Converting Stress from Blades in the Dark



I wanted to share my take on the stress mechanic from “Blades in the Dark”. I wanted something that adds impact but not complexity to the game. Something that doesn´t result in a frustrating death spiral or rules / table consultations. In adition my players love to experiment and therefor I am eager to try out new stuff.

Introducing Stress:

Incorporating the new resource “Stress”, characters will now have 9 empty tick boxes on their character sheet. Accumulating stress is as straightforward as ticking the corresponding number of boxes.

Resource Benefits:

Stress isn’t just a numerical value; it’s a versatile resource offering various advantages to our characters.

  • Reducing Incoming Damage: Characters can reduce damage by accumulating 1d4 stress points. I was thinking of a reduction of 1D6 + WIS, but I am not to sure about it yet.
  • Pushing Rolls: If a character fails a roll, they can embrace the pressure by accumulating 1d4 stress points and retrying immediately. However, the second attempt must involve a different approach, introducing higher risks of failure. Each time a roll is pushed the bonus from the current stress level can be added.

Stress Levels and Bonuses:

To mirror the balance between the potential benefits and penalties of stress, I’ve divided the 9 stress points into three sections. Each giving different Bonuses to pushed rolls:

  • Nervous (3 points): Grants a substantial +3 bonus.
  • Stressed (3 points): Provides a minor +1 bonus.
  • Panicked (3 points): Offers no additional bonus. Pushing a roll at this level should be a last resort, symbolizing an overwhelming stress threshold.

Burnout and Character Flaws:

When stress accumulates to the maximum 9 points, characters experience Burnout. This state suspends stress usage until a long rest is completed. Moreover, Burnout comes with a permanent character flaw, adding depth to role-play and character development. Importantly, the Burnout mechanic prevents the accumulation of multiple flaws within a single encounter. Once you reach Burnout, you have it until you finish a longrest even if you manage to reduce stress before. There is no additinal effect coming from burnout, to keep it simple during play.

Reducing Stress:

  • Acting on Flaws: Embracing character flaws permits a reduction of stress by one point, rewarding consistent role-play.
  • Calming Checks: Characters can attempt Wisdom (WIS) checks to calm themselves, lowering stress by one point.
  • Long Rests: A full long rest completely resets stress to zero. The GM might invoke special circumstances to modify this process, such as unsettling resting environments.

I have playtested another stress system with my group, which resulted in a super fast and not impactful accumulation of stress through out the game, which I´m hoping of fixing with the “Blades in the Dark” approach.

With the visual representation of the mechanic on the character sheet it doesn´t look to complicated to me, however I am eager to hear what others might think.


This is interesting. I like the sheet/interface. I think it’s pretty intuitive. I have questions:

  1. Before any stress is taken, is the bonus +0? Does that mean that the first little bit of stress you take allows you to take a +3 bonus? Does that bonus apply to all rolls? What about activities where nervousness is a bane (e.g., whittling or painting very fine details)? Is that subject to GM discretion?
  2. When moving from nervous to stressed, I’m assuming your bonus degrades from +3 to +1, is that right? In other words, you’re not picking up an additional +1 (on top of your +3 from being nervous), correct?
  3. Why +3, +1, and 0? Why not, e.g., +2, +0, and -1 to reflect that too much stress can be harmful? Or is that what burnout is supposed to represent?
  4. If you can roll to reduce stress, what’s the penalty for failing that roll (if any)? Meaning, what are you risking by doing that? Is it mechanical (e.g., more stress)? Narrative (e.g., you try meditating, but find it’s ineffective for the stress you have; you’ll have to find another approach)?
  5. Regarding character flaws emerging from burning out. You indicate they are “permanent”, but then say, “you have it until you finish a long rest.” Is it permanent or does it go away with a long rest?
  6. I’m not sure I understand how “the Burnout mechanic prevents the accumulation of multiple flaws within a single encounter … .” Is that because once burnt out you stay burnt out until you have a long rest, so no matter how much additional stress you take, it’s not going to matter with respect to burnout?


Hey, thanks for the interest. Since I wrote this I was able to playtest the system a bit more which resulted in a few small changes.

Regarding your questions here they come:

  1. The First Bonus you get from Stress, if you start with 0, is +3. After that you always gain the Bonus from the Stress Section you are currently in. These Boni only count for Pushed Rolls and not all rolls. Activities where Stress is a Bane would fall into the GMs discretion, but the system itself isn´t designed to give mechanical penalties in this regard. It would be a narrative suggestion to the Players. “Your panicked on your sheet. How would your character approach this task while panicked?”
    1.1. Additionally I have modified the Stress Boni so that they go from Nervous (+1) - Stressed (+2) - Panicked (+3) because that incentivises the PCs to risk more stress for bigger Boni.
  2. When Moving from one Section to another, you gain the new Bonus instead. It is not added on top of the previous one.
  3. +3 / +1 / -2 were my initial boni, but I wanted the PCs to have a higher chance to succeed when their desperation is also at its highest. The thing with Burnout is that it basically nerfes your PC and I disliked the idea to give my players a penalty on their rolls and, no matter what the result is, cripple their characters for risking stress.
  4. Reducing Stress was a bit tricky for me. A collegue of mine suggested to reduce Stress on Longrests, which seems like a simple way of handling it. Additionally he also suggested, for a grittier game, to only reduce it to the last Stress Section on a Longrest. So if you have Stress so far, that you are one point into “Panicked” then a longrest would reduce all points in “Panicked” and leave you with “Stressed” maxed out. To come back to your initial question. I cut the ability to reduce Stress with a WIS check but if it would be kept, then there wouldn´t be a mechanical penalty for failing that roll. Narrative Setback “You can´t get your mind to focus.”
  5. Burnout triggers a permanent character flaw, but Burnout itself then goes away. So your PC still has the Flaw, but Burnout is not a condition that lingers for longer duration. It would be like this: You get Burnout -> this gives you a Flaw -> You reset your stresslevel -> Burnout is gone, but the flaw remains. I also thought about a variant which would stun your PC for 1D4 rounds only to realise, that this then would be stun points. But that´s also a way of thinking about this ^^ it a more sophisticated system for stun points.
  6. Burnout resets your Stress and basically takes the PCs ability to use Stress as a resource until they finish a Longrest. That prevents characters from bouncing in and out of Burnout during a Combat encounter. So your assumption is correct, but with the caveat that PCs can´t use Stress anymore until a Longrest is finished.

I hope this clears things up a bit :slight_smile: If you have any suggestions that would make sense then please let me know.