Advice on handling trauma

Hi, folx

I’ve started a SW Mandalorian-themed S&V campaing for a group of friends, most of them new to the game and/or to roleplaying games. After 5 session, we’re past the 1st job and into the beginning of the 2nd. In a crew of 3, two characters collected 2 trauma and 1 has just collected their 3rd.
The question is: what can I do to stave off character retirement? The group has become very invested in their characters and I’d like to continue their stories. Any ideas, advice and/or considerations are welcome. Thanks!

Do the players realize that they don’t have to resist consequences?
They have to be able to pick and choose which consequences to resist and which can be sucked up.

Or are you hitting them with so hard consequences that they really have no option but to resist them?
If that is the case maybe tone it down a bit: if you deal harm maybe make it temporary harm (blinded by flashbang for a while), maybe you fall down and drop your weapon, maybe you are just scared and have to seek cover, instead of harm maybe the stormtrooper hits the PCs gun which breaks/flies out of hand (they aren’t really supposed to hit anything in SW anyway…)

Id say check those two things first and talk both things through with your players. Explain PC’s are important to not only them but you too. Go through resistance mechanics, talk about how in fiction heroes do get banged up and usually still prevail so it is ok not to resist everything and so forth. Ask are your consequences too hard? Your job is not to cuddle the PC’s but you are supposed to root for them! Maybe consider during game asking the players what would a good consequence be in their opinion.

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I haven’t played S&V, but in one of the Blades games I’ve been running, the players have been coming up with some great ways to overcome traumas through long term projects - a great way to “change the rules,” or add something new to the game.

One player has been having his character study Iruvian martial arts in an attempt to center himself. His cutter had 3 traumas (reckless, vicious, haunted; starting to come apart at the seams). He filled up a LTP to be accepted as a student and learn the basics, and then another to actually do the work of practice/meditation/centering. We had some good tension seeing if he’d finish the clock before taking a fourth trauma. When he (just) made it, we had a discussion at the table about its effect. In the end, we decided that all that work meant that he could spend a playbook advance to remove a trauma, which I really like – it reflects the internal work and transformation involved.

Another character has been slowly inventing a new process he’s calling Electroplasmic Acupuncture, intending it to be a means of “treating blockages in a person’s spirit”… We haven’t entirely figured out the end of that project yet - but I’m looking forward to it.

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So, a couple of thoughts here:

Session Content
In 5 Sessions there has only been 1 Job? On one hand, this is great! There is a sometimes, but not always, “problematic” approach to FitD games where every session must to be a Score. It’s a really good habit to let sessions breathe and let Scores develop and begin whenever necessary and not feel forced to make every session a Job.

That said, 5 Sessions and 1 Job to me seems like:

  1. The Job itself is probably going on for way too long
  2. There is so much time spent outside of a Job (which is fine!), but this has a catch 22 that the Players don’t have the resources to Indulge their Vice. It’s totally fine (and great!) that y’all are (hopefully) sticking to a fiction first mentality: follow the fiction and bring the appropriate mechanics to bear. It is totally fine to make Action Rolls and earn Stress while not being on a Job! However, when you don’t have Jobs- you don’t get the fictional positioning for 2 Free Downtime Actions and you don’t easily have Cred for Extra DTAs!

So if the Stress Accumulation is from Point 1, then the solution is quite simple: Try to tighten the focus of the Job. A Job doesn’t have to fit nicely into 1 Session, but most probably will. Go a little easier on the number of obstacles. Try to “zoom out” a little more and get a little less granular if you’re getting into the nitty gritty of each nook and cranny for a Job.

If it is because of Problem 2, try to focus the group a little bit on trying to settle on some Jobs. Again, not every Session has to have a Job, but going 5 Sessions with only 1 Job is a bit much. It may also be beneficial to remind them of Debt as a mechanic in the game if they aren’t big on doing frequent Jobs but need cash for their Vice. I’m not sure if it is the intent of the rules, but while it seems earning Debt is similar to “Acquiring an Asset” I don’t make it cost a Downtime Action, I let them go into Debt whenever the hell they want.

Engaging With the Mechanics Too Much

This is a problem I see in more “traditional” PbtA games. One of two things happen:

  1. Players are advancing way to quickly because you often get XP on a miss in many “traditional” PbtA games
  2. GMs are struggling to think of problems when players roll a 9 or less

Realistically, what is actually happening is that GMs (or perhaps even the table as a whole) are calling to use the mechanics way more than they are needed.

You need to ask yourself if you are really playing Fiction First… is the fictional approach in the game really triggering a mechanical support structure? If so… which one? Because unless it is an Action Roll (which can lead to a Resistance Roll), Stress isn’t a concern (as you can’t use Stress on Fortune Rolls which themselves don’t have “Consequences” that can be Resisted).

The more Action Rolls being called for (possibly unnecessarily), the more the Stress can rack up.

Be very conscientious about what mechanics you are bringing to bear in order to support the fiction. Not everything the players do will warrant a dice roll.

Fall in Love With Consequences

As has already been mentioned, there is a chance that the players are Resisting almost every time and they don’t need to! Reinforce the Players Best Practices. The players will get so much more out of the game if they accept that Consequences are okay and not every single one needs to be resisted.

On that same note, the “end of the character” should be okay with them as well. Everyone should keep that Best Practice of “Hold on Lightly.” Not every character’s story will be fully explored or get wrapped up in a satisfactory bow and that is okay.

Games like Blades and S&V are- in the long run- about the nature of the Crew and not any one individual character. On the Session to Session basis, sure- we care about those Characters and it is nice to see them evolve and learn more about them… but we ought to all “Hold on Lightly” and collectively “Play to Find Out” what happens next. Treat the characters like a Stolen Car and you will get so much more out of the game that way.

Hope that helps and hope that makes sense.

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Also if you don’t enjoy it, you can just write it out. I haven’t ever forced anyone to retire from Trauma. Maxing stress is still bad, so players still avoid it.

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@Vcut @Scaramouche @Sully5443 @Antifinity
Thank you all so much for your replies! This brainstorming gave me a lot to consider.

@Vcut We go through consequence/resistance rules in every session and I do point out that they’re not obliged to resist everything. I’m working on toning down consequences (on my side) and I’ll try to encourage them to bring their setback ideas into the process. Good point.

Stress economics is something that we’ve been discussing. They’re not too keen on accepting devil’s bargains, always preferring to push themselves for an extra dice. (Which, I guess, goes back to hard consequences. I’m admitedly not the best in coming with enticing bargains).

@Scaramouche That’s the route I’m going for: long term projects to reduce trauma. My Muscle (S&V Cutter equivalent) has also accumulated 3 traumas. We’re thinking of projects he can take to center himself and learning a new martial art is a great idea (I might steal it :smile: )!

@Sully5443 I’d say Point 1 would describe it (it’s been 3/4 sessions for job #1; 1 for downtime and 1 session to start job #2). And, you’re right in pointing that sometimes one can engage the mechanics too much, a “lighter” touch might be the best approach.

@Antifinity This is certainly an option! :wink:

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