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Burnout Mechanic for PbtA games

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Burnout Mechanic for PbtA games

According to "The Four Stages of Burnout" model (Mark Gorkin), professional burnout works like this: If Results, Rewards, Recognition and Relief are continually withheld from a hardworking person who constantly gives their all, that person will begin to advance through these four stages in order: (1) Exhaustion, (2) Shame/Doubt, (3) Cynicism/Callousness, and (4) Helplessness/Crisis.

This system is designed to model that dynamic. It is especially intended for *W-style games focusing on high-stress high-performance jobs, such as cops, military, EMTs, doctors, nurses, private detectives, etc. It's intended for the sort of player who's into complex characters, conflicting emotions and deep roleplay; I wouldn't really suggest it for casual players.

NOTE: The fourth stage "Crisis" may include an attempted suicide, whether consciously intended or not. Note that this is a potentially loaded topic, and the MC should have a clear idea of the player's lines and veils before going there.


Burnout Points work on a "countdown clock" similar to hits.
You basically have 6 of them before entering the next stage of burnout.

Every 24 hours, the workload of each Client/Job causes 1 BP to be acquired automatically.
In addition, game events may affect this value in play:

• Any 6- roll
• Losing something to a rival
• Any sort of Bad Relationship scene
• Getting screwed on pay, conned or misled
• Being passed over for a promotion or sweet assignment
• Getting dissed/misquoted in the news, name spelled wrong
• Getting transferred to a crappy location
• Being belittled by a respected character or someone with rank
• Having sex with strings tied to it, the kind you wish you hadn't
• Losing a competent underling
• Losing a night's sleep
• Going on a bender

• Get a new job/client
• Any 10+ roll
• Getting 1 XP for anything else
• Getting paid in full or fairly compensated
• Winning an award, being treated to a luxurious meal/drinks
• Being assigned or inheriting something valuable or useful
• Getting mentioned in the news, interviewed, photographed
• Getting a promotion or transfer to a better location
• Having an important character acknowledge their debt to you
• Having sex with nothing negative about it
• Hiring/acquiring a competent underling
• Taking two days off

When you take your 6th Burnout Point, you enter the next STAGE OF BURNOUT. Write it on your sheet (in pencil) and clear the BP clock.

1) Exhaustion (Physical, Mental and Emotional)
2) Shame or Doubt
3) Cynicism or Callousness
4) Failure, Helplessness or Crisis

Each time you progress to a new stage of Burnout, you must choose one of the following symptoms. NOTE: Choosing the same symptom multiple times IS allowed, provided they are each uniquely defined.

[ ] penalty to professional efficacy, ability to perform (-1 to one stat until this stage is removed)
[ ] mood swings, neuroses, forgetfulness, anger (roleplay)
[ ] chemical dependencies, self-medication (roleplay)
[ ] inability to support/tolerate those who depend on you (roleplay)

The Stages work the same backwards as forwards: As BP are reduced, you go back down through the stages one at a time. As each stage is left behind, its symptom is removed. If the character has an opportunity to take an extended vacation between sessions (at least one week for each Burnout Stage), the character may be assumed to have recovered in full - but only if the player wishes them to.

The context

The context is basically a hard-boiled cop/detective drama. High pressure, high performance, high expectations, and major personal issues. But I figure the same mechanic could be used for military, fire/rescue, EMTs, doctors/nurses, and other high-pressure professional jobs.

It would definitely be good to include this on the splat (or at least some indicators of the general types of things you might expect BP to be accrued for). I'm picturing a totally different layout for these BP hits, something like this, perhaps...

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] = Exhaustion [Symptom: _____________________]
[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] = Doubt/Shame [Symptom: _____________________]
[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] = Cynicism [Symptom: _____________________]
[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] = Crisis [Symptom: _____________________]

And that means you can easily see which symptom to remove when you go down a Stage.

I wanna say something about

I wanna say something about how burn-out is necessary to show the growing pains before a perspective shift, and doesn't often effect ability.

How do you reflect the often circuitously obtained perspective shift in story, in something like a game.
I think just granting negatives to chance of success is gonna slow down play. I mean play is slowed down because you're waiting for approval from an authority, either a game, a person or likely a combination of both.

I think treating stress like the short-term reward it can sometimes feel like, would be better. The most interesting, to me, part of stress, is how it effects other people(players).

Like in The Shadow of Yesterday, the neatest Keys are the ones that effect other players, selfishly.

I mean, what you have written is Fright Checks, which are neat, but if nothing changes, if the character doesn't change, if the plot doesn't shift in some way, it's pointless(to me).

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