Stunts are one of the pillars of the Adventure Game Engine, the system we use in Fantasy AGE, Modern AGE, Blue Rose, The Expanse, and the upcoming Cthulhu Awakens and Fifth Season roleplaying games, all descended from design work on the grandfather of them all, Dragon Age.
Heading into the new edition of Fantasy AGE and Cthulhu Awakens, as well as some proposed and to-be announced projects, I played with how stunt point generation and stunts functioned. Part of game development is exploring ideas that won’t necessarily make it into the final game—and sometimes even ideas that would never have done so, but act as conceptual landmarks.
Relationship Bonds and the newer Stunt Attack option aside, the basic way to generate stunt points is to match any 2 dice on a 3d6 test. This prompts a look at the Stunt Die (Drama Die in some games, or Dragon Die in Dragon Age), which tells you how many stunt points (SP) you get. But what if we did it differently?
Let’s take a look at some of these options.
Highest Die is Stunt Die: Instead of having a fixed Stunt Die, it’s always the highest die. Since you get SP on the set of successful tests your SP will always tend toward the higher range in the first place, but this exaggerates the effect even further. I don’t recommend this as a standard practice, but it might work as a special ability provided by a talent or extraordinary effect.
Lowest Die is Stunt Die: Woah, this one is interesting on a few levels, and in fact, is the most mathematically “logical,” but it isn’t fun enough to replace the ordinary Stunt Die. For one thing, that means you need a natural 18 to get 6 SP—and there’s a 0.46% chance of getting that. That’s why it isn’t fun enough, as part of the purpose of the Stunt Die is to add more variable results— “swinginess,” we call it, sometimes—to the regularity provided by the 3d6 curve.
SP and Degrees of Success Are Separate Dice: As we also use the Stunt Die to measure your degree of success, making the highest or lowest rolled die the Stunt Die becomes a problem for things like automatic weapons in Modern AGE, as well as advanced tests and other things that rely on degree of success. So, you might retain a visually distinctive die called the “Success Die” or “Power Die.” Even if you keep the usual Stunt Die you might split it from the Power Die. I looked at this pretty seriously as it opens up a lot of design-level opportunities, but in the end, I didn’t think it was worth it.
Anti-Stunts: Cthulhu Awakens actually has a limited version of this, but the version here is simpler. If you blow a roll but get doubles, you generate SP—for bad things. The simplest application is to hand them over to an opponent who spends them on stunts that are bad for you on their turn, in addition to the SP they might gain. Enemies who do the same naturally give you SP in return, so if you use this option SP ebb and flow from one side to the other. Besides the convolutions necessary outside of straightforward situations like combat, the problems with this one are the sheer number of SP that can concentrate in one place, which can get out of hand.
Degree of Success to SP: One recent idea I had was to award degree of success -5 SP regardless of whether a roll scores doubles or not. This means 1 SP on a 6. It gets really interesting when characters gain the ability to add focus bonuses to degrees of success. In newer AGE games this bonus maxes out at +4, so a roll of 6 with that bonus on the Stunt Die would provide a degree of success of 10, which converts to 5 bonus SP. The tricky bit comes when we score doubles. We could drop that completely, which would be miserable because low level characters could only ever get 1 SP from a roll, but if we keep SP from doubles the range of SP would be (degree of success -5) + Stunt Die, which might award up to 11 SP, which is too much.
Everything is Stunts: The answer to too-many-SP variants of course is, “What if it’s all stunts?” In this scheme we would add a Base Effect stunt table and the General Stunts from the Modern AGE Companion, and instead of stunts being an extraordinary result, we use SP as the building blocks to do anything—but no SP, no result. This would produce a really formal set of AGE mechanics which don’t fit the GM-guided goals of the system but might be fun to experiment with, nonetheless.
What do you think of these ideas? Would you try any of them? AGE is house rule and variant-friendly by design, as shown in the optional systems in Fantasy AGE. Modern AGE has two books that are filled with optional and variant game systems: the Modern AGE Companion and perhaps more relevant to this article, the Modern AGE Mastery Guide. Regardless of what we cook up in the lab, so to speak, we like it when you make the games your own.