The playtesting of the Star Wars ruleset for my Aurora Engine continues well. We’ve all been having a blast in our adventures across the galaxy, and I’ve been steadily tweaking the rules to make things run smoothly or to shift the game’s playstyle more towards what we want/like.
One of the prime ways of character distinction and ability definition (that has needed no tweaking) has been the inclusion of freeform “Stunts,” of which each character starts with three (And can buy more later through advancement.)
While they’re (for now) simply called “Stunts,” they are intended to represent just about anything nifty or special about the character in just about any area: species traits, unusual training, extra experience, exceptional knacks, or various powers, including the Force. They “break the rules” in specific areas /ways to provide bonuses or additional/special abilities for the character.
This isn’t by any stretch a new idea; both FATE and Cortex Prime use something similar to this, and it is akin to Talent or Feats or Advantages or any number of similar mechanics in many an RPG (though these latter ones are generally prescribed and selected from a list). But two things make them especially sing in the Aurora incarnation. First, by allowing them to be so freeform, they invite creativity and customization and let the player state what’s important to them and the character. Second, and even more importantly, they are all expressed/worded in a particular way to call attention to themselves, and as such further highlight the defining aspects of the character in the fuller narrative sense:
Because I/of X, when Y, Z
The first part of the statement describes how the character is unusual, amazing, has a special bit of gear, or whatever; the middle part is a limited situation where this “rule breaking” applies; and the last bit is the special benefit.
Here are some examples from our SW playtest games/characters…
Some of the stunts describe bits that are important to the character from their character’s species:
Because I am a Twi’lek, and have spent time learning how to control my head tentacles (lekku), I gain the “Extra Limb” trait.
Because I am a Squib, and can smell with my fur, I gain the “Discerning Smell” trait.
Because I am a Miralukan, I have Force-sight and I can see through walls and containers up to 1m distant.
Because I am made of many different parts, I gain the trait “Faceless Droid”
Because I am a Selonian when I drop to all fours my speed increases by 50%
Because I am based on Imperial technology, when I slice Imperial equipment, I gain +1d.
Here are some that represent special training, or abilities. Note that as part of the description it helps evoke the why of it, ie, is this from your background, something you trained at, bought or had implanted, or something else?
Because I have subdermal plating, when I take damage I can roll 1d: on a 5 or 6 I gain an additional point of resistance to weapon or impact damage.
Because I have spent my life around machinery, I don’t always need the right parts to fix things, and half any penalties for lack of proper parts.
Because I am a tinkerer, I am rarely caught unprepared, and have trait “Lots of Gizmos”.
Because I was raised in small tunnels, whenever in confined quarters I gain the trait “Tunnel Rat”
Because I am trained in Jedi precognition, when I wield a lightsaber I can use Melee to defend against ranged attacks.
And then there are those that provide amazing role play opportunities/nudges…
Because I am a crazy ass squirrel, when I do something incredibly stupid, I remove 1 die from any penalties.
(I just love that one so much!)
Some of these straight up allow something that isn’t usually allowed, such as the Lightsabre deflection of ranged attacks, seeing through walls, or the dermal plating for extra armour. Most however provide skill boosts, a reduction in penalties, or create a trait/tag/aspect on the scene/character. Here, wording the stunt with a trait/tag/aspect is the best/most flexible and provides the most opportunity in play as it allows for all the things a trait can allow, not only providing bonuses or negating penalties, but also creating ‘narrative truth’ that can allowing things that wouldn’t ordinarily be possible (and vice versa). With that in mind, we might revisit these stunts to re-word them towards a broader tags/trait language/way.
These stunts have worked great in our games thus far, providing for a lot of cool moments and places for the characters to shine, whether in the traditional sense of doing something remarkable, or in the RP sense, reinforcing the character and the story they are creating.
(Just the other session, the “Extra Limb” trait came in handy as the character had been knocked off the edge of a tower, clinging for dear life – fortunately that “Extra Limb” trait allowed them to grab their rifle before it fell never to be seen again!)