I do not know of any other RPG that says “Make Your Own Powers” besides Fate (Editors note: One of the best ways to get information on the Internet is to say something doesn’t exist, or can’t be done. We look forward to hearing how that previous statement is wrong). Maybe I’m too sheltered, but it really seems like a lot of power to give to players not only when they are building characters but also throughout the campaign as they are leveling up. With great power comes great responsibility. And lots of fun!
For this post, we are going to look at making stunts from a player’s point of view. While all of these tips will be useful to GMs as well, they have a whole other set of things to consider when building stunts. Players are usually just concerned about one thing: their character. So with that in mind, here are some ideas to help you get started.
#1 Consult the Rules
If you do not have a copy of Fate Core’s core book, everything you need to know about making stunts is still available for free at the SRD site. So no excuse for not consulting the rules. They flat out tell you that the stunt list they have is just there for ideas so you can build your own, and they cover everything.
Pretty sure everyone actually follows this tip, but on the off chance that you find yourself struggling it may be a good idea to check the rules again for a refresher. Rules are sometimes buried in the content, and the examples they give really do help with intent.
#2 Narrate Your Idea First
A lot of new players struggle with making stunts because they approach it from a mechanics point of view. You want to be better at picking pockets or get a reward when you succeed at making fun of someone. So naturally your mind goes to a +2 to Burglary or upgrading boosts to full aspects. It is a quick step to what we think are results, but unfortunately it skips a few things.
If you really want a good stunt for your character, imagine them doing something amazing. Invent a finishing move for an attack, an amazing display of skills in a rooftop chase scene, or melting the heart of a cold monarch with a wink and a smile. Think of those spotlight moments when your party will be so glad your character is with them.
This can be counter intuitive to some personality types, but it really gives you a lot more ground work to build your stunts on. A good scene inspires a fun name, a new look on aspects, a personality spotlight for your character, and of course some insight to the mechanics you want.
For example, let’s say you imagine this dramatic moment where your character reveals the murderer by unraveling the mystery in front of the audience with dramatic deduction. The culprit is so overwhelmed by your skills and the exposure of his crimes that his will shatters and he surrenders. This could inspire some interesting ability/aspect names like Sherlock Homes In or The Truth Captivates.
For the mechanical bonus, you probably want to use investigation as an attack or inflict a consequence on a success to keep the captive in place. If you had been dwelling more on unraveling the mystery than on the actual revelation scene, consider boosting your Investigate skill or reducing the time it takes your character to search for clues. That distinction also tells you something interesting about your character.
#3 Mix Up the Mechanics
If you are ever torn between specific effects that you want your stunt to have, give preference to variety. Most player characters are specialists in that they do a certain type of thing very well: deal damage, tank hits, disarm traps and locks, heal, socialize, etc. But what makes a specialist so special is not just the big modifier to the skill check. It is also how many ways they can make their specialty work for them!
For the most part, the three things you can do with skills are: add a bonus to a skill check, add a new action to a skill, and ignore a rule in a specific circumstance. So if there are any of these 3 things that you don’t have covered yet with a stunt, go for that option. And since most stunts interact with different skills you should try to set your stunt for a skill that doesn’t have a stunt relationship whenever possible.
For example, a player wants to set up a social character that schmooses and seduces their way to the best outcome of a conversation. So they come up with three stunts: Great Assets (+2 Provoke vs attracted NPC), Tight Clothes (+2 Rapport vs attracted NPC) and Enhanced Features (+2 Deceive vs attracted NPC).
All kinds of wrong. I will spare you that tangent and just focus on the stunt mechanic problems. Sure your character is guaranteed to do well in any conversation where someone is attracted to them no matter what they try. But you pick one method (persuade, chat, or trick) for your bonus, and if the scene is longer than one check you either have to change up your method for each check or repeat the same thing over and over. The stunts have lent you a 2 dimensional character. And no, changing the skill for all of them to Rapport so you get a +6 to chat up an NPC is not the answer.
So switch it up a bit. Keep the +2 Rapport, change the rules so that you can use Provoke as an active defense against checks to get rid of aspects you make on the scene, and maybe let Physique cover distraction instead of Trickery since that is all you wanted that skill for. Now your character has more ways to socialize that combo rather than interfere with each other. Plus a high Physique is very useful outside of social combat.
Talk With Your GM
The GM has to approve your new stunt before you get to put it on your character, right? So include them in the process of making it. This works better when you have a specific question rather than a general “I have good Empathy, what’s a good stunt?”
The more details you have starting out, the more help a GM will be able to give and the less likely they will push your stunt in a direction you did not want for your character. Having a skill or bonus in mind is good. Having a way to use in in their campaign is even better.
If you bring in a GM to help, expect some negotiation as well. They have a campaign to manage and may be worried about your stunt’s power level or application. You may need to water it down, offer to limit its use, or change the skill it matches with before it will go through. A good GM will at least have reasons why these changes should be made.
And not that I am encouraging a player taking advantage of their GM in any way (because of course they are only trying to make the game fair for everyone), but it you want some tips to swing a GM’s ruling in your favor then consider things from a GM point of view. If they are a GM vs Player type, adding a penalty where they can “get you” will allow you a much bigger bonus if you sell it. Or for the story oriented types, explaining exactly how you expect the character to use the stunt in game will likely lend them to not think too hard about how you could later misuse a stunt’s power. Just saying.
Stunts are your powers, the amazing things your character can do that most other people cannot. Using them to enhance your natural abilities is a great way to get things done and make sure the odds are ever in your favor. But one thing every player should have than not everyone does is an Ace in the hole: an ability that is not just likely to succeed but rather guaranteed to do what it does.
Even if you give yourself a +3 on a Drive check, you may roll poorly or the guy trying to run your car over in a bulldozer might also have a +3 stunt. It makes for a great story moment when you fail at something you are normally amazing at, sure, but too many bad rolls in one night can leave you wanting to make a new character.
So consider making a stunt that gives your character an unopposed action. These can big actions that cost a fate point for each use, like inflicting a mild consequence on a target. Or they can be little compensations, like getting a free boost when you fail at a defend action. They can even be regular actions that you don’t want to chance wasting a turn on if you roll poorly, such as creating a specific aspect (no free invoke) on a scene.
Hopefully these thoughts will get your creative juices flowing and help you avoid some of the easier mistakes that come with making stunts. After all, they affect the most important thing about the game: our player characters!
Next time we will look a little bit more at making groups of stunts from a GM’s point of view.