I’ve been mulling over ideas for a rules-lite Blades hack. I’m wondering how I might build more narrative into Blades’ stress mechanic. I love how it works in Blades, but I am looking for ways to make stress feel stickier and more emotive.
For context, the setting is loosely inspired by the graphic novel DIE, with a dash of Veronica Mars. It stars a group of high-schoolers who find themselves living a double life in a strange and terrifying otherworld. The system is a mashup of Blades, Ghost/Echo, Paul Taliesin’s wonderful And Thus Began the Adventures of Eowyn, and the relationships in Belonging Outside of Belonging games. I’ve never done any design before, and I am wondering if you’d mind giving me your two cents on this overview. It went long, so thank you in advance!
Each session is divided into two phases: the Crew’s ‘score’ into the otherworld, then ‘downtime’ for family and group drama, family relationships, plotting, etc.
Instead of Stress tracks and Action dots, characters have a set of Traits (relationships, resources, possessions tangible & intangible) that each have a circle rating, showing how much Strain they can take. Traits are divided between our world and the otherworld. A character might look like this:
- my hardworking single mom oo
- my childhood copy of anne of green gables o
- my David Bowie playlist
- my vixen spirit mask oo
- the favor I did for the terrifying & pitiful Faceless Ones
- the debt owed to me by the jealous & glamorous Empress of Mirrors
Whenever their character does something dangerous, the player declares a Goal. The GM declares a Desperate, Risky, or Controlled Danger (or, in the case of special abilities, chooses from a list) commensurate with the fiction and the Goal. The GM may also include an additional Danger.
The player starts with 2 dice. They can Risk any number of Traits, gaining a die for each Risk they take. Traits with no circles cannot be Risked, they are simply erased in exchange for a die. After the dice are rolled, players assign one die to each Goal, Danger, and Risked Trait, reading the results like this:
Results for Goal / Danger / Risked Trait
1 - 2: the Goal fails & the opportunity is lost / the Danger comes true / the Risked Trait gets 2 Strain
3 - 4: the Goal is partially achieved & the opportunity remains / the Danger partially comes true & the danger remains / the Risked Trait gets 1 strain
5 - 6: the Goal is achieved / the Danger does not come true / the Risked Trait gets no effect
The player decides where to assign each die. I like the tactical and narrative decisions that get made here. Do I Snap my special item and get a full success on the goal, or can I risk a partial success on the goal? Can we weather this danger partially coming true, or should I put my only 6 toward it? I also like how the player has final say over what’s possible for their character (it’s like giving them control of the Effect lever in Blades).
When a Trait has any of its circles filled, it becomes Strained. If a Trait with all its circles filled gets any amount of Strain, it Snaps. A Snapped Trait cannot be Risked.
When a relationship Snaps, players roleplay an Aftermath scene. They can decide whether to erase the Snapped relationship and create a new one, or decide how the relationship deepens or gets more complicated.
If a certain number of your Traits become Strained (5?) or if all of your Traits are strained, your character character has a meltdown and is knocked out of the current conflict, as in Blades.
Instead of earning a Trauma, though, they learn a Lesson about the world, their place in it, other people, or their own limits. Each Lesson is tied to our world or the otherworld. Meltdowns are how you advance, earning new special abilities and overhauling your Traits list.
When a character has learned enought Lessons (3 or 4?), they grow up and are no longer a part of the story. They narrate an epilogue about them finding a place in our world or leaving for the otherworld, depending on which world they learned more Lessons in.
Action will probably be more zoomed out than I normally run my Blades games. A blow-by-blow narrative would eat into player’ resources really fast. During scores and downtime, characters will have a few tools to clear Strain (I’m thinking a Lure, like in Dream Askew). There will also be some shared Traits from the Crew sheet, than any player can Risk.
But overall, I want the economy to be unsustainable and the arc of the game to be tragic (You can’t avoid growing up). At the moment, I’d like a narrative to run for 5 - 8 sessions, with the characters and the world changing very fast.
A few questions I’m having after typing it all up: Are there potential downsides to making the same economy cover Stress, hitpoints, and XP points? Are there mathematical issues that are going to sink this system? Or emergent behaviors to the system that I should know about? Are there FitD games that make stress more thematic? What questions do you have that I could take into the next iteration of this core mechanic?
If you made it to the end of this, thank you SO MUCH!