The Character Sheet - A Piece of Paper or a Physical Representation of your Character?

November 14, 2015

My two cents: I believe the character sheet should give the player a sense of self. At my advanced age (early 30s), I tend to look back on my old character sheets with the fondness one would save for their favorite collectible comic book or something like that. I used to color designs onto the page and make my own subtle graphical enhancements and since those sheets would live with me for the life of the character, they became part of that character's mythos.

That leads me to the age old argument I usually have with my fellow gamers: should the sheet be a keepsake, or is it just a stupid piece of paper that’s only a tool used to enjoy the game? I suppose that’s up to the player, but since I rarely rely on my artistic ability and choose not to invest in miniatures, the sheet is my only physical link with the character I’ve created. The character’s name and stats gets burned into my mind’s eye; every iced tea or candle wax spill, eraser smudge, or smear of ink becomes part of that sheet and therefore part of my mental image of the character. It’s an esoteric way of thinking - old-school even, but the character sheet is more than a piece of paper to me. “It’s real to me, dammit!”

I’ve done a fair amount of “fan” development of character sheets over the years, especially while testing the ODAM over/under die system in pre-existing settings. The point that consistently arises when considering format of the sheet is “function vs. form”.

A sheet should capture all of the necessary data about the character but also provide enough additional information that the player doesn’t have to rifle through the book every time they want to swing a sword, fire a gun, or cast a spell. That’s the function part. The form comes into play when you look at the sheet.  Does it represent the look and feel of the game/system or is it a glorified spreadsheet? 8.5” x 11” worth of paper can be limiting in order to achieve harmonic balance between the two, but it is possible… isn’t it?

Am I a nutcase, or is there some hippie connection between the sheet and the character? Let me know in the comments below.

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