Last time, when discussing the four pillars of Fate, I discussed skills. As a companion to skills, I figured that stunts should be next, so here it is!
What Stunts Are
In Fate Core, a “stunt is a special trait your character has that changes the way a skill works for you,”(Defining Stunts).
In Fate Accelerated, stunts “are tricks, maneuvers, or techniques your character has that change how an approach works for your character,” (Stunts).
Meaning that a stunt is something super-cool that changes how your skills and approaches work. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a numerical bonus, other times it’s a narrative-turned-mechanical advantage, or perhaps a modification of the way a core facet of the game works.
An important note is that this means that stunts are above and beyond what normal characters in the setting are capable of doing. Everyone and their mother can use a gun (Shoot skill) but not everyone can Fan the Hammer (once per scene, attack two targets without needing to split shifts).
What Stunts Do
But that’s not all. Stunts are also characterization. Sure, you’re super awesome because you get a +2 to Forcefully attack someone with a punch; the interesting bit, however, is why you get that bonus. Because you’re a hulking brute? Do you utilize pressure points? Is it due to your claws, brass knuckles, or other weapon? In Fate, the why is more interesting than the what, and sometimes more important.
Sure, you can spend a fate point to downgrade an existing consequence, but why can you do that? Mutant healing factor? High pain threshold? Magic potions?
As you can see, each and every stunt tells us more about your character. The sharpshooter who can invoke their In My Sights aspect for a +3 instead of a +2 differentiates from the street-rat who can, once per session, call up their contacts and automatically gain a piece of information.
What Stunts Are Not
There is much discussion on “is this stunt balanced?” or “how do I do X with a stunt?” The answers, almost every time is: “it depends.”
Because of the fact that stunts are not just a numerical bonus—they aren’t feats, but fill a similar role—it’s very difficult to come up with them sometimes. And the thought of a master list of stunts is laughable (doesn’t stop people from trying, but still). Each game is unique, no matter how many similarities they may have with another game.
It Depends on the Game
Since Fate is a rules engine, not a rules system, you can’t unequivocally say that “this stunt will always be balanced with every game that uses it.” A piece of advice that I read in Big Eyes Small Mouth oh so many years ago has stuck with me to this day: a laster pistol is a minor piece of gear in a sci-fi setting, but an Item of Power in a fantasy game! The same idea is true with Fate and stunts: what works for one game won’t work for another.
It Depends on the Group
In addition to the genre worries, the gaming group needs to be taken into account. Each group is different, and that means that what flies at one table can be laughable at another. So when you’re soliciting advice from other Fate players, please keep this in mind.
Making it Work for You
The best way to come up with stunts is to follow the golden rule of Fate: “Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it.”
I like to think of stunts as the anime triple-take of Fate, the slow-mo camera shots, and the “wait, you did what?!” expressions on everyone else’s faces. Think of them like your schtick, or your special ability—depending on the genre. With that in mind, as yourself what it look like in the fiction. How does it make you different than just using your skills/approaches/aspects? Once you figure out how to explain why it makes you look cool, you can then move on to the mechanical bits.
There are quite a lot of places you can go to get ideas and inspirations for stunts, but here are a few recommendations.
- Evil Hat’s Worlds of Adventure(DTRPG link). They also have a Patreon, if you want to support them directly
- Fate Core SRD
- Fate Accelerated SRD
- The Fate Codex Vol. 2 Issue 4: Mike Olson has a phenomenal article entitled Stunts are Cool. He’s been a Fate player/writer/hacker for a lot longer than I have, so I highly recommend you read it