Back to Rules Reference

What Are Stunts?

Most people have little tricks, advantages, or knacks that they pull out when they need a bit of something extra. Stunts exist to provide guaranteed situational benefits usually without recurring cost. These benefits might be the result of special training, unique (but non-supernatural) abilities, or something that’s just innately cool about your character. A stunt may grant a character the ability to use a skill under unusual circumstances, using it in a broader array of situations than normal, substituting it for another skill, or using it in a complementary fashion to another skill. A stunt might allow a character to gain an effect roughly equal to two shifts used in a specific way or to otherwise grant other small effects. Put more simply, stunts allow the usual rules about skills to be bent—or even broken.

Some stunts may have prerequisites (other stunts or even aspects). Particularly potent stunts may also require the use of a fate point to be activated. In general, a character should not take a stunt tied to a skill he does not have at least at Average level.

The stunts are available to everyone—supernatural and mundane characters alike—and have both feet firmly planted in the realm of what’s possible for a normal (mortal) human to do. Each mortal stunt that a character takes reduces his refresh by 1.

Building Mortal Stunts

You, along with your GM, are encouraged to create your own stunts to fit your game. The important thing to keep in mind is that “entry level” stunts—without prerequisites, which mortal stunts usually are—are the baseline. If the effect of the stunt is really unusual or particularly potent, it may be somewhere down the line in a chain of stunts.

If there’s any hard and fast rules of building stunts, it’s these:

  • A stunt should never be allowed to act, essentially, as a flat +2 to the skill it affects under all (or even the majority) of that skill’s uses.
  • Be constrained to happen somewhere between almost-never-happens and happens-all-the-time
  • Should generally avoid overlapping such that their bonuses “stack”. If such stacking is possible, then the stunts, taken individually, should each be less effective than the norm.

Since a stunt is tied to a particular skill, it’s useful to think about the abilities offered by a stunt as an extension of its skill’s trappings. At a very high level, we can say a stunt does one of two things:

  • Adds a new trapping to a skill
  • Extends an existing trapping of that skill by applying about two shifts of effect in a particular way.

Adding New Trappings

The first possible use for a stunt is to broaden a skill by giving it a new trapping. Often this is a trapping that’s “transplanted” from one skill to another. Sometimes this trapping may need to be modified, or made more circumstantial, in order to fit its new skill.

Other times an entirely new trapping is warranted. The default set of trappings for a skill certainly doesn’t cover every conceivable application—it just defines what the skill can do for everyone. Skills are pretty broad in application; specialization happens with stunts.

Taken all together, this variety of stunt is an easy one to come by. There’s no strange math, no specific application of shifts to consider, just a broadening of scope for the affected skill. These stunts often show up for a character’s highest rated skills, allowing the character to operate at peak effectiveness in more situations.

Extending Existing Trappings

The other possible use for a stunt is to improve the use of a skill (usually a single trapping of that skill) under specific circumstances. Generally, this means that the stunt offers an effect equal to about two shifts applied in a specific way (such as reducing the amount of time or difficulty to do something by two steps, or adding 2 to the skill when used in a particular way). Those shifts may be split up, with one stunt offering two different one shift effects (e.g., reducing the time to do a task by one step and granting a +1 to the skill roll when the circumstances are right). Certain applications of skills may be considered to be more potent than others (attacks are a good example of this), and as such these may be better done at the one shift mark rather than two. On the other hand, instead of lowering the number of shifts gained, you could require that the character spend a fate point to activate a more potent stunt.

As noted above (page 147), when applying multiple stunts like this to the same skill, the bonuses should not overlap or “stack.” If stacking is allowed, the amount of effect each stunt has individually should be reduced. To oversimplify this a bit, two stunts might offer +2 each in two different ways, but if they’re set up to both add to the same thing, the result should be more like +3 than +4. But this is just a guideline, subject to the GM’s sense of charity.

  • Given these considerations, here’s a quick list of mortal stunt effects that could be used to build your own. (If the same bonus is achievable multiple times through multiple stunts, reduce the effectiveness of any “stacking” stunts by one.)
  • Give a +2 to a specific application of a nonattack trapping (note that a maneuver, page 207, is not an attack, as it doesn’t inflict stress). This may be reduced to +1 for a broader application, or increased to +3 or even +4 for very, very narrowly defined situations.
  • Give a +1 to an attack, improving its accuracy under a specific circumstance.
  • Give a +2 to an attack’s result, applied only if the attack was successful, under particular conditions. May have a lesser benefit in a secondary circumstance.
  • Give one or two expendable 2-shift effects (e.g., additional mild consequences) or a persistent 1-shift effect (e.g., Armor:1 against certain types of things). Lean towards one expendable effect if the application is broad (e.g., vs. all mental stress), two expendable effects if it’s narrow.
  • Reduce the amount of time necessary to complete a particular task by two steps.
  • Reduce the difficulties faced by a skill under a particular “sub-set” of circumstances by two.
  • Combine any two of the 2-shift effects from above at half value.
  • Get a more powerful effect, but only when you spend a fate point. Usually only allowed once per scene.

Yes, Names Matter!

Stunts are more than just their game-rule effects. This is why it’s important to give your stunts a catchy name. This is not optional!

A name is evocative, getting across the gist of the stunt and giving another bit of flavor to define your character. Also, practically speaking, giving it a specific name given you a shorthand for talking about the stunt with the GM and other players.

Back to Rules Reference


Dresden Files: New York SilverSeraph SilverSeraph