Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy Newsletter. This week we discuss using benefit systems in roleplaying games. But first a reminder that our Out of the Box: Encounters for 5th Edition Kickstarter Pledge Manager is open. You can claim your Kickstarter rewards, pledge late or buy your badge to Nerdarchy the Convention here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
What are bennies in roleplaying games? First off it’s short for benefits if it’s your first time hearing the term. What they do is allow players in a roleplaying game to affect the game in a mechanical way, a narrative way or both. There are even systems where they create this give and take between Game Master and player alike.
Bennies, love them or hate them, have changed the nature of RPGs. Dungeons & Dragons began experimenting with them back in 3.5 with the Eberron Campaign Setting. The latest edition of D&D makes them a core part of the game.
I’ve even experimented by adding bennies into the game I ran at D&D in a Castle this past year. Each player was given a one time boon in the form of an Ace of Spades. Paying a little homage to the late, great Lemmy Kilmister. Once during the campaign each player could trade it in for a narrative boon in the story. Player and DM would negotiate what that would look like. The bigger the ask of narrative control the greater the potential reward, but also the greater risk.
It lead to one character getting what they wanted but before they were able to handle it. Ultimately they were turned into a betrayer in the final scene of the game. Other players freeing their party members got further dominated in the final battle against an undead elder brain. Twists and turns were created and all the players had a blast with it.
From Ted’s Head
Whether you use bennies, luck points, action points, inspiration or some other system many tabletop RPGs have a way of earning and using bennies. Dungeons & Dragons offers inspiration that by RAW allows you to roll with advantage. Nerdarchy allows you to see your original roll and use your inspiration to roll again.
While the inspiration mechanic is nice, it is rather limited in comparison to other systems are out there. Let’s explore some options if you want to add some extra fun in your D&D game. First allow your players to invoke their traits so they gain inspiration if you think it appropriate. Second allow them to have more than one inspiration at a time. This allows them to save them up for a difficult battle. So what options do you have?
New Options for Inspiration:
- Add a weapon damage die to a melee/ranged attack that hits
- Edit scene. (Allows you to have previously purchased an item from a shop that is generally available)
- Gain a hint on puzzle/quest
- Add +1 per tier to a check that is already rolled
- Take agency with a scene (requires DM approval)
- Recover 1st level spell slot
So just a few options, just make sure you get your DM’s approval before you attempt to use any of these ideas.
From the Nerditor’s desk
I have not played a tabletop roleplaying game with bennies included as part of the game system, but I have played and ran plenty of games adopting the concept. The idea is not exclusive to RPGs, with roots in playing card games like euchre. It’s also simply a slang term for benefits, like health insurance and paid time off you might earn from an employer.
In RPGs the term bennies I believe comes from Savage Worlds. In the game every player starts each game session with three bennies, or tokens. Players can exchange these for game benefits like rerolling a check. Game Masters receive bennies too, one for each player in the group.
In the live chat last week, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted discussed using bennies in D&D and I’m sure they’ll have even more awesome ideas in their portions of this newsletter. I’m a big fan of game systems for players to exercise control over the game like this. The first time I recall seeing bennies in D&D was during the Stream of Many Eyes event. In Mark Hulmes’ Mission: Impractical adventure, he gave each player a token at the start of play they could cash in any time to add their own special twists and quirks to the adventure.
I recently started a bounty hunter campaign with my gaming group inspired by The Mandalorian and the characters have something akin to bennies too. These are a little different than player tokens. If you notice I said the characters have bennies. I wanted to create something like Beskar steel to give the bounty hunter characters additional motivation.
In our bounty hunter campaign the characters belong to a guild, and one of the services is an armorer capable of forging greensteel. This strange material can be forged into custom, personalized items if characters provide the proper amount of greensteel and special ingredients to the armorer.
But during our first session something happened. One of the characters offered an ingot of greensteel to a guild outsider, an information broker. Because I’d impressed upon the players the extreme value of greensteel, I was shocked frankly. Giving up a lucrative item like this was totally unexpected! The broker was equally taken aback, and I determined this would leverage a tremendous benefit to the party.
The way greensteel evolved from an in-game resource to sort of a metagame bennie intrigues me, and I’m curious to see what other avenues we can explore during our games. I think it could be neat if players could use their greensteel as intended, saving it up to bring to the armorer for unique items or trading it back to me for broader applications.
A character might cash in a greensteel ingot for a plot twist like they used it to bribe a powerful harbor master to look the other way when make an unauthorized exit from port with contraband goods aboard their vessel. Or they could exchange double the number of ingots to say they already got a personalized item perfect for getting out of a jam they’re stuck in.
Using greensteel like bennies adds an interesting layer to this campaign because both the players and the characters seek out and use this resource. On the one hand, getting personalized items like adding the Finesse property to a weapon means saving them up is incredibly worthwhile. On the other hand, the greatsword with Finesse a character dreams of making someday sounds amazing, but it isn’t going to help when the characters are caught in a deadly trap and perhaps exchanging a few precious ingots for a one-time use item to escape.
Exploring more ways to expand our greensteel bennies as both in-game resources and player tokens seems like it will produce some cool results. I like how it would create difficult decisions for players, different than a traditional system of bennies. As a strictly out of game resource there’s little conflict in using them up, especially if they do not transfer between sessions. But postponing when a character can get remarkable custom items in order to save their bacon is just the kind of pickle I love seeing players work their way out of. And since greensteel is so rare, and almost impossible for anyone but the armorer to forge, when players cash theirs in that means as Dungeon Master there’s ingots of greensteel floating around the campaign setting for monsters and NPCs to use, too! Mwahahahaha.
Until next time, stay nerdy
— Nerdarchy Team
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