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Author Topic: Character Sheets - Rubbish?  (Read 2924 times)
Joe Murphy (Broin)
Member

Posts: 178


« on: January 10, 2002, 07:53:31 PM »

Why are character sheets so ungodly awful?

Last year, I had a plan to write a scenario for a games convention. One of the http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&th=d0cda81be51e214e&seekm=3ae20d34.6112019%40news.powernet.co.uk#link10">cuter gimmicks for this TransFormers-inspired game was that each character sheet would be metal. The sheets would record traits with little magnetic beads which the players could move around their 'sheet'. Or the character sheet would be magnetised, and traits would be described with hex nuts.

I realised there was a potentially huge number of customised sheets one could design for a game, and I'm not just thinking of 'the skin of infants' for Sorceror.

I also realised, when running a game for a mixture of novices and experienced gamers that character sheets are often formidable. There's a lot of white space to fill. The boxes and slots and doodle space and grids are an arcane science.

Character sheets tend to be pretty much the same from game to game. They're very much utilitarian. A space to record the character's various stats, maybe a spot for a picture, some scrawl space, and various panels to record stats that change a lot, perhaps. Some have space for character history. Some have space for notes on the rest of the group.

Some time is devoted to a character sheet's flavor. Vampire has those doodles along the sides in a sort of 'gothic garden fence' pattern. The fonts usually reflect the game. There'll be a logo at the top, or perhaps the paper is patterned to look like parchment.

But, for example, why not use a string of beads in a primitivist game? If Jared's http://memento-mori.com/games/colorwheel.html">Color Wheel can do away with dice, then why not develop a mechanic that doesn't even need a table? Vampire players record their Blood Pool with little colored beads... so why not have three-dimensional objects to record everything? A school-themed game could use little blackboards, or a childlike game could use small Etch-A-Sketches.

Ages ago, I planned to run a Wraith game where the characters would start as mortals. The table would be set out with M&Ms, brightly colored drinks, and full-color character sheets. After death, I'd swap in liquorice, monochrome drinks and black and white character sheets. I felt that staring at a black and white character sheet would take on a new meaning.

I'm aware this post is very woolgathery. I'm mostly just surprised that so few games have flavorful character sheets, or methods to record character traits.  I'm also surprised that I can't seem to find threads on this subject on Usenet... surely I'm not the first to find 2-d paper character sheets dull?

Or am I missing examples of flavorful charactersheets?

Joe.
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2002, 09:30:36 PM »

Well, some might disagree with me about what it represents, but I think a character's purse in WYRD provides an interesting way of viewing that character.  Yeah, it's the resolution mechanic, but it's also an attribute of the character.

You still need some scrap paper to keep track of a hero's Passions, but as time goes by, that character sheet should actually turn into an epic poem about your hero.

It's not much, but there's my contribution.

- Moose
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contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2002, 03:41:57 AM »

Quote

character traits.  I'm also surprised that I can't seem to find threads on this subject on Usenet... surely I'm not the first to find 2-d paper character sheets dull?


I've posted some stuff on usenet about character sheets in the past; they are a concept I keep coming back to.  Fundamentally, I think the charsheet is the "interface" between the player and the game, much like a computer screen.  Thats the bit that the player interacts with physically, looks at, has in front of them.

Therefore I think:
- Any rule that does not appear, explicitly or implicitly, on the charsheet will either not be used or used badly
- the charsheet, as the primary visual prop, should be thematically appropriate
- they should be strictly kept to 1 A4 page

I like the idea of beads and stuff, although have no clear idea how to make them work.  I suspect the major problem is the fear of players complaining that it might be easy enough for the designer to manufacture X by hand, but they cannot.
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Joe Murphy (Broin)
Member

Posts: 178


« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2002, 06:38:33 AM »

Quote from: contracycle


I've posted some stuff on usenet about character sheets in the past; they are a concept I keep coming back to.  Fundamentally, I think the charsheet is the "interface" between the player and the game, much like a computer screen.  Thats the bit that the player interacts with physically, looks at, has in front of them.

Therefore I think:
- Any rule that does not appear, explicitly or implicitly, on the charsheet will either not be used or used badly
- the charsheet, as the primary visual prop, should be thematically appropriate
- they should be strictly kept to 1 A4 page



Space permitting, character sheets are a good place to keep commonly used tables and references. Torg had that dice table panel along the bottom, which speeded up play a little. Various Fudge games I've written have the Fudge scale somewhere on the page.

In certain games, I find that players glance down at their sheets when they're thinking of options. I realised in a superhero game that the players had forgotten to use 'power pushing', so in subsequent character sheets, I made a little note of that rule. Players used power pushing a lot more after that.

And I agree that they should stick to an A4 sheet. Everything that isn't *essential* for reference (such as history) should be taking more than a couple of pages to record, anyway.

And yup, they're a bit like a computer screen. For newbies, they're also a brochure, or advertising blurb. Any idea where I could find your thoughts on Usenet?

Quote

I like the idea of beads and stuff, although have no clear idea how to make them work.  I suspect the major problem is the fear of players complaining that it might be easy enough for the designer to manufacture X by hand, but they cannot.


*nods* Yeah. Gamers *tend* not to want to get their hands dirty. I've had serious complaints from players when I asked them to draw their character's picture for Over the Edge. Shame.

As for the beads thing... are you familiar with http://www.io.com/~sos/rpg/sherpa.html">SHERPA? The idea behind it is that it's simple enough to be played on the move, or while camping. For example, the 6 attributes spell the name of the game: Strength, Health, Experience, Reasoning, Profession, Agility. I have a vague idea that the colors of the beads would correspond to certain stats.

Whee, starting with the stats... there's a good way to devlop an interesting game. ;)

Joe.
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Joe Murphy (Broin)
Member

Posts: 178


« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2002, 06:41:57 AM »

Quote from: hardcoremoose

Well, some might disagree with me about what it represents, but I think a character's purse in WYRD provides an interesting way of viewing that character.  Yeah, it's the resolution mechanic, but it's also an attribute of the character.



You're right, though. You can look at the mixtures of colors and gauge the character.

Castle Falkenstein characters record their stats in diary form. Inspired by this, I kept a diary for Theatrix Lovecraftian character. The first 20 pages were diary entries that corresponded to his stats, though there was a summary on the back page for reference.

Joe.
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2002, 08:26:14 AM »

Quote from: Joe Murphy (Broin)

And yup, they're a bit like a computer screen. For newbies, they're also a brochure, or advertising blurb. Any idea where I could find your thoughts on Usenet?


I would not think it would be worth it, I made a few commnets and they disapeared into the ether, I don't remember anyone commenting on it.  It would probably be more productive to discuss it here.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2002, 08:41:32 AM »

Quote from: Joe Murphy (Broin)

As for the beads thing... are you familiar with http://www.io.com/~sos/rpg/sherpa.html">SHERPA? The idea behind it is that it's simple enough to be played on the move, or while camping. For example, the 6 attributes spell the name of the game: Strength, Health, Experience, Reasoning, Profession, Agility. I have a vague idea that the colors of the beads would correspond to certain stats.

Yeah, to facilitate the idea of playing while hiking, IIRC, SHERPA sugested for character sheets laminated three by five cards. I think you were supposed to punch them and attach them to a string around your neck or something. Now that's a utilitarian character sheet.

BTW, I can recall when the first character sheets for AD&D appeared. You bought them in packs at the store (do they still have such?). They were (relatively) expensive, and at the time even getting to a photocopier was difficult. They did help organize the character a lot, especially for a game with so many things to record. So they were pretty precious things at the time.

Mike
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2002, 09:47:25 AM »

Quote from: Joe Murphy (Broin)
Quote from: contracycle
I like the idea of beads and stuff, although have no clear idea how to make them work.  I suspect the major problem is the fear of players complaining that it might be easy enough for the designer to manufacture X by hand, but they cannot.

I have a vague idea that the colors of the beads would correspond to certain stats.

Actually while reading Contracycle's post I had this thought for Scattershot's live-action incarnation:

Quote
For a games aboriginal, have a wooden baton as the 'character sheet.'  Each ability (Stat, Power, Skill) would be represented by an intuitive hierogram on the shaft next to a 'narrowed' spot, a colored cord tied there would have a number of knots (clumped in fives) to indicate its Rating.  Each Stat would have a different color (like red for Hit Points, white for Power, or something), Powers another (say blue), Skills only one for all (every Skill being a black cord), and for magic and so on.  From a distance, this would create the ‘feel’ of being able to tell much about someone by how they carry themselves (or in real life, how much they carry on their baton, as an indication of 'character').

You could do the same with beads representing the ratings (between the knots holding them on), but I felt that too many beads would become a 'flail hazard.'

Fang Langford
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2002, 10:55:09 AM »

Quote from: Le Joueur

You could do the same with beads representing the ratings (between the knots holding them on), but I felt that too many beads would become a 'flail hazard.'


Well, what else would be the purpose of such a baton if not to batter the GM? I can see the system now, the Players beat the GM in order to force him to resolve in a certain manner. That's what I call directorial power!

Sorry guys, I'm keeping my paper.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2002, 11:15:12 AM »

Hi there,

We battered these issues around a lot on http://www.gamingoutpost.com/forums/index.cfm?fuseaction=ShowThread&threadID=24555&messageID=24555&forumID=28&CustomSS=0&login=">this thread at the Gaming Outpost, at least regarding Sorcerer play.

The results eventually showed up as follows, http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com/brochure.php/downloads.html">here in the game itself. Check out the explanatory text on that page too.

Best,
Ron
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