Welcome back to another post of Turn Those Dials!, posts about the ‘dials’ of Fate Core. If you’re unfamiliar with this dials concept and/or missed my previous articles of Turn Those Dials!, check out my previous articles on Aspects and Skills.
In this post, as is evident by the title, we are going to have a look at Stress and Consequences. We’re doubling up this time because 1) Stress and Consequences are closely related and 2) each one is simple enough that I can fit both into one blog post.
Stress and Consequences as a Whole
Unlike my previous posts, I’m not gonna drill down on the consequences (I’ll be using a capital C when referring to the game mechanic, Consequences) of messing with each individual number very much. First, I’m going to explain the broad consequences of messing with Stress and Consequences, and it might be different than you think… Shall we begin?
Increasing and decreasing the amount of Stress and number of Consequences that all characters have doesn’t increase the overall power level of the game (unless you don’t also increase the Stress and Consequences of NPCs to suit). This may come as a surprise, but you’ll see why this is in just a little bit. But first, I’d like to explain what Stress and Consequences are for, in order for you to understand what the effect is (We’re doing quite a bit of “But wait, let me say this first”).
You probably think that Stress and Consequences are a measure of power level, but they aren’t – not really. They can be, when it comes to the disparity between different characters, but, since there isn’t a large amount of disparity, power level barely comes into play. No, the purpose behind Stress and Consequences is pacing. They exist to slow game play when it comes to conflicts, which is often the favorite part of RPGs for many players.
By adding Stress and Consequences, conflicts take more than one or two rounds now. Without them, characters could only ever take one hit before they were taken out (or conflicts would work more like challenges or contests). With them, characters survive several hits, during which they can apply better tactics in order to take down their enemies. This is also known as making conflicts more ‘fun’. 🙂
Now that you know why Stress and Consequences exist, let’s look at the effect of changing them, which should be fairly easy to derive, once you know their purpose. But, in case you don’t want to pause your reading enough to use your brain, the consequences of messing with Stress and Consequences is this: If you reduce the amount or values of Stress and/or Consequences, conflicts will end more quickly, and it’s easier to take someone out with a single powerful blow; if you increase the amount or values of Stress and/or Consequences, conflicts with take more time to resolve and it will be more difficult to build up enough invocations to take out someone with a single blow.
There is one big thing that makes the effects of changing Stress different than changing Consequences: you only get to use one Stress box when you take damage, whereas you get to use multiple Consequence slots per hit. It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, but it’s enough.
The simplest dial to mess with is the base number of Stress boxes. Fate Core defaults the base amount to 2, before Toughness modifies it. Raising and lowering this base number has a very strong correlation to the effects I described in the previous section.
Another fairly simple change that can be done if the modifications that Toughness gives. One might think that leaving the Toughness modifications the same while adjusting the base amount might make the modifications seem more or less powerful by comparison, but this is not true.
Why? It all has to do with the values of those Stress boxes. When you have a higher number of starting consequences, the values of the additional Stress are larger (and vice versa), which makes it so that the Toughness modifications scale with base number of Stress boxes.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever mess with the effects of Toughness on your Stress tracks (although, you probably shouldn’t). Decreasing the effects of Toughness will make all characters have more equal longevity in conflicts, whereas increasing the effects will make Toughness more important among your skills due to its stronger effect.
So far, all of our changes to Stress have simply been with the number of Stress boxes under the assumption that the normal, default numbering scheme (of each new box having a value one higher than the one before it) is still being applied. But who says that you need to follow that? It’s time to get crazy.
What if your Toughness just gave you additional 1-value Stress boxes, instead of the usual 3-value and 4-value boxes? What if they were all 2-value Stress boxes? What if the numbering scheme started at a higher number, so that the starting 2 boxes possibly have values of 3 and 4?
All of these changes are fairly evident in what they do (but how much effect each change has is a little bit difficult to be sure of), so play around with the ideas in your head and talk with your players about what kind of changes you want to make.
Now that you’ve read through the part about Stress, reread it and replace the word ‘Stress’ with ‘Consequence’ and the values with the actual defaults for Consequences. In general, everything there applies here.
There’s not a lot of advice I can give about Stress and Consequences; just remember that they are a pacing mechanic. If you want conflicts to take less time, reduce the number of Stress and/or Consequences, or if you want conflicts to be a bigger focus, increase the number of Stress and/or Consequences.
My homebrew dial setting: The next time I get to GM a Fate game (I’m currently running D&D Next and playing Pathfinder with my group), I plan to alter Stress as such: You have 3 Stress boxes. The values of the Stress boxes are all equal to your Toughness + 1 (maximum of +4), creating a range of 1 – 4 for the values of your Stress boxes. You gain an additional Stress box at +4 Toughness, and you still gain the extra minor Consequence at a +5 Toughness.
(So, if you have a +0 Toughness, you have 3 Stress boxes with a value of 1 each. If you have a +1 Toughness, you have 3 Stress boxes with a value of 2 each. If you have a +2 Toughness, you have 3 Stress boxes with a value of 3 each. If you have a +3 Toughness, you have 3 Stress boxes with a value of 4 each. If you have a +4 Toughness, you have 4 Stress boxes with a value of 4 each. If you have a +5 Toughness, it’s the same at +4, but with the bonus minor consequence)
This should have the effect of making every character take a similar number of hits, but it takes stronger hits to break through to the Consequences earlier if the character has higher toughness.