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.
Once you have the basic idea of a stress track, there’s a lot of potential for interesting mechanics.
The first item of note is that there is room for other tracks beyond HURT. Exactly what they should be depends a lot on the tone and nature of the game. For example, a TIRED track might be a useful way to handle fatigue, while an UPSET track might be a useful way to handle social “damage”. For purposes of my Leverage-esque play, I use the following pools: HURT, TIRED, UPSET and UNCERTAIN.
HURT and TIRED are both, hopefully, fairly self explanatory. UPSET may take a little more explanation, but I think it’s pretty basic – at its heart, it’s the result of all the emotional things that muddy our judgement – anger, hurt, fear, embarrassment and so on. UNCERTAIN, in many games, would probably be folded into UPSET, but for Leverage play (or other intrigue based games) it’s a bit more important. It’s a result of everything that takes a person’s feet out form under them, from a clever deceit to a bit too much liquor.
Other games may use different stress tracks: Smallville, for example, AFRAID, ANGRY, EXHAUSTED, INSECURE and INJURED. Mouseguard’s conditions, which are similar, include HUNGRY/THIRSTY, ANGRY, TIRED, INJURED and SICK. Even knowing nothing else about those two games, the comparison of those lists can tell you worlds about the differences between them.
For many game, the simple addition of, effectively, social and mental (and other) “hit points” makes the solution to a great many issues apparent. By offering a path to an outcome (which is what any damage system really is) you are offering support of that particular path.
That said, one clever element of handling stress this way is that in building up from zero, the track doesn’t need to exist until you use it. Contrast this to, say, hit points: your hit point value is always on your sheet, a subtle signal that play is going down that particular path. Since stress tracks start from zero, they could just as easily not be on your sheet at all. That means that if you want to experiment with them, it’s easy to add or subtract them as needed. Perhaps you have a table that’s only comfortable with tracking injury – if you opt to experiment with adding fatigue, it’s a non-disruptive addition. Similarly, if you have something you want to track for a single adventure arc, you can add a temporary stress track, like “Enemy Alertness” or “Insanity” to pick two strongly themed options.
Now, themes are all well and good, but the real question any system must face is how useful this mechanic is as a component for constructing rules, systems and other elements of play. Stress tracks are, I think, pretty robust, and we’ll delve into some of the things you can do tomorrow.
1 – I had previously called this CONFUSED, but UNCERTAIN seems to get the point across much more clearly.
2 – That would be a great one for the whole group to contribute to over the course of a very precise break in.