Thursday, November 04, 2004

Stunting in Savage Worlds, An Idea

At places like the word stunt is now in use as a verb: to stunt. Stunting is the practice of describing cool moves for your PC in combat. Instead of "I hit him" you say "I run a couple of steps up the wall and backflip behind the mooks, punching them both in the kidneys as I land." Game design funk master Robin Laws is generally credited with bringing this concept to the fore in his tour-de-fu Feng Shui. In the bad old days when I was a kid combat theatrics were discouraged by the DMs I grew up with. "You want to swing on a chandelier and kick the guy? Okay, if you pass your Dex check and don't fall on your ass, you can roll a kick attack at -4 to hit. Your sword does more damage, why don't you just hit him instead?" Feng Shui changed the playing field by ruling that anything that looked cool but had the same effect as hitting the foe used the exact same effect as just punching the dude. (You could think of this as an innovative application of the HERO System concept of "special effect". See Aaron Allston's Ninja Hero for some neat ideas along these lines.) More recent games like Exalted and Wushu go one step beyond Feng Shui. These games actively reward you for stunting. In both of these die pool based systems you get to roll more dice on your attack if you use a cool description full of kung-fu goodness or general badass-osity. Ron Edwards's Sorcerer is even more hardcore. In it, you get penalized a die if all you do is mutter "I hit him"; if you don't stunt you don't get your full attack.

It occurred to me this morning that it would be cool to incorporate a stunt-rewarding mechanic into Savage Worlds. Last night when Kate O'Connor flipped onto the pool table and whipped a billiard ball at Umberto the Mook, I wanted to reward Kate's player. So I gave Joe a benny. That seems to be standard practice in SW: amuse the GM, get a benny. Still, even more than throwing Joe a bone, I wanted that stunt to succeed. In my opinion a good GM should want the PCs to kick ass and look good doing it. So here's my proposal for stunting in Savage Worlds:

If the GM finds a stunt cool and/or amusing, the character's Wild Die is boosted in size for each aspect of the stunt.

So in last nights' case, Kate would get a d10 Wild Die on her attack against Umberto. The first aspect of the stunt is flipping up onto the table. The second aspect is using a billiard ball instead of her pistol. In addition to nifty moves, a cool quip a la James Bond or Mr. Schwarzenegger might merit a boost as well. An important thing to keep in mind is that repetition is the bane of stunting. If Kate used a billiard ball on a second attack, no stunt bonus would come into play.

Incorportating this change to the game would result in Wild Cards becoming even more powerful than Extras, especially the PCs. The GM probably can't be counted on to keep up with the players in a stunting contest. And maybe you don't want to give the bad guys stunt dice at all. The GM rewarding himself for cool stuntwork is not the effect I'm aiming for here.