The Economy of Bennies in Realms of Cthulhu

Yesterday, I presented some edges which, by my own admission, have not seen play by any of the Blurry Ones, but they look good on paper. This prompted an interesting dialogue on one of these edges in particular–Always Prepared. This is an Edge which allows the character to spend a Benny to have an item their character could have on their person. I would let the character’s archetype and good sense dictate, nor would I recommend it for people wishing a more serious, if not gritty, iteration of their game. This definitely plays to pulp sensibilities, but some people have voiced concern it could imbalance a play session. I really don’t think it could upset things to much, but this is ultimately governed by the economy of bennies, something I wish to discuss today.

In most Savage Worlds games, there is an ebb and flow of bennies. They are the currency of Wild Cards, enabling them to Soak, Rationalize, make rerolls, and otherwise save their bacon as circumstances arise. It gives the player some sense of control over their destiny, which is an inarguably good thing. In Realms of Cthulhu, however, I make a specific point of addressing the dispensation of bennies and give my take on it. Certainly, it’s your game and you can play it however you like, but if you deviate from the core, you do so at your own peril.

Three bennies may seem like too many bennies for people who want a gritty game, but consider this. An investigator has two condition tracks to look after–one for his physical and one for his mental–so most players I know tend to keep two bennies in reserve to hedge their bets. The reason? The only way you’re going to earn bennies in a Realms of Cthulhu game is to triumph over some evil (akin to regaining Sanity in traditional Call of Cthulhu). This can be viewed as an elevation of spirits, a wellspring of hope, or what-have-you. In a number of cases, however, a character is going to exhaust some, if not all, of his bennies in his efforts to stay alive, stay sane, and beat the bad guy. When I’m running, the majority of characters end up having 1 benny after being awarded a benny, with a character netting 2 being a rarity.

This being the case, when a character wants to expend first an Edge and then a benny to activate a certain Edge, such as Always Prepared, I don’t see the harm in them having a pistol or a crowbar or a flashlight, or even a lock pick set, but this varies by Keeper. The player is trading off a bit of his protection from harm in exchange for having something which really won’t do more than further the plot along. Whether you’re playing Heroic Horror or Dark Spiral, I don’t necessarily consider that a bad thing. If you don’t wish to allow the edge, you’re doing nothing wrong. As I stated, they haven’t been playtested, nor discussed at length with my guys–I proposed them and give them to you, here, filter free, to give them a spin and see if they hold up as expected in game play.

I appreciate all the feedback this has received, and you can be certain I may well through some more spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

2 Notes on, The Economy of Bennies in Realms of Cthulhu

  1. Great article Sean, I like seeing how free or how conservative different game masters play the Savage Worlds Bennies game. I personally tend to be overly free with them, knowing that players love getting them, but when I ran Realms of Cthulhu I did try to be a little tighter, making the group sweat out those encounters with nasty things.

    Still, I probably end up giving out more than you, just because I can’t look at the sad, puppy dog eyes of my battered gamer friends, I need to learn to be a meaner Keeper ;)

  2. I used the concept behind Always Prepared in my last fantasy game, but made it a house-rule that was open to everyone, rather than an Edge. The setting was on the grittier side of the mean, and yet I found this \open Edge\ still worked well. One reason was, as Sean mentioned, the players generally used it to advance the story, or at least do something interesting. Another was that my players got only a trickle of Bennies from me, mainly because they aren’t very comfortable at adding their own narrative spice and tend to play on the conservative side, making rewardable events kind of rare. I don’t give out Bennies for nothing, and am trying to \train\ them into a more SW style of play with the lure of Benny rewards (operant conditioning, anyone?). Bennies are a precious resource for them, so they tend not to spend them lightly. Ultimately, I find that rules like this that rely on Bennies aren’t too hard to protect from abuse, because the Keeper is the one with his hand on the Benny tap.

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