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Old 07-19-2019, 09:07 AM   #1
weevis
 
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Default GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

The Blades in the Dark (BitD) / Scum and Villainy RPGs have neat ideas. The "stress track" gets a lot of praise. Also the retcon flashback system. How would I implement these in GURPS? I feel like GURPS is 90% of the way there already if I can just rearrange the parts a little, but I'm not usually a "homebrew rules" kind of GM so your thoughts would be great. At first I thought the stress track was just a FATE-y storytelling system but the more I mess with it the more it also seems to be a gritty simulation of the mental rigors of adventuring. I like it.

My goals -- these are the interesting BitD ideas that I'm trying to obtain in GURPS:
  • Over a campaign your character gets both better (BitD: XP) and worse (BitD: trauma)
  • Some disadvantages (BitD: trauma) are more fun if selection is pushed later into the game. These come from an adventure's events -- they are "earned" in play.
  • Retcons (BitD: flashback, but I'll call it retcon to avoid confusion with the GURPS rule) don't change the past by fiat. You can change the temporal moment of the narrative, but this may NOT work out better for you--the past must also be roleplayed.
  • Point costs consistently encourage you to spend resources (BitD: stress) on another player's dice rolls rather than your own.
  • Point costs also encourage you to place bets in advance (BitD: push yourself) rather than try to walk back bad rolls after the fact (BitD: resistance), although both are possible.
  • Significant mental stress doesn't auto-clear or refill (like e.g., GURPS FP). Instead, you have to do something to make your stress go away (BitD: vice, downtime).

Here are the specific BitD rules. (There is a SRD but it is way too vague so I will list the relevant rules. Sorry this post is so long!) The BitD Stress Track is a pool of 9 stress points.

In BitD you spend stress points in order to...
  1. Push yourself: increase the odds of success in a roll by 12-25% (2 points)
  2. Assist: increase the odds as above but for a teammate -- explain how what you are doing helps (1 point)
  3. Retcon flashback: change the narrative moment of the game to some time in the past to produce "a complex action or unlikely opportunity" that already happened (examples) (1 point)
  4. Hard retcon flashback: as above, but "an elaborate action that...involved contingencies" (2 points)
  5. Effect: specify in advance that you will cause a substantially more effective outcome if you succeed at your next roll (2 points)
  6. Teamwork: When the whole party rolls against the same skill, only their best roll decides the outcome, but the declared leader takes stress for each person's failed roll to "cover for them" (0-6 points)
  7. Act Despite Incapacitation: prevent or pause unconsciousness (1 point)
  8. Fright: represent the scariness of supernatural encounters (varies)
  9. Resistance: reduce the severity of something bad that is happening to you (but not usually eliminate it) -- this is the most risky use: it costs from 1-5 points

If you max out the stress track (9 points) you acquire trauma to clear the track -- in GURPS terms you acquire 1 from among 8 mental disadvantages. The fourth time you max out the stress track your character takes a mandatory retirement. Essentially you die -- stress has teeth.

You reduce stress points in BitD by indulging in a vice while not adventuring or by sitting out an entire adventure. You can also pay money (to take a vacation, sort of). You can only reliably reduce 1d stress points between missions. (Money can +1d.) But if you overshoot your vice roll (your die clears more stress than you have), it backfires on you producing a negative consequence.

I think you can do the same thing as the above BitD stress track with a dedicated stress point ("SP") pool that combines features of the GURPS FP/HP pools and character points. Numbers in this list match the BitD rules list above. Let's say in GURPS terms you have a new pool of 9 SP (stress points). Stress points are much more important than HP or FP and are priced closer to character points. (?? I could make the SP pool based on Will. Not sure.)

During GURPS character design reduce your disadvantage limit by 10 points to allow for the mental disadvantages that may be produced by the stress track. I think the PCs need to start more sane so that you have room to wear them down. (This could also be implemented as Schrodinger's Disadvantage if anyone remembers that 3e rule.)

Then in GURPS you could spend those SP in order to...
  1. Extra Effort: +2 to your next roll (1 SP). This adapts the Extra Effort / Feverish Defense rule p. B357 to all situations, not just physical combat situations. To match BitD incentives, this should be 2 SP, but I don't think any player would buy it. Not sure.
  2. Complementary skill roll. +2 to your teammate's next roll with a GM-approved complementary skill and explanation (1 SP). This is the complementary skill rule from Pyramid 3-65 p. 32 ("A Full Complement") with a variant ("Double the Fun") but with the success roll bought (p. B347) and thus waived.
  3. Retcon: Implement the BitD rule as stated. (1 SP)
  4. Hard Retcon: BitD does a crappy job of specifying what costs 2 points vs. 1 point, so I would drop this for simplicity.
  5. Buying Success: Change the GURPS "buying success" rule on p. B347 so that it only works if you specify it in advance (1-2 SP).
  6. Group Work: If the entire party must make the same skill roll (typically Climbing, Hiking, Flight, Stealth) a Leadership roll in advance will allow failed rolls to be ignored in exchange for the leader paying 1 SP per failure (0-6 SP). OR if the entire party must roll once on the average of their particular skill (Artillery, Soldier, Crewman, Merchant) a Leadership roll can allow the leader to drop 1+ player's skill from the average for 1 SP each. This is priced as "buying success" p. B347.
  7. Act Despite Incapacitation: Waive the usual HT roll to remain conscious (1 SP) OR waive the usual Will roll to act when at 0 FP or less (1 SP). Priced as "buying success" p. B347.
  8. Fright: ??? I might just ignore this rule as the Fright Check system already works well. Conceptually, as a mental stress fright "belongs" here but I don't want to mess up a self-contained GURPS system that works well for me. Ideas?
  9. Resistance: When something bad happens to your character during gameplay, spend SP to resist.
    • Roll to determine the SP cost:
      • If a failed roll caused the problem, roll against that trait again.
      • Otherwise, propose a trait most relevant to reversing the problem (HP, IQ, Will) and roll against it with GM approval.
    • On a success, pay 1 SP. On a failure, pay the margin of failure as SP, up to a maximum of 5 SP. On a critical success, restore 1 SP.
    • Reverse whatever happened, leaving some minor consequence (unless the GM rules there are no consequences at all).
      • If in combat, use the "Flesh Wound" rule p. B417 to restore all lost FP or HP except 1.
      • If not in combat, the GM determines the result.

If you max out your SP track, it is cleared and you acquire a new 5-point mental disadvantage of your choice related to the event. (?? Not sure about pricing this.) Disadvantages acquired this way cannot be bought off with CPs.

The fourth time you max out your SP track, your character must retire (as per BitD rules).

To remove SP, you must not be adventuring and you must have free time. Make a self-control roll against a vice-related disadvantage (if you have one). If you have none, you can still indulge in a vice: roll against Will. Clear the number of SP equal to the margin of success up to a maximum of 6 SP. If your margin of success is greater than the stress that you have, it backfires and something bad happens (use BitD rules). On a failure, clear 1 SP. On a critical failure, clear 0 SP and it also backfires. You can only roll once between missions, unless (at GM's option) you pay one month's wages to buy a second roll.

You may also clear your SP track by making your character sit out an adventure if this is consistent with the story -- a GM decision. (You may play another character.)

For this rules change to work I think you'd need a low-heroic point game (100-200 point starting characters). The GM will have to hit the players hard with very difficult challenges that they have to spend SP on. The players will need to like that -- as well as the idea of their character degrading (mine would). They'll also need to like the idea that indulging in vices is a campaign requirement. You might also use a stress track to modify/control Powers, Magic, or Psionics (BitD does this) but am not using them in my campaign and this post is long enough so I left that out.

What do you think? I realize this has the potential to change gameplay a lot if the players dive in feet-first. However I think it is not feasible to implement the stress track idea "just a little bit." It has a lot of interconnected components. And I think a number of them can be expressed in GURPS rules that already exist.

Last edited by weevis; 07-19-2019 at 10:56 AM.
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Old 07-19-2019, 10:16 AM   #2
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

The consequences of Stress are similar to those for "Stress and Derangement" from GURPS Horror, but the use of it is a good deal like Destiny Points and similar from GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys. You may want to look at those for inspiration.
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Old 07-19-2019, 10:25 AM   #3
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

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Originally Posted by Varyon View Post
The consequences of Stress are similar to those for "Stress and Derangement" from GURPS Horror, but the use of it is a good deal like Destiny Points and similar from GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys. You may want to look at those for inspiration.
Thanks this is very helpful! I didn't know about either of these.
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Old 07-19-2019, 10:46 AM   #4
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

In addition to what was mentioned above, the "flashback" mechanic you mentioned also has a certain implementation in GURPS already.

Pyramid #3/53 Action has an article called "I've Got a Great Idea!" wherein different skills can be rolled to generate "Angle," which can then be spent in varying quantities on retroactive declarations depending on how drastic the changes are (and it must be narrated as to how the retroactive declaration actually occurs).
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Old 07-19-2019, 10:47 AM   #5
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

As an aside, I also feel like modeling "ordinary" adventuring as progressive mental illness is *very* 2019.

If you spend time on twitter it seems like many people view everyday life in terms once reserved for Horror.
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Old 07-19-2019, 10:50 AM   #6
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

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Originally Posted by Antiquation! View Post
In addition to what was mentioned above, the "flashback" mechanic you mentioned also has a certain implementation in GURPS already.

Pyramid #3/53 Action has an article called "I've Got a Great Idea!" wherein different skills can be rolled to generate "Angle," which can then be spent in varying quantities on retroactive declarations depending on how drastic the changes are (and it must be narrated as to how the retroactive declaration actually occurs).
Perfect. I did not know that one either. Looks like if I can find enough GURPS rules to back up what I'm trying to do, at some point it might even stop being homebrew.
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Old 07-19-2019, 10:59 AM   #7
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

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Originally Posted by weevis View Post
Perfect. I did not know that one either. Looks like if I can find enough GURPS rules to back up what I'm trying to do, at some point it might even stop being homebrew.
For sure. To follow up, if you end up using the Pyramid article I mentioned as-is, I would also suggest using the advice on spending points from the "Player Guidance" section of Impulse Buys (mentioned above).

To explain: By default, the Pyramid article only says you have to "narrate" how the changes you made are justified. However, if your goal is to actually play through the action/retcon as you suggest in the OP, "Impulse Buys" suggests that if the purchased change is not a certain advantage but is only a chance at one, then you should discount all point expenditures by one (to a minimum of one point spent).

Short version: if you want to actually roleplay through the retcons and see how it goes, rather than just having them narrate it and letting it be a sure thing, then I suggest giving them a discount of one point off whatever Angle they spend for it.

It's hardly official, but I think it makes sense for what you seem to want to accomplish.
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Old 07-19-2019, 11:08 AM   #8
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

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Originally Posted by weevis View Post
As an aside, I also feel like modeling "ordinary" adventuring as progressive mental illness is *very* 2019.

If you spend time on twitter it seems like many people view everyday life in terms once reserved for Horror.
Ha. I don't disagree.

One last thing to mention, you may want to check out the article "Mad as Bones" from #3/103 Setbacks; it has sort of a simplified/streamlined version of the stress and derangement rules from Horror (as well as being a slightly different take in general, but it seems to match very closely to the effects you're trying to achieve above); I've used it several times to great effect to model stress, and the recovery rules are very nice as well as flexible/straightforward.
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Old 07-19-2019, 11:33 AM   #9
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

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Originally Posted by Antiquation! View Post
Ha. I don't disagree.

One last thing to mention, you may want to check out the article "Mad as Bones" from #3/103 Setbacks; it has sort of a simplified/streamlined version of the stress and derangement rules from Horror (as well as being a slightly different take in general, but it seems to match very closely to the effects you're trying to achieve above); I've used it several times to great effect to model stress, and the recovery rules are very nice as well as flexible/straightforward.
Just read it. Christopher R. Rice to the rescue! It's very helpful as an inspirational example, thanks again. I like it, but it does seem like the goal is different. The SP/LSP system in "Mad as Bones" adds mental degradation to things that already happen via other existing game mechanics. In contrast, the BitD stress track usually provides an alternative resolution for things that would otherwise happen using existing game mechanics.

e.g., in the "Mad as Bones" mental stress system, being in a battle and having a major wound would cost you 2 SP. In the BitD mentality, the stress system is sometimes more like a pool of emergency "Oh s__t!" points. You could take the major wound and not use any stress or even mention SP. Or you could choose to resist the wound and spend stress. Or you could also have bolstered your tricky rolls in advance with modifiers bought using stress, ideally preventing the wound in the first place. I think also the "Mad as Bones" recovery is too easy in BitD terms.

But it's great food for thought.
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Old 07-19-2019, 11:33 AM   #10
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Default Re: GURPS-ize the "Blades in the Dark" stress track?

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if you want to actually roleplay through the retcons and see how it goes, rather than just having them narrate it and letting it be a sure thing, then I suggest giving them a discount of one point off whatever Angle they spend for it.
Absolutely, this makes a lot of sense.
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