Want to spice up your game a bit? Tired of players just shooting someone or hitting an opponent without any description? Bored? Try adding Stunts to your game and see what happens...

Over the past year I've been playing a new game called Exalted published by White Wolf. I had never played a White Wolf game before, and the premise of Exalted was pretty interesting. Unfortunately, I found the game world too rigid and the cinematic portion of the game too far out there for me to enjoy. But there is one thing that I took from the game and have incorporated into my other games. The concept of Stunting.

Stunting adds flavor and spice to a game

Stunting an action grants the player a bonus to rolls that would normally give them a penalty. In order to stunt an action, the player must describe the action in colorful detail, using the environment and anything else that could effect the roll. Stunting is more than a called shot and much more than "I hit him". Stunting adds flavor and spice to a game, but unchecked it can bog a game down. So make sure that the Stunt is described in short sentences and doesn't slow the pace of the game down.

There are three different levels of stunting. Each level grants an additional die (or +1) to the roll being attempted.

Example: All three examples are of a PC archer shooting a bowman that is aiming an arrow at another party member.

1. When the archer draws back his bow, I shoot him in the armpit, where the armor is very thin, punching through to his heart. This is a 1d stunt.

2. I shoot the archer's bowstring. This is a 2d stunt because it's cool and takes the weapon out of play.


The archer is sitting on a horse, right? I shoot the horse in the butt, causing it to rear. The archer will either fall off or drop his bow...

3. I shoot the archer at the base of the thumb of the hand holding the bow shaft, severing it and causing the shaft to slam back into the archer's face. That is a 3d stunt.

A good rule of thumb is that a 1d stunt is cool. A 2d stunt uses the environment or is really cool. And a 3d stunt is stunningly cool and causes the game to pause for a moment while everyone digests the sheer coolness of the move involved.

When I first started playing Exalted, stunting during combat came very easy and naturally to me. I am a combat oriented player after all. However, a player can stunt almost ANY action. I have stunted conversations, my dress, a kiss, research, breaking and entering, pick pocketing, haggling, and much more. ANY roll can be stunted, although perception/alertness rolls are a bit difficult.

I usually play or run GURPS or Shadowrun. In both systems calling a shot to the armpit, bowstring, or thumb would give serious penalties which causes most players to try for an easier shot. Realistic? Yes. But not as fun.

Stunting rewards players immediately

Stunting rewards players immediately (as opposed to waiting for experience points at the end of a session or adventure) for being descriptive and for coming up with cool ideas. As a player it motivates you to come up with cool things to do or say. As a GM, it makes the game MUCH more interesting to run.

After introducing Stunts, very few players will insist on simply hitting an opponent. And once they realize that they can get bonuses even outside of combat, they'll start stunting everything. And that will ramp up the amount of detail and fast paced description in your game, making it even more fun than it already is.

So give Stunting a try and see what it does to your game. What's the worst that can happen ;-)

Calamar, while this is an interesting idea with some obvious benefits, doesn't it throw off the math of the game, making it easier to create the more powerful effects (see the thumb stunt)?

In the Eberron campaign I ran, I required the players to colorfully describe their action in case they wanted to use an action point- no description, no action point usage.

This is a good idea, though as zipdrive notes, it can be a bit odd to figure at times; how cool is cool?

As a note, the action point idea works, and the L5R "Daredevil" Advantage seems calculated to induce the same kinds of behavior.

I'll have to give it some thought.

I find such mechanics problematic. As you said after introducing it your players all startet to do it. But are you sure they want it? Or have they just noticed that hitting everyones thumbs is easier then just going for the torso?

I may sound overly negative, but I see this rule a munchkin mechanic.
First there is no objective measurement of "cool". Is it still as cool to shoot this guys thumb or is it somewhat less cool then shooting the thumbs of the last 150 enemies?
Second, how can doing trickshots be cool if they are absolute trivial/normal. As you put it there are no limits on stunts, why wouldn´t every action be a stunt?
Is it still fun to the players if all enemies startet shooting bodyparts/weapons of the characters and getting boni because it´s easier then just hitting them? Or more general: Does the game change much when suddenly almost every action carrys an additional bonus? It may not be an issue in systems where two die rolls compete. In systems like D&D where it usually is a die roll vs. a fixed number this would seriously weaken defence/difficulty against/of many actions.

I don´t know about your group of players. But I totally know that if I introduced a free bonus to any rolls by announcing a normally rediculous/silly action (Thats what cool moves aren´t they? Pulling something of that usually wouldn´t work) were available my game would turn into a circus show. And of corse I wouldn´t be above it to have the enemies do likewise.

Personally I think that the incentives for stunting should be in the form of bonus xp. The stunts themselves might be harder to pull off than 'regular' actions and hence impose a penalty - but the PC in question gets a spot xp award for success. It would be difficult to factor this sort of thing into challenge ratings in D&D hence a spot award seems appropriate. The risk/reward ratio needs to be considered carefully though. Remember that in D&D no attack roll has a smaller than 5% chance of missing regardless of modifiers. What you want is to balance it so that it's worth doing occasionally to add flavour to the game whilst not turning the game into a circus show as Bubblefish points out.

Or maybe let PCs do one stunt per encounter, but then we're straying into 4e territory... ;-)

In short - I think stunting is a nice idea but the novelty could easily wear off if over-used and/or it could turn into a vehicle for munchkin play that would kill the narrative atmosphere it is supposed to engender. I think it needs an incentive mechanism to make it worth doing, but this should be counterbalanced by some other mechanism that makes it not worth doing too often.

Whats up man? I personally like this form of creative playing. I play GURPS and as we all know the rules for GURPS are easier to work with than D&D (I havent played D&D for 15 years). D&D is very restrictive in its rules and game play. However in gurps and other more open systems, a good gamer can come up with creative thought and input for their characters actions. The standard "I hit him" then roll a die is tiresome and lame. Another rule we use is real time actions...Imagine your in a convience store and it gets robbed. The way we play you a few seconds to come up with your idea and stunt and implement it. Weather its good or bad this keeps players in the game and there actions true. None of this "oh wait, I dont do that I do this". In a group you get alot of second guessing and thats no way to play. Overall a good GM can handle some new rules to a game and fudge and bend others to make the game funner. Remember the theory behind all these games is you are a hero and destined to save the world, why not be flashy doin' it?

We've done something similar to this for many-a-year now. Instead of making things easier though, the challenge increases. Success earns action points for people willing to make their actions cooler but harder. If you have to use an action point to pull it off however, you get nothing.

I like the Exalted way too though. I don't really see anything wrong with all of a sudden having a glut of creativity at the table. All too often people complain that "no one gets into their characters", and "why can't I get my players to be more creative", or "why don't we play Mordeheim if this is all it's going to be"? It strikes me that if the biggest problem facing a GM is that his players are putting as much work into each encounter as he is, and the only casualty is a bit of "balance", then so be it.

Balance is a broken concept anyways.

That's not the theory behind all the games, Malakai, but I see your point. I think stunting is an excellent idea, but it needs to be limited. Really, IMHO, the best way to do this is to make the players describe all their actions, or the action doesn't happen. Have them describe how they woo the cardinal to their side, how they smack the orc with the sword. Exceptionally challenging actions should accrue a penalty to the initial target roll, but a bonus to the reward if successful. That encourages stunting when in moments of high challenge and stress (a player laying everything on one roll makes the tension sky-rocket), but discourages it in routine fights (though, personally, I'm against any fight being routine - if you're drawing swords, you should know, every time, that you might not put that sword away). For instance, in combat, trying to shoot the thumb of the archer, being an incredibly difficult but effective tactic, would accrue a -3 penalty. However, if successful, it could add +3 to the damage, or make an automatic crit, or something along those lines. Again, it's nebulous, and needs more tinkering, but I think this is the best approach to stunting. Any extra ideas are always welcome. Develop this into some real rules.

I think tinkering with it too much would wreck the "coolness" factor. As someone else above mentioned, it's hard to apply a ruleset to "cool". The nebulous nature is what *makes* it cool in my mind. Consistency in exactly how much of a penalty or bonus any given action would apply is important for fairness' sake, but takes time to develop when first applying something like this to the way you play, and trust from players in order to work well.

I think it was The Book of Iron Might (and Iron Heroes, where the concept started) that handled this kind of thing quite well in the d20 world. I found it too quantitative and nailed down for my tastes though. We started applying those stunting rules in our campaign only to find that we had only added a layer of complexity to something we had been doing for years anyways and slowly just stopped using it. It wasn't broken, so we didn't need Mike Mearls to fix it for us.

Well, don't be too mean to Mr. Mearles - he was only trying to help.

Yeah, the groups I play in, we "stunt" it anyway, but don't see any reason to add bonuses or penalties to it. It just becomes too complicated. We just describe everything, so we're all on the same page.

Some of the concepts in Iron Heros and Iron Might were fantastic! They were books that got me excited for the first time in a long time. It was actually using those things in the books that proved fruitless.

Out of curiousity...I see quite often on forums and such people mentioning that they "describe everything", and they seem to be the few rather than the many. I've become happily sheltered in my gaming life, being exposed to other groups and their styles of play only through the interweb conversations I get into when I have the time. Has "I hit him" (or "I bluff", or whatever) become *that* common? Was it *always* the most common style of conflict resoilution? Oh, woe is that.

Agreed. I've always described everything, from the orcs guts spilling out to the comforting hand I lay on the nobles shoulder to express trust and companionship (whether it's there or not). But I do remember a related experience. It must have been the second to last D&D game day (I can hear many of you shuddering) and one of my friends was all into it and had decided to run a game. I came in late and so just sat on the side, watching (didn't mind a bit - the scenario was characteristically crappy, and I really felt sorry for him). One of the five players was from our group, so she was just fine with his DMing style (which is good, he's a talented GM). But these other four players belonged to a different group (you could tell who was the DM - he bossed them around and reminded me of those stuck-up military types in movies that always die very satisfying deaths, you know?) and just watching them was hilarious. One of them was even an avid fan of the D&D minis game. You could just see the attention leaving their eyes as he described things. I thought he did well - he took a scenario that wasn't very good and at least made it interesting by describing things to them. But they didn't appreciate it. And that other GM, the commando one, I swear he did everything in his power to ruin his game. Never cared much for that kid. All in all it was a miserable experience, because they didn't appreciate the subtleties of it. It's not that they couldn't roleplay; they could, after a fashion. They just didn't have any investment in it, any appreciation for their characters. I don't know, it feels wierd to say it, but I guess I felt like they thought it was just a GAME, which is funny cause it is, but I guess roleplaying is so much more to me, so I treat it accordingly.

I haven't read Exalted, but this sounds fantastic. I'm about to start GMing for two groups, one with Evil Hat's FATE system ( and one with Savage Worlds ( In both, I assume that the players want to be awesome and thus I should let them.

I like the way this mechanic puts narrative control in the hands of the players and translates that into an immediate mechanical benefit, rather than discouraging the exercise of their imaginations. I can't denounce that.

In similar fashion to this I'm toying with letting my Savage Worlds players spend raises on their attack rolls on things other than an extra damage die, like a free combat trick, called shot or extra action.

Similarly on high results (Epic or Legendary) in FATE, I'm thinking I'll give my players privilege to narrate their successes in the most self-aggrandizing way possible (this is close to how incapacitation in combat is handled in FATE 3.0 anyway).

I'm sure this can get hackneyed, and thus not fun, but basing the bonus on subjective coolness combats this implicitly; the more often you use a particular form of stunt, the less cool it is on the nth repetition.

That is why I like The Dark Fantasy of Sundrah by Scaldcrow Games ( It rewards you and gives numerous die bonuses for creativly using skills. It also lets you stack you stack skills so that you can increase their effectivness and visual impact. Obviously the skill Stealth is not as effective as Climbing + Stealth. That is a simple example but the results really are endless. I play The Dark Fantasy of Sundrah as a stand alone system, but a friend of mine kit bashed to add content to his D&D campaign. I bought mine at a con, signed by the designer but the rulebook is currently up on DriveThru RPG (

I'm with you. I don't like repetitive rock'm sock'm robots style battle . . . boring.

When it comes to Exalted, the bonus is not the dice, but rather the other rewards. If a stunt is successful, you can gain a little boost to your "Essence" or "Willpower" pools, allowing you to keep fueling the magic powers that keep you alive during over-the-top magic-based anime-hong-kong-action-movie fight scenes. The dice bonus is nice, but in the games I've played, not overly significant. It's more like Flanking in 3.X Dungeons and Dragons: The +2 to hit is very nice, but by the time your fighter is 15'th level, +2 is not such a huge number. The fact that he allows his Rogue partner to use Sneak Attack, on the other hand, that's the REAL reward.

One thing that is often not mentioned about Stunts, at least as they're portrayed in Exalted, is that the dice bonus often only partly offsets a penalty. The fact that you get a bonus for Being Cool does not mean you don't take the penalty for a Difficult Action. To use the example of "Shooting the Thumb", simply saying "I take a called shot to the thumb" would net you a hefty (again, though, not necessarily too bad...the 15'th level fighter might not mind a -4 penalty to hit, after all) penalty, while saying "I'll send an arrow whistling towards his thumb, shattering it as he drops his bow with a yelp" would still get you the penalty, but also the bonus. Another bit is that Stunts are a bit subjective: if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, or using the same descriptive phrases all the time, the Storyteller is encouraged to stop giving out stunt bonuses, halting the flow of dice and magic and forcing you to get creative again.

I do like the way Exalted handles its stunts, though I like two other game systems MORE in their own way. A system dealing with similar styles (though nowhere near similar levels) of over-the-top action is the Feng Shui system, in which stunts always come with a hefty and significant penalty, but allow you to accomplish more than you normally could. As an example, it normally takes a special ability (either a kung fu power, sorcerous ability, or special weapons training) to make more than one attack in an action. If a player were to describe it in a cinematically "cool" and appropriate way, the GM might see fit to allow you to make extra attacks at a cumulative penalty...but you could make them, and that's the important thing.

Alternately, there's 7'th Sea, a swashbuckling adventure game. In 7'th Sea, a stunt will normally follow the Feng Shui guidelines, or simply normal bonus/penalty rules, but if something is dramatic or neat enough for other players...or especially the sit up and take notice, whether in awe or in hysterics, the player is awarded a "drama die". That die can be spent to add to a future roll in the session, as a sort of "good luck" for being a dramatic swashbuckler, or it can be spent to activate abilities that have such a cost, or it can be saved until the end of the session, at which point unspent Drama Dice convert into experience points on a one-to-one basis. 7'th Sea actually has a lower experience-gain curve than other games using a similar system, because it encourages players to be earning those Drama dice (and it does start them off with a small pool at the beginning of each session) instead of simply mechanically performing tactical actions.

tl;dr version? Stunts good, but look at all the aspects before passing judgement. Sometimes you get bonuses, but that's not the real payoff. The REAL payoff comes at the end, when tangible or not, the players can look around and say "Dang, that was a good session." Even better is the time, years down the road, when one of them says "Hey, remember the time I shot the horse in the butt?" and everyone else DOES remember, because it was THAT COOL.

"tl;dr version? Stunts good, but look at all the aspects before passing judgement. Sometimes you get bonuses, but that's not the real payoff. The REAL payoff comes at the end, when tangible or not, the players can look around and say "Dang, that was a good session." Even better is the time, years down the road, when one of them says "Hey, remember the time I shot the horse in the butt?" and everyone else DOES remember, because it was THAT COOL."

The REAL fun comes when, years later, everyone remembers the PC getting shot IN the happened in one of the games related to 7th Sea (and I do miss John Wick).

Wushu is a bit like this, only everything is a stunt! The veto system makes it very surreal though; all the narration is on what we might call the wrong side of the dice.