Typed Stress in Fate

After working on Pathfinder for the last couple years, while also doing various Fate builds for others, I sometimes think about what I’d do if I wanted to merge them together. Such is idle thought, because I don’t have time for that, but occasionally idle thought generates a neat mechanic. One idea that keeps coming back to me is of typed stress—not referring to physical versus mental stress, but subcategories within different arenas of conflict. We could be talking about “fire stress” or “bludgeoning stress,” to use a couple of classic terms.

“Ryan, what’s the point of that?”

Good question, hypothetical human! On the surface, adding a type system to stress adds nothing to Fate. But I’m never interested in what’s just on the surface. What I see as I drill down into the idea are two things: a way to combat creative fatigue and a mechanical hook for stunts.

For the first point—combating creative fatigue—having keywords attached to certain attacks could help frame the mind when coming up with advantages or consequences based on said attack. “Fire stress” might be easy, but still useful. The more obscure the assault is, the better off it would be to have some keyword that told you a bit about how to frame the resulting aspects. For example, if I have some sort of tentacle attack that dissolves the skin, a quick way to describe that is “skin-melting stress.” (Eww.)

Every single thing you can do to help that problem in Fate adds up. I cannot stress that enough. Even for something that is simple and seems straightforward, after three hours of coming up with dozens of aspects in play every little help is appreciated.

For the second point—providing mechanical hooks—is to have game effects that trigger off of different keywords and situations. Maybe you have a “any fire attack you do gets +2 stress” or “you have Armor:4 against piercing stress” or “are immune to ennui attacks.”

If there’s a third point, it would be that whatever the designer felt inclined to state explicitly as typed stress would tell you quite a bit about the game world’s assumptions regarding what sort of conflicts are expected. Many elemental and physical stress keywords implies something different than one where there are plenty of emotional/mental keywords, and something different from social keywords.

And It’s Already There

Here’s the fun, dirty thing about Fate: this already exists in an ad hoc form. Stunts can have narrative triggers, and adjust game effects based on those triggers. These keywords are just explicit narrative callouts, and the language is already a natural fit in how we talk about Fate rules. I have some of this in Achtung! Cthulhu’s monster rules, and it’s not the first Fate game by far to slide in typed stress on an ad hoc basis.

This post just does what many of my Fate posts do: explicitly point out something the rules implicitly allow, so that you can frame your thinking in a specific manner.

A note for clarity: I’m not talking about adding additional stress tracks. I’m just tagging attacks and stress with language for narrative, creative, and rules interactions, but they still apply to whatever stress mechanism you’re using.

– Ryan

Image from: miksminis.blogspot.com/2013/04/friday-rucht-hour-making-your-own-minis.html


One Response to Typed Stress in Fate

  1. Ryan Macklin says:

    Useful comment on the G+ thread, reframing this to be about Dungeon World-style tags.