Stress Example

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.

I’ve been talking a lot about ways you can mechanically exploit an idea, in this case adding stress tracks to the Leverage system. Since I’ve been doing this all with an eye on the Leverage/Amber game I ran last week, that seems like the best thing to use to actually demonstrate how to apply some of these ideas.

I want to keep the core idea of a bloodline (heritage) and a gift (a power). The powers will dip a little too strongly into other mechanics, but I like the idea of tying the bloodlines into the stress tracks, so I’ll use one of them to showcase the thought process.

We’ll use House Karm as an example There’s no real source material to base it on: the name is a throwaway from the novels with hardly a sliver of background. The Road to Amber MUSH has a more fleshed out background for them which I know pretty well, and which I tapped a little bit for the idea, though I also tempered it with knowledge of how the characters on the game have been played. The net result is a house whose bloodline is tied to gate magic, who are a bit confrontational and proud, and who are (perhaps contradictorily) defenders by nature. So how to reflect that?

The basic model I’m going for is that the heritage offers three “tricks”. These can take a number of forms, and in this case at least one will probably reflect gate magic (and, like most such things, will probably cost a plot point). The confrontational, proud and defender element are more interesting. Given all this, I’m going to shoot for something like this:

  • None Shall Bar My Passage: Spend a plot point to forcefully open any door.
  • Aggravating: When you inflict UPSET stress, increase the stress die by one step.
  • Hold the Line: When fighting a defensive action, you can set aside a die from your pool rather than rolling it. If you lose, but the stress you take is equal to or less than the die you set aside, reduce the stress die by one step.

Breaking these down, None Shall Bar… is pretty straightforward – a plot point for a specific effect. The other two are much more clear as examples of ways to leverage stress tracks. Aggravating is a simple example of extra hurt, and a decent way to capture the ability to get under someone’s skin. I could potentially have represented that with an exploitation (treating UPSET dice as one step bigger), but I thought of doing it the other way first. That is, perhaps, not the most analytical of reasons, but you’d be amazed how often it ends up being the reason anyway.

Hold the Line is a little fiddly, but that was kind of the point. The ideal envisioned is the guy standing in the doorway, holding off the tide. I ran through some options, but most of them ended up fairly generic. To try to capture the specifics of this, I tried something more complicated. It’s a combination of the called shot idea with a limits sort of armor. It would be easy to design this one to be more potent (such as making the set-aside dice into resistance), but that would probably demand the expenditure of a plot point. That said, since conflicts only hurt the loser, there’s a bit of leeway in the creation of defensive powers, since they don’t allow turtling. That is, because the defensive power only kicks in on a loss anyway, there’s no way to hide behind a defense while whittling down an opponent. This is not an excuse to use them freely though: they tend to slow things down, which can be a pain.

So, there it is: The idea from end to end. It’s a bit more thought out and refined than the ad hoc version I pulled out at the table, but I hope it was informative.

As an aside, let me know how you liked this “deep dive” approach. If it’s something people dig, I may try it again in the future, but if it was just hopelessly self-indulgent, better to know it now.

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