Issues with Use-Whenever Stats
There’s been something gnawing at me for a bit, which crystalized when I starting thinking about Logan Bonner’s FAQ setup with Leverage. In his rebuild of the Attributes, he just has three: Forceful, Analytical, Quick. At first blush, I liked that because (much like Rob Donoghue’s said) if I had my druthers, I would have redone the Attributes. But we were looking to keep some of the fidelity for what’s essentially Cortex+ Action.
To be clear, I’ve seen this elsewhere, but Logan’s good people, so I’ll work with this as an example.
In his, like in Leverage, you have stats you assign different dice to. Whichever approach is your best is your d10, your middle a d8, your worst a d6. But there’s not additional meat on those. It’s “Describe what you do, pick dice, roll.” These are “use whenever” stats, because you just decide which one to use without additional constraint or meaning of choice.
I’m a damned creative player, so if you’re giving me stats based on how I’m accomplishing something, I’ll find a way to always use my highest die. d10 Forceful? I’m cracking that safe with a shaped charge. I’m beating up those thugs with a crowbar. I’m hacking brute force relentlessly. I’m staring down the Mark like I’m going to get all sickhouse on him.
d10 Analytic? I’m cracking that safe with precision and studied talent. I’m sizing up those thugs for weak points. (In the recent Holmes flick, Holmes was all about the Analytic fighting.) I’m *ahem* analyzing the security system for a backdoor. I’m reading the Mark and figuring out the best approach to disarm him socially.
d10 Quick? I’m cool under pressure on that safe, and it’s getting handled in seconds. I get all combat-slash-parkour on those thugs, leaving them beaten and in my dust (I could see a Jet Li-type character doing this). I get to reuse the “cool under pressure” thing for hacking into the system at the same time Parker’s in the ducts. I grab teh Mark, lead him by the arm into the other room, working my quick mojo on him with misdirection.
I wrote that in like two minutes. Give me a situation and a generic approach, and I’ll make them fit. Which really means I have these three stats:
- d10 Be a successful-but-one-note character
- d8 Show a but more color to your character, at a penalty
- d6 Like I’m going to use this stat
Oh, and if you’re not able to be on the fly creative, you have:
- d10 Yay I know how to use this at this moment
- d8 Well, at least I figured this one out
- d6 I’m being punished for not figuring out how to work the other two in
Now, back in the day, we privileged certain skills/stats/whatever by saying you could only access certain subsystems or they had different effects on subsystems. In GURPS, combat was done with DX, but affected by ST (until you get firearms involved), and mitigated by HT. In Unknown Armies, Body was health, Speed was how soon you got to act, Soul was Magick shit. Now, often in indieland we have thrown away those for more use-anywhere traits, but I think at a cost. If our stats are about approaches, they need more hooked onto them to privilege approaches. I should have a genuine reason to roll the d6 before I’m just bored and want to do something other than roll the d10.
I had this issue in an older Mythender build, which I threw away because of this very problem. I tried a “If you use all your stats, get a bennie” trick, which didn’t work.
Smallville does similar, but not with the question of “how.” That game approaches the same setup, but with “why” and “for whom,” which are interesting choices. I might not always be able to work in my d10 Glory is The Only Thing of my d10 Oliver is a Prettyboy Douche. And because Smallville also gives you an additional option, to challenge those elements for character growth, there’s more to the decision than “can I use my highest die”? Thus, they aren’t really “use anywhere,” even if there’s no further crunch handle on those particular pieces.
I suspect use-anywhere stats are a model that’s successful in convention games of competence porn, which is where a hack like this probably sees a lot of play. Still, adding a touch of depth to each approach — and right now I don’t really know how I would, aside form Talents that required a specific approach (and even that could be weaksauce) — would breathe life into something
Edit: Some followups:
- Dan Maruschak on his blog: “RPG Player Decisions: Emotional vs. Rational”
- Will Hindmarch on Gameplaywright: “Use-Whenever Stats and Emotional vs. Rational Decisions”
- Logan Bonner on Critical Hits: “You’re Out of your FAQing Element”
 Apocalypse World shows how indieland is starting to pick that (games without use-anywhere stats) back up again, those that’s not use-anywhere. Which is a stark contrast to In A Wicked Age’s setup.