( ⇪ Adventuring Variants )

In a nutshell: A new value called “Strife” is added to your character sheet, which represents certain kinds of “mental strain” chipping away at your resolve and morale. Whenever you change your amounts for hit points (lethal damage), strife (mental strain), or nonlethal damage (physical strain) you add both strife and nonlethal damage together and check whether you’ve become so stressed that as a result you take penalties or flee. If you’re using the digital character sheet, it will automatically do these calculations for you at the top right of the first page!

A game cannot make you treat your character as if they have fears and anxiety. You can roleplay it, but ultimately it’s optional. However, a game can create rules that make your character act as if they have fears and anxiety. While it might not seem heroic to have PCs who are cowardly at early levels and retreat after they get hit a few times, it is what a real person in that situation would do when they’re so weak and frail.

Think of stress effects and fear effects as two gauges like shown below, with steps for the shaken T, frightened T, and panicked T conditions. Only the currently-highest step between the two gauges affects your character with that condition. Fear effects go up in whole steps and are cumulative (ramp up) with other fear effects, while stress effects only step up as you gradually accumulate stress (the total of your strife and nonlethal damage).
stress-fear-gauges-v1.pngIn the example above, the character’s “Total Stress” (strife + nonlethal damage) is 65, which is stressful enough to be “frightened”, and they’re currently subjected to a shaken T fear effect. Frightened is the more severe of those two conditions, so as a result the character is treated as frightened.

Properties of Strife

Strife acts kind-of like nonlethal damage. It’s bad for it to go up and good for it to go down. Strife has the following properties:

  • Only a creature with an intelligence score has a strife value.
  • It starts at and has a minimum of 0.
  • It heals itself at a rate of 1 point per hour per ECL of non-strenuous activity (see below).
  • Any effect or that would remove some or all nonlethal damage (such as effects which heal lethal damage) also now removes an equal amount of (or all) strife.
  • Any effect that would stop nonlethal damage from healing also stops strife from healing.
  • For the purposes of immunities, stress effects are not “mind-affecting effects”.
For Example: It’s not because the effect heals nonlethal damage that it also heals strife, strife is just very similar to nonlethal damage. Healing nonlethal damage by waiting an hour does not in-itself also heal strife, strife just also heals at that same rate in the same conditions.

Healing Strife

All lethal damage healing (such as magical healing) also heals that same amount each of nonlethal damage and strife, even if there’s no lethal damage to heal. At any time you can calm yourself by taking a standard action (or move action if you have the Endurance feat, neither of which provokes an attack of opportunity) to spend reserve points up to your number of hit dice to reduce your strife and nonlethal damage by that same number. You can take this action even while fleeing because of being frightened T, panicked T, or cowering T. You could, for example if you have the Endurance feat, take two move actions to calm yourself, and only if that doesn’t drop you out of the frightened condition would you have to take a step to flee.

As described above, you can also heal strife by simply waiting an hour doing a non-strenuous activity (such as resting or hiking, but not climbing, swimming or fighting) or through magical healing. Effects capable of curing or suppressing a fear effect (the remove fear spell suppresses it) also remove strife. If the effect is instantaneous it removes an amount of strife equal to three times your ECL for each step of a fear effect it could remove, and if the effect has a longer duration it removes that much strife each round. These are the normal ways to remove strife.

If your GM allows it however, your character can have a super-effective way to heal strife. You must describe how your character best relieves stress (such as drinking yourself into a stupor), along with two specific but uncommon stressors (one “acute” and one “ongoing”, such as ear pain and arachnophobia). Your chosen form of stress relief as well as your uncommon stressors are subject to the GM’s approval. Currently experiencing either stressor would prevent all forms of strife relief from having any effect. Additionally, each time your character interacts with your acute stressor, or every round in which you directly sense your ongoing stressor, you take strife equal up to twice your ECL (at your GM’s discretion).

GM’s Note: Acute and ongoing stressors can have a drastic effect on the effectiveness of a character or the entire party. Be sure that the chosen stressors are not too rare (such as “dealing with family”), but also not so common in your campaign that the character becomes unable to function in the party. For example, if a character’s acute stressor is ear pain, they should only take strife when they take ear damage or when they attempt a “tough through” save for that ear damage. For another example, if a character’s ongoing stressor is arachnophobia, seeing spider webs shouldn’t count, and seeing a spider through a scry shouldn’t count, but directly seeing or hearing a spider (or what they think is a spider) should count for that round. At your discretion, it might be possible for a character to permanently overcome their ongoing stressor later through character development.

Having a chosen method to relieve strife means the normal ways to remove strife only work half as well for you, only healing half as much strife or it taking twice as long to have any effect (but not both, as that would be double-dipping). To use your chosen method, you must partake in the designated activity for at least an hour. For each hour you successfully do that activity, you remove 10 strife per ECL.

GM’s Note: Stress relievers should be sensible and give flavor and personality to the character. Stress relief should not be rewarded for something that grants significant experience points or wealth (such as hitting things in combat, although going to an arena and beating up mooks is fine so long as it doesn’t grant experience points or cause more stress such as by complicating the plot). However, you might want to relieve stress if the character just accomplished something very important to that character, such as defeating a mortal enemy from their backstory.

Taking Strife

Various things can cause you to take strife, with one action or effect potentially triggering several of these simultaneously and thus gaining a lot of strife:
  • Fail a save attempt? Take strife equal to half of that effect’s save DC (rounded down).
  • Lose hit points? Take 3 strife regardless of how many hit points were lost.
  • Take any nonlethal damage? Take 3 strife regardless of how much nonlethal damage.
  • Fail a contribution roll in a skill challenge? Take 3 strife each time you fail.
  • Gain a fear effect? Take 1d6 strife if now shaken T as a fear effect, 3d6 if now frightened T as a fear effect, 6d6 if now panicked T as a fear effect.
  • An enemy uses the Intimidate skill’s Demoralize Opponent option against you and succeeds? Take strife equal to their Intimidate ranks, plus extra if you’re now subjected to a fear effect.
  • Interact with your character’s acute stressor? Take strife equal to up to twice your ECL (optional at GM’s discretion, see above).
  • Directly sense your character’s ongoing stressor? Take strife equal to up to twice your ECL (optional at GM’s discretion, see above).
For Example: If you fail a save attempt against a DC 14 fireball spell, taking lethal damage from it, you also take 7+3=10 strife.

If you fail a save attempt against a DC 12 cause fear spell, making you frightened as a fear effect, you also take 6+3d6 strife. If you succeed on the save attempt and thus became shaken T as a fear effect, you instead take 1d6 strife.

Effects of Stress

Each time you take nonlethal damage or strife and you’re still conscious afterward (or you become conscious while you have nonlethal damage or strife), you “check your stress” by checking the total of your strife and nonlethal damage.

  • If your stress is as much as your current hit points, you are shaken T.
  • If your stress is as much as your maximum hit points, you are frightened T. Once you are out of sight (or hearing) of whatever made you frightened (or away from the situation, if it’s nothing specific), you may act as you wish (although you remain frightened of that thing until your stress drops enough).
  • If your stress is as much as twice your maximum hit points, you are panicked T.
  • A creature immune to fear effects is less affected by stress, and is instead shaken T at their maximum hit points, frightened T at double their maximum hit points, and panicked T at triple their maximum hit points.

Stress effects do nothing if you’re unconscious, but if you’re conscious at the time you make an Injury saving throw then stress effects do apply.

Being frightened or panicked about a situation means that so long as there’s no clear way out of the situation which is an acceptable risk to your character (at GM discretion), there’s no mechanical effect. However, if you encounter a somewhat-reasonable way to flee the situation through movement, actions, or words, you will do so immediately unless you rationalize it by succeeding on a Diplomacy persuasion check against yourself (the GM sets the DC in secret, although it’s based on DC 10 + 1 per 5 strife + circumstance modifiers, where you get an insight bonus on the check equal to “your Wisdom modifier + ECL” and you can voluntarily fail). If you fail the check, you must move or take actions or say things that would reasonably prioritize escaping the situation. No roleplay is required for determining the parameters of the rationalization or for how you prioritize escape, but the more you can describe how you’d rationalize it the lower the DC becomes) If a new factor to the situation is found, you’re allowed a new check to stop yourself.

For Example: Assume you’re not immune to fear effects. If you already had the shaken T condition from your stress reaching your current hit points (remember, stress is not a fear effect), and you then gain the shaken T condition as a fear effect, it simply overlaps with being shaken T from stress, but you immediately take 1d6 strife because you would be shaken T as a fear effect. If this somehow pushed your stress to your maximum hit points, you would become frightened T from stress, but this would not cause you to gain additional strife because stress is not a fear effect.

If while shaken T as a fear effect you were shaken T as a fear effect again, the two fear effects are cumulative, pushing you to frightened T as a fear effect. Being frightened T in this way overlaps (does not stack) with being frightened T from stress, but because you were pushed to frightened as a fear effect, you immediately take 3d6 strife.
Meta Analysis: Strife and stress represent the fact that characters are people who can get stressed out and flee the situation. Anyone can deal HP damage or nonlethal damage, so everyone can get in on beating up a creature to make them flee. Any sort of magical healing gains an additional use here which will cause it to be spent more often: to calm down an ally. Any creature with reserve points can take a standard action to spend some of those to heal nonlethal damage (and because it’s nonlethal damage being healed, also heal the same amount of strife).

More importantly, all magical healing is doubly or even triply effective at reducing the effects of stress, since for every 1 point of magical healing it also removes 1 strife and 1 nonlethal damage. Someone whose total stress exactly equaled their hit points (barely reaching the shaken condition) would then have a 3 point difference between their stress and hit point total per point of magical healing! Certain effects (such as refreshment) remove all nonlethal damage and thus remove all strife. Strife makes both HP damage and nonlethal damage more relevant.

Certain tactical options become a lot more useful, and nonlethal methods to resolve combat become a lot more viable when you can scare enemies away. While stress doesn’t truly represent a “morale check”, anyone can now use the intimidate skill to give a lot of strife to an opponent.

Interestingly, creatures with regeneration are easier or more likely to flee a fight because of this system, as most damage dealt to such a creature gets converted to nonlethal damage. Even if your group don’t have an attack available which can deal it lethal damage, each time you deal it nonlethal damage it’ll take strife, meaning it’ll soon hit its stress level for the frightened condition.

The big downside to this is that you’re affected by it too, although you have more control over your character’s actions than the NPCs have over theirs. An adventure that results in your strife spiking your stress level to shaken T or even frightened T would in-character make you feel glad to be finally out of there and desperate for a beer, like this.

Escalating Fear Effects

Fear breeds fear. A character who is shaken T becomes more susceptible to fear effects: If another effect would make him shaken T again, he becomes frightened instead. If an effect would make him frightened, he instead becomes panicked. Similarly, an already frightened character who is subjected to another fear effect becomes panicked.

As a general rule, multiple exposures to the same spell or effect do not trigger this escalation of fear. Thus, casting doom on a target twice does not make it frightened. However, casting doom and then cause fear will create a heightened state of fear: The target is panicked if it fails its save against cause fear, or frightened if it succeeds (assuming it already failed its save against the doom, of course). Similarly, a character fighting two dragons does not become frightened if the frightful presence of both dragons would make her shaken T two dragons’ frightful presence abilities are considered the same effect.

The durations of the different fear effects are not relevant. If a creature subject to doom becomes panicked as a result of a cause fear spell, it is panicked for the full duration of cause fear, even if the doom spell’s duration expires before the cause fear spell’s duration does.

Optional Variant: Slow-Escalating Fear

Whether they are shaken T, frightened, or panicked, characters take the same penalties: -2 on attack rolls (if they can attack at all), saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks. Once a character becomes frightened, however, her usefulness in an encounter is extraordinarily limited, as they can’t be within sight or earshot of what made them frightened. In a campaign where fear becomes common, a variant frightened condition can be more appropriate. This optional rule allows fear to escalate more slowly and allows for more differentiation between the panicked and frightened conditions.

With this optional rule for the frightened condition (regardless of whether it’s from a stress effect or a fear effect), a character who is frightened is not forced to flee from the source of her fear. Instead, this condition imposes a -4 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks.

A frightened creature subjected to another similar effect (but not the same spell or effect) becomes panicked instead, but has the same -4 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks.


Hyperion Voyages Ternal Ternal