I'm sorry if this is a lot, but I am desperately trying to make sure that my interpretation of the rules surrounding what is and what isn't an action works, and the above is the only way I've been able to reason it that complies with ALL of the FAQ entries listed above. The questions I've tried to answer here are:
What determines whether a game ability or effect is an action or not? (for things like Balcony's forced effect)
What is considered to have been a performed action (for things like Take the initiative and Pay Day)
Is there a functional difference between moving with Shortcut Lv. 0 (which has no bold action designator) and Shotcut Lv. 2 (which DOES have a bold action designator), and if so, what?
So, with that laid out, here we go:
It is my understanding that whether something is an action (as in having the quality of being an action) or not has nothing to do with how many actions (as in the resource that players by default get three of to spend each turn) are spent to perform that action. Actions-the-quality and actions-the-resource are two different things as far as the game is concerned, despite the same english word "action" being used to describe both of them. This is determined based on the following FAQ entries:
If I play an event with a Fight ability, like Backstab, does it provoke attacks of opportunity? No. Abilities with a bold action designator (like Fight, Evade or Investigate) count as an action of that type. In this case, since Backstab counts as a Fight action, no attacks of opportunity are made, because Fight actions do not provoke attacks of opportunity. The same goes for Fight abilities on assets, like .45 Automatic.
Because all "abilities with a bold action designator count as an action of that type", and because there exist abilities with bold action designators that do not require actions to be spent to trigger them (Shortcut Lv. 2 for example), there must be a distinction between whether an ability or card effect is considered an action-the-quality and how many action-the-resource was spent to trigger it. Therefore the definition of whether something counts as an action or not is if it has the bold action designator (or is one of the standard actions available to you on your turn; each of which has a bold designator describing it on the player reference card as well). (is this correct? EDIT: No. According to Matt's response, an action is simply defined by whether an action is spent to use it, so Shortcut Lv. 2 is not an action.)
Proceeding from here, we can look at Attacks of Opportunity, and when they trigger. They only trigger when actions-the-resource are being spent, and not in response to just any action-the-quality type ability being used. This is supported by the following FAQ entry:
(1.1) Attacks of Opportunity Attacks of Opportunity are only triggered when 1 or more of an investigator’s actions are being spent or used to trigger an ability or action. [free triggered ability symbol] abilities with a bold action designator do not provoke attacks of opportunity.
This further supports the above idea of actions-the-resource and actions-the-quality being different, and further supports the idea that Shortcut Lv. 2 would be considered a "move action-the-quality", but not provoke AoO because no "actions-the-resource" were spent to trigger it. (Is this correct? EDIT: No. According to Matt's response, in addition to not provoking attacks of opportunity, free triggered abilities with a bold action designator are not actions at all.)
Following this line of logic, we can see how Ursula's triggered ability, which causes AoO, must be gaining and spending an action-the-resource on a new investigate action-the-quality effect as a result, whereas William Yorick or Leo Anderson's triggered ability, which do not cause AoO and have no bold action designator, are not the gaining and spending of an action-the-resource and do not have the action-the-quality as a result.
To rephrase: Ursula's triggered ability is an action-the-quality because it allows you to take an investigate action (which is why it can provoke AoO and why it can be used to take any investigate action available to you, and not just the standard one), and does so by giving you a new action-the-resource which you must immediately spend on an effect at your disposal that is an investigate action-the-quality. These statements are supported by the following FAQ entries (from the latest, v1.6):
Does the ability on Ursula Down allow me to take an investigate action on an asset or event card? Yes. Ursula’s reaction allows you to take any investigate action, including those performed via the activate action or via the play action.
Does the investigate action taken via the ability on Ursula Down provoke attacks of opportunity? Yes. If an ability allows you to “take an action,” it is as though you are gaining an action and immediately spending it to perform that action. This is different from reaction or free triggered abilities that simply perform the effects of an action directly, such as the reaction on Survival Knife.
We also know that investigator effects like Leo Anderson's or William Yorick's do NOT provoke AoO. Based on the Ursula rulings above, we can infer that this is because these abilities do not provide you with an action (note they don't use the word action in their text, unlike Ursula's). If this is true, if a card with a bold Play action designator were to ever exist, we can assume that this abilities would NOT be able to use them instead, because they are not allowing you to take an action but rather instructing you to play-the-game term an asset not gain an action and perform a play-the-action-type action. These statements are supported by the following FAQ entries (the first from v1.3, the rest from the latest, v1.6):
Does Ursula Downs' ability trigger AoOs? It does. You're doing the full process / rules for taking an action. It's different from something like Yorick's or Leo's ability, if that's the comparison being made.
If I play an event with a Fight ability, like Backstab, does it provoke attacks of opportunity? No. Abilities with a bold action designator (like Fight, Evade or Investigate) count as an action of that type. In this case, since Backstab counts as a Fight action, no attacks of opportunity are made, because Fight actions do not provoke attacks of opportunity. The same goes for Fight abilities on assets, like .45 Automatic ( 16).
Because Ursula's ability is as though she is gaining "an action[-the-resource] and immediately spending it" and "it's different from something like Yorick's or Leo's ability", I conclude that Ursula's ability counts as performing an action, whereas Leo and Yorick's do not. This means if she were to play Pay Day, she would gain an extra resource for having used her triggered ability, but Yorick and Leo would not. Similarly, to circle back around to Shortcut Lv. 0 and Shortcut Lv. 2: Because Shortcut Lv 2's effect includes an action designator which therefore makes it an action performed, it would cause an investigator to gain an extra resource for the action performed if Pay Day is played after using its free triggered ability. Conversely, Shortcut Lv 0 does NOT contain an action designator, but like Leo/Yorick, is simply a game action being performed, and thus does not have action-the-quality, and then is NOT counted by a PayDay played after it. (Is this correct? Edit: No. According to Matt's response, Shortcut Lv 2's activation is not an action, and thus wouldn't count as an action you've performed this turn for the purposes of Pay Day. I think Pay Day would still count Ursula's investigation, however, since that one is specifically performing an action.)
In another comparison for Shortcut Lv. 0 and Lv. 2, consider the circumstance where an investigator is at the Balcony location from the first scenario from the Path to Carcosa campaign. This location has a Forced ability that explicitly looks to see if a "move action[-the-quality]" was performed when moving from it to the Theatre. Based on the discussion above, an investigator using Shortcut Lv. 0 would NOT trigger this forced ability because the movement from the Balcony to the Theater was not an action-the-quality effect. Conversely, using Shortcut Lv. 2 WOULD trigger this forced ability because it was still an action-the-quality type effect even if no action-the-resources were spent to trigger it.
PLEASE let me know if I have anything wrong in any of these assertions, and more importantly WHY I am wrong based on rules found in the RR, FAQ, etc.
Thank you so much in advance!