wcdavidson (wcdavidson) wrote,


One of my favorite parts of Heirs to the Lost World are the stunt rules. Here is a very brief summary of those rules.

To attempt a stunt, the player spends an Effort die (a visual cue that he is attempting a stunt), describes his cool action, then makes a skill roll. The Game Director uses a "keep going, roll with it" hand gesture if more description is required. The Game Director also sets the difficulty of the roll, based more on the effect of the action rather than the "color" in the narration. If he triggers his Mojo in a successful roll, then he earns a Destiny point. If a player fails the stunt attempt, he can turn his failure into a fumble to earn a Destiny point. As in all fumbles, the player narrates the result himself. Stunts are the main way players earn Destiny points, a key resource in play.

To develop these stunt rules for Heirs, I tried out three awesome games to test their stunt mechanics:
Feng Shui (The difficulty of a stunt is only determined by its effect, not its "color" or "trappings".)
Exalted (PCs gain a bonus to their rolls based on narrating cool stunts.)
Wushu (PCs gain a bonus for every cool detail the player adds to the narration of an action.)

All three of these games were influences on Heirs, but after playing each, I knew I wanted something a little different, while keeping some of their great ideas. Here is what makes Heirs stunts different:

-Heirs to the Lost World stunts give immediate (during play) rewards to encourage wild action with fun player narration. Experience points as a reward to encourage certain behaviors is not fast enough. Imagine playing in a D&D game where you got a hit point and attack bonus every time you described your action in a cool way. This would immediately change behaviors in your players. So stunts in Heirs give you a chance to earn a Destiny point. In my games, I use replica pirate coins as Destiny points, making them even more fun.

-Stunts keep the players interacting between the rules and the game fiction (back and forth). The game fiction gives stuff (content, ideas) to use in stunts, and players are rewarded for attempting stunts thereby increasing the amount of descriptive game fiction. It creates a positive feedback loop in that doing cool stuff rewards you with tools that allow you to do more cool stuff. These include tools for the player (details in the fiction to work into descriptions and future stunts) and tools for the character (Destiny points). For example, in an early playtest, a player used a critical success in a stunt to narrate slicing a water-logged zombie's guts open to find a starfish. This unlikely starfish was used (by players and the Game Director) in several further stunts, fumbles, and criticals throughout the scene, keeping the players laughing.

-Stunts are invented by the player, not a predetermined list that players choose from. I did not want to try to make rules for every potential stunt because this would stifle creativity, could never be exhaustive, and would need too much consulting of the rules during play. Any time a player comes up with something crazy, the Game Director can just say, "Let's handle that with a stunt."

-Stunts do not involve the "subjective judgement" of the Game Director to decide if a stunt is worthy and deserves a certain bonus, because it just gives the player a chance to earn the bonus (a Destiny point). In running games like Exalted, I felt social pressure to give bonuses to players, even if I did not really love their stunt description. It somehow felt personal to give one player a +1 and another a +2. In Heirs, I can just give the "keep rolling" hand gesture to get more description and reward the player with the potential to gain a bonus. It feels "safer" and less of the GM-is-all-powerful / semi-adversarial relationship.

-It is okay if a player cannot think of something cool to do. I've played high narrative games like Wushu that bog down because each turn, players must think of cool things to do. The game might be running along great, but suddenly a player just runs out of ideas and the pace stalls. Other players often jump in to help, but regardless the game seems to hit a bump in the road. In addition, the social pressure for good narration is too much for some players. Heirs should run fast because players must plan their stunts when it is not their turn. Also, if they cannot think of something cool, they can just make a normal attack or other normal action (but then they are not rewarded). Players who just don't think quickly enough can still enjoy other player's cool descriptions without slowing the game down.

-Stunts make the game more like an action movie, i.e. more cinematic. Unlike other games that have a "cinematic" version (which usually just means players get more character generation points or more "hit points"), stunt rules make Heirs actual play more cinematic. Fights end up like wire-fu with jaguar knights, pirates, and capoeira masters. Action is fast, and it is easy to picture the action in your head because you are not bogged down with bookkeeping, consulting rules, or difficult math and instead players are contributing to the narration.
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