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.
WHAT IS THIS?
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.
THE PURCHASE LIST
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.
HOW TO SPEND IT
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...
THE FLASHBACK TRICK
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.