Table of Contents
A successful attack lands a hit equivalent to its shift value on a target. So if you get three shifts on an attack, you land a 3-shift hit.
If you get hit by an attack, one of two things happen: either you absorb the hit and stay in the fight, or you’re taken out.
Fortunately, you have two options for absorbing hits to stay in the fight—you can take stress and/or consequences. You can also concede a conflict before you’re taken out, in order to preserve some control over what happens to your character.
If, for whatever reason, you want to forego your defense and take a hit (like, say, to interpose yourself in the path of an arrow that’s about to skewer your friend), you can.
Because you’re not defending, the attacker’s rolling against Mediocre (+0) opposition, which means you’re probably going to take a bad hit.
One of your options to mitigate the effect of a hit is to take stress.
The best way to understand stress is that it represents all the various reasons why you just barely avoid taking the full force of an attack. Maybe you twist away from the blow just right, or it looks bad but is really just a flesh wound, or you exhaust yourself diving out of the way at the last second.
Mentally, stress could mean that you just barely manage to ignore an insult, or clamp down on an instinctive emotional reaction, or something like that.
Stress boxes also represent a loss of momentum—you only have so many last-second saves in you before you’ve got to face the music.
On your character sheet, you have a number of stress boxes, each with a different shift value. By default, all characters get a 1-point and a 2-point box. You may get additional, higher-value stress boxes depending on some of your skills (usually Physique and Will).
When you take stress, check off a stress box with a value equal to the shift value of the hit. If that box is already checked, check off a higher value box. If there is no higher available box, and you can’t take any consequences, you’re taken out of the conflict.
You can only check off one stress box per hit.
Remember that you have two sets of stress boxes! One of these is for physical stress, the other for mental; you’ll start with a 1-shift and a 2-shift box in each of these. If you take stress from a physical source, you check off a physical stress box. If it’s a mental hit, check off a mental stress box.
After a conflict, when you get a minute to breathe, any stress boxes you checked off become available for your use again.
Og batters Landon with a whopping 3-shift hit on this exchange, wielding a giant club with spikes.
Looking at his character sheet, Lenny sees that he’s only got two stress boxes left—a 2-point and a 4-point.
Because his 3-point box is already checked, the hit must be absorbed by a higher-value box. He reluctantly checks off the 4-point box.
Amanda and Lenny describe the outcome—Landon gets his sword up just in time to barely deflect a blow that shatters a nearby crate, peppering Landon’s face with splintered wood. One inch closer, and it might have been his face that got splintered.
Landon has one more stress box on his sheet, a 2-shift box. That means his reserves are almost gone, and the next major hit he takes is going to hurt bad....
The second option you have for mitigating a hit is taking a consequence. A consequence is more severe than stress—it represents some form of lasting injury or setback that you accrue from the conflict, something that’s going to be a problem for your character after the conflict is over.
Consequences come in three levels of severity—mild, moderate, and severe. Each one has a different shift value: two, four, and six, respectively. On your character sheet, you have a number of available consequence slots, in this section:
[Your character sheet image here] [Image to come. -Site editor]
When you use a consequence slot, you reduce the shift value of the attack by the shift value of the consequence. You can use more than one consequence at a time if they’re available. Any of the hit’s remaining shifts must be handled by a stress box to avoid being taken out.
However, there’s a penalty. The consequence written in the slot is an aspect that represents the lasting effect incurred from the attack. The opponent who forced you to take a consequence gets a free invocation, and the aspect remains on your character sheet until you’ve recovered the consequence slot. While it’s on your sheet, the consequence is treated like any other aspect, except because the slant on it is so negative, it’s far more likely to be used to your character’s detriment.
Unlike stress, a consequence slot may take a long time to recover after the conflict is over. Also unlike stress, you only have one set of consequences; there aren’t specific slots for physical versus mental consequences. This means that, if you have to take a mild consequence to reduce a mental hit and your mild consequence slot is already filled with a physical consequence, you’re out of luck! You’re going to have to use a moderate or severe consequence to absorb that hit (assuming you have one left). The exception to this is the extra consequence slot you would get from a Superb (+5) Physique or Will is reserved for physical or mental harm, respectively.
Still, it’s better than being taken out, right?
Cynere gets teamed up on by three of the thugs during this exchange, and with the help of a huge die roll and some situation aspects, they manage to land a 6-shift attack on her. She’s escaped harm so far this fight, and still has all her stress boxes and consequences available.
She has two ways to take the hit. She could take one severe consequence, which negates 6 stress. She could also take a moderate consequence (4 stress) and use her 2-point stress box.
She decides that it’s not likely she’s going to get hit for that much again, so she takes the severe consequence to keep her stress track open for smaller hits.
Amanda and Lily agree to call the severe consequence Nearly Gutted. Cynere takes a wicked slash from one of the thugs’ swords, gritting her teeth through the pain....
Naming a Consequence
Here are some guidelines for choosing what to name a consequence:
Mild consequences don’t require immediate medical attention. They hurt, and they may present an inconvenience, but they aren’t going to force you into a lot of bed rest. On the mental side, mild consequences express things like small social gaffes or changes in your surface emotions. Examples: Black Eye, Bruised Hand, Winded, Flustered, Cranky, Temporarily Blinded.
Moderate consequences represent fairly serious impairments that require dedicated effort toward recovery (including medical attention). On the mental side, they express things like damage to your reputation or emotional problems that you can’t just shrug off with an apology and a good night’s sleep. Examples: Deep Cut, First Degree Burn, Exhausted, Drunk, Terrified.
Severe consequences go straight to the emergency room (or whatever the equivalent is in your game)—they’re extremely nasty and prevent you from doing a lot of things, and will lay you out for a while. On the mental side, they express things like serious trauma or relationship-changing harm. Examples: Second-Degree Burn, Compound Fracture, Guts Hanging Out, Crippling Shame, Trauma-Induced Phobia.
What Skill Do I Use For Recovery?
In Hearts of Steel, physical recovery can only happen through the use of a Lore stunt, which Zird the Arcane has taken. This makes physical fights dangerous and suggests that actual medical training is quite rare. For mental recovery, use the Empathy skill.
If you want it to be easier to help people recover physically, you could add it as a default action to a skill. Lore is a good default option, but it could be seen as a function of Crafts, too. It might even be important enough in your game to add a Medic or Survival skill.
Likewise, if you want to restrict access to mental recovery, make it an Empathy or Rapport stunt, rather than having it built in to a skill.
Recovering from a Consequence
In order to regain the use of a consequence slot, you have to recover from the consequence. That requires two things—succeeding at an action that allows you to justify recovery, and then waiting an appropriate amount of game time for that recovery to take place.
The action in question is an overcome action; the obstacle is the consequence that you took. If it’s a physical injury, then the action is some kind of medical treatment or first aid. For mental consequences, the action may involve therapy, counseling, or simply a night out with friends.
The difficulty for this obstacle is based on the shift value of the consequence. Mild is Fair (+2), moderate is Great (+4), and severe is Fantastic (+6). If you are trying to perform the recovery action on yourself, increase the difficulty by two steps on the ladder.
Keep in mind that the circumstances have to be appropriately free of distraction and tension for you to make this roll in the first place—you’re not going to clean and bandage a nasty cut while ogres are tromping through the caves looking for you. GMs, you’ve got the final judgment call.
If you succeed at the recovery action, or someone else succeeds on a recovery action for you, you get to rename the consequence aspect to show that it’s in recovery. So, for example, Broken Leg could become Stuck in a Cast, Scandalized could become Damage Control, and so on. This doesn’t free up the consequence slot, but it serves as an indicator that you’re recovering, and it changes the ways the aspect’s going to be used while it remains.
Whether you change the consequence’s name or not—and sometimes it might not make sense to do so—mark it with a star so that everyone remembers that recovery has started.
Then, you just have to wait the time.
- For a mild consequence, you only have to wait one whole scene after the recovery action, and then you can remove the aspect and clear the slot.
- For a moderate consequence, you have to wait one whole session after the recovery action (which means if you do the recovery action in the middle of a session, you should recover sometime in the middle of next session).
- For a severe consequence, you have to wait one whole scenario after the recovery action.
Cynere ended up with the severe consequence Nearly Gutted as the result of the fight.
Back at the inn, Zird attempts to bandage up the cut. He has a stunt called, “Scholar, Healer” which allows him to use his Lore skill for recovery obstacles. He makes his Lore roll at a difficulty of Fantastic (+6) and succeeds.
This allows Cynere’s Nearly Gutted aspect to be renamed Bandaged and start the recovery process. After the next whole scenario, she’ll be able to erase that aspect from her sheet and use her severe consequence again in a subsequent conflict.
Potions and Other Insta-HealingMany genres have some sort of mechanism by which characters can quickly recover from injuries. Fantasy settings have the ubiquitous healing potion or spell. Sci-fi has superscience dermal regenerators or biogel. Usually, these mechanisms exists because many games express injuries in terms of a constant numerical penalty that drastically affects a character’s effectiveness.
In Fate, however, a consequence is just like any other aspect. It comes into play when someone pays a fate point to invoke it (after the initial free invoke, of course), when it is compelled, or as an assertion of narrative truth.
At best, powerful healing should simply eliminate the need to roll for a recovery action, or should reduce the severity of a consequence by one level or more. So, a healing potion might turn a severe consequence into a moderate one, making the recovery time much shorter. The PC should have to spend at least one scene where the consequence could affect things, before you let it go away.
(This call out edited per Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions for clarity.)
In addition to the normal set of mild, moderate, and severe consequences, every PC also gets one last-ditch option to stay in a fight—the extreme consequence. Between major milestones, you can only use this option once.
An extreme consequence will absorb up to 8-shifts of a hit, but at a very serious cost—you must replace one of your aspects (except the high concept, that’s off limits) with the extreme consequence. That’s right, an extreme consequence is so serious that taking it literally changes who you are.
Unlike other consequences, you can’t make a recovery action to diminish an extreme consequence—you’re stuck with it until your next major milestone. After that, you can rename the extreme consequence to reflect that you’re no longer vulnerable to the worst of it, as long as you don’t just switch it out for whatever your old aspect was. Taking an extreme consequence is a permanent character change; treat it as such.