Hindrances, bennies, and Walter White

heisenberg-breaking-badAwarding bennies in Savage Worlds can sometimes be a pickle. A great rule of thumb for handing them out is whenever a player does something that moves the plot along. Another key suggestion is awarding bennies when PCs play up their hindrances. However you can get players at conflict with what would be a smart way of playing, and doing something rash that is more in line with their character’s persona.

Players want to be clever. They typically want to make the right decision and avoid doing a bonehead move. So this can sometimes be at odds with hindrances they’ve chosen for their character. On paper, taking something like Big Mouth might appeal to a character concept, but in actual play you might find a player avoiding situations where that hindrance would come into light (or at worse ignoring it completely).

An important thing a GM can do to encourage playing up personality hindrances is awarding bennies. If a player sticks to what their alter ego would do and complicate a situation, then hand out a bennie. Bennies offer this strange feedback loop with Savage Worlds. A PC will muck up a situation and get a bennie, however having more bennies means they can likely make a clutch roll when needed. It creates this dynamic cycle where ‘poor’ decisions create obstacles for the players, but they end up with more resources to overcome them.

How do you sell this concept to players though? Sadly, I think certain behavior is ground into a player’s head that they’ll be punished for a bad decision. If they initiate a plan of action closer to what is deemed prudent by the player than according to their character’s drive and motivations, it’s viewed as a better choice. As a GM, a lot of this can come down to the opposition and obstacles you put in their path resulting from what choices players make. Awarding bennies as previously mentioned is one way to entice them. However all of this seems to counter what likely a rational person would do in particular situations. That’s a key point you need to drill into players. They aren’t rational. They are big damn heroes with huge flaws.

One particularly great pop culture example of this idea is Walter White from the TV drama, Breaking Bad. Walter is a chemistry high school teacher and, for the uninitiated, he opts to start making crystal meth to help his family out after he’s diagnosed with cancer. His character is a smart guy, with a great analytical mind. However he has flaws. He has an ego and some could say he’s a bit greedy.

Continually in the show he takes courses of action that a man of his intelligence wouldn’t normally do. It’s his ego and emphasis of getting his ‘fair share’ of profits that drives him to make poor choices. Walter’s need to feed his ego is so great, that near the end of the show, it helps initiate a chain of horrendous events in his life. It’s a great character and an excellent example of how a smart, cunning persona can still make bad decisions based on flaws they have.

I’ve heard some complaints from GMs that mechanical hindrances like Lame or Anemic easier to run than personality hindrances in Savage Worlds. However I’d counter that with the bennie economy, it’s easier with personality hindrances. If players are really pushing events into interesting directions due to their hindrances, you can help them by awarding bennies. Otherwise, it’s up to you as a GM making a call if players have sufficiently driven the plot forward to hand them out. With personality hindrances, there can be more opportunities to award bennies.

That’s my take on bennies and hindrances for Savage Worlds. So next game you run, keep a list of your PC’s hindrances handy. Be on the lookout for chances where you can award bennies to players that do something aligned with their flawed motivations. Try to be flexible with obstacles and challenges that might pop up as players do crazy things dictated by their quirks. If anything, it’ll make for some memorable sessions.