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Author Topic: Character sheet/creation thoughts  (Read 5357 times)
Valamir
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« Reply #15 on: October 16, 2002, 12:15:43 PM »

Character Sheets are a window into the core design priorities of the game.  Even poorly designed sheets generally start with the idea of putting the information that is most critical or frequently referred to on the sheet.  Therefor, such a sheet is an indication of what the designer feels is critical or will be used most often in the game.  From that one can extrapolate.  Its quick and dirty at best, but there are games I've promptly returned to the shelves all but unflipped through after 1 look at the character sheet.
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C. Edwards
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savage / sublime


« Reply #16 on: October 16, 2002, 12:52:53 PM »

I just want second what Valamir said.  The character sheet, particularly for a gamer with a wide range of rpg experience, can provide a fairly accurate snapshot of what a game is about and how it goes about it.  I find it to be an excellent starting point when perusing a new game.

-Chris
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #17 on: October 16, 2002, 01:59:13 PM »

Eh. I dunno. I think that mostly character sheets are ill designed such that certain things are just listed top right because they are done first in generation, or just at random. In fact I think this is traditional. Take GURPS the character sheets all put the characters stats in the upper left. But in play they are mostly inored for all sorts of stats based off of them. I think they do this because early D&D sheets had the stats in the upper left. Those too are nigh useless in play. Bu use, the THAC0 should be in that spot.

I wouldn't put too much faith in basing your opinion of a game on the character sheet.

Mike
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Ben Morgan
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« Reply #18 on: October 16, 2002, 02:59:06 PM »

I know I've said it before, but it bears mentioning again. The character sheet is the one page (or set of pages) in the book ("old-school" games such as Palladium FRP aside) that players will be looking at the most during a game. So you might as well make it look cool.

The trick is the balancing act between the aesthetics and the organization.
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-----[Ben Morgan]-----[ad1066@gmail.com]-----
"I cast a spell! I wanna cast... Magic... Missile!"  -- Galstaff, Sorcerer of Light
M. J. Young
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« Reply #19 on: October 16, 2002, 04:05:53 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
"Boink"

M.J. ... hey, I had an idea. Do you think there's any feature of an I-game that leads to different needs or standards for character sheet design? I'm thinking of the difference between Villains & Vigilantes and Stuper Powers, both I-games, in which the former (late 70s) uses the standard attributes of the time, i.e. you transcribe "yourself" onto the sheet; and in which the latter (mid-late 90s) does not - you merely "can" do the stuff that everyone at the table knows you can, subject to the one-step simplistic system for the game.


I decided to move this here: viewtopic.php?p=37485#37485; it seemed sufficiently off the current topic.

--M. J. Young
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talysman
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« Reply #20 on: October 17, 2002, 12:51:23 PM »

nice thread... I've been thinking about character sheet design myself lately, and here's something that occured to me: I like it better when a copy of the character sheet is shown before character generation is described. it mentally prepares players for what they need to do, plus it gives an outline of the steps in character generation. if the sheet is designed correctly, of course.

this is one reason why the GURPS "attributes in upper left" didn't bother me, because you needed to set your attributes first most of the time. also, IQ rolls and DX rolls are pretty common...

still, I find that the right-hand side of a character sheet is the most used during play. GURPS has the skill list on the right side (at least in some designs.) Sorcerer has that important number scale going down the edge (I like that a lot.)

maybe that's a good character sheet design concept: left side = first character creation steps, right side = most used in play.
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
MR. Analytical
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Posts: 29


« Reply #21 on: October 18, 2002, 08:19:35 AM »

I think that there's a lot of truth in the character-sheet-org-as-order-of-generation theory.  I hadn't really devoted that much thought to the issue and went and had a look at some of the BRP variant character sheets I designed ( I do this a lot as I game quite a bit in French but English is my native tongue and it's also the language I buy stuff in mostly) and from top left to bottom right over the page it did reflect what I thought was order of generation.  From Stats to skills to name and background through to magic.

One thing that occurs to me though is that while this is fantastic as a heuristic for character creation, is it really that useful in play?  Surely the usefulness of a sheet in character creation is very much secondary to its usefulness in play?

For example here are a few things that occur to me :

* Why is name first?  Surely that's only there so that people can recognise the character in a folder... even the most distracted of players doesn't really need to look up the name of his character during play?

* Why are resources such as money or hitpoints given a small box?  These are usually the things that get rubbed out and rewritten most so some kind of decimal place slot system would be useful for money and it should be prominent on the sheet and probably at the front.  The same goes for equipment in games where this is important.

* In many well-meaning games (i.e. games with narrativist or anti-gamist pretentions) there are slots for background.  Why?  Surely a blank page would serve just as well?  One theory might be that by putting it there you're encouraging your players to come up with a back-story for their characters... in people's expericnce is this true?


I think character sheet design is DEFINITELY one of those areas of gaming where too much is owed to the D&D history of the hobby.  the best example of this is actualy Amber which has one of the worst character sheets I've ever seen.  The things it allows you to keep track of  aren't what are actually important in the game and it also gives far too much space to unimportant stuff that could be handled in a smaller way.  

for example, to my mind one of the key elements of cracter definiton in Amber is what the character did before he started play... where did he come from? what did he study?  basically indication of what it's reasonable for the character to know and be able to do.  This isn't handled AT ALL by the sheet.  Iem and shadow construction though get a whole page when surely a line would be sufficient?
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #22 on: October 18, 2002, 05:22:28 PM »

Quote from: MR. Analytical
I think that there's a lot of truth in the character-sheet-org-as-order-of-generation theory.  I...had a look at some of the BRP variant character sheets I designed...and from top left to bottom right over the page it did reflect what I thought was order of generation.  From Stats to skills to name and background through to magic.


I've designed a few character sheets in my time, too. I don't think that I've ever done one in order of character creation; but perhaps that's because of how I do them. However, even though I don't do them that way, that doesn't mean I always have the "important" things right up front.

How I do them, you see, is I create a character for a new game, and then I play the game once or twice from the hand-made notes, and then I design a character sheet that puts the information in an arrangement I anticipate will be useful in play. Some of that is traditional--attributes are always on the front page near the top. Is that nonsense? In most of the games I have played, attributes matter. In D&D, they frequently provide bonuses to situations (not just combat) which make the most sense listed next to the attribute. In Star Frontiers, they are often the basis for skill checks. In Gamma World, there were frequent references made to them for attribute checks. There may be games in which attributes are not particularly relevant, but that's not been my experience. On the other hand, I tend to think that much of the important information is easier to organize and access if it is not crowded onto the front page with everything else. If my character is a magic-user, he probably needs a more substantial space dedicated to magic than the first page allows; if he's not a magic-using character, that space is wasted. Some will try to solve this anomaly by creating a space which is used for magic if you're a magic-user, for combat skills if you're a fighting type, and for thief abilities if you're a thief--but then, if you're a jack of all trades, which do you put there, and where do you put the rest? Having larger sections dedicated to more important abilities is often a more efficient means of handling them than trying to put them on the front page.

Quote from: MR. Analytical
* Why is name first?  Surely that's only there so that people can recognise the character in a folder... even the most distracted of players doesn't really need to look up the name of his character during play?


This would seem to be an excellent argument for putting the character name in small print along the edge or top (depending on the type of folder you use). Yet I've worked in games in which it was preferred to have the character name In Large Letters on the top of each page, and to have a rather large (perhaps 1.5"x2.5") character symbol on the top of the first page. Why? Here are some reasons:
    [*]I often permit players to run two (and more rarely three) characters; they have to be certain which paper is which character, and the more easily identifiable the papers are, the less time is spent looking for the right one.
    [*]I also expect players to help with non-player characters who are affiliated with them. This applies especially to henchmen and hirelings, but also to NPC party members. That means there are these extra character papers somewhere--whether in one person's folder or floating loose on the table for everyone to run--and that means quick recognition is a plus for game flow.
    [*]I've had as many as thirty players crowded into my living room/dining room to play a game. That's a lot of people in close quarters, sitting on just about every piece of furniture short of a bookcase, with lots of character papers lying on whatever surface is convenient. Again, the ability to spot your papers quickly is a big plus.
    [*]Akin to this, if you've got a big group and you have someone pass you character papers to glance at (it happens a couple times a night, in some games) it's a lot easier for them to find their way back to the right player if they are clearly marked.[/list:u]

    Now, these reasons don't apply to all games or all groups. But it is not de facto obvious that a large name at the top of the page is not necessary.

    Quote from: MR. Analytical
    * Why are resources such as money or hitpoints given a small box?  These are usually the things that get rubbed out and rewritten most so some kind of decimal place slot system would be useful for money and it should be prominent on the sheet and probably at the front.  The same goes for equipment in games where this is important.


    I sort of agree about hit points. I would agree more, except that I learned long ago that too many changes were made to character sheets over time to expect them to last more than a few sessions effectively. My character sheets are always computer printouts now. If hit points change in a non-temporary way, they get changed in the computer, and print out right the next time. If all you mean is that subtractions are made, well, yeah, that happens--make sure there's space near the hit points for those to appear. Tracks are good; not all players find them easy to use or intuitive (Did I mark off that last point or not?). My preference is to write "-3, -1, -5" et cetera next to the total (not changing the total), but my math skills at that level are intuitive enough that I can spot that that's nine points off without really thinking about it. There does have to be enough space to track injuries; but the total hit points of the character doesn't need much space, really.

    Money is more complicated. In most games it goes from being very important to know in detail for a brief few minutes to being completely unimportant whatsoever. This is a candidate for something that needs a large section on a back page. I use a spreadsheet for it, keeping track of both liquid and other tangible assets (e.g., the character may have a ruby worth a thousand gold coins, but can he cash that at the bar?).

    Equipment gets its own page; and again, I use a spreadsheet for games which make anything of encumbrance--the program will total the weight automatically. Even if I'm not paying much attention to weight limits, putting equipment on its own page permits me to include notes on things that need them. I treat magic similarly, providing a page that's been formatted to conveniently list information about the magic available to the character, and deleting this entire page from any character sheet that doesn't need it.

    Quote from: MR. Analytical
    * In many well-meaning games (i.e. games with narrativist or anti-gamist pretentions) there are slots for background.  Why?  Surely a blank page would serve just as well?  One theory might be that by putting it there you're encouraging your players to come up with a back-story for their characters... in people's expericnce is this true?


    I've never put that on the front page. Character background information that is game generated does get included on a later page. As to player-generated character background, I kind of feel about that like you feel about the name: the player isn't going to forget it, and it doesn't do me a heck of a lot of good having it on his character paper. But then, I've usually done the sort of play in which the character is a fairly sketchy idea at the start, and the backstory gets created as the game goes forward. I know there are a lot of people who do their backstories before the start of play; but such people aren't going to be able to fit it into a box on the front page anyway, are they?

    There are a lot of things you can do with a character sheet; not all of them are so obvious or universal as it may first seem.

    --M. J. Young
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