Stress Gimmicks, Part 2

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.

Picking up from yesterday, here are some more mechanical gimmicks you can hook into using the stress tracks with the Leverage system.

EXPLOITATION: Rather than inflict more stress, it’s possible for a character to be better at taking advantage of the stress of others, which is to say that if they get to roll a stress die of a particular type against someone, they make it bigger. As such, if someone with a barbed tongue is talking and you’re already UPSET d6, they might get to roll a d8 rather than the usual d6.

RESILIENCE: The flip side of exploitation, some people can shoulder their burdens more effectively, and when one of their stress dice is use against them, it’s reduced by a step. So someone with a high pain threshold might get injured as easily as anyone else, but it slows him down less. If he’s HURT d6, the other guy only gets to roll a d4.

SACRIFICE: The ability to inflict stress on yourself for an effect is an incredibly rich opportunity. At its simplest, you might allow someone to “draw on their reserves” for an effect. The simplest example of this might be a character who can add a die to any given physical roll, but after the roll takes TIRED stress equal to the bonus die rolled. There are any number of combinations for this based on what effect is generated, what stress it “costs” and things like certainty. For example, if you want to make things a bit more of a gamble, use the “draw on reserves” ability, but have it inflict stress only if the player rolls a 1.

RECOVERY: Recovery from stress is a potentially fiddly area, especially because different kinds of stress recover in different ways. A good nights sleep might fix most stress, but high HURT stress might take longer. Now, one could easily get very detailed in this, and assign each level of stress a recovery time under optimal and non-optimal circumstances (So, for example, a D6 hurt takes two days to recover on its own, but only a few hours under medical care). There may be some desire to make such tables “realistic”, but the truth is that injury and recovery are a messy, imprecise business, so any set of numbers is probably as good as any other.

If, on the other hand, you want to just key it off scenes, you could have stress get reduced by “recovery scenes” by one step per scene. What constitutes a recovery scene may depend on the type and severity of the stress, and the scene need not be *only* about recovery. I mean, if the character is HURT d10 then, yes, the scene will probably be one in a hospital room (though, heck, it might be dramatically bandaging himself and stitching his own wound shut, in fine action-movie tradition), but if he’s merely UPSET d8, then going out drinking to relax (and also have conversations, mingle and so on) might be enough to drop it to a d6.

For more cinematic healing, you might allow players to turn stress into injuries, represented by d4s. Thus, If I end a scene HURT d8, the GM might say “OK, now that the adrenaline has worn off, what’s the lingering effect?” and I coudl decide I have a Sprained Ankle d4. This could be automatic, or it could be a roll (stress vs. appropriate stat) or stat based (Only becomes an injury if stress is greater than the appropriate stat) – there are lots of options, and the big question is what people getting hurt looks like in your game.

Whatever the default recovery model, it’s entirely possible that there might be alternatives. Magical healing is one possibility of course, but even personality traits might be appropriate to increase Stress recovery on some tracks. A character with a “Second Wind” ability might recover two steps of TIRED stress with each recovery scene (or time increment). Another one with some kind of Zen stuff might treat every scene as a recovery scene for UPSET (or he might recover twice as fast).

I haven’t hit on every possible permutation to put on these rules, but hopefully this spread is enough to make it clear that there’s a lot that can be done with this relatively simple mechanic.

One thought on “Stress Gimmicks, Part 2

  1. atminn

    This has perhaps been my favorite blog series I’ve read. I hope you’re not finished diving into Leverage hacking Rob. Some of these gimmicks are brilliant and what I’ve been looking for but hadn’t considered them at all.

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that Cortex Plus (especially basic Leverage plus stress and minus flashbacks) is an enormously robust and versatile system that can effectively and elegantly handle an astounding variety of game genres/styles. It both feels realistic and also rewards whichever aspects of play are most compelling to the players or appropriate to the game.


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