Drowning in (Character Sheet) Details

DMMike

Game Masticator
A post on the D&D 5e version of Charm Person got me thinking - 5e implemented the perfect system to handle the Charm Person spell, but they didn't utilize that system. Rather than spending 10+ lines describing how Charm Person works, the spell description could be:

You become a Bond of the humanoid target. A Wisdom save negates the effect.

The Bonds section gets about 2-3% of one side of a character sheet. So even if the Charm Person spell could use Bonds as a resource, would the player using that character sheet ever notice? How often do the Traits, Flaws, Bonds, and Ideals get overlooked simply because they're not front-and-center (like Hit Points and Attacks) or the first thing on the left in flashy boxes (like Ability Scores)?

Does character sheet design affect how you play? Do you like a clean character sheet, or one with lots of information, design, and detail?

For contrast:
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
the spell description could be:

You become a Bond of the humanoid target. A Wisdom save negates the effect.
So... if the target acts like the caster is important, the target gets a point of Inspiration? Is that really what Charm Person is supposed to do?

Does character sheet design affect how you play? Do you like a clean character sheet, or one with lots of information, design, and detail?

For contrast:
Well, note how that contrast is less about the character sheet design than it is the game design itself. That FATE sheet has less detail, but has pretty much all the details the game calls for.

And, Bonds, Flaws, and Ideas don't get lots of space on the sheet, because they all feed into the same mechanic - Inspiration. And you can only have on point of Inspiration at a time, so there's not a whole lot of management to be done there.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
How often do the Traits, Flaws, Bonds, and Ideals get overlooked simply because they're not front-and-center (like Hit Points and Attacks) or the first thing on the left in flashy boxes (like Ability Scores)?
More likely, the reverse is true: those things have the place on the character sheet that they do, because the rules are inherently ignorable.

The whole thing with Traits and Bonds was an attempt to codify the personality of a character, but you don't actually need those rules as long as you remember to role-play the character. Having a spell that requires you to interact with that sub-system would have been counter-productive.
 
Does character sheet design affect how you play?
Only insofar as it supports how I play, it doesn't determine how I play.
Do you like a clean character sheet, or one with lots of information, design, and detail?
I like a character sheet to have the most important and frequently used information on one page and easy to find. As a rule I am a far better judge of what else I want to track in detail that isn't on that one page and am probably better served by scratch paper for recording it than a comprehensive multiple-page character sheet. If I have to keep looking for things on a second/third/fourth page, that information isn't where it should be for how I play. Example: The current sheet I have for 5E has perception in alphabetical order on a long list of all the skills - as they all do. Given the (IMO) great over-reliance that DM's have on it, that isn't where it should be. It should be called out by itself, front and center, in accordance with the importance and frequency of use.

But that's me.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
Maybe not how, but definitely what. If I can't keep track of my character using one double-sided character sheet, that's probably not a game I'm going to play.

Does character sheet design affect how you play? Do you like a clean character sheet, or one with lots of information, design, and detail?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Does character sheet design affect how you play?
It probably would, if I ever used pre-made character sheets, in that I'd be a grumpier player because what I wanted to find NOW wouldn't always be in a place where I could find it NOW, because there'd usualy be too much space taken up with information not related to this particular character.

For example, I don't need a list of Thieving skills on a sheet for a non-Thief; I don't need space for spells-known on a sheet for a Fighter; I don't need much space for combat details on an arcane caster's sheet, and so on. I don't need a line for night-vision for a Human character. Etc.

The problem with premade character sheets is that they're usually trying to be generic, and so they have to include space for all these things whether relevant or not. And even if the sheets are made class-specific that's still not going to account for houserules or non-standard systems - or multiclass characters, for all that.

Do you like a clean character sheet, or one with lots of information, design, and detail?
Both. I like a character sheet that has the info I need for that character right where I can quickly find it. Which means, other than some very basic what-goes-where (e.g. base stats top left, race-class-age-height-weight top centre, etc.), every character sheet I have is somewhat different from the others; and I either use a very minimalist premade form* I made up myself or a blank sheet of paper as a starting point.

* - this only includes space for things all characters will have no matter what: every character has 6 base stats, for example; and an age, height, weight, and birthday; an armour class; hit points; mundane adventuring gear; nationality and-or language(s) spoken; and a few other things unique to our games. Oh, and a name. Most of them have a name. :)
 
I believe the character sheet is the most overlooked design of almost all RPG's.

It affects how you play, (what you do) especially for new players.
It affects the timing of the game.
It even affects your player's outlook on scenes.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I support the inclination to use something like bond mechanics here to help model in the player's head what is going on in the fiction. Unfortunately inspiration is simply not compelling enough. There are too many ways to get advantage for that. Ask my Barbarian. I get advantage to darn near everything that matters anyway.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
The character sheet is the first thing the players look at when they aren't sure how to proceed. Not it's only use, but one of it's most important. What's visible - and how visible - affects play. And many sheets get that all wrong. For examples, so many sheets that have the ability scores in large boxes are missing the point - an ability score never affects a session-in-play. The modifier is useful, the ability score not so much.

I make my own sheets for every character. Everything that could affect play is on the front of the page, with things bolded and such. Easy enough in a word processor or a spreadsheet if you want to be fancier. I often do character sheets landscape instead of portrait - fits the nature of descriptions better. Though I paraphrase and abbreviate to make them fit on one line as much as possible.

The back contains other information I may want at the table but not in general play - maybe campaign notes, names of NPCs and places, etc. I have a cheap black & white laser printer and have no problems reprinting every few sessions.

Getting to the other part of the OP, Bonds and such seem to be subconsciously discardable. While NOT a variant like feats or multiclass, the two most commonly added in, they aren't something familiar from earlier editions, they way they are designed puts a large load on the DM - remembering five traits per character, and they have no rules tie in anywhere outside themselves. No wonder most character sheets relegate them off the first page and into obscurity.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
So... if the target acts like the caster is important, the target gets a point of Inspiration? Is that really what Charm Person is supposed to do?
. . . And, Bonds, Flaws, and Ideas don't get lots of space on the sheet, because they all feed into the same mechanic - Inspiration. And you can only have on point of Inspiration at a time, so there's not a whole lot of management to be done there.
If you believe that bonds, flaws, and ideals are only good for Inspiration, then they should probably take up less space on the character sheet.

Maybe not how, but definitely what. If I can't keep track of my character using one double-sided character sheet, that's probably not a game I'm going to play.
Indeed. My stomach churns as soon as I hear "page three of the character sheet." I can see multiple pages for different game modes, like if a futuristic game had a page for your personal character, one for your battle-mech, and one for your cyberspace projection. But if it's just more and more lists, no thanks.

The character sheet is the first thing the players look at when they aren't sure how to proceed. Not it's only use, but one of it's most important. What's visible - and how visible - affects play. And many sheets get that all wrong.
Forsooth. How would we play D&D if half of the character sheet, page one, consisted of name, class, alignment, flaws, bonds, traits, and ideals? And character image?

A lot of players would just leave page two turned up, right? ;)
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Forsooth. How would we play D&D if half of the character sheet, page one, consisted of name, class, alignment, flaws, bonds, traits, and ideals? And character image?

A lot of players would just leave page two turned up, right? ;)
:)

But yeah, put the most useful one one sheet, it doesn't matter if it's number Page One or Page Eight. And just like I was saying ability scores aren't important, neither is an image, or even your name. (I usually have an image of a separate piece I can hand around, or on a name plaquered with name, class/race adn some other stuff for others to see. Who needs a tiny version of their character picture as quick reference for themselves in play.)
 
This is what I use for my game. It works for my game. It's placemat sized, magnetic (for use with inventory pieces), plays fast and uses cards. One thing it doesn't do is allow room for those players that are real note takers. Haven't figured that part out yet. But, overall, all the essentials for my game are there.


Way of Guile.PNG
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
Who needs a tiny version of their character picture as quick reference for themselves in play.
You might refer to World of Warcraft or Ghost Recon designers to answer this. Seeing yourself during play helps with getting into the role. The handout is a good idea, though.

One thing it doesn't do is allow room for those players that are real note takers. Haven't figured that part out yet. But, overall, all the essentials for my game are there.
That's a clean sheet. I pity the player who has to take more than one note, though :geek: If anything is drowning, it's the individual skills, but they look accessible. Is it for a role-playing game? I ask because there's not much room for fluff on it, which could, I suppose, be another way to refer to D&D's traits, bonds, ideals, and flaws section.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The things that every character needs but that take up space and thus get shunted to page 2 are mundane possessions lists, characterization notes, and character history and-or backstory notes.

Things that get their own separate sheets are a) xp record and b) money-and-finances tracking.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
Does character sheet design affect how you play? Do you like a clean character sheet, or one with lots of information, design, and detail?
Generally, I think character sheets reflect the game for which they are designed. That said, I tend to favor games with simple character sheets, like the Fate you mentioned. I've just grown fatigued of all the layers of detail and design that games like D&D seem to require. I much prefer things to have a decent narrative descriptor and mechanics that work through those. I even twitch a little with some of the Apocalypse World games and Blades in the Dark.

Then again, I'm weird.
 
You might refer to World of Warcraft or Ghost Recon designers to answer this. Seeing yourself during play helps with getting into the role. The handout is a good idea, though.


That's a clean sheet. I pity the player who has to take more than one note, though :geek: If anything is drowning, it's the individual skills, but they look accessible. Is it for a role-playing game? I ask because there's not much room for fluff on it, which could, I suppose, be another way to refer to D&D's traits, bonds, ideals, and flaws section.
It is an RPG. No alignment or bonds, etc. But, as adventurers make choices, they sometimes receive cards (It's a card based RPG). These cards are experience cards and help reflect the character's choices. For example, someone who helps the halfling town when it's in trouble, now has a boon when persuading halflings. For us, it's a nice way to individualize the character, as people doing the same adventure often receive different cards.
 

The Monster

Explorer
For me, a character sheet should have what I need to play the character - no more, no less. A character sheet is a tool for playing the character and should serve that task efficiency and as completely as possible.
A small space for an image is nice, though I see that as more of a tool for the other players than for me - once I've picked it out, or even just seen it a few times, I know what my character looks like; if someone asks, I can just point at the pic. And if I really want, I can print it on a separate sheet (which I usually do, along with character bio & background).
Speaking of separate sheets, I understand some people like having space for 'Notes' on a character sheet. If I want to take notes, I get out a blank page. The only thing I ever use character-sheet 'notes' space is for rules I use a lot in play that aren't easy to remember (and for some reason aren't already on the character sheet).
Mostly, I want data - useful data. Art and decoration are nice fluff, but purely secondary. Good graphic design is one thing, to give clarity and emphasis to what you use the most. Fancy scrollwork and extra images are just pretty - and annoying if it gets in the way of clear and complete information.
If I have to turn a character sheet over in the normal course of a turn, to me it's a poor design. I'll make some allowance for spell descriptions, but if you need that much text for spells, it should be on a spell sheet of its own.
If I need more than a single two-sided page to play the character (not including bio & background fluff, of course), it's either very bad design or the game is way more complicated than I'm willing to play. Again, spells and other specials should, in my opinion, go on a sheet of its own if it's that big a deal.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
The things that every character needs but that take up space and thus get shunted to page 2 are mundane possessions lists, characterization notes, and character history and-or backstory notes.
Characterization notes are an interesting topic. Traits and co. are on the first page of the D&D sheet, but they don't really stand out because the page is so busy. Aspects in Fate are similar, and they have prime real estate on the Fate character sheet, and are right next to Description.
For me, a character sheet should have what I need to play the character - no more, no less. A character sheet is a tool for playing the character and should serve that task efficiency and as completely as possible.

. . . If I have to turn a character sheet over in the normal course of a turn, to me it's a poor design. I'll make some allowance for spell descriptions, but if you need that much text for spells, it should be on a spell sheet of its own.
Assuming you mean "combat turn" by the term "turn" here. But the distinction makes me think: should there not be a Role-Playing side of the sheet and a Combat side? Fate put everything on one side, so there's no side 2 needed. But D&D has at least two sides, so why is the Attacks section on the same side as experience points, background, bonds, alignment, etc? Once you start fighting, all of that goes out the window anyway.
Generally, I think character sheets reflect the game for which they are designed. That said, I tend to favor games with simple character sheets, like the Fate you mentioned.
. . . I even twitch a little with some of the Apocalypse World games and Blades in the Dark.
Well, they should, right? Numenera is about exploration. The character sheet has tons of room for the special abilities, skills, and gear that characters will need to explore the Ninth World. The secondary sheet is where background, illustration, and notes go (yes, a separate sheet should be used for notes). Not a lot of room for personality, but the game isn't necessarily focused on that.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Characterization notes are an interesting topic. Traits and co. are on the first page of the D&D sheet, but they don't really stand out because the page is so busy. Aspects in Fate are similar, and they have prime real estate on the Fate character sheet, and are right next to Description.
Nothing so formal here. :)

I just like to scribble down some shorthand notes on the sheet as to what makes this particular character tick, so that I can remember what I originally had in mind for it if it gets put on hold for ages and then somehow rebooted. (example: a character I'd last played in 1990-ish showed up in our game a couple of years back and resumed her career; took me weeks if not months to remember what made her who she was (I didn't leave myself much by way of notes!), and during that time all I could do was play her as something of a caricature based on what little I remembered)

Assuming you mean "combat turn" by the term "turn" here. But the distinction makes me think: should there not be a Role-Playing side of the sheet and a Combat side?
Interesting idea, but it'll run aground on spell lists (for casters) and magic items owned (for everyone), as referencing these is often needed in both combat and non-combat situations.

My answer remains this: don't use pre-fab character sheets; make up your own for each character and put things where they're most convenient and accessible for you.
 

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