Note: This week, I’m going to really drill down into one topic – stress tracks in Leverage and how I applied them – with two goals in mind. First, I want to talk through the application of the mechanic, and second because i want to showcase the thought process behind how I made certain decisions at the table in a way that will hopefully be informative.
Leverage uses a fairly quick, escalation driven conflict resolution system. It works and works pretty well, but I found myself looking at how Smallville does that same, and being impressed. While i might not want to go all the way as to duplicate Smallville’s model, I’m definitely happy to steal a few ideas from it. I did so for last weeks Leverage-Amber and it worked out well enough that I’ll definitely do it again, and I figured it merited a writeup.
The first idea (and the big lift from Smallville – and by extension Mouseguard and some other games) is that of stress tracks. Stress tracks represent a number of different conditions. The most obvious, and the first most people think of, is the HURT track, which is a gauge of how hurt the character is. There are other stress tracks, but we’ll worry about them later – for now we’ll use HURT to illustrate.
This idea is pretty intuitive to most people who’ve gamed: the more hurt you get, the higher the stress track goes. In this model, the HURT is represented by a die value (d4, d6 and so on). The size of the die represents the severity of the injury, with d4 representing barely a scratch and a d12 representing something that would drop a horse.
The value of your HURT track ends up working against you any time you take an action where being hurt would cause problems (which is to say, most physical actions). In this situations, the GM (or your opponent) picks up a die equal to your HURT value to add to the roll. If the value of your HURT die is ever higher than your highest die, you get taken out (in a manner determined by your adversary).
Stress is inflicted as follows: Before a roll, the GM lets the player know that stress is a possible outcome – since we’re talking about HURT, we probably mean a fight or something else physically threatening (and, implicitly, the threat probably exists for the opponent as well, as appropriate). Both sides roll as normal, and once the roll is complete, the victor looks at his third highest die showing, choosing one in the case of a tie. The level of HURT inflicted is equal to the size of that die.
For example, if the winner of a roll has the dice come up 6(d8), 6(d6), 7(d10), 8(d8) and 4(d4), he’s rolled a 15 (7+8). The next highest roll is a 6, which showed up on two dice (a d6 and a d8) so the player gets to choose which to use, and will probably pick the d8. As a result, his opponent’s HURT stress track is now at d8.
If the target is already hurt, then there are two possibilities. First, if the new HURT value is higher than the old one, replace the current value with the new one. If the current value is equal to or higher than the new result, then increase it by one step. This last rule also governs what happens if there are no dice left in the pool – it’s effectively a zero sided die, which means it will just increase the current stress level by 1 step.
Continuing the previous example: If the target had already been HURT d4, then at the end of the roll the d8 would replace the d4, and the opponent would now be HURT d8.
If the target had already been HURT d8, then the tie means it gets bumped up a step, and ends at HURT d10.
If the target was already at HURT d12, then the lesser value means it bumps up a step, which probably means immediately going down.
Ok, so that’s the basic mechanic. Tomorrow we’ll see about fleshing it out in other ways.
1 – This does create a small “death spiral”, but it’s quite mild, especially since exchanges of rolls are not common.