Sunday, December 9, 2012

Initiative! Stunts

So when I first started talking about this new system I'm tinkering with, I mentioned that each character was defined by five Traits: Deadly, Compelling, Quick, Cool and Aware. Of course you characters can get more specific than that. The primary way you define your character is through Stunts.


A Stunt is like a shtick, or a signature move, or a strength, or anything that gives a bit of colour to HOW your character manifests one of the basic Traits. Is he Deadly because he has Fists of Iron? Is she Cool because she's Single-Minded? Stunts are descriptive notes that you use to improve your character's chances at success -- or even to ensure success when you really need it.

Each Stunt is attached to a Trait. So you have Deadly Stunts, or Aware Stunts, or whatever. When you make a Trait roll, you get to apply one Stunt for that Trait to the roll, so it's good to have Stunts spread across your Traits.

(actually, Stunts are just one category of things you can apply to Trait rolls, but we'll get to that later)

Each Stunt also has a Rank. See, Stunts and Traits are both Qualities -- and Qualities are the building blocks of the Initiative! system. Quality Ranks range from the bottom of Fail to the top of Mythic. Each Rank has a corresponding Modifier and a Target number. When you make a Trait roll, you add the Modifier for the Trait's Rank. If you have a relevant Stunt, you can add its Modifier, too.

Making Stunts

Remember, I want this game to be simple. So there can't be long lists of Stunts to choose from. Instead, you can make up your own Stunts -- a Stunt can be anything you want it to be. The basic guideline, though, is that your Stunts can't just mean MORE of the Trait they apply to. That is, you can't have a Deadly Stunt called "Super Deadly". Stunts describe HOW your character operates in a Deadly fashion.

The rule of thumb is that a good Stunt must have obvious conditions under which it would NOT be useful. If you can't easily come up with a situation in which you're using Deadly but would not be able to use the Stunt, it's probably a bad Stunt.

Playing Stunts

Now I also want this game to be freewheeling. So there's an Action Point mechanic, like in many games. What these points allow you to do is apply more than one Stunt to a given roll. The second Stunt can be from any Trait, although you'll be required to explain its usage here.

The big deal with these Action Points is that you can use them AFTER the roll is made. So if you fail by only a small amount, you can spend an Action Point and draw in another Stunt to ensure that you succeed. So you're having to do some fancy narrating at the table, but you know you're doing it for a win.

I've used this type of mechanic for years with DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, and am convinced that a post-roll opportunity is a great way to encourage in-play creativity.

So there you have it! Stunts, part of the core of the Initiative! system -- more details coming soon.


  1. I'm obviously a big fan of Stunt systems. One thing that concerns me about this one as outlined so far, though:

    -As a default, only one Stunt per roll.
    -Therefore you're encouraged to essentially only have one relevant stunt per Trait, and 'max out' the Quality of that one stunt.
    -Therefore you're always going to use the same stunt on every, say, Deadly roll.

    The depreciation system in DPoNI, on the other hand, encourages you to use a whole lot of *different* stunts in each encounter, because reusing the same one quickly makes it worthless. As outlined here, the Initiative system encourages you to do the same thing over and over, because a/ there's no penalty for doing so, and b/ doing anything else is pretty much guaranteed to be mechanically inferior.

    I'm concerned you'll end up with the 3E Trip-Monkey effect... where the character tries to trip someone every single round, because that's the superior option given his abilities.

  2. Good points, and that may turn out to be the case. Play-testing will figure it out. A couple of things you don't know yet:

    As you increase the rank of a Stunt, you "fill in" the ranks below. So the first Stunt you create on one Trait is at rank Good, and the second is Great, the third Awesome, and so on. This means that you can't really "max out" one Stunt at the expense of all others as you'll actually have an array of Stunts not too much separated from each other (for a given Trait). Hopefully that will encourage people to make sufficiently narrow Stunts that they won't be useful all the time.

    Failing a roll forces you to use other Traits -- because you end up losing or gaining the Initiative. So if you've maxed out, say, Deadly, then IF you fail you'll be forced to roll either Cool or Aware, and now you're screwed. My hope is that such Trip-Monkey design reveals itself to be a bad choice mechanically.

    At the very least you need to excel at both Quick and ONE Active Trait in order to accomplish anything, because you need to succeed at a Quick roll in order to use an Active Trait. And if you want some assurance that you're not going to get into too much trouble, you should be building up a Reactive Trait as well.

    Aside from those mechanics, I believe the game is going to be a lot more fun with narrowly-defined Stunts. But there may need to be a depreciation mechanic, it's true.

  3. Hmm... maybe. The more narrowly-defined, the more the repetitiveness issue is exacerbated.

    Consider two competing Quick stunts - the narrowly-defined "Smoke Bombs! +3", and the broader "Master of Distraction +3".

    When you go to punch one of these guys, they both vanish into a cloud of smoke, getting +3 to their Quick roll. Next round, you try again - one of them throws you off your game by suddenly barking like a dog, while the other... vanishes in a cloud of smoke. And in round three, one guy angles a wall mirror so you can see that your buddy is getting pounded by goons over in the Manchester department, and the other guy... vanishes in a cloud of smoke. Again.

    There's a balance to be struck between "So versatile it's essentially a static bonus" and "So specific it leaves no room for variation on a theme".

  4. Yeah, it may be that finding that balance isn't feasible in-play. My hope is that the need to be using different Traits regularly as you gain or lose Initiative will mitigate that, but only playtesting will tell.

  5. One idea I've seen in a couple of other systems is that a specific trait trumps a general trait.

    So when the 'Swordsman' ambushes the 'Formal Duellist' in an alley, there's no real way for the duellist to bring his trait to bear. But if they instead meet in an affair of honour... the Swordsman trait is applicable, but the Formal Duellist trait is Ideally Suited, so the duellist enjoys an advantage over the swordsman in terms of what benefit the traits provide.

    I'm not sure how that would be mechanically reflected in the framework you've already established, though.

  6. Maybe if Stunts fall into categories with variable caps? If the GM deems a Stunt to be Versatile, it can't be raised higher than +1. Standard, +3. Focused, +5.

  7. Hm, maybe. I want to see how Stunt definitions trend in play first. But maybe you could raise the rank of more specific Stunts when they are more applicable...