Is it ever too early for an FAQ?

I was having one of many conversations with my writing colleague Mike Hutchinson about FAQs and Erratas, specifically in relation to Gaslands: Refuelled. For those unaware Gaslands was a popular little softback miniatures wargame book released from Osprey, popular enough that we got the chance to do a hardback second edition, Gaslands: Refuelled. Other than extra content and such Refuelled made the rules clearer and better ordered. On the day that Refuelled was released Mike also posted a set of FAQs and there were responses from users that it was basically craven laziness to have a game that needed an FAQ released on the day of release, which is rather missing the actual point of FAQs as opposed to Erratas, which is something that I’d like to write about here.

An Errata is a document that corrects mistakes within the original, an FAQ is a document that states clearly the answers to questions that are asked but that it does not make sense to cover within the original. An FAQ is not an admission of an error, it can be part of a well-considered and intelligent release, usually in examination of Edge Cases and Confirmations, so let’s take a look at those two.

Living on the Edge

Edge cases are things that can and will happen in a game, but very rarely and possibly never for a large number of players. In addition, fixing them can take a lot of explaining and introduce exceptions to otherwise elegant rules. When hitting a player with a new set of rules they have a limited capacity for the cognitive load of learning those rules and no matter how clearly you box out a rule as not being something that people need to learn or even read due to being an edge case resolution, most people will still read it and try to hold it in their head. Now, what the line is that divides something from being an edge case as opposed to a standard part of the rules is a personal judgement, and it probably depends to some degree on what it takes to parse out the edge case in question. Something that needs a five-word sub-clause and is encountered by 20% of players can probably stand in the main rules, a paragraph of legalese to explain something that less than 10% of people will ever encounter probably doesn’t need to be in the main rules.

It can happen that something which is lots of fun and very elegant in your game has a little edge case that comes up very rarely and needs pages to explain, removing it makes the game worse and explaining it makes learning the rules much harder for something that most people will never need to know. An FAQ is a fantastic way of dealing with that issue, it makes the game smoother and better and covers the issue for people that go looking for it.

Confirmation Bias

Another issue with rules writing is that there are some things that players will need an extra layer of confirmation for. These points are not always the ones that obviously seem to need some extra support, they’re not always when things are complex, where you’ve stepped out from the norms or done something unintuitive. However many examples you provide on everything you consider confusing or complex, there will always be something where people will come back to you and ask if you meant the thing you said, and you have to say something along the lines of “Yes, what I said was what I meant”. A certain number of examples is a good thing, but eventually some people will feel that they’re being talked down to by examples of things they already know. Confirming that you meant what you said is another excellent use for an FAQ.

In short, just because you have an answer to a question before printing your rulebook does not mean that you need to, or should, put that answer into that rulebook. You need to consider if making players learn a rule up front will make their play experience better or worse, if the answer is worse then having an FAQ on day one is both acceptable and preferable.