What I learned from Boardgames: The hidden power of the character sheet

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  1. #1
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    What I learned from Boardgames: The hidden power of the character sheet

    I had to chance to play a boardgame called Eclipse recently. Its a fairly recent game that has grown very popular over the last few years.

    What is so interesting about the game is that it has a large number of tracking elements, however, they are all tracked on your player card using little wooden pieces. The interface is so streamlined that I can manage a large number of different tasks seamlessly with very little mental effort.

    It got me thinking of the possibilities for Dnd.

    While we all don't use minis and boards for our games, probably everyone uses a character sheet (and I would imagine those who didn't wouldn't really have an issue with one).

    Could we instill some design elegance into that paper part of the pen and paper game we play....and allow us to track some complex elements.

    Could we take it a step further and make the character sheet truely a "player card" or would that be too boardgamey for the masses?

    I don't have any specifics right now, just wanted to start a discussion.
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  • #2
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    In RPG's there is a lot of information that is persistent from game session to game session. A card with tokens on it works well for things that are reset at the beginning of each game. While there are a few things in RPG's that sometimes work that way, there are so many more that don't.

    I do agree that the character sheet should be elegantly designed. It needs to be as simple as possible. I think it needs to be one sheet (for core rules, with few if any modules).
    James Garr

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    Character sheets: That piece of paper that players will wring and crumple in their hands more and more the worse the situation gets, staring at it from top to bottom as if it would save their precious player character's life.

    Wood pieces would not be an ideal element in that kind of situation.
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    I like the concept of "character sheet extension" that this guy has done a few years ago (click picture to enlarge)

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    I kind of agree with @Gargoyle that there are aspects of RPG character sheets which work against "boardgameization". Having consistent stats across sessions is one of them, but other factors include numerous variables requiring writing (how many feats are there?), and costs of color printing. I don't think they're insurmountable, but they are limiting factors...at a certain point in this thought experiment you may need to concede that *simplification* is more desirable (and achievable) than "boardgameization".

    Ok, so there are lots of great examples of super-simplified character sheets out there already. Let's check some of them out!

    Official D&D Adventure System Character Cards

    D&D Encounters-styled Character Sheets

    D&D for 8 Year Olds
    ART by STOWE: DND for 8 year olds

    Diterlizzi's Old School Character Sheets
    Last edited by Quickleaf; Saturday, 22nd September, 2012 at 08:36 PM.

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    I like this idea. I'm imagining a something from a PC based or online character generator that can be reprinted when it wears out and customized for the specific character. It could have a track for hp and short tracks for the various buffs and debuffs the PC might be subject too. A wizard would have all of his spells, with the currently memorized ones marked with a chip, and a psion would have a track for whatever he calls his power points.

    I can see how this would be very quick to refer to. The only downside I see is that if you bump the sheet you can entirely lose track of what your character's condition was.
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    It's an interesting thought.

    I think there are a few criteria that you'd want a sheet-dependent mechanic to fulfill. The mechanic should track something that changes over the course of a single session (even round to round). If it lasts over the course of several sessions, you might as well write it down. The number of tokens you can accidentally jostle should be kept to a minimum. It should be a mechanic that involves several defined and separate states, perhaps along a continuum, to take advantage of the spatial layout that you are working with.

    Off the top of my head I can't think of an existing mechanic that fulfills these criteria well, so I'll make up a new one!

    Let's say that we had a game, like D&D, that had HP. If you go to negative hp you are unconscious and have to make death saves, and if you fail 3 death saves you die for good. Let's further say that at after failing each death save you suffer some penalty, so it's good to keep track of how many have happened.

    At the very top of your sheet you could have four boxes on the character sheet border. The first reads "Healthy : No Penalties". The second reads "1 Failed Death Save : -2 to physical skill checks". The next reads "2 Failed Death Saves : -3 to physical skill checks, -1 to attack rolls", and so on. You could even leave another box or two empty in case feats or character classes increase the number of death saves a character can take.

    To track this mechanic, you take a paper clip and attach it to your sheet so that it is within the "Healthy" box. If you fail a death save, you move the paper clip over to the "1 Failed Save" box. And so on.

    The benefit of the paper clip over tokens should be obvious; it's harder to dislodge!

    You could adapt a mechanic like this to other uses. A class like the current playtest sorcerer, where every time you use a class ability you "drift" along a continuum into some other state involving some kind of transformation. You could use it for the 4E disease track (though that happens rarely enough that you might not track it directly on your sheet). You could use it to track something like the fighter's combat superiority dice, especially if that number fluctuates up and down over the course of an encounter instead of just refreshing fully every round (maybe psionic power points?).

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    I think the trick to solving this situation is to have two character sheets.
    The first is the one you use to build your character, it contains all of the formulas and detailed information. The second is a summary 'card' which only shows totals and current status.
    There are several ways to achieve this, depending upon player preference.

    Most players I know like to pick up their character sheet during the game to read it more easily. This means tokens can't be on the same piece of paper that their stats are on. So for this type of player, they can have their normal character sheet, and a separate status card. You'd only write on the status card if you had to keep a status effect between game sessions. The rest of the time you'd just put tokens in to the relevant box on the card.
    It would show a number of boxes along the lines of:
    Status Effect   |   EOYNT   |   EOSNT   |   Save
    Dazed           |           |           |  
    Stunned         |           |           |  
    ... and so on.
    Where EOYNT means 'end of your next turn'; EOSNT means 'end of source's next turn'; Save means 'save ends'

    Obviously the boxes would need to be big enough to put poker chips, tiddly winks, or some other marker on. OR, if you've got nice thick card, you could punch holes in the card and use wooden 'pins' into the holes. This would prevent the accidental jostling issue, but would be hard to get unless it was sold by WotC.

    Other benefits include being able to write the actual effect of each status onto the same card.

    What this doesn't handle well is -3 to Attacks, or +2 to AC, because the numbers change depending on the power. Sometimes writing really is the most elegant solution. This could be done in the same card style however. Forget the tokens. Just mark up the card with pencil or laminate it and use whiteboard markers. Tick a box when that effect is in play, write -3 in the AC row, erase when the status ends. You can even include an extra column to record who the source was if you want to.

    Slobster's paper clip idea is excellent, but I see a flaw; Every possible status you want to record would have to be near the edge of the page. This limits the number that you can record, unless you have a really long piece of paper.

    While thinking of the above, I started wondering about tracking hit points in a similar manner. I can imagine having two or three bowls full of tokens in front of each player. Move tokens from 'HP' to 'Damage' as you get damaged. Put in different coloured tokens for temporary HP, and so on. This has one seriously major problem though - It takes up too much valuable table space.

  • #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Zustiur View Post
    Slobster's paper clip idea is excellent, but I see a flaw; Every possible status you want to record would have to be near the edge of the page. This limits the number that you can record, unless you have a really long piece of paper.
    I had considered the paper clip idea for a homebrew game where each player was tasked with handling multiple characters, sometimes handing off minor characters to another player, and thus needed good ways to track certain information. The game didn't work out, but I think I had this particular issue solved. Use an index card (heavier card stock better for paper clips), put the tracks on each of the four sides, and use different colored paper clips for different information (i.e. mulitples of 10 on hit points, maybe).

    But what really makes something like that work is if you use the interior of the card to mark the major changes, and allow those to change what the outside tracks means. Think of a game modeling something like "fatigue points" (e.g. Endurance in Fantasy Hero) that move up and down all the time. In the interior, you indicate the normal status and the range that the band along the top of the card handles. Then the card moves from 1-10. So your paper clip along the top is showing the "ones digit" only in the current fatigue number.

    Basically, use the clip for things that change often, but incrementally, but don't try to be a purist about it.

    Another possible technique for checking a longer track is to stack the tracks, then merely indicate which track by some other marker. The different colors of paper clip works well here, though you can mark rows or columns if necessary. For example, picture four or five columns down the right sight of a standard character sheet, tracking 25 hit points (or mana points or whatever). Use one clip for the outside row, which is 1-25, then another color for 26-50, and so on. Or just use one clip and mark the column with a different clip.

  • #10
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    Most Savage Worlds character sheets have an element of this. They have areas for easily tracking wounds and power points. Most people use some sort of token for them. Similarly, people usually use physical tokens for tracking bennies (similar to hero points or action points), which are a resource that replenish each session.

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