How To Make Your Own Pen And Paper RPG: Part 2 (Character Sheets)
Now that you’ve decided (or at least have some ideas about) the genre, complexity, role and medium of your RPG (after reading part 1) You’re ready to start working on your Character Sheets. Here are some basic ideas to consider while you’re working:
Remember: Your RPG’s character sheets are the means through which the players interact with the game you have created. They’re the controllers, the interfaces, the in-game menus, and the most-used props which allow your players to immerse themselves into a world wholly different from their own. The best character sheets are those that present character information and statistics in a format which is attractive, unique, and relevant to the game. Think about it: If you’re playing a Battlestar Galactica game, you want an in-game menu (or character sheet) that looks futuristic, has clipped corners, and probably features (at least) the BSG logo. A basic typewriter sheet or a high-fantasy, flowing script and scrollwork sheet are probably going to give the players mixed signals that are likely to knock them out of the suspension of disbelief so vital to playing any game. Another example: If you’re playing a game like DAGON, a sheet like the one to the right is going to go a long way with your players, even if only because of how darn cool it looks while still being relevant to a Lovecraftian setting.
Complexity is something you have to constantly keep in the back of your mind at as you create each element of your RPG. It sets the tone for your game, strengthens it (through consistency) and ultimately informs the players as to just how much of a commitment they’re going to have to give to the game, (especially if they’re going to run a campaign in it.)
When it comes to complexity of character sheets, there’s a fine line that one must ride. Just like the back cover of a book will make or break a sale, some RPGs have been sold on the presentation of the character sheet alone. Too simple, and you’ll lose some players who want a more in-depth, more meaningful and more immersive game. Too complex, and you’ll lose the players who are just looking for a few hours of fun. Like writing a good novel, ask yourself what is absolutely essential to your RPG’s gameplay, then ask yourself what you can cut and leave out altogether.
Universal v. Individual:
Another aspect you have to consider is how universal or individual your character sheets are going to be. Will all of your characters run off the same record sheet (with different individual stats plugged in) or will different character classes each require different sheets to house their different game mechanics? Will physical classes be recorded on one type of sheet while magic-using classes are recorded on another? How will you approach vehicles, monsters, hirelings, NPCs, etc. Will they have their own individual kinds of sheets, or will they all use the same sheet in different ways? (Consider Strength (STR) as a stat referring to lifting, pulling, etc. on a person, but horsepower/thrust on a car, plane etc.) Start considering how game mechanics will affect the look of a sheet. If your characters have hit points (HP), and you use a single sheet for humans and vehicles, how much HP will cars (or horses, or spacecraft) have? Will they use the same system? (Human = 10 HP, car = 250 HP) or will they use a sliding scale? (Human = 10 HP, Car = 2.5 Car HP or 250 Human HP)
Probably the best way to come up with new ideas (and to make sure that no one else has come up with the same thing before you!) is to look around and see what’s already been done. Doing a search on Google for RPG record sheets will yield up a whole host of examples you can look at, draw from, and be inspired by! See how others have handled the issues of creativity, complexity and universality, learn from their mistakes (and successes!), and create the sheet that seems best for you!
Don’t expect to get your sheet totally done at this point. Keep it open, make notes, reconsider ideas as you progress through designing your game, and make the character sheet the very last thing you finish. Remember, there’s always room for improvement!
Side Note: Pre-made Characters
Some games offer pre-made characters instead of blank character sheets and exhaustive character creation rules. The advantage of pre-made characters is simple– they allow you (as the creator) the maximum amount of freedom to create exactly the perfect avatars for interacting with the world you have created while giving the players the ability to just jump right into the middle of the action without requiring any real time be spent on setting things up. In today’s fast-paced world of spontaneous judgements and the need for instant gratification, including pre-made characters with ready-to-play rules in addition to any other materials you provide would probably be a good idea. Remember: if your game takes four hours to set up, weekend gamer groups who only have a handful of hours per week to play probably aren’t going to be interested in playing it.
Next up: Basic Game Mechanics!