This extra introduces new a type of detail that permanently changes your character when the stress clock fills up.
- By Krister Svanlund
CW: This Extra handles topics of graphic bodily harm and touches on subjects that can be associated with mental health.
This extra is intended to replace the simple default rule of "When your stress clock reaches 4 filled segments, you clear it, and are taken out for the scene." in a way that makes putting yourself in risky situations have an actual permanent effect.
Games that could benefit from these rules are primarily those going for a grittier tone where the hero doesn't just bounce back, but rather where they are forced to deal with the consequences of their actions.
This extra adds a few concepts to the basis of Charge RPG, namely;
- scars -- A new type of character detail that indicates a permanent change to your character, either physically or mentally.
- bowing out -- The act of leaving your friends to deal with a conflict to avoid more severe consequences to yourself.
- being hardened -- The beneficial aspects of having a scar detail; allows you to take more stress in some circumstances.
The topics of this Extra have a complicated relationship to both real life and tropes in popular media. Therefore when you use these rules, keep that in mind that pop culture generally hasn't treated disabilities kindly but that we, collectively, have an awesome chance to change that. These rules are not meant to make your character broken or unplayable, they are meant to create a permanent record on your character sheet and how you portray your character of the adventures you have been on. But always; be mindful and listen to what other people you share the table with have to say about it, and always respect those that want you to stay away from certain conditions or disabilities.
These rules give you a chance to embrace the changes to your characters and show how it doesn't make them less competent even if they have their struggles due to the scars they have. The purpose of this isn't to cause a death spiral but to make the world have an impression on the character similar to how the characters make an impression on the world.
When your stress clock reaches 4 filled segments, you do not clear it but instead, add a scar to your character details and update the condition to something that represents you being incapacitated. When you come to from being incapacitated, either by getting help from a friend or from just crawling back on the scene, you clear half of the stress clock and update your condition accordingly.
An incapacitated character can not take more scars but further harm to the body can change the nature of the scar, such as a burn having a wider reach, or instead of having a deep scar you get an intricate net of deep scars.
In some cases scars end up overlapping in what it affects, such as losing your left arm after leaving your left hand, and in those cases, it is perfectly acceptable to merge those scars into a single scar. If a scar doesn't change anything about your character it has no use on the character sheet either.
Remember to also update your looks if necessary as you add scars.
Optional dial setting: Bleeding out
For some games, a fresh scar should require some kind of action from another character to get the scared character back in the game. This can be being "talked down from the ledge", "staunch the bleeding", or "taking care of the burns". This rule, in particular, can be a bit too much for some groups, so make extra sure to include this with consent, as with all rules dealing with bodily or mental harm.
Definition of a scar
A scar is a character detail that is based on the condition you got from filling up the stress clock. Similar to conditions, physical and mental scars aren't kept separated but rather tracked as the same list of details. The important part is that the scar isn't the condition itself but rather what stays behind after some time.
Examples of scars
- "a deep scar across the abdomen"
- "missing left hand and underarm"
- "intrusive thoughts of the scarred non-blinking eye of Gazh".
Similar to conditions certain scars may restrict the narrative liberties you are allowed. For example, you normally can't hold two weapons if you only have one hand.
When you have a scar it also means that you are hardened to some extent, this means that whenever any of your scars cause you or your friends' real trouble you are allowed to clear one tick on the stress clock by consuming 1 momentum. What defines as "real trouble" is up to the GM but it should be consequential to what your purpose as a character, or group, is.
Examples of real trouble
- Being chased out of the small town because the burn scars are seen as a sign of evil.
- Forgetting about the missing hand and using it to try and catch the weapon thrown at you.
- Cowering in fear, unable to come to your friends' aid, from hearing the cursed bells tolling.
Note Scars as slapstick
An important note here is that scars causing you "trouble" aren't intended for comedic effect. This will naturally vary between groups but remember to treat scars with the same level of respect as any other character detail.
Optional dial setting: Compensating
In some cases, and for certain settings, it can make sense to allow for some way to "compensate" for a scar, this doesn't remove or negate it but rather compensate some part of the loss of ability. Examples of this can be buying a clockwork prosthesis, getting a skin graft, or just receiving therapy. This doesn't block you from utilizing being hardened but it does lessen the chances of the scar causing problems.
An important balance issue for the GM to have in mind for this is that a compensation shouldn't, by default, allow for anything a character without the scar can do, nor should it be held against the character as a weakness. But it can be used as an in-character target for future improvement, depending on the type of setting and tone.
This rule might not be suitable for all groups. Don't use this if it risks creating interpersonal conflicts among the players. The purpose of the rule is to allow players some agency when it comes to getting a scar or not. If leaving your friends in trouble isn't seen as a cost, this rule isn't for your group.
As you get closer to filling up the stress clock you have the option to bow out instead of taking a consequence that would fill up your stress clock. You do this by telling the GM before you roll for your final action that risks filling up your stress clock, that you wish to bow out. This means that you narrate how the result of the action causes you to leave the scene or be incapacitated, and you can't rejoin the group during the same scene. If this ends up leaving at least one friend in trouble you also get to clear 2 ticks of your stress clock.
Example: Bowing out
Player 1s character is at 3 stress, with the condition "overwhelmed and stabbed through the right shoulder"."
GM: The Brute rushes towards you as the bullets fly through the air, it looks to go in for tackling you into the wall behind you, you're in a desperate position.
Player 1: Ok, so I want to move out of the way but since I'm at 3 stress I also want to bow out.
GM: Yeah, sure that's fine, you have standard effect for that, but it will leave <Player 2> in pretty deep shit with you gone and having to deal with both the Brute and the Slice. How do you leave the fight?
Player 1: [Rolling dice] Ok, I actually succeed at the move without complications, so I move out of the way and use my effect to cause 2 stress damage to the Brute as it smashes into the wall. But my only way to move out of the way was to throw myself over the edge to the right so I fall into the river below and get carried away.
GM: Ok, so clear 2 ticks from your stress clock and you get to come back when the fight is over.
Optional dial setting: Starting the game with scars
Scars are the character's history etched into their body, mind, and soul. For that reason there is no option to take scars to gain extra talents, action dots, or similar, if you want your character to start out with scars there needs to be a story that goes along with that scar. A story that has fundamentally shaped them into who they are at the start of the game. Preferably each scar should have a story that could be told around a campfire, even the scars that get added during play.
But naturally, not all scars need to be scars in the mechanical sense, a purely decorative scar is just part of your character's looks and personality.
Example of taking a scar
Player 2s character has only taken 1 stress so far and is "winded".
GM: The Slice has gotten up and as you wipe your face shield clear you see how it's stalking towards you.
Player 2: Ok, but I saw that <Player 1> got over the railing, right? So I start circling the Slice to get to where I can look down and see if <Player 1> survived.
GM: Sure, but that will also mean that you come closer to the Brute, even tho you know it's pretty inattentive and, at the moment, looks pretty out of it after going face-first into the wall.
Player 2: Yeah, that's fine. But I want to take a chance and look over the edge for <Player 1>, that's a notice action right?
GM: Sure, that works. You have a risky position and standard effect on that roll.
Player 2: [Rolling dice] I got a 4?
GM: So you look over the railing and see <Player 1> floating in the river, being kept afloat by the auto-inflated vests you both are wearing. But while you're looking over the edge the Slice sees an opportunity and makes a lunge towards you, putting you in a desperate position.
Player 2: I try to move out of the way. [Rolling dice] my highest is a 2 so I guess not! And I'm out of armor from the earlier attack.
GM: Ouch, as you try to move out of the way you feel the burning sensation of the blade gliding in between your ribs on the right side and the speed of the Slice causes both of you to go over the railing. You're at 4 stress now right?
Player 2: Sure am, I guess the hit knocks the wind out of me and I barely notice as we fall towards the river, at least until the cold water hits me.
GM: You come to as you feel the vest inflate around you but you have distinct trouble breathing and your right side hurts like nothing before. You don't see a trace of the Slice after that and manage to crawl to shore a bit further downstream where you fall into unconsiousness until <Player 1> finds you barely patched up by the auto-doctor in the vest. You can clear half of your stress clock and write down a new scar that's called "badly healed scar tissue, right lung". What do you do now?
- #charge-rpg-talk at the Fari Discord
- Blades in the dark by John Harper – This is heavily inspired by the trauma mechanics.
- Scar: When you fill-up your stress clock, clear half of it and turn your condition into a scar.
- Hardened: If the scar causes you problems, consume 1 momentum to clear one tick of the stress clock.
- Optional – Bow Out: Announce before your final action that you wish to leave the scene. If your friends end up in a worse situation from it you get to clear 2 ticks of stress.