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Fate Stunt making for GMs

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Previously, we talked about Stunt making for players. Today we look at it from the other perspective.

When a GM designs stunts, it is usually more than one or two at a time and for more than one character. On a small scale, you may be making new stunts for a custom skill you have decided to add to your campaign. On a large scale, you may be adding several stunt families for several class builds. With so many stunts coming out, it is easy to lose balance on one hand or flavor on the other.

If you just want to make a few extra stunts to add to the default list, then by all means go for it! Players tend to understand that GM stunts are good stunts to take since the person designing the campaign is the one that made them.

Just so you do not get overwhelmed or make underwhelming stunts, here are some tips to consider when designing stunts.

Keep Your Campaign in Mind

The greatest benefit that comes from a GM making custom stunts is that they can fit the campaign in a way that no amount of pregenerated stunts for other campaigns or even generic use can. If you look at the stunts for Tian Xia versus The Secrets of Cats, for example, you can tell right away what the world is like just by the stunts. Switching them would generate very different games that would take a lot of imagination to make sense.

So the most important thing to keep in mind when designing stunts is not the rules or the players or even a general sense of fairness. Those are important things, sure, but the NUMBER ONE thing to remember when making stunts for your campaign is the ACTUAL CAMPAIGN.

If you are running a campaign of do-gooder thieves, make sure you have lots of stunts to enhance grifters and hackers and such without worrying too much about fighter pilots or nursing home workers. If you are doing a medieval fantasy game, focus on stunts for fighters and rogues and maybe wizards if they are not covered by extras. Monster stunts should not be a huge priority if they will be NPCs.

This will actually help you a lot in generating stunts as you imagine your campaign world and the cool things that people can do in it. This imagination of scenes will lead to naming stunts and abilities. More abilities may branch off of this idea, and you will easily come up with a family of stunts. And then you will imagine how to counter those abilities with other stunts.

For example, for your post apocalypse campaign you imagine that radiation has mutated some minds to be able to attack with psychic powers. So you make a stunt that allows a player to make a ranged psychic attack with Will. Since this is a basic power, you can design other psychic stunts like levitate or mind reading that require this basic stunt to mark you as a psychic.

And since your campaign is all about surviving against harsh people and conditions, you figure there are people that oppose the psychics and make a stunt that gives a bonus to resist psychic attacks with Will. And perhaps a stunt family will grow out of that idea.

Make Sure There Is Something for Everyone

Players only have to focus on one character at a time, but as a GM you have to manage all of the player characters and the NPCs as well. This means you cannot really have 25 stunts for human engineers in a Star Trek game and only 2 stunts for Vulcan security officers. There has to be a level of balance to maintain. Otherwise players will read favoritism.

The good news is that Fate Core does not have a class system, so you do not have to cover all the extra possibilities a character might choose. Instead you can simply balance the basic roles of your campaign once you recognize them and design an equal balance of stunts for each of them. This is much easier to balance than making sure that all pilots, engineers, commanders, and security personnel have an equal number of damage-enhancing stunts, and it feels better for your campaign too.

So what roles are in your campaign? We like to divide characters into sticks and stones and rubber and glue, as you may recall from a previous blog post. Sticks need good stunts to help them stir up trouble and discover secrets. Stones need stunts that can help them endure attacks and resist manipulation. Rubbers need stunts to interact with people and the environment, manipulating both to their advantage. Glues need stunts to boost other players and maybe help them recover from bad things.

Let us say for the sake of example that you make a stunt that allows you to inflict stress when you take it, a stunt that lets you boost other players’ ability to hide, a stunt that lets you trick someone into talking about a secret they would normally hide, and a stunt that lets you turn a neutral NPC animal into an ally during a conflict. That’s a stunt for each role.

Now you may expect your players to take one each in order to fit their roles. On the other hand, you may get a player that wants to dabble in espionage and wants to take the hiding and tricking stunts. Or you may get the bard player that wants all 4. Covering the roles rather than the imagined classes leaves the players to choose what they want for themselves, and since there is enough variety you will have something for everyone.

And do not forget NPCs! You can make fewer stunts for these, but be sure to make a couple and then see if your players become interested in them as well. This can lead to some fun campaign moments. J

Do Not Make Everything At Once

It would be very easy to generate a lot of stunts for each skill that grants a +2 the first time you are using it each scene for one of the four basic actions. But those stunts are a bit boring. And if it is an option for every action for every skill, then is there really a point to coming up with a name for all of them?

If you want to leave open options like the one above, save yourself the trouble of coming up with 72 cool names and make a sample stunt to use as a guide for yourself and players. Again, think of your campaign and find a good balance between a fill-in-the-blank stunt model and the complicated ask-GM-about-modifications stunt example.

Personally I like to just add a note at the end of a stunt saying it can be adapted for other skills as well. This lets you modify it for future NPC use and may also steer players in the right direction when asking about making their own stunts. Most FATE Core players are already used to looking at sample stunts to modify when they want to make their own versions.

For example, the stunt No Touchy lets you use Will instead of Athletics for Defense against melee attacks, representing your kingly will and general disdain for others. I add a note after the description that there may be other skills useful to making someone hesitate to get close enough to strike you, such as uncomfortable eye contact (Notice) or creepy demeanor when someone gets close to you (Provoke). This really is 3 stunts instead of one, and players can see the direction this is going to easily come up with ways skills like Lore or Burglary or Stealth could also be justified for this kind of defense action.

Final Thoughts

Do not be overwhelmed by the numbers, and do not try to make every stunt that will ever be possible before the campaign begins. Always leave yourself and your players room to adapt and grow.

Hopefully these tips help you a bit. More likely they just remind you of something you already know. If you have more tips, please do share them with us!

~Joshua

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Author: Burn Everything Gaming

Website that mostly produces Actual Play Podcast as well as game reviews and other musings on the topic. Hope you enjoy.

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