Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Active Stats and Leverage

One other interesting thing that came out of the Leverage game at PAX-east was a discussion of stats. For those unfamiliar with the game, it's worth noting that Leverage has some very normal stats (Strength, Agility and whatnot) but no "social" stat. This may seem a bit odd in the context of a game with such a strong social component, but it's something the book tackles head on. See, it's not that there's no charisma equivalent, it's that EVERYTHING is a charisma equivalent.

To illustrate that, let me point to the very specific case in the game that Logan Bonner's magnificent Grifter made more than a few rolls of "Strength + Grifter". At first blush, that seems like a nonsensical combination, but that's only the case if you think very literally. Instead, in this case, Strength also represented a kind of approach. The Grifter was coming across forcefully, relying on strength of personality (natch) to carry things through, so strength was the appropriate stat. If he'd been talking fast, it might have been Agility.

Using stats this way - to reflect HOW you do things, rather than what you do - is an idea I've grown more and more fond of with time, and I recently heard Cam Banks use the term "Active Stats" to describe them in conversation, and it's stuck with me. It puts a lot more of play in the player's hands, and that's always a good thing.

Now, this is not always easy. Leverage's stats are intentionally backwards compatible with previous Cortex products, if only to make things more familiar to old fans. This means the mapping of stats in this way is not always intuitive, and it's a big reason why I tend to re-tune the stat list when I do a new hack. Interpreting active stats from an existing list is always going to be harder than starting from scratch.

This is why I was delighted to get a mail from Logan Bonner proposing the (awesomely named) FAQ hack for Leverage. While he didn't call it such, he basically proposed a trio of active stats: Forceful, Analytical and Quick. He explicitly excluded an endurance-equivalent as out of genre (and he was right to do so) but in doing so he did a couple of things. First, he proposed a very workable hack - one I could totally get behind - but second he provided some independent confirmation of a suspicion of mine regarding the 4 core active building blocks.

See, my default active 4 are Force, Grace, Insight and Resolve, and the map directly to Force, Quickness, Analytical and the unused fourth. That pleased me because Logan's a pretty sharp guy, and if we both hit on this same pattern, it suggests it may have some backbone.

Anyway, I mention this now for all you folks looking to hack Leverage and thinking about stats. I would absolutely encourage you to pursue an active stat model since I think you'll find it a lot more rewarding in play, and I'd be very curious to hear if other people have active stat models of their own that differ from this 4 pointed structure.


  1. The Shakespeare game I never wrote had four stats, along these lines: Sanguine, Choler, Melancholia, and Phlegm.

  2. @Bryant, see Promethean: the Created for a lot of use of the humors, or see the game I'm working on right now, Et in Arcadia Ego for a use of humors as tarot suits as stats.

    @Rob, this reminds me of a concept I had that was basically a three way divide between, roughly, force, grace, resolve—the first guarantees your opponent gets what they don't want, the second guarantees you get what you want, the third guarantees you don't get what you don't want. There's room, of course, for a fourth: one that guarantees your opponent doesn't get what they do want.

  3. There's an acting exercise I encountered once wherein you, before delivering a line, say out loud where your delivering it *from* - the choices being Head, Heart, Guts, and Groin.

    I always thought those would be fantastic Active Stats.

  4. I'm a big fan of re-theming the attributes in Cortex+ games to fit their genre better.

    In general I use the split of Physical, Mental and Social.

  5. Regarding the legacy Attributes in Leverage. Yes, they absolutely were there for folks coming in from Classic Cortex (or, let's be honest, other RPGs). Vitality's one of the Attributes people grumble about, since it no longer has anything to do with your "hit points" (as there are no hit points) and you're unlikely to roll dice purely for endurance. But, you know.

    The upcoming Dragon Brigade RPG uses five Action Traits: Courage, Faith, Guile, Reason, Vigor. Faith can easily be switched with Conviction. These aren't very Leveragey, but the idea of "how are you approaching this?" is implicit in all five.

    Yes, I kind of stole that from IAWA, but it's an honest theft.

  6. @Cam They make me think of 7th sea set - Brawn, Finesse, Wits, Resolve & Panache.

  7. @Cam: That's funny. I use Vitality all the time. Especially when the Grifter is trying to tell a whopper of a lie.

  8. I tend to use Strength, Agility, Mind, and Charisma.

    As per Tao de Ching 33, you can use the abilities internally ("to master yourself") or externally ("to master others"). Thus Strength becomes Force (external) and Resolve (internal). Agility becomes Grace (external) and Finesse (internal). Mind becomes Perception [or Intelligence] (external) and Wisdom [or Knowledge] (internal). Charisma becomes Influence (external) and Will (internal).

    If you arrange these on a compass rose (with Strength in the NW), then N represents the physical and S represents the mental. W represents the masculine and E the feminine (in a sort of Yin/Yang way of active/passive).

    This arrangement also hints at how attributes might combine for effect. For example Speed might be considered a combination of Force and Grace, but Endurance might be a combination of Resolve and Finesse. Again reflecting the Interal/External dichotomy.

    [Interestingly my love of symmetry means that with an even number of attributes I end up with opposed attributes (although complementary might be a better term) where I don't combine them. Thus Strength and Perception never combine, although Strength and Wisdom might. With odd-numbered attributes I don't encounter this.]

  9. The Echo Bazaar online game does something similar. It has four stats that are used as adverbs, describing how you do something. But you do all manner of things Persuasively, or Dangerously. (They're actually written as adjectives, but thinking of them as adverbs works better.)

  10. (My daughter recently discovered my older game Legends of Alyria, so I have it on the brain.)


    In LoA, my three stats were Force, Insight, and Determination. Those map well to your Force, Insight, and Resolve. Apparently I didn't think that much of Grace. ;-)

    So, it seems like we're all circling a similar thing here.

  11. Michael Wolf (Stargazer's World) uses Warrior, Rogue, Mage to represent similar concepts of Force, Quickness, and Analytical.

    Offshoots in various genres have developed using this concept of roles as stats.

    I like this idea in general a lot and have appreciated your use of a basic 4 in your Cortex Plus hacks.

    I'm loving that compass rose by Reverance Pavane. I want to hear more about that and explore it's possibilities. Could somebody get me in touch with Reverance Pavane?

  12. If you were to use this method (which I like much more than the stats-as-written in Leverage) what would be the division of dice for creating a character?

    d10, d10, d6 for Focused and d10, d8, d8 for Versatile?

  13. Yep. 10/10/6 or 10/8/8. If running something a little more toned down, maybe 10/8/6 or 8/8/8


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