Traveling the planes is not for the faint of heart. Realms of nightmare make the mind reel. Sanity shatters from the surreality. The body weakens from the poisons of the lower planes and falters from the intensity of the elemental planes.
Wherever a Material Plane native goes, they are strained by their surroundings. Unfortunately, exhaustion, poison, disease, insanity, and even several climate conditions all have different subsystems that can become overwhelming. If only there was a generalized and simplified system that could be tailors for any planar location. . . .
This final installment of the series offers a unified subsystem that accounts for different types of stresses that wear on character’s physical and mental health as they travel the planes.
The Planar Adventures series highlights aspects that make planar campaigns different, while adding new rules to make them unique.
Stress represents damage to the body or mind based on experiences. A fighter slogging through disease-filled swamps in the Abyss suffers physical stress, while a cleric navigating an ethereal maze might suffer mental stress. These things debilitate a character beyond hit point damage.
The stress system combines similar effects and better represents the gradual erosion of a character’s physical or mental well-being. While hit point damage represents immediate damage, stress is the slow accumulation of trauma. The system is intended to be flexible and quickly tailored to different situations, promoting role-playing.
Stress damage is accumulated by enduring harsh incidents that don’t necessarily deal hit point damage. When you accumulate enough stress damage, you suffer debilitating stress effects.
There are two types of stress damage: physical and mental. Diseases, exhausting travel, debilitating poisons, or starvation are examples of things that cause physical stress.
Horror, psychological trauma, or anything that drains a character’s willpower are examples of things that cause mental stress.
If an effect allows a saving throw to avoid it, that saving throw allows the character to avoid accumulating stress.
The amount of stress that a trauma causes varies with the severity of its incident. An effect causes a stress amount equal to the DC of its saving throw − 11, divided by 2.
Stress Amount = (DC – 11)/2
For example, a poison with a DC 13 saving throw causes 1 stress while a DC 17 confusion effect might cause 3 stress. The Sample Stresses table provides some sample incidents, and the amount of stress caused by them.
|Amount of Stress||Incident|
|1||A day without food|
|1||Traveling under significant heat, cold, or extreme weather|
|2||A day without water|
|1–4||Poison that debilitates the body|
|1–5||Crippling disease (per day)|
|4||Level of exhaustion (each)|
|1||Seeing a thing that should not be|
|1||Extremely embarrassing social situation|
|3||Walking through a dimension with non-Euclidean geometry|
|1–3||Poison that induces hallucinations|
|4||Level of madness|
Total and track accrued physical and mental stress damage separately, alongside hit point damage.
Gritty Campaigns: In a gritty campaign, characters that succeed on a saving throw accumulate half of the stress, rounded down, instead of avoiding all of it.
To determine when a stress effect kicks in, compare your stress damage to your stress threshold.
A character has a physical stress threshold equal to their proficiency bonus plus their Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution modifiers (minimum 1). For example, a 1st-level rogue with Str 8, Dex 15, Con 12 has a physical stress threshold of 4 (+2 proficiency bonus, –1 Str, + 2 Dex, + 1 Con).
A character’s mental stress threshold is equal to their proficiency bonus plus their Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma modifiers (minimum 1). The 1st-level rogue with Int 13, Wis 10, and Cha 13 has a mental stress threshold of 4 (+2 proficiency bonus, + 1 Int, + 0 Wis, + 1 Cha).
When your current physical or mental stress damage exceeds its respective threshold, subtract the appropriate threshold from its matching stress damage total and gain a stress effect. If a character gains a physical or mental stress effect such that their total number of effects exceeds their respective threshold, the character becomes unconscious.
For example, our 1st-level rogue has 5 physical stress damage. That exceeds his physical stress threshold of 4. She subtracts her threshold from her damage to set her physical stress damage to 1, and she gains a stress effect. Once she has five physical stress effects, she’s out cold.
When a character gains a stress effect, the GM assigns an effect or increases the seriousness of an existing stress effect. A PC can have multiple different effects or one effect growing in severity. The GM and player can work together to pick what is most appropriate to the story.
The Sample Stress Effects table shows the mechanical consequences of stress effects. Each effect can grow in severity as a character acquires additional stress effects.
Sample Stress Effects
|Effect||Severity||Potential Game Implications|
|Cramp||Mild physical||−5 ft. speed, -1 to Acrobatics or Athletics checks|
|Sprained ankle||Moderate physical||−10 ft. speed, -1d4 to Acrobatics or Athletics checks, carrying capacity decreased by 25%|
|Broken bone||Severe physical||Halve speed, disadvantage on Acrobatics or Athletics checks, carrying capacity halved|
|Amputation||Terrible physical||Speed reduced to 5 ft., disadvantage on Acrobatics or Athletics checks, carrying capacity decreased by 75%|
|Dazed||Mild mental||-1 to Investigation and Perception checks|
|Confused||Moderate mental||-1d4 to Investigation and Perception checks, inability to take reactions|
|Hallucinations||Severe mental||Disadvantage on Investigation and Perception checks, inability to take reactions, see things that are not there when stressed|
|Blackouts||Terrible mental||Disadvantage on Investigation and Perception checks, inability to take reactions, chance to fall unconscious when stressed|
The GM should remember to reward players who roleplay their stress just as they might reward other types of roleplaying. Inspiration, advantage on checks, or bonus XP might be appropriate rewards.
Gritty Campaigns: In a gritty campaign, unless there is a good reason, stress effects always increase in severity.
Recovering through Rest
A character recovers 1 physical AND mental stress damage after finishing a long rest. If the character’s stress damage is 0 before beginning a long rest, they instead recover a stress effect and gain stress damage to each respective threshold –1.
For example, without magic, our 1st-level rogue with 3 physical stress damage and a sprained ankle requires four long rests to remove the sprained ankle effect and walk on it with only cramping. Another four long rest allow her to walk again without difficulty.
Gritty Campaigns: After reducing stress damage to 0, a week must pass without gaining any new stress damage to remove a stress effect. For example, a character with a sprained ankle rests for four days and then suffers 1 physical stress damage. That character must rest a day to remove the new physical stress damage and then seven more days to heal the ankle.
Recovering with Magic
The Spell Stress Recovery table indicates what spells can do for you when you’re suffering stress damage and effects.
Spell Stress Recovery
|Dispel evil and good||Heal 4 mental stress damage, remove a mental stress effect|
|Greater restoration||Heal any 4 stress damage, remove a physical or mental stress effect|
|Heal||Heal 5 physical stress damage, remove a physical stress effect|
|Lesser restoration||Heal any 2 stress damage, remove a physical stress effect but gain 2 points of physical stress|
|Mind blank||Heal all mental stress damage, remove all mental stress effects|
|Regenerate||Heal all physical stress damage, remove all physical stress effects|
|Protection from evil and good||Heal 1 mental stress damage|