This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

Friday, April 10, 2015

Hail the character sheet.

A while back I was talking about a game I wrote called Nova74.
 I got to the point where  our group play-tested it, for that play test I made up a quick character sheet.

Here's that sheet.

It's nothing special, but it will do as an example.
Text blocks laid over a car interior made up of a ton of white space.
The  sheet is at least thematic to the game.
Looking at the sheet you know that's not a modern car. No one shifts on the column any more, round gauges over by the glove-box? Why is that gas pedal so big?
Truth be told I found a picture of an actual 1974 Chevy Nova interior and that's what I modeled the picture on. I wanted the  sheet to anchor the  players in the time period.

The  players seemed to think it was pretty good and usable enough that they got through the first two games with no need to pull their hair out.

If I continue to work on those rules I think I'll spruce it up finish the background image a bit more and add some rule notes to the text boxes.. Other than that I think it's all I need to play the game.

We have all seen this.
It's an iconic character sheet design of Advanced Dungeons and dragons, in this case set up for a magic user.

It's concise and usable as a tool but it does not say anything to me at all about the  game it's supposed to support..
It's just a tool.
For new players it's also a dense intimidating tool at that.
 In the back of my game AAIE there is a character sheet that is similar to the 1st ed sheet. Functional,  clear, and boring as drying paint.

Where is this going?
To the obvious and boring of course!
I think the character sheet is one of the single most important parts of a game. The player is going to spend more time looking at that sheet than possibly any other lovingly written part of a game.
It is worth it for a designer to put as much effort and resources towards that sheet as they can.
Fate of the Norns

Look at the  sheet from "Ragnarok: Fate of the Norns."  (FotN)
Just like everything in the game from the book, to the  Runes used to decide actions, to the plethora of  available play aides, the character sheet drips setting.
I'm not sure how much it cost to do art for FotN. Looking at the book I'm sure it was a good part of the  production cost. Having that cost extend into the  parts of the game the players will actually be manipulating does a great job in setting the games overall tone.

Looking at my copy of Fate Core their character sheets look like  a menu for Johnny Rockets. It's one of the things that turns me off of the game. It's a bit to streamlined, a bit too clean, not enough dirty edges. I don't really mind the  Fate system, as a system, but I have a hard time being inspired in any way by their supporting products.

This sheet is from Here and I honestly don't know if it is an "official" Numenera Character sheet," but it is nice.  The site linked above says it is from Monte Cook Games, but it does not have that kind of  over produced digitally colored look most of the MCG art has had. Regardless It captures that weirdness of Numenera and nicely sums up how the various parts of a character interact with the system. It's a cool sheet.

So where do we find better sheets?
My suggestion is the same as it usually is, Google-foo whatever character sheet you're looking for and chances are some one out there has made an awesome one you can download for free or purchase on the cheap.

To round this out I searched the web and crowd sourced over on G+ to see what others like in their character sheets.
Here's what came back at me.

Michael Prescott contributed this image of an awesome Mouse Guard RPG sheet. I like this sheet for all the mechanical details spread around the two pages, and mouse guard art contains some of my favorite RPG images. I was sold as soon as I saw the tiny mouse up by the "raw Abilities" column.

The Awesome Jens D. provided a much clearer link to the Numenera sheet that I referenced above.
I think we agree that the  functionality of that one might be questionable but boy it's pretty.

Here is a link to the Character sheet for the  Battleaxe RPG, by Sixteen Coal Black Horses. kind of great. I'm not sure how I have never seen this before. (The  420 page game pdf is free?)
+Chris Fahrlander added to the conversation with this  which is really well said and succinct. I strongly agree with his final point about white space, allot of sheets I see out there totally lack white space.
    • "I don't have any one specific sheet that I like, but there are several things I look for in a sheet.  Firstly, it must organize info effectively. If it looks nice but takes five minutes to find what you're looking for, it isn't gonna be used by me.Secondly, It must show useful material without adding unnecessary stuff. In general, If i need to write my character's bio, it won't be on the character sheet but on a word processor and printed and added.  I know that Games tend to have googleplexes of information that is necessary for play, but i don't think it all needs to be on the sheet.Lastly, I really dislike "busy" sheets that have a lot of drawing or non-essential ink on them. Negative (white) space is valuable and shouldn't be ruled out as unattractive."
Apocryphal Chris posted a whole series of sheets from the Rune Quest derived Gladiator game "GLORY!" I like the  character sketches that are also use to show  Runequesty hit locations. I could picture my self drawing scars all over those pictures when the game as over.

GURPS gets a whole web page just to make their character sheets. I think that says something about GURPS. is a character sheet archive.

Mr.Gones character sheets for a variety of games.

This is the Pathfinder RPG. Sheet, It is super functional and lacks a mortal soul .

Here is a Github with a ton of sheets for the online game service Roll 20.

Here is the Character sheet from Monte Cooks "The Strange" It's a nice sheet though I don't understand the purple splooges along the borders. Seems to be a trend in The Strange.. any extra space?  Purpole splooge ...

A PDF of the Fantasy Flight games sheet from Deathwatch. I like this sheet especially the Space Marines Abilities in the bottom corner. I want a character that has a"Belcher's Gland" or "Oculube." The boxed text describing power armor abilities also seems pretty useful. Besides "Nutrient Recycling" is the nicest way I have ever seen "drinks own pee" written in a game.

Since I accidentally found this, here is a drop chart for  "Whats' My Animal Companion Duck Doing?"** 

A post by  Dungeons and Doughnuts on the same subject (Character sheets not Ducks)

Last but not least: Even though it's one of my favorite games of all time, I think Battle tech mech sheets were some of the ugliest character sheets ever made. So crunch. I know Mechs are not characters and Ballletech is not an RPG, but I hated these sheets when I was a kid. Seriously I was like 15 and I hated them. If a fifteen year old hates a sheet about giant robots with guns, its broken. Personally I would break it into two sheets to make more room for all the information, and perhaps better internal damage tracking on the second sheet.

Has this post answered any of the pressing questions about character sheets design?  Of course not. I think thought the examples show there is a fine balance to be struck between functionality, theme, and density. Each player or game designer  will have some opinion about that that balance should be, making  character sheet design as much an art as a science. For my taste I like a sparse sheet that is evocative of the game it's designed for. The density of say the old AD&D sheets just gives me a head ache. I would rather just use a sheet of notebook paper.

There's plenty more to talk about  on this subject and plenty more examples to look at. If anyone has any great examples of character sheets to share drop a link into the  sin bin below.

Thank you for reading

* (Image found on the blog "Elf Steaks and Halfling Bacon" Which is the best blog name I have seen in a long, long l time.)
**(nobody's reading this anyway  but if you are and you use this as a drop chart for some ducks behavior PLEASE tell me.)

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