Friday, February 19, 2010

Burning Stress

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

So Greg Stolze started this thread on RPG.net 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.
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