Playing With Fate Stress

Back when Leonard Balsera & I were working on Fate Core, he had this idea for changing the nature of how stress boxes worked. You see the end result today in the value of stress boxes, but at the time I was incredulous — wondering if he was making a change for change’s sake.

Granted, he was able to sell me on it, but it was only over this past weekend that I saw the true value of valued stress boxes.

I was playtesting Achtung! Cthulhu’s Fate build, and I built a mob of undead (like you do). It seemed like they were tougher than normal people, sure, but it’s in numbers where they’re particularly frightening. I didn’t just want to add a Dresden-style armor rating to them, because as much as I’m down with Weapon ratings, I’m not a fan of Armor — that slows the game down. (I accept Armor in certain situations to model fiction, but see it mechanically as not the first resort.)

Originally, for their stress boxes, I had a series of boxes:

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

As individuals, like you would for mobs. On a lark, though, after writing down “Armor:1”, I scratched it out and instead changed it to a series of individual stress tracks to:

[2] [2] [2] [2] [2] [2]

It’s a small change, but the results were super interesting. Suddenly, they could take a hit — just one hit — but unless you succeeded with style, you weren’t one-shotting a zombie. The next hit would, of course, take it out.

Suddenly they were a bit scarier — yes, it was likely they were going to be re-killed by the PCs, but that was going to take effort, and thus either fate points or additional actions were going to be required. Either way, a win.

This came from an accident, originally writing the mob as having a series of 1-stress boxes. Pretty good accident, I think.

From here, you can really fuck with what each stress rating means. Maybe you have a stunt that increases all of your stress ratings by 1, so you have: [2] [3] [4] instead of [1] [2] [3]. What does that mean? It doesn’t increase the number of hits you can take — a 1-stress hit will still tick off the 2 box just as much as a 2-stress one would. But it means you can take bigger hits.

Furthermore, you could simulate the benefits of armor by saying that if you’re wearing something like kevlar, that conveys a 1-stress box that doesn’t refresh, for the purposes of whatever it would normally stop. And that stress box can be used in addition to a character’s normal stress boxes.

Quite a few interesting things you can do with stress boxes, once you start playing with the numbers and decoupling them from being directly on characters. (Not all of them are game-functional, but maybe still worth experimentation.)

– Ryan

[As always, the Fate G+ group is dropping some serious mojo riffing on the idea.]