Fate System Toolkit
In Fate Core, you get three free stunts, three refresh, and you can buy up to two additional stunts at the cost of one refresh each. This is the default way to handle stunts, but it is by no means the only way. Each of these components—number of starting stunts, starting refresh, and cost of each stunt—is a dial you can turn in either direction, making stunts more or less common as you do. How you turn those dials will determine, in part, what kind of game you’re playing, as well as having an impact on Milestones.
More stunts means more powerful PCs. A PC with more stunts can bring to bear larger bonuses on rolls, use her peak skills more often, and break the rules more frequently. It leads to a more pulpy, larger-than-life, even fantastical feel. If that’s what you want, great! Consider, though, that giving PCs more stunts also gives them more conditional benefits and exceptions to the rules, which makes for more complex characters. If the players aren’t used to this complexity, this can slow down play at the table and make things less exciting rather than more.
On the flip side of things, giving the PCs fewer stunts makes their characters simpler and easier to run at the table, but also makes them a little less competent. A PC with only one stunt, for example, has one “schtick” that he can call upon, one signature move. That can mean a grittier game or a game where the PCs have clearly defined roles and a lot of niche protection, but it can also bore players that like a lot of rules or disappoint players that want to be good at a lot of stuff. PCs will still be competent, but not as competent.
This is the easiest way to give PCs more or fewer stunts. Reducing it to zero means that a PC starts with no stunts, and will have to pay a dear price for each stunt she wants to pick up. This can make stunts feel more expensive, but it can also make individual stunts more important to PCs. Adjusting it in the other direction—giving PCs more starting stunts—gives players a lot of fun choices to make about their characters right out of the gate at no cost. It also brings up the baseline power level for each PC, making it more likely that your PCs will be highly competent at a wider variety of tasks, or seriously good at one or two. In addition, it has the effect of making stunts seem less expensive, which can encourage players to take even more.
One thing to keep an eye on when you’re adjusting starting stunts is what your players want. Are all of your players okay with a less powerful baseline character, or a more complex one? Not everyone wants to struggle for every victory or make a dozen choices before play begins.
Of these three options, adjusting refresh has probably the most profound impact on gameplay, because it directly affects the fate point economy that powers the game. Giving players more fate points each session means they’re likely to resist compels more often and invoke aspects more often. It gives players more control over the story, which can be a good thing, but also makes it a little harder to challenge them.
Reducing refresh has the opposite effect—players have less control over the story, because they have fewer fate points on hand. They have to accept more compels and they don’t get to invoke their aspects as often. It also means they’ll rely more on free invocations from creating advantages, which might lengthen big fight scenes.
Making stunts cost one refresh is one way to do things, but not the only way. You can adjust this dial slightly by increasing or decreasing the amount of refresh a player must pay for a stunt. Maybe stunts cost two refresh, or maybe a single refresh buys the player two stunts.
There are other ways to fiddle with stunt costs, though. Maybe a player has to give up a skill point in order to buy a stunt, lowering a Good (+3) skill to Fair (+2) in order to pick up that stunt he wants. Maybe he has to give up an aspect or devote an aspect to that stunt in order to get it. Having to tie an aspect to a new stunt can make for stunts players are more attached to, and sets a nice upper limit on the number of stunts they can have.
Another way to do it is to make stunts free or very low-cost, but build the cost into each stunt. Maybe each stunt costs a fate point to activate, or requires you to take stress, or costs an action to activate, or gives an enemy a boost. You can build any number of costs into the use of a stunt.
Keep in mind, stunts are priced the way they are, giving the benefits they do, because they permanently cost the character a fate point by reducing refresh. That’s a fate point that can’t be spent flexibly to get a +2 or similar benefit during play. So if you’re planning to change what stunts cost, you should also think about tweaking the benefits gained to match what’s been “lost” to the cost.
Most solutions will require adjusting multiple dials to find the sweet spot for a particular group. That’s totally fine. This is your game, and it’s up to you and your group to determine what works for you.