on auto-pilot. E.g. make a rule for myself that I’ll always and only use any available Bennies if the alternative is death. Then I don’t have to think about them to the detriment of in-character thinking.

In the SFX! games I write, I do give players mechanics that allow them to adjust their rolls, but I tie them into in-character thought and action. E.g. you can use “Supreme Effort” for something that you really need to succeed at, and get a bonus equal to your Will score, but become “tired” as a result. There’s player agency and decision making, but it’s congruent with what the character might be deciding about whether to strain so hard as to risk exhaustion or injury.

Joshua Macy 2012-02-28 14:39 UTC

Hypothesis: Hitpoints in D&D are Bennies.

– Harald 2012-02-29 17:05 UTC

Haha, I have heard the same thing on the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast with regards to Savage Worlds: bennies are hit-points.

Here’s why I disagree: In D&D, I don’t get to decide whether to spend hit-points or suffer consequences. I automatically spend hit-points while I have them and suffer consequences when I don’t. Since I have no decision to make, there is no disconnect.

You could argue that using Shields Shall Be Splintered turns shields into bennies. There are two things that are different, however. 1. Since shields cannot be used for anything but saving you from certain death, you don’t need to make any meta-game decisions about saving bennies for later. Essentially this seems to be how Joshua uses them and I can see how that helps. 2. My mind’s eye can conceive how shields work, how many shields you can carry. I don’t “spend a shield” and cook up a story on how exactly it happened that I was saved. Both D&D hit points and shields are unlike bennies in that they are more immediate and require no meta-game decisions.

In fact, if you want to look at it from another point of view, bennies are a dissociate mechanic.

You might be right when talking about my second point. I claimed that bennies cushioned me from consequences, allowing me to be a lazy player as long as I had bennies to save me. It is true that some people play D&D as if a lot of hit points mean that you cannot be killed and therefore you don’t need to be risk averse. Personally, I think this is where save-or-die effects and level drains come into play. If you strip away those attacks, then you are right, hit points act like a cushion and I can be a careless player. If you play with an old school mindset, however, I claim that you’ll see low level characters fearing hit point damage (well, anything that moves, most likely) and mid level characters afraid of level draining and poison. I’m not sure how high level play goes but I’m suspecting that high level characters will be afraid of loosing their magic items and other possessions.

In short, while hit points can cushion you like bennies do, old school D&D provides alternative threats that kick in once hit points start to show this cushioning effect.

Which is why I like old school D&D and don’t like bennies. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-02-29 17:42 UTC

I completely agree with you.

We tried adding Bennies to 1w6 more than 5 years ago (when they were still called Chips in deadland). The result was, that the game got less exciting: Sure, we could do cooler stunts, but they did not mean much anymore.

So we discarded them again. I think Bennies are often a tool to save a badly designed system: If you need a Benny to survive (and if no player wants to die), then the system made the error of getting you in the danger of dieing in the first place.

I think the same about explicit cannon-fodder (i.e. mark someone as killable in one shot): That smells of weak game design which is hidden by only applying its rules to some characters, but not to others.

Drak 2013-01-30 11:18 UTC

Absolutely! Rules for mooks is another thing I don’t like.

AlexSchroeder 2013-01-30 11:24 UTC

willst du dann nicht mal 1w6 ausprobieren? Zum Beispiel auf dem Gratisrollenspieltag am Samstag? http://1w6.org/blog/drak/2013-01-30-samstag-ist-gratisrollenspieltag

Argl, falsche Sprache… (sorry to the non-german commenters here)

How about trying out 1w6 then? For example on the german free RPG day this saturday? http://1w6.org/german-free-rpg-day-2013

Drak 2013-01-31 21:33 UTC

Der Wiki ist mehrsprachig, kein Problem. Da ich “mein” System schon gefunden habe, bin ich da nicht so scharf. :) Und für Samstag habe ich schon ein anderes Programm.

AlexSchroeder 2013-01-31 22:28 UTC

I was recently commenting on Complications in Black Wolf and talking to @hardcorenarrativist.

The first thing I noticed was that you get points for complications that I imagine will be complications at the table, not just in the story. If your character has a phobia, will they join the adventure? If they are argumentative or a fanatic, are they going to annoy fellow players? I’ve had players play such characters at the table and it annoyed me. Perhaps that’s simply my preference, though.

The second thing I noticed is part of my more general point: a fundamental aspect of drama points in Black Wolf is that they take away tension is how one uses these points once they are acquired: it’s calm deliberation, you’re saving them and wondering about the trade-off and the future badness that is coming. In short, it puts me in the mindset of an accountant.

Here’s an alternative: borrow points from the future: you can have a bonus right now, here, have it! Temptation! But there will be payback. At some time in the future, you will pay. For each borrowed point, another digit is designated as bad luck. Start with “9”. Now any time you roll 09, 19, 29, ..., 89-99, it’s a dramatic failure and one of the complications strikes: paralysing fear, memories of an old wound. Narrate the bad mojo and then clear that bad luck number. So, mechanically very similar, but suspense and luck and build up are maintained.

What do you think? If you must have drama points or something like that, I’d say you need to avoid situations where players get to deliberate. Building up risk would work well, I think. In a d20 based system, it works just the same.

The reason this should work is that players will of course pick a digit that is going to part of failure anyway: If you fail on high percentile rolls, then picking 9 as your unlucky number isn’t bad as we only look at successes that get turned into failures. Nobody cares about failures that get turned into failures. Assuming your skill is 60, picking 9 as the unlucky number only results in 09, 19, 29, 39, 49, and 59 to be new failures.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-06-25 11:17 UTC

One of the first things my group did with Fate was nix the use of Fate Points for re-rolls. Like you, we felt re-rolls diminished the overall action--and some players would spend all their points trying to get that “perfect” roll. Instead, the points were used specifically to either spend to add a bonus to a roll (even if it turned out the bonus wasn’t needed) or alter the scene per Fate rules. At first, players would save their points specifically for the roll bonuses on critical actions but once they were used to the idea of altering a scene (adding aspects, “finding” a much needed piece of equipment, requesting two player characters fall in love, etc.) the idea of the Fate system really gelled with them. I now have a couple players who only want me to run Fate games. So, I think it’s a matter of examining how the bennies are used and making them work for the table.

Attercap 2018-11-29 15:34 UTC

Heh, good idea! I have long toyed with the idea of simple not using them at all, basically bringing it much closer to Fudge. But just doing away with the re-rolls might be a good first step.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-11-29 22:06 UTC

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