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Stress and Reckonings: an Eternal Rule D20 Developer’s Diary

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Last time, we showed you how flexible Ability Scores and Skills are in Eternal Rule D20 Fantasy and how they can be used adaptively to handle anything your imagination can dream up. Today we turn to one of the most exciting features this game has to offer you, Stress and Reckonings!

We see it all the time: someone going too far to get what they want. Hurting feelings, unwittingly causing injury to those they care most about, or causing unforeseen chaos and conflict due to the fallout around their blind pursuits. All because they didn’t know when to quit. It happens to us all at one point or another, but in dramatic fiction entire stories are built around the issues arising from just these types of situations. Roleplaying is meant to be dramatic, and we want to be sure that we’re creating hooks for that drama to take hold wherever we can.

Exertion and Stress

Skeezlix the Unbelievable is being grilled by an imperial officer. Skeezlix doesn’t want to implicate himself in the heist he participated in and must account for his whereabouts the previous night. The Games Master has set the Difficulty Number for this action at 13. Skeezlix’s player rolls an 8 on the d20 and adds his Wits Modifier of 2 and Deception Skill Rank of 3 for a total of 11. Not enough to convince the sceptical officer! How will he get out of this one?

Eternal Rule D20 Fantasy capitalizes on the concept of characters pushing too far to get what they want by offering you the tantalizing ability to Exert your character to push through failure and succeed at tasks that otherwise would have been doomed. If a character fails at an Ability Check (as covered in our previous article), they are offered the chance to snatch success from the jaws of defeat by taking on Stress Points, represented by ten-sided dice. The number of Stress Points taken must at least be equal to the difference between their Ability Check and the Difficulty Number they were required to roll in order to be successful. But beware, success is still not guaranteed, and willingly accepting Stress Points is a devil’s bargain.

These Stress Points represent the entropy that begins to creep into the state of affairs a character finds themselves in due to their loss of control over themselves and their surroundings. Bodies get fatigued, minds and emotions get frayed. Somehow, someway, the pushing is going to catch up. When players take on Stress in this manner, they roll a d10 for each of the Stress Points they accepted from Exerting themselves. Any of these d10s that show a value of 2 or higher increase their Ability Check result by one. This can allow players to push through adversity when they absolutely need to succeed. On the flip side, if any of those dice show a 1, not only is it not added to the result of their Ability Check, but a Reckoning takes place as well.

Reckonings

Skeezlix knows the officer isn’t buying his denials so he presses on with a sob story about helping his sick grandmother in the slums last night. Skeezlix’s player decides to really push the envelope by accepting three Stress Points, which are rolled in the form of d10s. Luckily two of them are not 1’s, adding +2 to his attempt for a total of 13, just enough to succeed! Unfortunately, Kregal the merchant and Nug-Nug the Manslayer overheard the conversation and know for a fact that Skeezlix’s grandmother was eaten by ghouls last solstice. Neither take kindly to liars. Kregal will hike up his prices for Skeezlix by 20% and Nug-Nug has voided his life debt to Skeezlix in response to this dishonorable act.

Stress Points stay with a character until they can be removed, most commonly through resting or roleplaying your character’s Virtues and Flaws (which we’ll cover later). Any time your character performs an Ability Check while they have any number of Stress Points, they also roll a number of d10s equal to their Stress Points, creating the possibility of a Reckoning. Reckonings are unintended negative side-effects resulting from a character’s actions. The more 1’s that appear in on those d10s, the more severe the Reckoning. Reckonings do not affect the success or failure of the action that triggered them. In fact, that’s what makes them so interesting. A character may slay the beast but break their heirloom sword off in its breast. They may win the debate but insult the prince. They may jump the carriage over the crevasse, but lose all of the gold stashed in the back. Just what occurs and how is up to the Games Master and should fit the narrative, but we have some guidelines in the rulebook that will show you how to scale your Reckonings accordingly.

Having Stress Points doesn’t keep you from Exerting your character and taking on even more Stress, but if your initial Ability Check roll caused a Reckoning, that does prevent you from Exerting your character for further Stress. They’ll have too much to worry about to focus on succeeding at the task at hand. On the upside, any dice that triggered a Reckoning are discarded from your character, helping reduce the risk of further chaos.

Reckoning Your Reckoning

The Reckoning system allows for huge amounts of dramatic tension in the game and gives a level of risk vs reward that engages players on a whole new level. Many Games Masters will enjoy coming up with surprising consequences that result from Reckonings, especially the really bad ones (3 or more triggering dice), but we’ve also built in some fun simple rules that help Games Masters get a handle on how to reconcile a Reckoning. Many game rules have built-in hooks for Reckonings to target them with. Some weapons, especially improvised ones, have the Brittle X rule, which causes them to break if an Ability Check involving them has a Reckoning value of X or more. Likewise, lasting Traumas your character may have suffered, both physical and mental, can manifest themselves from a Reckoning. Maybe your character’s bum knee gives out during a duel, or their manic, traumatized laughter disrupts the dinner party. Some Games Masters even take sadistic pleasure from requiring their players to choose how their own Reckonings manifest from the options available. Like all of the rules in ERD20, how you utilize Stress and Reckonings is only dependent on the way it provides the most enjoyment to your group.

I hope this is as exciting for you as it is for us! There are so many more cool aspects to Eternal Rule D20 that we can’t wait to share with you. We’ve only scratched the surface with what you’ve seen so far, so be sure to come back next time when we discuss conflict and health. Subscribe to the newsletter to be sure you’re informed of updates as soon as possible!

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