Stunted Dragons

I love the Stunt system in Dragon Age. The model is pretty simple: Roll 3d6 to do things, with one die (the dragon die) being an off color. If you roll a pair, you get a number of points to spend equal to the number showing on your dragon die. The points can be spent for a number of things like extra damage, moving some distance or otherwise being generally awesome. It’s fun, fast and colorful.

The problem is that there are stunts for combat and stunts for spellcasting, but none for other skill uses. This omission is frustrating because the stunt system is so cool that it’s hard not to want to see it show up in other situations. The problem, of course, is that there are so many specific and fiddly skills (sorry, “Focuses”) that you’d need to come up with stunts for all of them, and to be totally frank, that’s just not entirely practical. Coming up with Heraldry stunts stunts is an exercise that I do not really wish to partake in.

The trick is that the answer is already in the system, just not where you would expect it to be. It is not that the existing stunt exists to handle combat skills, it exists to handle fight scenes. By coming up with other type of scenes, it is possible to come up with other stunt lists that might be just as applicable.

This requires coming up with two different lists: types of scenes, and stunt actions. It’s important to acknowledge that neither list will be comprehensive, and it will behoove GMs to come up with new scene types and stunt effects as they run their own games.[1] For illustration, let’s start with a few scene types: Infiltration, Investigation, Social, Mingling and Travel.

Infiltration scenes are like they sound. The characters are trying to sneak in somewhere. Presumably, there are people on the lookout for them, and while dexterity and stealth are rolled the most here, other things may come up.

In an investigation scene, characters are trying to acquire knowledge, whether through research, investigation, interrogation or the like.

Social scenes are interaction driven, where the characters are obliged to the confines of the situation, like a party or some other formal event. Physical position and location are far less important than interaction and impressions on people around you.

Mingling scenes are more general than social scenes – there are people around, but there’s no structure holding anyone in place. This is really the default scene for just hanging around in a city or bar, where there are people around. Shopping expeditions and planning sessions are mostly mingling scenes.

Travel Scenes are general, like mingling scenes, except they take place in isolation. The environment is important, people not so much. These characters don’t have to be traveling for this kind of isolation, but its certainly the most common route to it.

Ok, this is by no means a comprehensive list, but it covers a lot of situations where the players are doing something and rolling dice to get it done. So with that as a basis, let’s look for some things stunts can do.

1 – Skirmish – As in combat, this allows the character to move two yards per point spent. (Infiltration, Mingling, Travel)
1 – Tell – (as in, a poker tell) Pick up one maybe-useful, random information about the situation. The GM can really just pull things off the top of his head here, like revealing someone is left handed, or seeing someone perform a suspicious action. (Investigative, Social, Mingling)
1 – Wow – If you have spent points to Impress someone (see below) each additional point increases the number of impressed people by one.(Social, Mingling)
2 – Find – Get your hands on something reasonably likely to be available (such as a drink at a party or suitable firewood in the wilderness) without interrupting your action – you were already on top if it. (Any)
2 – Lure – either with a come-hither glance or a well placed pebble, you send someone off in a useful direction. Move an NPC two yards. (Mingle, Infiltration)
2 – Read – Ask the GM “Who here is most likely to…” and get a good faith answer, though likelihood is not a guarantee. (Social, Mingling, Investigation)
3 – Impress – Someone else has noticed how good you are, and now has a favorable opinion of you. (Social, Mingling)
3 – Master – Doing this has given you as sense of how it’s done. Gain a +2 bonus to any further attempts to use the same focus for the rest of the scene. Does not stack. (Any)
3 – Guide – Allow an ally to benefit from your success as if they had rolled it (in addition to the benefit you gain).
4 – Follow up – The flow goes with you. Immediately take another action.(Any)
4 – Predict – Ask the GM an if question (such as, “if someone were going to attack, where would they come from?”) His answer is now true for the scene – if the event asked about happens, it will unfold (roughly) as outlined.(Any)

It’s almost certainly possible to come up with more of these, and in fact it’s desirable to do so, but they make a good starting point. Now, with these sets of tools, it’s easy to create a list. For example:

Social Stunts
SP Cost
1 Tell – (as in, a poker tell) Pick up one maybe-useful, random information about the situation. The GM can really just pull things off the top of his head here, like revealing someone is left handed, or seeing someone perform a suspicious action.
1+ Wow – If you have spent points to Impress someone (see below) each additional point increases the number of impressed people by one.
2 Find – Get your hands on something reasonably likely to be available (such as a drink at a party or suitable firewood in the wilderness) wihtout interrupting your action – you were already on top if it.
2 Read – Ask the GM “Who here is most likely to…” and get a good faith answer, though likelihood is not a guarantee.
3 Impress – Someone else has noticed how good you are, and now has a favorable opinion of you.
3 Master – Doing this has given you as sense of how it’s done. Gain a +2 bonus to any further attempts to use the same focus for the rest of the scene. Does not stack.
3 Guide – Allow an ally to benefit from your success as if they had rolled it (in addition to the benefit you gain).
4 Follow Up – The flow goes with you. Immediately take another action.
4 Predict – Ask the GM an if question (such as, “if someone were going to attack, where would they come from?”) His answer is now true for the scene – if the event asked about happens, it will unfold (roughly) as outlined.

Similar tables can be easily constructed for infiltration, mingling and so on, and I’ll probably do a page that does exactly that, but before I do, let’s open the floor to people who aren’t en route to Gencon: what scene or stunt effects should we add to this?

1 – This includes scene specific stunts. For example, if your fight scene has a specific prop, like a catapult, you might allow it to be fired s a two point stunt, causing whatever effect is appropriate. This is not a suitable stunt for EVERY fight, just for a specific one.

10 thoughts on “Stunted Dragons

  1. Fred Hicks (Evil Hat Productions)

    This is sort of “off-assignment” as a comment, but I want to cover this ground: I’m not sure I rate “mingle” as an interesting enough activity to warrant its own scene type.

    At the very least I’d want to encourage folks to consider ditching it, as I think scene types WITH stunt rules available are going to have a greater incentive to be played, while scene types without stunt rules will have a greater incentive to just skip past… And honestly the examples of mingling offered just sound dull (and possibly very light on die rolls anyway), or sound like things I’d rather handle as Social typed scenes anyway.

    More thoughts on actual stunt-types that are missing here in a separate comment.

    Reply
  2. Fred Hicks (Evil Hat Productions)

    Ironically, some of the first few stunts I have in mind *are* mingling oriented, because mingling is where you’ve stuffed what amounts to commerce/mercantile activity/haggling (though again some or all of that might be socially applicable as well).

    I see a range of “monetary advantage” stunts here, where one stunt point might get you a discount on the item you’re after, while six stunt points lets you bring in a major windfall that lets you buy (or haggle/trick/gamble-for-and-win) the most expensive item that you’re going after for low or no cost, and a range of other options between.

    Infiltration stunts that come to mind would involve asserting the existence of a weak point in the surveillance/defenses of the target (I’m not sure how that would be mechanically represented in the system).

    Reply
  3. Rob Donoghue

    @fred yeah, “Mingle” is sort of a catchall bucket, like Travel – it’s definitely weak, but at the same time I needed some sort of umbrella for bar and street scenes. It didn’t worry me much, but your point about stunt types shaping likely scenes is a good one. But I don’t have a fix offhand.

    And hmm. Yeah, money is a good avenue. Need to look at how Dragon Age handles such things to see if there’s a way to mechanic it up. This is one of those areas (and infiltration is too) where the idea gets even more potent when taken into another system.

    Reply
  4. Fred Hicks (Evil Hat Productions)

    Yeah, I hear you about moving this to another system … though I’m intrigued by the notion of making it work with Dragon Age. The possibility that your stunt points give you plus X times 10 gold pieces of buying power, or whatever, when haggling? Pretty interesting.

    Reply
  5. Reverance Pavane

    The only problem I see with this is that you haven’t considered cost reductions for certain stunts due to level advancement and talent acquisition…

    Although the situations where stunts apply should only be situations where their is a directed contest of some sort. So Mingling and Travelling aren’t really areas that really need a stunt system attached to them. [As in the ability for the character to actively apply “tricks” to their benefit in these situations are limited. The stunt system shouldn’t be used as an effective “critical hit system”; instead the magnitude of the roll should be used in these cases.]

    But excellent work sir. Excellent!

    Reply
  6. Trevor

    @ Rev

    IMHO…

    cost reduction is unnecessary because you can just scale up what you get from the stunt to match the coolness of the character.

    @ Rob
    I can totally see making a navigation type check on your way to the dungeon dropping a couple of SP and boom…
    “oh yeah I found us some berries to eat. That’s why I went this way, cuz berries grow in this type of area.”

    Reply
  7. Chaos Clockwork

    I also assume ‘travel’ to include dungeoneering tricks, dodging avalanches, and various other athletic displays out in the wilds. For some reason, the Fritz Leiber short story ‘Stardock’ is coming to mind, and is actually something I can see happening in the Dragon Age world (albeit with the creepiness factor dialed up even further).

    Reply
  8. barsoomcore

    Some other scenes you might consider:

    Interrogation: getting information out of someone — maybe not just a formal interrogation scene, but anywhere where you’re asking questions, trying to get answers.

    Seduction: trying to convince someone that something is what they really want to do. Not necessarily sexual — seduction is all about convincing someone that a thing is a good idea.

    I leave the actual stunts that might come out of those to more creative folks. Also possibly people who have ever looked at the Dragon Age rules.

    Reply

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