Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fantasy: Consequences, Choice, and Stress Reduction

It was Fred Hicks, I believe, who originally suggested changing Consequences from an inevitability to a choice. Instead of just waiting around for Consequences to show up after taking all the Health or Composure Stress you can stand, Consequences reduce stress taken, and you choose when you take them and their severity. I used it in my Wild West conversion, and it worked great. It gives players a sense of control over their characters' destinies. It also gives them the option to get their leg broken before getting the wind knocked out of them, which the default SotC rules don't especially allow (but for good reason: escalating stakes).

I think this has become a pretty popular house rule now, but I'll outline it anyway.
  • Accepting a Minor Consequence reduces Stress taken by 2.
  • Accepting a Moderate Consequence reduces Stress taken by 4.
  • Accepting a Severe Consequence reduces Stress taken by 6.
Taking stress in excess of the boxes available means you're Taken Out. Period. So, as you can imagine, this is a bit grittier and deadlier than SotC RAW. If you have 5 Health Stress and take a couple big hits, one Severe and one Moderate Consequence might not be enough to save you -- and in the poorly named "Spirit of the Sword," the working title for this fantasy conversion, big hits will be a little more commonplace than in SotC (more on that when we get to weapons and armor).

Let's say you have 5 Health Stress and take three 8 Stress hits. That's rough whether you're a pulp hero or not. Under SotC RAW, that would mean checking off the fifth box on your Stress track, then taking a Minor Consequence, then taking a Moderate Consequence. You have fully four of your Stress boxes clear and can still take another big hit.

Under this variation, though, with the first hit you need to take at least a Moderate Consequence; merely reducing the stress by two will still Take you Out, but reducing it by four will save you. The next hit, same thing, but now you're forced to take your Severe Consequence, reducing the stress by six. Now you have your second and fourth boxes checked, a Moderate Consequence, and a Severe Consequence. Barring something unforeseen, the next hit of 8 Stress will automatically result in being Taken Out.

Just like in SotC, "SotS" characters can take a handful of little hits without worrying too much about it, but unlike in SotC, "SotS" characters can't quite manage the bit hits as well. Note also that this makes any stunt that enables you to take an extra Consequence, like Feel The Burn, suddenly much more attractive. Also note that under certain circumstances, taking a Consequence might not be enough -- e.g., if you have all of your boxes checked and not even a Severe Consequence will prevent you from taking a point of damage, you're still going to be Taken Out.

In "Spirit of the West," I also reduced starting Stress Tracks from five to three (another Fred Hicks suggestion, I think), to make things that much deadlier, but the fantasy genre requires, in my opinion, a much greater emphasis on the variety of weapons used, which means making some do more damage than others, which means that starting with a paltry three boxes of Health Stress would result in a lot of one-shotting, which isn't exactly what I'm going for.

(Incidentally, while I'm currently bound by an NDA, I'm pleased to see that Cubicle 7's upcoming Starblazer RPG, also based on FATE 3.0, uses a similar system.)

(Also, I just want to add that the Evil Hat Wiki has some interesting ideas about incorporating weapon type into the Stress-reducing Consequences model. I don't believe I'll be using them, but they're definitely worth a look.)

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