In order to run a collaborative game, it is necessary to provide opportunities for the Players to influence the game. All RPGs give the Players the chance to make decisions which will impact the story at the table. Yet, such decisions are often merely a reaction to the situation created by the GM. Certainly these choices ought to make an impact on the story, but typically these are not entirely Player-led.
Of greater impact are those mechanics that give the Players a strong degree of control over the course of the game. This can be either an opportunity to have an effect on the underlying mechanics of a game, or to send the narrative of the game off in a fresh direction. Many games use what they call Bennies to achieve these effects.
Bennies is slang for benefits, and are typically handed out as a reward for good play. The Bennies are then used by the Players to reduce damage or mitigate dice rolls. This ensures that the Heroes succeed more often, or suffer less from their failures. The term has subsequently spread to other roleplaying games, such as DramaSystem by Robin D Laws.
I definitely wanted to have a version of Bennies in my Tales of the Hero Wars game. However, I also wanted the theme of the Bennies to match the feel of my setting. Thus, I changed the name to Wyrd, so that it was less jarring to talk about the mechanic at the table.
Wyrd [pronounced as “word”] is the Anglo-Saxon word for active fate or destiny, and is the origin of the modern word “weird”. The Northern European concept of fate was that it was a fluid destiny, that a Hero could change her Wyrd by force of action. This idea seemed to fit well with how the Cards affect the progress of the story.
To help with the accounting process, I decided to use cards to represent Wyrd rather than tokens, or any method of keeping tally on paper. There were several reasons for this, not least the simplicity of the method, it links with the other cards I use during the game. Using cards also removes the opportunity for cheating. The greatest gain from choosing to use cards to represent Wyrd was that it gave me a chance to use the superb Everway cards that I had accumulated.
Everway was a visionary RPG by Jonathan Tweet, published by Wizards of the Coast in 1995. This was a diceless game, that used a tarot-like Fortune Deck to add random outcomes to the story. It also included beautifully illustrated Vision Cards, with leading questions on the back, to aid improvisation during the game.
I have quite a variety of the Vision Cards, as I also bought a box of the additional boosters. Yes, there are a lot of duplicates, but I can muster well over 100 different cards suitable to a fantasy setting.
Before dealing with the applications of the Wyrd Cards during the game, it is worth taking a quick look at the why of them. Why do I need to have Wyrd Cards in my game?
Simply, because they fit with the style of game that I am trying to run. To produce a collaborative game, then there has to be a way for the Players to contribute to the game. The greater the influence of the Players, then the stronger the collaboration. Using Wyrd Cards, or Bennies, in a game will increase the opportunities for direct Player input.
The ability to amend the dice, or improve the outcome, is an effective way to illustrate the heroic nature of the game. It serves to encourage the Players to be more daring, as they know that they are no longer at the mercy of a single poor dice roll. The Players are free to hoard their Wyrd Cards for the crucial moments, and thus increase their chances of victory when it really matters.
Furthermore, my Players can spend Wyrd to take control of the story. There are some limitations to this, as discussed below, but the basic principle is that the Players can send the story off in new directions. This keeps the game exciting for me, as there is no telling what the Players may choose to add to our game, and I will need to react to it.
Finally, this use of Wyrd reminds the Players that their input into the story, and the setting, is valued. A Player may choose not to influence the story each week, but they all know that they could do this. While the GM may be the “first among equals” in terms of power within the game, Wyrd Cards go a long way towards equalizing this relationship.
The Wyrd Cards fulfil multiple roles at the table. The great benefit of tying all this functionality into one set of cards is the simplicity of the system. I could have a separate tool for tracking each of these functions, but this only complicates things for the Players, and increases the need for bean-counting.
Instead, a single tool is used to facilitate all the options available to the Players. Also, by combining these options into the Wyrd Cards, I give the Players an interesting puzzle to solve. How best should they use their limited resources to maximise their options during the game?
The first two functions of my Wyrd Cards are taken directly from HeroQuest 2. These have a different name in HeroQuest 2, but the functionality remains unchanged. Thus, the resource-management aspect of these Cards also holds true to the core rules.
The first use of Wyrd Cards is to influence the die rolls at the table. This function is in line with one of the core uses of Bennies. In HeroQuest terms, this allows Players to “bump” up the result of their die roll one category. Thus, a Pass can be converted to a Critical, and so forth. This option allows the Players to mitigate some of the effects of bad luck.
The short-term gain of Bumps is balanced out by the long-term option of spending Wyrd to increase an Ability Rating. These are permanent increases, where each Wyrd spent gives a +1 rating to an Ability. This HeroQuest conflict of short-term bumps versus long-term ability boost is at the heart of the resource management aspect of Wyrd Cards.
To these two standard HeroQuest 2 options, I have added three more functions to the Wyrd Cards. The first of these is tied closely to the Everway cards that we use. Once per Session, a Player may use a Wyrd Card as Story Wyrd.
This is where the Player interprets the image on the card to alter the narrative. This addition to the story has to match the picture on the card, either literally or figuratively. Using these images has proved to be a great aid to imaginative storytelling. Story Wyrd can be used to side-step character death, but more commonly the Players use them to add new events or personalities to the game.
Such Player-led twists to the tale often take the story in new directions. They highlight the collaborative nature of our game and have added greatly to the fun at the table.
Another use for Wyrd Cards is a variant on the Story Wyrd outlined above. Essentially, Dramatic Wyrd is Story Wyrd played by one Player that targets another. The result of Dramatic Wyrd is usually a complication or obstacle for the receiving Player. To balance this misfortune, the recipient is allowed to keep the Wyrd Card used to invoke this calamity. Thus, Dramatic Wyrd is usually accepted with good grace.
Again, this is a once per Session event, and I am on hand to ensure that it is not used maliciously. As a GM, it is fascinating to see how badly the Players will mess with one another. Typically, a Player will put another in a far worse position than one I would inflict.
The final option with the Wyrd Cards is to learn more about a character with whom the Hero has a relationship. For the cost of one Card, a Player may learn something about one of the individuals listed on their character sheet as part of an Ability.
The Wyrd Cards that I use serve multiple purposes within the game, and thus give the Players more choices. The many functions of the Cards require the Players to make wise choices, yet only require one set of bookkeeping.
Have you added any extra functionality to the Bennies in your game? Share your Rules Widgets in the comments below.
Something for the Weekend next week: A Hacked Becoming Quest