Ryan Macklin wrote a blog post about problems he sees with “use-whenever” stats in RPGs, using my FAQ hack for Leverage as an example. There are somegood ideas in there, and I encourage reading it. When it comes to the FAQ hack, though, I think it’s missing the point. I’m fine with Ryan using it as an example, to illustrate the problem, but I think it’s suggesting that the FAQ system isn’t doing what it should in the system.
I don’t think that’s true. Maybe it will help if I explain the intent of the system. So here’s my mission statement for the FAQ system:
The purpose of the FAQ system is to change attributes into an easy decision that gets out of the way of the more interesting ones.
I found that, when using attributes, it took a while to figure out which one would apply to each roll. Each GM picked differently, and for the player it didn’t always make sense. And in the end, it was just a die, nothing more. Too much time spent on an uninteresting decision. I wanted that part of the game to step aside, to stop hogging the spotlight with I had distinctions to apply and plot points to spend!
With attributes or FAQ approaches, a Leverage game will be interesting. FAQs aren’t meant to add another decision point: They’re meant to be damn fast. They’re meant to give a character something to default to. When Ryan says that he could come up with justifications for using the same approach in a bunch of situations without putting much time into it, that’s great. That’s the whole point!
I’m a big believer that not all rules need to be created equal. They don’t all need to have knobs to turn. Sure, there are ways to encourage changing up approaches (hell, just making the lowest one a d4 would do that on a small scale). But I think Ryan’s character will be more memorable because he tries to solve everything with aggression first. Let him use his big ol’ d10 if it encourages him to use a distinction against himself at the same time. He’s doing what a Leverage character ought to be doing.
I also wanted to work with FAQs as a DM tip-off, much like Roles do. If you find out most of your characters have d8 Grifter, that tells you a lot about what sort of game they want to play. It’s much tricker to do the same thing with the original attributes. Using FAQs makes it easier to tailor your session. If you get a bunch of Analytical players, it gives you a good sense of the types of obstacles they’d like to deal with. It also lets you know that situations that are more easily solved using Forceful or Quick are going to give them some trouble, whether that’s using a lower die or coming up with something truly ostentatious in order to use the better stats.
A FAQed Up Play Style
I also think Ryan likes a different style of Leverage game than I do. I like to run one-shots, so I use FAQs. I also have players put a d4 in only one role, which I know Ryan isn’t a fan of. For me, this makes it easier as the DM to put that character in tricky situations. (I realize this is counter-intuitive, since having more d4s would seem to make it easier. This is definitely a YMMV situation, but I prefer having a clear “this is my Achilles heel.” I think it makes the flaw more iconic.)
I think Ryan prefers a longer-term campaign or mini-campaign with more subtleties. My house rules are absolutely pointed at running the kind of game I want. I’d love to see the hacks Ryan would make to get the kind he’s into.