Did you read these posts? Over on his blog, Ryan Macklin wrote about what he calls use-whenever stats and why they don’t quite work for him:
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
This sparked a post from Dan Maruschak about emotional versus rational decision-making in RPG play, in which Maruschak considers the psychological aspects of the issue:
When one choice is obviously mechanically better then the rational part of the player’s brain will feel obligated to pick the most mechanically advantageous option, even if the emotional part of the brain thinks its an unsatisfying one. In my opinion, this kind of breakdown usually manifests as either one-note characters (if the player follows the obligation) or a reduced emotional connection to the game (since the the player is using emotional energy to deny the obligation and play the character “right”).
This is especially provocative to me, lately, because I’ve been playtesting a couple of games with widely applicable abilities—abilities that apply to certain plays based almost wholly on their fictional boundaries—and I’ve been considering the differences between pushing and pulling a player towards certain kinds of plays. It’s sometimes the difference between being enticing and being demanding, between procedure and provocation. Do you force a player-character to swing swords against shields first, or is that a strategy you make attractive through the interactions of abilities? Do you make attacks against armor or ennui mechanically identical but fictionally distinct? Is your audience invested enough in the fiction to make emotional decisions despite the rational consequences?
Can Forceful ever be as quick as Quick? What makes use-whenever stats equal versus making them identical? How much overlap can stats have in their Venn diagrams before they’re functionally interchangeable? I personally like stats to have a little overlap, to allow for creative play and multiple approaches to the same solution, but games with rigidly demarcated abilities are often tighter play experiences.
Want to fire a bow? That’s Dexterity. Want to swing a sword? That’s Strength. Without a feat, never shall they overlap. (In D&D, the overlap between Skills and other abilities is often up to the DM and often fluid.)
Want to Manipulate someone? That’s roll+hot. Manipulate someone with a show of force? To roll+hard and get a promise from someone might be a custom move—a bit of temporary overlap before the abilities snap back to their default positions. (In Apocalypse World, moves are practically mapped to hotkeys, though custom moves let you hotwire the whole thing.)
Anyway. I’m just thinking out loud right now.