Sunday, 7 October 2012

One-Nerd Character Sheets

A game that's appealing to new and nontraditional players need not have simple rules, just a referee who's willing to take on the burden of dealing with the rules ... at least that's what I argued a few weeks ago.

I want to get specific now about ways  to tackle an issue I have special awareness of. For the past 15 years or so I've been teaching statistics and methods at the undergraduate and masters' level to psychology students. A lot of them are smart, but just have an unease or outright dislike when it comes to numbers. This is often a gender issue, but not always. Of course, to use statistics I have to deal with numbers, but try to soften the blow by using concepts and figures more than equations in teaching.

My question is, how many people like this have frozen over when they see a form to be filled in with numbers, numbers, numbers?

This resemblance can't help.

And how many would be more at ease playing a game that rewards their talents of verbal expression, imagination, logical thinking, problem solving - while only having to deal with six one-digit numbers, a hit point score, and their money and experience totals?

Here's the current character sheet I use for my games (click these to enlarge).

Now here it is split up into two: a basic player's sheet stripped of most of the statistics and numbers, and a basic referee roster where they all go.

 For extra simplicity, I suggest flipping the bonus and score areas of the ability scores, so that the 3-18 roll goes in the little dash to the right, and the bonus/penalty/0 goes into the big box on the left.

The "good at" and "not so good at" boxes are there for the player to make notes on the DM's summing up of their skills.

Most of my current players are avid roleplayers who are comfortable with the numbers and sums. Some of them would even feel uncomfortable without being able to look and see exactly what their character numbers do. But if I ever have a chance to run games for non-gamers - kids or grownups - I'll give this approach a shot.


  1. The math scares a lot of newcomers.
    I like your approach, players in our group use a character builder to handle the math.

    I tend to start of newcomers at a lower level in an intro adventure. A simpler character sheet would be good, so they don't get scared off.

  2. Very nice. I love the 52 page RPG, too, from what i've seen.

    Having said that, I am now very tempted to strip a 1040EZ of its text and make that a character sheet.

  3. Running off six-page 4E character sheets has probably cost me at least one ink cartridge this year alone.

  4. I ran a game based on the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen where most of the players were new and/or not accustomed to 3rd Edition D&D (so they weren't used to number crunching). In order to promote a sense of immersion, I used a system none of them had played before (Alternity) and asked them to write character descriptions with an emphasis on their powers and abilities. Then I made two character sheets for each: one with numbers for myself, and one without for the player. The player's copy had descriptions to indicate the character's relative level of skill/ability/power.

    It worked like a charm. The players rolled dice when I asked them to, and I could reference the result against my copy of the character sheet to determine success or failure. The players quickly learned which actions would likely lead to success and which wouldn't, based on the context of the situation and the results of the dice rolls.

    I would recommend this approach to anyone who's trying to introduce the game to new players. Create a chart of descriptors that can relate back to skills and abilities. That way the player has a reference point: i.e. the fighter is an "apprentice" in the use of daggers, but a "master" in the use of the longsword. Given a choice between the two, the player should pick the longsword and should see the results when the dice are rolled (she hits more often with the longsword than the dagger). The same principle applies across the board.