COMPATIBILITY: This plug-in is compatible only with games where players have selectable components for their characters (systems where character are static, or player choice isn’t part of development, won’t work here). It work most easily with point-based games, but can work with level-and-feature games as well.

Imagine if, while playing along, one of the normal side effects of failed rolls, of taking damage, and most other negative outcomes, was that you gained points called “strain”, and could spend those points to change your character - not to make them larger, but to remove some features and replace them with others, making them dynamic in ways other than direct growth. That’s the idea here. All the parts of integrating strain into a game are interlocked; while they’re presented in a set order, each affects the others, and you’ll want a solid idea of all of them before you try it.

The most obvious component of putting strain into your game is ‘How do characters get strain?”. A quick list of good possibilities follows; the ‘point values’ given are generic suggestions, and you’ll likely want to add to and remove from this list, alter values to suit your campaign and system, and so on.
  • Failed Roll: 1 Point: Anytime the character attempts and fails a roll during a stressful situation, they gain a point of strain.
  • Damage Taken: 1 Point: Anytime the character takes damage during a stressful situation, they gain a point of strain.
  • Conditions Applied: Varies: Depending on the rules, some conditions might be worth strain - ones that take the character out of action, or change their role in the group, or their role in society, are especially appropriate.
  • Moments of Frustration: 1 Point: Whenever it is a character’s turn to act during a stressful situation, and the situation is one where most of the characters have useful things to do but the specific character doesn’t, they can declare a ‘moment of frustration’. The character tries to find something useful to do, fails, and gains a point of strain.
  • Social Censure Or Expectations: Varies: A character that is severely pressured to change by society, whether to stop acting in a certain way or to perform some task they are ill-suited for, may be given strain on an ad-hoc basis while the pressure remains.
  • Retraining Time: 1 Point per Day: Time a character spends deliberately working to retrain their skills, change their focus, break habits and learn to thing in new ways, that kind of thing, might generate strain - or this time might be a basic requirement for spending strain, or both; this is discussed a bit more further below.

In addition to “How to get it?”, it’s necessary to set “What can I use it for?”. And this is answered by creating a purchase list. In a point-buy game, this is as easy as can be; simply set the amounts of strain gained so that by spending ten points of strain, you can remove something worth ten regular points from your sheet, and then add something else that’s worth the same amount - remember, strain doesn’t fuel character growth, it just allows for character change. In games with ‘negative points’ for problems, strain can let you swap one problem… for another problem.  In a game that isn’t based on point-buy, you’ll need to assign point values to everything that strain can be used to remove and replace. So, you might list “One character level: 100 strain (must be replaced with another level)”, and “One class option: 20 Strain (must be replaced with a class option or feature)”, or whatever is desired. This will likely take a bit of brainstorming, to get a list, and then some tinkering, to get income and costs balanced in a way that suits the game.

Finally, once the means of getting strain and the possible purchases are generally known, this just leaves the process for spending it. There are two basic options here...
  • Flashovers: A ‘flashover’ is a dramatic moment or scene where a character changes something about the way they behave. The old man takes down his sword from the mantle and swears a terrible oath. The sheriff throws his badge in the fire and dons a mask instead. And so on. A flashover should always be assumed to ‘take a little bit’, but is comparatively sudden. If flashovers are used, retraining should grant added strain to help the process, rather than being a requirement.
  • Retraining: The slower, steadier way. The swordmaster, hand hacked off, apprentices himself to a Magus. The princess, having shunned the court, takes up archery, and begins to lose her polished manner in exchange for lethal skill. To use this option, a set “retraining time per point” will need to be set.

In some games and settings, one trick to use with strain is to allow a character “one last scene” using the skills they trained away - and, depending on the scene, to offer them the chance to undo the change at the end of the scene, or confirm the changes (the strain stays spent either way). The princess gone feral returns for one last night at court, the swordmaster-turned-mage binds the Lich Blade to his arm for one more fight. Alternatively, a character with enough advancement points (or whatever) might be allowed to spend those at the conclusion of the scene, and keep both.