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There's a certain kind of people who like to hoard whatever limited resources they get "just in case"; they usually end up never using them, always waiting for bigger emergency. On the other hand, there are game mechanics based on spending some limited resourse: like bennies in Savage Worlds, fortune points in Warhammer, etc. You're supposed to spend them liberally, getting some in-game benefits.

The "hoarders" never spend these, robbing themselves of part of enjoyment. Simply explaining that "those point are meant to be spent" doesn't always work: players seem to understand that rationally, but some force of habit still prevents them from actually using their resources. I think this happens more often in videogames (I myself am guilty of hoarding all goodies till the end boss, and then never needing them), but I've seen this kind of behaviour in tabletop games too.

Of course, some players do this because they just like hoarding, or because they like the additional challenge, but some do notice that they're "doing it wrong."

Is there maybe some sort of trick to encourage resource spending?

Clarification I'm mostly interested in "mechanical" resources like fate points and bennies. If you hoard something material, like potions, or money, at least you (probably) have more money as a result. When you hoard bennies, you essentially forfeit your chance to do something that matters. This is probably not what players want.

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As I remember, Savage Worlds Bennies double as XP. Given that, there is no way you are prying them out of my hands during play. –  Simon Gill Feb 20 '13 at 14:05
@SimonGill, That rule was dropped in SWD. –  Yianes the Sneak Feb 20 '13 at 15:08
In fact, that rule was dropped because it encouraged hoarding them and so went contrary to their purpose. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 20 '13 at 17:07
I do this all the time, both with tabletop and computer-based RPGs. I find the only thing that makes me spend "consumables" (be they meta or physical items) is necessity, or the knowledge that they're easy to come by (or cheap). Increase the difficulty of the game, or make the resources more readily available. –  LordScree Feb 21 '13 at 9:15
I remember that in The Burning Wheel you could spend a Persona point to avoid death. We would never spend that last Persona point (once we got it). –  PiHalbe Feb 22 '13 at 10:46

13 Answers 13

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Is there maybe some sort of trick to encourage resource spending?

Yeah - have a look at real life first. What prevents you from hoarding anything you can afford to acquire? Two things:

  1. storage space/costs.
  2. some goods have a "best before" date (or require even more storage resources)

Note that 2 applies even to non-physical things. I.e. if you learned French in high school "just in case", you will probably lose most of it unless you practice it, watch French movies, go to refresh courses and so on.

So, if it's a in-world resource (like potions), see that points 1&2 apply. If the PC is hoarding stuff and carrying it along all the time, apply saving throws to see if any of that is damaged when he is hit, too (AD&D had something this since the oldest editions for example).

If it is a "meta-gaming" resource like bennies, experience points, fate points, hero points etc. ... enforce some "stale/storage" scheme.

Like "you can't ever hold more than your level in fate points - if you are 7th Level and get one extra fate point you lose it automatically".

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Nice ideas; you could also encourage the players with such things as "At the end of this session will be a fate/benny point refresh, so spend 'em tonight." Once the players get more used to using them you can stop telling them about this and just carry on. –  Rob Feb 20 '13 at 10:43
Yeah - it would make sense to apply the "fate points limit" at the end of the session... so if you are a 3rd Level and manage to gain a 4th Fate Point during the current session, you may spend it or you know you will lose it at the end of the session, when the GM applies the "bookeeping/refresh" step. –  p.marino Feb 20 '13 at 10:51
This doesn't apply to Fate points or Bennies—you lose them at the end of every session already, so they already have a best-before date. And yet, this kind of player still hoards them and lets them go to waste. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 20 '13 at 17:09
@SevenSidedDie - The question was labelled "system-agnostic" and my answer was trying to be generic. –  p.marino Feb 20 '13 at 18:33
I know. But those are valid counter-examples to the line of thought that making them expire addresses this tendency. Since even in games where expiry is built-in players still do this, it's clearly insufficient to solve the problem in the more general case. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 20 '13 at 19:08

Since Fate points are mentioned, I'm going to mention the angle offered by the great based game . In Diaspora, players start every session with five Fate points. It does not matter if they ended the previous session with ten or zero, every new session resets the count. Use it or lose it is the key phrase here.

This pushes players to spend what they have. They won't be keeping it anyway.

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The trouble I've seen in Diaspora is that the "expensiveness" of a session is unpredictable, so people who do this still hang on to them until they can see the end of session looming and they know it's "safe" to spend their points, though often there are few/no opportunities remaining. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 20 '13 at 17:16
I believe Spirit of the Century (FATE) does the same and Mutants & Masterminds 3e too. Use this and insist after every session on how many points they've wasted. Also insist on how using a point would help in the various situations where they might be useful. –  leokhorn Feb 22 '13 at 10:57

Guarantee Results for Fate/Bennies/Roll Bonuses

We play D&D4e. I grant my players +1/-1 tokens for role-playing, doing out-of-character tasks (such as uploading photos, completing character histories, etc.), leveling, milestones, quests, etc. These tokens can by used to move any die-roll result +1 or -1 and may stack.

You'd think that they'd horde these like crazy, but they usually run out before the end of a gaming session - and here's why:

I tell them whenever a certain number would turn a miss into a hit - or when x points of additional damage would take the monster down - or how much more they need to make a critical skill check. They often decide to spend them.

A guaranteed result is a huge incentive.

This has a great side-effect: The game (especially combat) moves forward quickly. With this little tweak the players have control of how fast they move through the story (burn resources.)

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I see a lot of games with "points" make them randomly effective: decide to use them before the roll... and often waste them. Either the roll was good enough or it was so bad no point could help anyway. Make points an "after the roll" use and be open about their effectiveness as Randall suggests. –  leokhorn Feb 22 '13 at 11:00
As a serious hording addict, I can attest that this works wonders. Usually I end up hording because I don't want to expend my resources and then realize I didn't need to. Knowing that my expenditure will in fact make a difference without being a gamble makes it easy to decide how much a given roll is worth to me (keep in mind that deciding after a roll makes whatever mechanic it is more powerful so adjust accordingly). When you just whiffed by one or two on a big swing, knowing you can drop some of a limited resource to make it pay off becomes miiiighty tempting... –  Lunin Feb 24 '13 at 13:14

I've played in a few games and tend to hoard items. There are a few issues at work here:

  1. I have a +1 sword and just picked up a +2 sword. There isn't anywhere I can sell the +1 sword, and if I get a follower/lackey/etc. there is no where to BUY a magical sword for that person. If I pick up a "regular" sword of the body of the orc, I can sell it to the smithy for about half of the purchase cost.
  2. Single use items are just that. If I get out of a fight have fewer hitpoints than I lost in the fight, I will try to get some healing. From magical sources first (those spells refresh much faster than potions), then through potion(s) until I feel that I can continue. I will trust to "normal" healing the remainder of the damage, until I get to a town and can buy healing spells from a cleric. Sure, you can throw issues at me such as storage/encumberance rules, most PCs have enough funds to buy a(nother) pack horse.
  3. Karma in Shadowrun (which I believe are very similar to FATE Points in function). There are ways to spend karma which refreshes the points, and others spend them permanently. If I know/trust the refresh rate, I'll spend those points like a drunken sailor, but very rarely do I ever permanently spend points. Just don't know when I'll need those points again.

How to fix the problems?

  1. Give me a place to sell my precious. I'm happy to sell the +1 sword for a stack of gold, then trade that stack of gold for a much more compact diamond, but if that particular mechanic does not exist, then I'm not going to get rid of the sword... I may need it (if my new one breaks, or an NPC/hireling joins the party and needs a sword).
  2. If you want me to spend single use-items, I need to feel confident that I won't drain my last canteen right before heading into the Sahara desert. There really is not much you can do other than have whatever scarce resource (potions, canteens, etc) become not scarce, even if only temporarily (meet a potion-maker or find a water source).
  3. To get people to spend the refreshing resources, you need to communicate to me how/when the points will refresh. I had a disagreement with a GM over a rules issue where I read karma pools refreshing at the beginning of each combat, whereas he said they refresh once on each run. I had been spending points quickly under the assumption that they would refresh soon, when they didn't I stopped spending almost completely. If the players know/trust that the refreshing points will refresh, then they should start valuing those points accordingly and start spending them. Patience is the only answer here.

*I realize that some more recent versions of D&D and other games do have these magic shops, however in other games/tables those shops just don't exist. YMMV depending on conditions.

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Trusting the refresh seems to be a big issue in my experience when it's once pet session. It's very hard to know how much "action" there will be in a session, so it's not a reliable indicator of how much the points will be needed. Having sessions where few points are needed just reinforces that. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 20 '13 at 17:14

It's their bennies to hoard, if they so wish. Personally, I wouldn't push or try to trick them as GM, but I would reinforce the benefits when the other players spend them.

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Interesting question and one that I'm gonna have to solve soon too for my gaming group has similar issues (They don't hoard. They sell it all to buy permanent magic items. But as you can see at least half of the solution I've adopted will apply to both situations.)

This mission/session only

The first half of the solution is taken from a videogame called Thief.
At the end of each mission you lose all your unused items and keep every treasure you collected during that mission.
At the beginning of the next mission, you can use that treasure to buy a wide array of arrows and other trinkets.

You might apply a similar strategy to your missions or even sessions, that heavily depends on your tastes and needs.

This applies greatly to mechanical resources as you requested in your clarification! But often potions and the like are just supposed to be used and not converted to some other type of advantage.
Let's take it to the next step:

The percentile issue

The second half of the solution takes care of what happens if, seeing that these items are gonna disappear soon, the players try to monetize them.
Choose a percentage of treasure that should only be used to buy (or should be made of) consumables, while maybe the other treasure can't be used to buy potions and the like. (In this case remember to always include tham in your treasure parcels.)
In my D&D 3.5 game that would be 10% as suggested by the books. Even if they sell those goods, that gold can only be used to buy different consumables (maybe a parallel economy system with different coins?).

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Something I do with fate points is impose a five point limit. So, the only way they can get additional points is to spend what they have first.

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I don't think you should think of this as a "trick". I think the players are being rational. They are doing all right without spending the resources, and they have no idea what is coming up, that may require them.

So just make it rational to spend them. Have lasting rewards that make spending them worthwhile even when there is some risk of running out of the resource and not having it when they really do need it, or, I suppose, have them suffer permanent adverse consequences for not spending them.

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Before any change, talk with your players to let them know it's a problem. If they don't fix it themselves, then here's a few options:

  1. Limit the maximum number of beanies a player can have at any time.
  2. Limit the number of total beanies available to all the players. Once they're in the players hands, no more are available.
  3. Have a maximum number of beanies available to be carried over from one session to another, with the excess beanies vanish, turn into gold, XP, etc.
  4. Be more conservative on your awarding of beanies.
  5. Get rid of the beanie system altogether. If the players are hoarding the beanies, they don't need them.
  6. Overwhelm the PC's so they're forced to use their beanies or die.
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I had more or less the same problem in oWoD games. Willpower is some kind of resource that can refresh automatically but can do it very slowly or very fast depending on your game. In oWoD willpower can be spent to gain extra success in any roll (maybe almost any roll).

Players ended up hoarding them just in case (even when they have a max, because they never knew when they were going to recover them), like any other limited resource.

I understand that with this particularly resource it is never guaranteed that it is worth to be spent (since it is spent before you throw the dice), so you could end up with not enough success or to many, and thus making it useless.

So I changed the rule so they could spend it after the roll, this make the resource incredibly more powerful (obviously), and had to ban one particular five point merit, but also players ended up using it quite a lot.

I think that with this specifically kind of resource the fear of exceeding or not reaching even when you spent the resource was what was making the players hoard it.

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Give out bennies like candy. No, really. As long as your PCs are comfortable with the "refresh rate" of their valuable resources, they stop being all that valuable.

Don't forget to award the antagonists with something also - more mooks, more bennies, whatever. Your players should not feel the game suddenly becoming easier, but the opposite (you're aiming for "Man, we're lucky we spent all those bennies, otherwise we'd be toast now!").

Once they grow out of hoarding, you can dial down a bit and reward only their best moments with candy bennies.

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This is advice that Fate and SW both give, but which I think GMs typically underestimate the importance of! –  SevenSidedDie Feb 22 '13 at 0:49

Another possibility besides "limited inventory/carry weight" and "expiry date" is inflation. Have the resources become worth less, the more the game advances.

At the start of the game, 10 gold is a lot of money. Mid-campaign, every common thief carries 50 gold, shopkeepers have raised their prices. You were better off spending the gold than hoarding it, since it's worth nothing.

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Except that the request says: I'm mostly interested in "mechanical" resources like fate points and bennies. –  p.marino Feb 20 '13 at 12:49
@p.marino: There's no reason why any resource could not become progressively less valuable. I can see practical difficulties, but it's an interesting idea. –  TimLymington Feb 20 '13 at 21:02
I can only see practical difficulties, instead. Apart from D&D-inspired XP, rule-level resources (like karma/hero/fate/luck/Force points etc) are expressed in smaller "denominations". So you will have situations like "from now on rerolling a low result will cost 1.067 Fate points instead of 1" or "you can spend 1.03889 Luck point to get a +1 to your next roll, you know?". And the same goes for XP for most games which are not *D&D rooted. I don't see this becoming popular. Unless you want to use hyperinflation ("from now on a +1 to next roll will cost you 3 Fate points instead of 1!"). –  p.marino Feb 20 '13 at 22:16

Are you trying to change your players'/characters' personalities? Maybe! (Of course since it's an RPG that could be fun... read on)

Your question is asking about fungible resources, has no uniquenesss value, but stores value, and can be spent to gain some benefit... hey, sounds a lot like the economic definition of money, don't you think?

When it comes to money you can lump people into two types of behavior: spenders, (living more or less paycheck to paycheck) and savers/investors. You have just identified some of your players as savers.

Now since it's an RPG, maybe you should encourage players who tend to be savers, to imagine their character as being a little different, act like a wild spender for a change! When phrased that way it could be a liberating experience.

Just try not to let it come out as 'Come on, you guys never spend anything!' as your player could just take it as personal criticism.

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That's an interesting perspective! However, I should add that the problem is not with "savers": it with compulsive savers. There probably exist compulsive spenders too, btw, but I don't recall ever seeing one (-8 –  Nevermind Feb 22 '13 at 4:37

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