Stress tracks absorb specific kinds of stress in conflicts. A character or entity is taken out if any track takes more stress than it can handle. In other words, a taken out character is out of control and his fate is in the hands of the opposition.
Characters have 3 stress tracks by default. Cool, Humanity and Reputation. The first two represent the essential balancing act of staying on the edge in the dark cyberpunk future.
Characters have a stress threshold for each track that determines the level of stress they can sustain without being taken out. Each character gets a base threshold of 0 for each of his tracks, and adds to that the level of the special “stress skill” he may have put on his skill list. This special skill is only used to modify the stress threshold. It is not a real skill.
Cool track represents your composure against the forces of the dark, fast and dirty world, without which, you would easily be overwhelmed by the information overload, curl up and wait to die in a corner, future-shocked. You take cool damage from anything that threatens to destroy your existence as an individual.
If you are taken out on the Cool track, well, you lose your cool, and start doing silly things. You are rendered totally ineffective and your comeback is narrated by your opponent.
Notice the absence of a Health stress track. Combat in the dark future is so deadly that any real hit, even a graze results in a consequence. In armed conflict, attacks wear down the Cool track, which represents the attack stressing you out and forcing you to make a mistake, but any consequences taken are real physical damage. If you are taken out, you have made ‘the mistake’ and at the mercy of your opponent, who has been waiting for the right moment to send a 5.56AP round through your skull.
Humanity track represents your composure against your inner monster, that only lives to see the world subdued at your feet. The most common form of that in a cyberpunk world is the “Metal is better than meat” attitude, a.k.a. cyberpsychosis. The advent of human augmentation made it possible for regular scumbags to feel like a god, at least for a while until C-SWAT sends their sorry asses into scrapville.
You take humanity damage whenever you overwhelm your opponent with inhuman methods and abilities. Needless to say this almost always includes the use of upgrades.
If your inner monster takes you out by depleting your humanity, you lose control of yourself, and who knows what regrets you will bear if you survive your deranged self.
If any time during the game you kill anybody purposefully (i.e. tell their ‘Taken out’ story without a return clause) your humanity track gets filled, regardless of any previous damage. This includes ‘killing’ someone’s reputation so that they never recover.
Reputation track represents how you are perceived by your peers. It is a networked world and information travels in nanoseconds. Nothing stays hidden for long, and how you’re known goes a long way when dealing with people, who are still -surprisingly- running the show on planet earth.
You take hits to your reputation when you flunk your assingnments, fail to keep your promises and pay your debts or generally act like an asshole. Also when others expose, smear, denigrate or discredit you.
Being taken out on reputation means you are ousted from the society in general, and nobody takes you seriously for what you claim to be. You are either a zero, a man with no money, property, rights, friends or anything, or you are branded a dangerous criminal, either already in lockdown or with a warrant on your capture, dead or alive.