In Fate, stunts are how you do your cool stuff 20% cooler. There are an innumerable amount of stunts that one can make, but they all are made with the same building blocks. Coming up with stunts is more of an art than a science, but there is still some science behind the mechanics, so it can take a bit of time to balance the art and science of stunt creation.
The Golden Rule
One thing to keep in mind when creating a stunt is the Golden Rule of Fate, “Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it” (Fate Core page 185). When coming up with a stunt, figuring out how it looks in-fiction can help immensely in deciding how to build the stunt.
There are three benefits called out in the Fate Core rule book:
- Adding a new action to a skill
- Adding a bonus to an action
- Creating a Rules exception
Adding a New Action to a Skill
“The most basic option for a stunt is to allow a skill to do something that it normally can’t do. It adds a new action onto the base skill in certain situations, for those with this stunt.” –Fate Core System, page 89
This benefit adds one of two new actions to a skill: attack or defend. All skills are able to overcome and create an advantage, but only a select few skills (3 of the default 18) can attack, and most of them (11 of the default 18) can defend—but only three of those 11 can defend against attack rolls.
This benefit added to the base skill can be used in certain situations. This part is the key: the action added isn’t always available to the skill. There has to be some specific circumstance before you can use the new action. This circumstance could be as simple as requiring an aspect to be in play (…when your target is Scared), the use of a specific skill against you (…only after they attack you with Provoke), when a specific narrative situation occurs (…when you first meet them), or something else entirely. It’s very vague, and for a good reason—this situation flavours the stunt and personalizes it to your character.
Example: Bull Rush: You may attack with Athletics provided you move one zone first.
Adding a Bonus to an Action
“Another use for a stunt is to give a skill an automatic bonus under a particular, very narrow circumstance, effectively letting a character specialize in something.” –Fate Core System, page 90
“Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: Carefully, Cleverly, Flashily, Forcefully, Quickly, Sneakily] [pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] when [describe a circumstance].” –Fate Accelerated Edition, page 31
Using the FAE mad-lib, we can convert it to Fate Core thusly: “Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] with [pick a skill] when [describe a circumstance].”
Normally, this is a +2 bonus to one action with one skill/approach, but it can be broken down to a +1 to two actions or with two skills/approaches. This bonus could also be represented as a 2-shift bonus to a roll or situation. For example, reducing the difficulty of overcome rolls with Athletics when moving zones by 2. If the difficulty is reduced to Mediocre (+0) or below it becomes a free movement. Or reducing the time something takes by 2-shifts (see Fate Core page 197).
Just like when adding a new action to a skill, adding a bonus to an action requires a specific circumstance/situation. It shouldn’t take over the use of that action with that skill. For example, a stunt that gives a +2 to overcome with Rapport when being nice doesn’t work: Rapport is already being nice, otherwise you’d use Provoke.
A good rule of thumb is to break down the umbrella of a skill into three or four different situations that it can be commonly used for, and choose one of those for the circumstances. For example, the Burglary skill can be broken down into: pickpocketing, breaking & entering, and bypassing security. So a good stunt could be Master Locksmith: Gain a +2 to overcome with Burglary when picking locks. This stunt makes you better at picking physical locks, but doesn’t confer any benefits when bypassing an electronic lock.
Creating a Rules Exception
“Finally, a stunt can allow a skill to make a single exception, in a narrow circumstance, for any other game rule that doesn’t precisely fit into the category of an action.” –Fate Core System, page 91
“Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], once per game session I can [describe something cool you can do].” –Fate Accelerated Edition, page 32
The key part of this stunt benefit is that it “doesn’t precisely fit into the category of an action.” It may enable an action when an action normally isn’t allowed (Hadouken: you may attack with Fight when your target is one zone away), or may flow from the success or failure of an action (gain a full situation aspect instead of a boost when you succeed with style on a defense with Athletics).
Common rules changes:
- Gain a full aspect instead of a boost
- Don’t reduce stress inflicted by 1 to gain a boost
- Swap one skill for another
- Move 1 zone for free
- Add an additional free invoke on a specific aspect you create
- Invoking a specifc aspect gives you a +3 bonus instead of +2
- Create an aspect with a free invoke
FAE limits the breaking of the rules to once per session, but there are other limiting factors that can be applied:
- In a specific circumstance/situation, as with the other two stunt benefits
- Once per scene
- When you succeed with style on a specific action with a specific skill
- When you spend a fate point
- When you invoke a specific aspect
- When you take a consequence
- When you cause a consequence
Another thing to keep in mind is what rule is being changed: gaining a boost is less potent than gaining a full situation aspect, so shouldn’t be as restricted. If the stunt costs a fate point, be sure that the benefit is more than 2-shifts, because you can already do that by invoking an aspect—which costs one fate point.
Shaking Things Up in Fate Accelerated Edition
Just because the FAE template for gain a bonus says it’s a +2 to one action with one approach doesn’t mean that it has to be. The mad-libs are just a jumping off point to be fiddled with at your discretion.
Because I am wickedly strong, I get a +1 when I Forcefully create advantages or overcome when using my brute strength.
Because I have a lock-pick set, I get a +1 when I Carefully or Cleverly or overcome when breaking and entering.
It’s still a total of 2-shifts of benefit, but it’s applied to two actions or approaches instead of one.
The same mentality can be applied when creating a rules exception. The mad-lib says once per session, but not all rules exceptions are equal. For example, once per session gaining a specific aspect with one free invoke is more potent than always upgrading the boost from a success with style on an attack to a full aspect on a specific attack. The former can be done at any time, while the latter has some prerequisites before it can be used. Because of this, feel free to play around with different restrictions than once per session.
Because I channel healing magics, once per scene I can grant a minor healing boost.
Because I have a sonic pistol, I always cause a stunned boost when I succeed with style on an attack using my pistol.
In FAE, all of the approaches can perform all four actions, and thus doesn't have this benefit. ↩
- This may seem like a watered-down version of the add a bonus to an action benefit, but it's more potent. Adding a bonus is limited to one action with one skill, whereas you can invoke an aspect on any action with any skill, so long as the aspect works with the action being taken. ↩
I believe this is due to simplicity. FAE is designed to be quick, and having a once per session limit is quicker than giving a list of possible limits. ↩