Fate System Toolkit
Stress boxes have a pretty specific purpose and use in Fate Core, but that’s hardly the only way to go. Here are some other options.
One-Shift Boxes: Every stress box absorbs only one shift of harm, but check as many as you want at a time. This option makes characters significantly more fragile.
Check Two: Check up to two boxes at once, add their values together, and reduce the hit by that many shifts. This option makes characters significantly tougher—a character with five stress boxes can take up to 9 shifts of harm in a scene without resorting to a consequence.
Step Down: Stress goes away gradually rather than all at once. Instead of clearing a stress box automatically at the end of a scene, erase it and check the box to its left (assuming there is one).
Bonus Only: Characters have zero stress boxes to start, but still get bonus boxes from skills like Physique and Will. This makes characters more fragile and emphasizes consequences.
Extra Effort: Voluntarily check a box anytime for a bonus on a roll. The bonus equals the value of the checked box. This can have unpredictable effects on your game. Not only can it result in some swingy rolls, it can also partially supplant the usual fate point economy. When combined with any of the above options, though, it becomes a little more viable.
Stress-Free: Characters have no stress boxes and don’t receive bonus boxes from skills. Instead, those skills grant one bonus mild consequence (physical or mental) at Good (+3) or two at Great (+4). This is the most dangerous and dynamic option—every hit results in a consequence and has narrative impact—but can potentially mean an unmanageable number of aspects in play.