Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fate Core:Stress...what the hell?

Stress is not damage. It looks like damage. It acts like damage. But brother, damage it is not. Consequences are damage. Stress is just your ability to avoid permanent, or semi-permanent harm. I have been involved in a lot of conversations about what stress is, and what it is not. There are, essentially, two views on stress. On the one side stress is viewed as a type of damage. On the other it is not. I think I have established which side of the argument I fall under.

See the problem I have with stress being viewed as a type of damage is that it doesn't really behave like damage in a few key areas. It has no lasting effect. It is not immediately statistically relevant. It does not require any sort of recovery action. To me damage must have at least one of those factors to count as damage. I could be wrong. Hasn't happened yet, but there is always the possibility.

If stress isn't damage, what is it then? Stress is a pacing mechanic. Its the ticking clock that pushes conflict forward. It is also a damage mitigator. It is there to help the players avoid consequences. Here is where I tend to get into arguments with folks. They look at stress the other way around. They see consequences as a way to avoid stress. To me this is baffling. Why would the longer lasting issue be the mitigating factor?

This is the beauty of stress and consequences for me. it is a constant balancing act to keep you dancing around in pain and moving toward the end of the conflict. Conflict becomes a game of chicken. Which side concedes first? How bad do you want, or need, to win? This interplay makes every hit you take a choice between shortening the conflict(taking stress) or making your life harder(taking consequences).


  1. You owe me a credit on "combat is a game of chicken".

    Anyway, I totally agree with you. I think people equate stress to damage because they're used to hit-point-like-things, and stress is the thing that looks the most like hit points.

    But if you look at what stress does *in fiction* (fiction, not physics, right?), what does it do? The hero takes a wound, which later bugs him in some way making his life harder. Generally, the more serious the injury, the longer (in the fiction) it persists.

    That does not sound like stress. It sounds *exactly* like consequences.

    1. No here is the big unspoken question. WHy is there more than one kind of stress? It represents the same thing.

    2. My guess? So that you can have characters that are more physically vs. mentally resistant.

      Though I think it would probably have been more consistent if that had solely been done via extra consequences.

  2. One obvious reason why stress is often construed a kind of damage is that it is plotted on a Stress Track, which is a very wargamey way of tracking damage to systems or structures.

    RPGs owe a great deal to wargames in their design. This is very apparent to those of us in their 50s, but may be much less so to folks who are younger. The bifurcations in gaming culture (miniatures gamers vs. wargamers; wargamers vs. rpgers, rpgers vs. cardgamers) mostly occurred in several waves over a 40 year period. The most recent and currently grating of these is trad rpgs vs. storygames.

    All of this is to say that even for a designer with leanings clearly way into the storygame camp, the influence - conscious or not - of wargame mechanics can be far-reaching.

    Breaking away from that without leaving impressions (such as Stresss = Damage) influenced by prior mechanical systems probably requires an entirely different system of representation. Something not a Track.

  3. There might be a middle ground where you look at stress as "pain, but not damage". :)

    1. Absolutely. Pain or grief or shame. All of which can lead to "damage"-ing Consequences.

      If I use the word Damage once more today I may turn into Iain Banks.

  4. Replies
    1. I am not certain I agree with you. In role playing games there are several kind of armor. Ablative armor(armor that gets removed when hit) is the least fun as it lengthens combat and adds little in the way of tactical choice or scene momentum. Armor is generally static. It does what it does, and very little changes that. If stress is armor, then it would be ablative. However I see stress as far more interesting than that. Stress is a choice you make. Do you take a penalty now(consequences), or do you take stress and the combat clock takes a step toward doomsday(stressed out). Stress is somewhat unique in the RPG world, it behaves like many things yet remains distinctly itself.

  5. Sorry to wake a sleeping thread but I'm playing catch-up. Stress to me looks a lot like fatigue. My all-time favourite rules fragment is the fatigue / damage / healing rules from Lee Gold's 'Lands of Adventure'. One feature of those rules was that you could trade off fatigue (Energy Points) to make up deficiencies in your die rolls. Crunch time comes when you run out of fatigue. This has always seemed a sensible approach but no other rules that I have read ever picked up on it.