How do you work stressing out in game? It seems like it will often happen as a result of success. Either someone will push themselves or make a resistance roll. Resistance doesn’t fail, and it feels weird to take someone out for spending stress to get greater effect or the extra die that lets them succeed better. I’m looking for advice and examples of how to present maxing your stress in the narrative—for Blades or Scum.
You were chasing them and they were going to gain distance on you so you made a resistance roll to avoid that consequence but you went over your stress. How do you do that so it doesn’t negate the effect of the resistance roll?
Why would someone ever push themselves to succeed or get extra effect when that’s likely to negate their success?
Even outside of those kinds of situations what do you have happen in general when someone exceeded their stress cap? Abruptly saying “Screw this I’m going drinking” seems lame. The lurk makes a resistance roll to avoid setting off the trap that will spray acid on the contents of the document safe she’s trying to crack, but then rage quits the job? The cutter pushes themselves to thoroughly beat down a small group of rival thugs, then flexes and pulls a George Castanzas to leave on a high note?
I’m definitely missing something. I didn’t see examples of this in either book.
I think the key thing to remember about pushing yourself is that, well, you’re pushing yourself the characters are pulling on a limited resource of mental energy to get that extra edge. And while most characters aren’t going to be pushing themselves when it’s going to give them a trauma, there is a buffer before they reach that level where spending stress is a worthwhile risk. Like how a D&D player won’t immediately care about a couple hitpoints, but when they’re running low every one matters. Meanwhile, resistance always works, but it’s about negating consequences, not succeeding, and a common form would be lowering the level of harm taken.
Keeping that in mind you could say that the lurk, who is already stressed, almost sets off a trap, but just barely catches herself, realizes she’s out of her depth, loses her confidence momentarily, sits out the rest of the scene, and comes back with trauma on account of how she almost just died by having acid sprayed in her face. Or that cutter, they’ve been overexerting themselves to get through a rival gang, if it’s really worth it to the player they can put their final ounce of energy into one last attack.
(Aside: At first, I thought you were asking for real-life stress management tips. )
In general, I would say that trauma-ing out should happen at the next possible opportunity. The occasion that prompted the trauma, whether that is through pushing yourself or rolling low on a resistance roll, still resolves as normal. Then, the PC enters trauma mode. They can no longer make Action or Resistance rolls. Whatever happens to them, happens.
How trauma mode plays out is going to depend on the narrative as it happens. Do they break stealth and run for safety somewhere else? Do they turn inward, too shocked by what they’ve seen to be social or co-operative? Are they captured by someone? Keep an eye on the situation and see where it goes. You might find just the right moment to make them snap.
Trauma-ing “out” doesn’t need to remove you from the score–only the “current conflict” (“Trauma,” pg. 13). I usually give my scoundrels a fair amount of leeway when it comes to what counts as a “conflict.”
This is how you can get your “tunnel vision” scenes. Let’s say as part of the gang’s raid on a Hive warehouse, the scoundrels get into firefight. A Hive mercenary and the Cutter manage to shoot each other at exactly the same time. The Cutter resists, but trips his next Trauma, picking “Vicious.” We cut away from him and zoom-in on the other scoundrels as they finish up the battle.
When the fight concludes, the Spider realizes that they’ve lost track of the Cutter. She starts digging through the many bodies, until she sees her crewmate sitting next to an egregiously shot-up corpse. The Cutter is absent-mindedly dry-firing his pistol at the dead merc, muttering to himself.
“Bastard ruined my best coat.”
“I… I think he’s had enough, buddy.” The Spider gently turns the Cutter’s weapon away, and lifts him up. The crew still needs their violent friend to help secure the inner warehouse.
As a player, if I know that my next push is going to trauma-out my character, I do it. Then, depending on the roll I’ll narrate either terrible, horrible failure that “wrecks” my character, without taking actual harm (the trauma is the consequence), or a blaze of glory / pyrrhic victory style moment.
For example, last session we were hunting a spirit warden, and my hound was holed up in a desiccated hotel across from our ambush, sniping. He pushed himself to get great effect on a poison dart shot, and essentially had a heart attack from the stress relief of success. (A la Mark Dantonio) Now he’s “Soft”.
Thanks everyone. My biggest concern is not negating the result of whatever roll generated the stress. I’ll focus on it with the players and the fiction in the game and work with them to come up with something that feels right.
My Crew allows a form of “hysteria” option for the scoundrels. When maxed out on stress they can still make normal actions rolls, but cannot resist, push themselves, assist or use any other abilities that cost stress. This might give them an option to contribute, but it is also incredibly dangerous for them.
Whenever they want they can choose to drop out of the action and enter the more catatonic state to take a trauma and clear stress.
I usually have my PC’s be “out” until I worry that the player is getting bored
If it’s close to the end of a score, then the score ends without them, if there’s a good scene change I’ll take that opportunity to bring them back.
Ofc there’s that one time all three players trauma’d out on their underground train, with a forgotten god tentacle spawn climbing up the last car, and two of them went out desperately trying to fire up the steam engine. That time it was logical to say “heat stroke”.
Good thing they had a loyal and capable hench-pire to take over! (they managed to fill the clock as they went out)