Bennies and the Grittiness of the Game
There was an interesting thread I noticed the other day on the Pinnacle forums about the Benny Economy of Savage Worlds. I had read through it in the past, but there’s been a renewed interest in it with the release of Savage Worlds Deluxe, so I thought I’d read through it. Most of the advice is solid, sound advice. I came to a screeching halt, however, when I saw when poster being given a hard time about giving out bennies in his game. Some folks thought he was playing it the wrong way and I could see, as a purist, this might be true. Savage Worlds certainly encourages a regular flow of bennies and this underscores the cinematic aspects of the game. I kinda let it slide. Folks have different opinions about ice cream and chocolate and which side of a hard-boiled egg should be tapped open first or even how long to cook a hard-boiled egg and medium-rare steaks come from kitchens all kinds of bloody or burnt to a crisp. This has long been the way of the world, and I’ve got other efforts where I can place my energies. However, I noted another poster state it did not make for a gritty game by using this option.
With this point, I disagreed. Not so much with it being made as an opinion, but it was stated as fact. As I’ve been developing for Savage Worlds for over seven years, I am comfortable in talking about the nuances of the system and as the developer and designer of Realms of Cthulhu, I know this to be patently untrue. If you restrict the benny economy, it makes for a gritty game. Some folks think bennies serve to incentivize roleplaying and, while that may hold true for a small percentage of gamers, I have not found this to be the case. Most gamers these days are not all about collecting gold or experience points, but about the experience themselves. Savage World players like the roleplaying aspects of the game whether or not they are getting bennies for it. In Realms of Cthulhu, the benny economy is seriously disrupted. You don’t get bennies in any of the play styles unless you do something to get ahead of the Mythos (defeat a creature, stop a cult, something along these lines), so it is passing rare. However, I’m not running all the games and if people want bennies to flow like wine, that’s fine by me, but it changes the texture of the game.
I’m not speaking about this in the abstract. I’ve run, played, designed, and developed a lot of settings for Savage Worlds and have really put it through its paces. I encourage a healthy benny economy in all of our settings save for Realms of Cthulhu. People have responded well to the fact this makes the game grittier. Overlay this with a sanity system and a more lethal damage system and you’re well away from Indiana Jones and well on your way into the Mouth of Madness.
Are there other ways to alter the grittiness of the game without touching bennies? Absolutely, but the bennies are the “Get Out of Jail” free card to some extent. Some folks say, “don’t allow spending bennies on this or that”, and while that is all well and good, it’s not only controlling the benny economy (by dictating where or how they can be spent), but it is redirecting the bennies towards other things. If I get a regular flow of bennies, but can’t spend them to Soak, I’ll be hitting my enemy more often or succeeding on lots of other things more often (via benny expenditure). You may want to shape your game that way, and it’s fine by me, but it rings hollow to state the manipulation of bennies does not add to the overall grittiness of the game.
I was questioned on my definition of gritty and it is one where the hero does not always succeed, one where the stakes are high, but it is not one where the hero always fails magnificently. If there is a regular benny economy and I know one hit is death (unless I pass a Vigor check), you can bet I’ll be saving my stack of ten bennies to ensure (as much as one can where dice are involved) that I make that roll. That takes away the grittiness a great deal, in my book.
How do you feel the reduction of bennies impacts the grittiness of play and what other options do you use to put dirt under your players’ nails in a game of Savage Worlds? I’d love to find out.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!