Just recently bought this and I'm a little confused about how stunts work in the game. My gaming group aren't the most serious of people so this action movie theme seems like a good fit. However, I am a little confused with stunts. I stumbled upon this due to a description of how stunts work; the more 'cool' or outrageous the action the better for the player. Thing is, it seems that the game promotes the idea of fancy, extravagant action, but the mechanics seems punish the idea. I was under the impression that a player would be at an advantage if they were to be imaginative, yet the difficulty increase seems to counter this. So aside from it sounding cool, is there a measurable advantage? I may have missed something, so sorry in advance.
you are encouraged to provide a more visual explanation of your action then just "I attack, sword, hit on AC 21 and 23, two attacks, 43 damage). As long as you stay at least a little bit in the realm of Feng Shui there is no penalty or bonus, just a lot more creative fun when describing a fight scene. Your sword attack may distort the open fire in a grill restaurant, your barehanded attack is using the hot stone plates you force the mooks into cover by shooting the big fish tank with angry lobsters in the back. No penalty, no bonus, just cooler describtion (as long as it stays with the possibilities of the attack).
If you want to perform a stunt, your GM has to improvise, as there are no hard´n´fast rules, except "should not be more then -2 as a penalty". What bonuses or actions they allow or provide is totally up to the player and the GM. In my game I reward my players with creative stunts (-1 to -4 depending on the situation) with better positions, penalties to enemies, cover, better improvised weapons, things to explode, AE damage etc. I invent it based on the description of the fight location and the description of the player.
Example #1 The player (killer with 2 UZIs) wants to force a horde of 20 triad mooks into cover so that the guests of a restaurant cant get outside before the real fighting starts. He pulls out his UZIs and sprays a lot of bullets
=> to the mooks, who jump into cover (as every sane man would do if 30 bullets are flying around your head) => boring description
=> to the giant lobster fish tank behind the mooks and a wave of water washes between the mooks and the mooks jump into cover and try to evade some really angry lobsters (believe me, I worked in the hotel industry, if you ever have to choose between a tank full of lobsters with non-bound claws and a tank full of sharks, choose the shark tank - its more safe) => cool description.
But in the end, no penalty, no bonus, mooks in cover, guests are fleeing.
the big bruiser takes one of the triad chiefs and smashes his head into the boiling water pot. -2 to attack (stunt penalty), normal damage, but if he hits, the triad chief will get an additional -1 on all AVs due to he burning face and the pain (in addition to the normal impairment from wounds, damage etc. Stunt done on the fly.
It's kind of tricky how to handle stunt modifiers, particularly if the group is new to the game and hasn't quite clicked into a "narrative groove". But you're right, the rulebook talks mostly about assigning negative numbers, while I've found Feng Shui works best when you reward creative players with positive bonuses. There are different schools of thought:
A) "By-the-book." Stick to the letter of the law, and apply penalties according to a strict adherence to realism. Um... yeah, don't do this, unless the scenario or theme of the game calls for that level of realism.
B) "Secret Santa GM". You tell the players that realistically, the penalty should be X, but because you like the idea so much or they described it so well, you're going to give them a break and reduce the penalty, either to -2 or just straight-up zero. The idea here is to put up a hard-nosed front, but you're not-so-secretly pulling for the players to succeed, so you bend the rules a little in their favor.
C) "Impress Me." Actively encourage over-the-top description by giving out positive bonuses in the +1 to +3 range. When it works well, the players compete to out-do each other, which is a wondrous and beautiful thing. However, you have to be careful not to give them too much encouragement, as they may get so unreasonable and over-the-top that suspension of disbelief starts to suffer or the whole game goes down the rabbit-hole of absurdist farce.
I'm usually in the C) category. If one of the players describes something in the "Cool Things That Could Happen" section, I give them a +1 bonus just for that. If they come up with an even better variation that I didn't think of, they get a +2. If they describe something where I find myself saying in my head, "That's so cool it absolutely has to happen that way", I give them a +3.
It may take a couple of scenarios before you figure out how to strike the right balance between encouragement/discouragement.