Friday, May 25, 2012

Savage Worlds GM Benny Reduction

A recent conversation with +Ron Blessing of RoleplayDNA and Smiling Jack's Bar and Grill had me reconsider the value of GM bennies in Savage Worlds. I haven't decided yet if this conversation should include NPC Wild Card bennies, but I'll get into that more later on. To summarize, this post lightly explores the negative end of the spectrum of effects that GM bennies have on the game experience and provides some potential options for diminishing their negative influence.

GM Bennies are... Bad?!

Not necessarily. GM bennies can bring a lot of value and fun to an encounter, making the experience of the challenge a memorable one, but let me give an example scenario that illustrates where GM bennies can have a negative impact.

A couple of game sessions ago, my players faced a very challenging encounter that cost the life of one of the player characters. Some of that challenge was related to the toughness of the creature, and some of it was because of GM and Wild Card bennies. Ron had a similar situation in one of his games. Coincidentally, we were both dealing the same creature, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, except his was undead. Our shared sentiment was that  GM bennies, can steal the thunder from the players and drag the encounter on longer than what's really necessary for the story. And if the encounter is the last one for the session, the GM might have a stack of bennies (i.e., one for each player and two for the Wild Card) to use at will.

Whenever a GM uses a benny, it immediately creates a GM-vs-players dynamic. That method of GMing is not one I enjoy. I like challenging my players, but I don't like being antagonistic toward them in the gaming sense. Additionally, when facing a creature with a high toughness, which typically requires quite a few attacks to get in just one wound (let alone four), using a benny to Soak wounds extends the combat even longer and takes away an achievement the players worked hard to earn.

Sure, a GM can simply self-inhibit the use of bennies, but I would suggest a prescribed limitation that creates more of a strategic challenge for the GM.

Solutions

Instead of having the usual pool of bennies at the beginning of the session, Ron and I are considering using one of the changes below for our respective games. Note that in each of the scenarios below, the GM does not get one benny for each player at the beginning of the session.
  1. The GM still has two bennies for each of his NPC Wild Cards to use, and is encouraged to use them for rerolls and removing the Shaken status, but not for Soaking.
  2. As above, but the GM only gets one benny for each of his NPC Wild Cards. This makes the use of a benny more strategic and impacting.
  3. NPC Wild Cards have no bennies, but the GM gets a benny when a player uses a benny in such a way that allows the GM to gain one in exchange. (e.g., Red Fate Chips in Deadlands, or Khyber (blue) Prophecy Shards in Savage Eberron).
Personally, I'm going with option 3 for my Savage Eberron game. For other games, I might go with the first option.

Whether you agree or disagree, drop a line, and let me know what you think about GM bennies in Savage Worlds.