Friday, February 19, 2010

Burning Stress

No, it's not a new game by Luke Crane.

So Greg Stolze started this thread on where he proposed replacing "hit points" with "miss points." It's a neat bit of wheel-reinvention phrased as something revelatory. What he's suggesting is pretty close to how hit points work in every edition of D&D -- in that they're not intended to be solely a measure of a character's capacity to be stabbed 17 times in the back -- or, to get a little closer, Vitality/Wounds in D20 Star Wars. That's a little unfair -- some good ideas came out of that thread, and we are talking about Greg Stolze, here.

Why am I bringing this up here? Because of this other thread, where Matt Sheridan talks about applying this concept to FATE. I know what you're thinking: FATE already has this in the form of stress tracks. Taking stress without taking a consequence generally represents a near-miss. But Matt's looking for something different. He points out that while failed attacks are misses, merely taking stress is often framed as a miss, too. So what's the difference? He proposes making hits hits and misses misses by not giving the defender a defense roll at all, but substituting a different die mechanic in its place:
But what if, instead, we gave them a different kind of defense roll that actually replenished the stress track? Actually, let's just start using the phrase "defense tokens", instead of "stress track".

So you're making a defense roll per round instead of per attack, and thus multiple attackers become pretty scary (and involve less rolling). Let's say you also can't replenish defense tokens with the same skills you use to attack, so it'll be possible for characters to be better at dishing it out than taking it (something I almost always want in my NPCs), leading to faster and nastier fights. Naturally, you can tag aspects on your defense rolls as well as your attack rolls (appropriate for moves like taking cover).
(Of course, the real answer here is just cutting out stress tracks altogether. Now every hit is significant. But I digress.)

All that rolling is a little much for me, but it's cool nonetheless. And since I used stress tracks in the supers game I ran at OrcCon, I started thinking about what I could do to stress tracks to make me want to use them more often. So how about this:

Stress tracks clear at the top of every round, and absorb incoming stress, like usual. However, you can "burn" a stress box to get a bonus of some kind on a roll -- say, +1 per stress box burned. Helpful, but not as good as a Fate Point. Or maybe it should be +2, to make it a last-ditch option when you're unwilling (or unable) to spend Fate Points.

In any event, burning a stress box means losing it for some period of time. In fact, it means losing a box from both the Health and Composure stress tracks. Those boxes don't come back until... I dunno. The next scene? The longer it takes, the less inclined players will be to burn them, so I think making it a per-scene thing feels about right.

Obviously, just because of the way it works out, this is something you'd do when you're on the offensive, not the defensive, so it'd be a balance between improving a roll now and staying on your feet later.


Guy Bowring said...

Now, I'm not looking to be "sold", but I am wondering if perhaps I missed the boat on some basic FATE assumption? You make the statement, "Taking stress without taking a consequence generally represents a near-miss."

So, was that statement made with the assumption that that was the intent of SotC Raw with respect to damage?

My thought (and that of my gaming group) has been that Stress / Consequences was similar to Hero Systems' idea of "STUN" and "BODY".

In other words I considered SotC damage along the lines of "it's all fun and games until Consequences are dealt." Or more specifically, until a Moderate Consequence is dealt. ;)

I bring this up as I've been combing blogs for bread crumbs about the Dresden Files RPG, and where FATE under DFRPG was headed, I found these statements to be pertinent...

"Harry Dresden’s life is hellish. We’ve designed the game accordingly."


"For a serious, if still somewhat coy answer, we left out mercy. Spirit of the Century was rather merciful to the characters, both in combat and in general character automony. We’ve already talked a bit about that in the previous question, but I think bears re-emphasizing. Harry Dresden’s life is hellish. We’ve designed the game accordingly."


I mention that, cuz I think that distinction is pertinent to Spirit of Greyhawk.

So, can you elaborate on the 'near-miss' statement?

Mike Olson said...

So, can you elaborate on the 'near-miss' statement?

Sure. I often see taking stress flavored as a near-miss. If the result of your failed defense roll isn't even as severe as, say, being off-balance, I think I can safely call that a near-miss.

Of course, IANFRL, and nothing I say has any bearing in, like, the real world, so if you want to give it the ol' STUN/BODY split, go right ahead. Whatever works for you, obviously.

Guy Bowring said...

Hmm. Brain is perhaps in neutral. "Near-miss" to me implies that if you "really hit" a fresh opponent in SotC Raw you'd potentially bypass Stress and go right to Consequences.

That might work with minion-grade opponent rules, but does that work in SotC Raw with opponents who can take consequences?

Or from another angle, SotC Raw PCs get something like 5 "near misses" in the bank in order to get hit, right?

Anyway, getting back on point:

I would go on record as saying if you were to implement this "burning" of the stress box, I would consider that the box isn't available to the PC again until the next adventure (or game session).

I say that with the following caveats:

1) PCs are at the 5-creation phase power level
2) The other SotC conventions are still in place.
3) Average game session length is about 4-5 hours.

Or stated differently, my experience has been one where I've only once had a situation where they were really in danger of running out of Fate points.

So in other words, the sessions I've run weren't long enough, the combats extensive enough, the PCs not pushed to the wall sufficiently where they needed another source from which to draw Fate points.

Thinking out loud, I might also be concerned about getting lazy about looking for aspects if you have this alternate source to draw upon.

Anonymous said...

I have been combing for Dresden crumbs too. If you haven't already seen it, What's He On About Now has a Dresden Q&A. It's a crumb mine.

I was considering a similar system, where you could buy effect by spending sifts, stress, or consequences. This post by Brad Murry has caused me to rethink what I was doing.

He doesn't give much detail but in his system you can spend some "resource" to improve your actions. But the thing that blew my mind was spending resources to win a battle may not be the best strategic option. Loosing a few battles may help you win the war.

Anonymous said...

I botched the links in the previous comment:

Here is the Dresden Q&A
Here is Brad's post

Mike Olson said...

Hmm. Brain is perhaps in neutral. "Near-miss" to me implies that if you "really hit" a fresh opponent in SotC Raw you'd potentially bypass Stress and go right to Consequences.

That might work with minion-grade opponent rules, but does that work in SotC Raw with opponents who can take consequences?

Two things there: One, almost everything my players go up against is a minion. Maybe one or two really important NPCs in a session take consequences. Everything else just takes stress. So my perspective may be skewed there.

Two, "stress" is defined in the RAW as "non-specific difficulties a character can encounter in a conflict." The rules then go on to define stress in physical conflicts as cuts, bruises, and the like. However, I tend to see this sort of thing in highly narrative terms, so I tend to flavor consequence-free stress as "a miss that was close enough to freak you out."

To me, that's more interesting than "He hit you, but it's, like, no big deal. Take two stress." I like actual "hits" to be significant, which is why I ended up cutting out stress tracks altogether, for the most part.

Now, for that supers game at OrcCon, stress was indeed getting hit in a relatively unimportant way, because superhero-types often throw each other around quite a bit without anything significant coming of it. Plus, we were using stress-reducing consequences.

Or from another angle, SotC Raw PCs get something like 5 "near misses" in the bank in order to get hit, right?

Again, from that super-narrative POV, a good writer will only have so many narrow escapes before something "real" actually happens. The problem I find with SotC RAW is that we ended up with nothing but those narrow misses, again and again. Consequences were rare, but consequences are the best part. Thus, no stress tracks.

Guy Bowring said...

One, almost everything my players go up against is a minion.

To me, that's more interesting than "He hit you, but it's, like, no big deal. Take two stress."

Got it now. (Maybe a night's sleep helped too)

SoG sessions started out similarly (with mostly minions), but my combat-oriented PC has the "Army of One" stunt, so it gets a little nutty. So I've decided to start amping up the opposition, in addition to playing with Monster translations, which kinda puts the opposition in either "Lieutenant" or "Named Villain" status. I'm also hoping to scale up to "Run away!!!" status shortly... mu-hu-ha.

And to your "close misses" point, I ran across the EXACT same thing and had the EXACT same thought re: narrative. Entire sessions would go without even a minor consequence. And that just wasn't working for me. :P

(It works for Pulp, but I'm telling stories in a different genre--we get back to that idea of "mercy" inherent in SotC)

I'm currently researching going a route similar to BODY / STUN (Hero System) and see about weapons that do damage on top of what players generate, or could go straight to consequences, that kind of thing.

...Jeez, it just occurred to me that this is starting to sound kinda "Torg"-ish ain't it? Maybe I need to haul that stuff out again... hmm...

@biff: Yep, they've been in my Evernote database for the last week or so and are under "heavy review"... ;) Honestly I find some of the cross-references pretty hard to track down, but I'm not complaining. Thanks for the heads-up, man.

Matt Sheridan said...

You know, Mike, I'd been meaning to point out that I was totally wrong when I said there would be no reason to make spending stress to cancel out attacks into a totally voluntary thing.

See, I realized days later that--if you're building on a Fate variant where different weapons inflict different amounts of additional stress, but only if they hit--then it might make all the sense in the world to willingly take the hit, because you figure there's another, bigger hit you're really going to want to dodge.

It's like the old D&D situation where a character is trapped between some Sneak Attack monster of a Rogue . . . and the Druid's crappy little summoned badger. Naturally, the poor flanked bastard would like to just ignore the badger and worry about not getting his kidneys stolen by Cloaky McStabberson. D&D wouldn't let him do that, but I think it's reasonable that the "defense token" system I was yammering about--where getting double-teamed would eat up defenses damned fast--would.

(Of course, there's a bit of a gamble implied, here: What if you take the hit from the badger and then Cloaky just stabs some other dude? Maybe attacks should be scripted at the top of the round? Not really satisfied with that idea...)