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D&D 5E Homebrew Inspiration and Stress system

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I mentioned in the “What are you Prepping” thread that I am getting ready to run a modified Curse of Strahd sandbox game in about a month. One of the things I’ll be playing with in this campaign is a homebrew system dealing with background characteristics, inspiration and stress. Originally inspired (heh) by the Fear and Stress rules in Van Richten’s Guide, I wanted something that tied in more with the characters’s background traits, and that had a bit more crunch to it than the fairly simple rules in that book. Here’s what I came up with. Feel free to share your feedback, or to borrow ideas for your own campaigns.

Characteristics
Rather than choosing personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws connected to your background, choose the following characteristics.

Personal Fears
A Personal Fear is something your character is deeply afraid of. It can be as broad or as narrow as you like, from simple fears like enclosed spaces or spiders, to more conceptual fears like inadequacy or betrayal. You start with 1-3 Personal Fears, but you can gain more as a result of gaining levels of Stress.

Whenever you encounter one of your Personal Fears, you may choose to gain Inspiration. If you do, you must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, you gain a level of Stress.

Ideal
Your character’s Ideal is something they strive for, that your character finds fulfilling and reinforces their sense of self. When you hold true to your ideal despite adversity, you can reduce your Stress level by 1 the next time you finish a long rest. If you don’t have any Stress levels, you gain Inspiration instead.

Bond
Your Bond is a statement about a relationship your character has with someone or something important to them that motivates them to be their best. It could be a loved one they hope to do right by, a rival they are driven to exceed, a memento symbolizing their sense of duty, or the like. If the nature of the relationship represented by your bond changes or you develop a new relationship that holds deeper meaning for your character, you can replace your current bond with a new one between game sessions.

When you have a meaningful interaction related to your bond, you gain Inspiration. Whenever the relationship represented by your Bond is threatened, you must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or gain a level of Stress.

Flaw
Your character’s Flaw is an unhealthy coping mechanism. Something they turn to for easy, short-term comfort or a sense of control. When you indulge in your Flaw, you temporarily suppress the effects of Stress. Until you finish a long rest, your Stress level is reduced by 1, and you can’t gain or spend Inspiration.

Stress
Stress is a special condition that functions similarly to Exhaustion. Like Exhaustion, Stress is measured in six levels, and a creature suffers the effects of its current level of Stress as well as all lower levels.

Stress Effects

LevelEffect
1Character suffers the Frightened condition regarding their Personal Fears
2-5 to character’s saving throw DCs, unable to maintain concentration
3Attack rolls against the character have advantage
4Automatically fail Wisdom and Charisma saving throws
5Unable to take actions or reactions other than dash, disengage, dodge, or hide
6Unable to understand language or communicate in any meaningful way. Permanently gain a new Personal Fear.

When you spend a day doing nothing but relaxing in a safe, calming environment, reduce your level of Stress by 1 the next time you finish a long rest. If you don’t have any levels of Stress, you gain Inspiration instead. The lesser restoration spell can be used to remove one level of Stress from the target, and the greater restoration spell can remove all levels of Stress from the target. The calm emotions spell suppresses all effects of Stress on affected targets for its duration.
 

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I doubt that players will choose Fear that they will likely encounter during their adventure.
Fear : undead, wolf and bat and go make curse of Strahd! just for laugh!
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I doubt that players will choose Fear that they will likely encounter during their adventure.
Fear : undead, wolf and bat and go make curse of Strahd! just for laugh!
A player who chooses a singe Fear that they’re unlikely to encounter will have far fewer opportunities to gain Inspiration than the player who chooses bats, wolves, and undead. And since it’s the player’s choice when they encounter one of their fears whether to gain Inspiration and roll to resist stress or not, it really is just opportunities you’re missing out on by going with obscure Fears only.

This is very much by design; I wanted the system to be very opt-in. That way players who want to engage in roleplaying being affected by their fears are rewarded for doing so, while players who would rather just play a straightforward adventure without risking their character being crippled by fear have the option to do so, without missing out on too much.

EDIT: That said, this feedback did make me realize that as it’s currently written, you can gain Inspiration from your Bond whenever you want, so that disincentivizes risking Stress to gain Inspiration from your Fear. So I think I’m going to limit gaining inspiration from you Bond to once per day (or more precisely, once between long rests). Thanks!
 
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A player who chooses a singe Fear that they’re unlikely to encounter will have far fewer opportunities to gain Inspiration than the player who chooses bats, wolves, and undead. And since it’s the player’s choice when they encounter one of their fears whether to gain Inspiration and roll to resist stress or not, it really is just opportunities you’re missing out on by going with obscure Fears only.

This is very much by design; I wanted the system to be very opt-in. That way players who want to engage in roleplaying being affected by their fears are rewarded for doing so, while players who would rather just play a straightforward adventure without risking their character being crippled by fear have the option to do so, without missing out on too much.
Inspiration is a one shot conditional effect but once you get a stress level you’re affected for the rest of the day. Deal is rotten at the base.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Inspiration is a one shot conditional effect but once you get a stress level you’re affected for the rest of the day. Deal is rotten at the base.
If you feel that way, you would be welcome to not ever risk Stress to gain Inspiration from your Fear. Other players will be more willing to take the risk, especially if they have a high Wis save. Keep in mind also, the first level of stress only affects you when one of your Fears is in line of sight, the second level doesn’t badly impact martial characters, and you can always spend your Inspiration and then suppress a level of Stress with your Flaw for the rest of the day if you need to. So like a Barbarian or something could pretty safely just sit on 2 levels of Stress and be just fine, indulging in their Flaw if they get up to 3, while a Wizard could probably do the same with one fewer level.
 
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Nefermandias

Adventurer
That’s intentional, but it’s good feedback to have!
I tried to implement the VHGtR stress rules in my game, but ultimately gave up because I kept forgetting to enforce the comulative -1 penalties to the player's rolls.
Your system is brutal alright, but it's also easier to remember and keeping track.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I tried to implement the VHGtR stress rules in my game, but ultimately gave up because I kept forgetting to enforce the comulative -1 penalties to the player's rolls.
Your system is brutal alright, but it's also easier to remember and keeping track.
Thanks! Yeah, I wanted Stress to be brutal, but I also wanted to make sure you could reduce Stress by engaging with the Characteristics. If you consistently act in accordance with your Ideal, you can basically remove one level of Stress per day, and indulging in your Flaw can allow you to suppress a level until you can shed it via your Ideal.
 

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