Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stress Gimmicks, Part 1

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.

While the multiple stress pools offer on axis to expand the system on, there are also fiddly bits which go in the other direction, offering specific mechanical hooks for generating certain effects. While these may not be explicit rules to this system, they're ideas that mechanically dovetail with it, which is handy for house rules or custom talents.

CALLED SHOTS: Want to guarantee a certain level of damage? Easy - set aside one of your dice before the roll. If you win the roll, that's the die that sets the inflicted stress, not the third highest as usual. Simple enough as is, but if you want to enhance those rules, you can add talents like, say, Sniper, which lets you increase the size of your called-shot die by one step so long as you're taking a long shot with proper aim.

ARMOR: It's pretty easy to handle armor under a system like this: reduce the size of any damage die by one step. Done. It mitigates things a little, but doesn't really make for a true barrier. This can be a great thing for non-HURT stress tracks, as it's a good way to express someone being unflappable or the like.

More powerful armor might reduce things more than one step, and I would generally rule that reduction past zero dice should negate the stress entirely. Be careful though, this is very potent, and if you opt for it, make sure to include some sort of mitigation.

RESISTANCE: For those situations where you really and truly want to stop stress, resistance provides a different approach: it has a die value (like anything else in Cortex) and any stress equal to or less than the die value is ignored. So even if you're HURT d6, and you take a d8 hit, if you have resistance to harm at d8, you shrug it off. This is pretty potent, so it's good to mix with some mitigating factors (like you lose a step of it every time its used). Practically, I would usually tie this to some other value, so that the Dragon d8 implicitly has resistance to fire at d8.

EXTRA HURT: The flipside of armor is the ability to increase the damage die by a step (or more, though again, that can be quite potent). This is a pretty simple thing to imagine for weapons, but it can be even better for other stress tracks. A particularly sharp tongue might make someone more UPSET, while a talent for sales goes a long way towards helping people be UNCERTAIN.

As written, stress is a single progression, which is to say you're only rolling the highest value. Bu tif you want a bit more of a brutal feel, you could treat each step as a box, checking them off as they get filled in, and using all dice. THat is to say, if I'm HURT d8, and I get HURT again for d6, rather than bumping up to HURT d10, I fill in my HURT d6 box, and I'm now HURT d6, d8. If I get hit for another d6, that will 'roll up' to the next available slot, and I'll end up HURT d6, d8, d10. This approach makes the death spiral a bit more pronounced (since you can end up granting a fistful of extra dice) but it also opens the door to things like more 'boxes' at each level if you want a more varied wound track. Since it also makes each wound distinct, it can have an interesting impact on recovery (see below).

Not done yet. More gimmicks to come tomorrow.


  1. If you are taking requests, I'd love to see Stress gimmicks that are focused around adding d4s to the pool to increase complications.

  2. It'd also be pretty easy to slide a few of those into talents as well.

  3. Things to add d4s to other people are probably gimmicks I'd hook into other things (plot point or skill use). One model I very much like is abilities that allow a player to add a larger than normal die, but in doing so, they ALSO add a d4. We used that for our poorly trained mage, and it worked great.

    Broadly speaking, being able to get things for adding a d4 to the pool is good technology, just tangential to the stress tracks.

    -Rob D.

  4. Rob, your larger than normal die but a d4 as well plan sounds similar to what I was contemplating for a guns rules in a more HBO, less TNT version of Leverage, where guns added a large die, but also some number of d4s.

  5. I'm very fond of Dogs in the Vineyard's approach to guns, which of course influenced Leverage in a broader fashion. I'm still tempted to have people roll a d4 when they're using some kind of lethal force, anyway, on top of their action; Complications that arise should be vicious (Bullet Wound d6) and if you Take Out the opposition they're pretty much dead.

    Also, love the nods to ORE here, Rob. :)


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