Tuesday, 26 August 2014

#RPGaDAY: Day 26 - Coolest character sheet

What is the measure of a man? Or woman? Or dwarf, or for that matter cyborg killer afflicted with a deep and unremitting melancholy fugue as a side effect of his intra-cranial armour plating? In an RPG, that measure is the character sheet.

I have no particular dog in today's fight, so I've just gone trawling through a Google image search for some prime examples. Most of the examples below are stock sheets; where I can see that they are otherwise, I've credited the creators as best I can.

D&D: Lowering the common denominator since 1974
We begin with the daddy of them all: Dungeons & Dragons. Just look at that thing; it's huge and cluttered and... I think the best thing I can say for it is that it's comprehensive. I guess that the tabular layout is clear, but it's not visually appealing (although in all honesty the teenage me would have been excited by the multiplicity of apparent options, however irrelevant). I guess it does at least not have a space in which the artistically inept can self-consciously not draw a portrait of their PC and feel kind of like a failure each time they look at the blank space where they know they could have drawn a portrait if they were any good. I disapprove of RPGs making their players feel even more wanting than most of them already do. It's not like the cool, confident kids tend to find their way into roleplaying, especially not as teenagers.

Overall, I include it here as an example of what is not (to me) a cool character sheet.

If anyone knows what this is actually for, drop a note in the
By comparison, here's another sheet purporting to be for D&D; I guess for 5th edition, although the necessarily chaotic and complex nature of my high-dimensional data mining exercise (search terms: character + sheet) means that it may be mislabeled and not a D&D sheet at all. The presence of a 'Tec' attribute and the 'Augments' section argues for the latter somewhat.

I much prefer the layout on this one. The curves are visually appealing, and the information is clustered according to use, and the whole thing is on a single side, including a reference list of favoured combos. The combination of form and function makes this a strong contender.

Some folks will always go the extra mile.
One of the hallmarks of a good character sheet is how easy it is for the financially and tech impoverished to replicate using a piece of paper and a pencil, and in fairness the D&D sheet above would be easy to copy, given its tabular layout.

The hand drawn sheet on the left (created for Dungeon Crawl Classics by The Earthlight Academy) is proof, if it were needed, that not everyone considers such simplicity to be a virtue. Despite the visual elegance, however, the layout of this sheet remains clear and concise. D&D could learn a bit about structuring a D20 character sheet here. On the down side, being of an obviously artistic bent, the maker has left that great big character portrait space in the centre to tease those of a more literary or mathematical persuasion.

This one also represents the PC as
the Vitruvian man, so Da Vinci props.
Speaking of simplicity, here's a couple of fair examples. On the left, Tunnels and Trolls, and on the right, no less than two character sheets for In Nomine; one for an angel and one for a demon.

Each has a straightforward design; tabular, but broken up by images so that they don't look like an unalloyed accounting spreadsheet. They contain all the information needed for a character, and don't take up pages and pages of paper.

On to the Fate system now, and the Fate Core character sheet.

Again, it's a beautifully simple and elegant layout, and no taunting portrait space. It's got pretty much everything it needs, although if I'm honest I find it a bit stark. Aesthetically, it works for me as a sheet for a modern or futuristic game, but I'd find it odd looking at that style and layout for a fantasy or historical game.

It is dead easy to copy into your own variation if you so desired, but in and of itself is all function and no form.

This sheet for Spirit of the Century is almost the opposite; very visual, but not necessarily convenient in play. I do like the fact that you could absolutely draw a portrait in the centre circle, but because it's the hub of the sheet rather than an obvious picture frame, there's no pressure to do so.

Moving on quite quickly, I like the cog design of the Tephra sheet on the right, and it looks pretty usable.

On the left, a D20 Star Wars sheet. Much prettier than the D&D sheet, but I have a feeling that this one is incomplete, to the level of there probably being at least one more sheet.

And the final instance, and winner of the coolest character sheet award is this little beauty:

Why? Well, it's about Vampire Pirates; what's cooler than that?

Check back tomorrow for the game I would like to see an improved or expanded version of, and in the meantime check out the hashtag, #RPGaDAY, for more cool character sheets.