Tabletop role-playing

Sheet has completely Happened

Right, all six game designers have now come up with the goods — see the fruit of their tormented labours here. We have quite a mix — voodoo rallying, dream agency, tooth shamanism, academic factional intrigue, ninja conspiracy, and necromantic conflict. Terrific stuff!

There’s a wide range of “finishedness”, which is as I was expecting and is perfectly fine. Also a range of degree of going beyond what was on the sheet, which is great to see. What I really wanted to be happening was for the end products to shed light into different people’s approach to game design in this rather forced situation.

At the risk of boring everyone to death, this is how I approached it myself:

I constructed my character sheet with the kind of elements on it that I thought I would myself find intriguing on picking up a new character. I didn’t have any particular kind of game in mind, and tried to use terminology on the sheet that wouldn’t be too constricting to the game designer. The Zener card symbols are things with which we’re all familiar, that strike a sort of subconscious thematic resonance, but that aren’t tied to being used for one particular symbolic purpose — and I was impressed with the way smiorgan thought to use them for five worlds of power. I thought the concentric rings would be useful for maintaining score in whatever the five areas would be, or else for maintaining a profile if they ended up being abilities or something. Essentially my overall idea was to throw a load of plausible-looking character-sheet-element tokens up in the air and see where the game designer let them land. Only smiorgan will know if that was actually a right pain to work with.

When it came to designing my own game, I worked on the assumption that my sheet designer (who, by freakish enough coincidence, also happened to be smiorgan) had used the same sort of principle. So I didn’t waste effort trying to puzzle out what sort of thing they might have had in mind, instead I just allowed the elements present to ferment in my own mind until I came up with a structure in which they all had meaning. I staretd off with “who are the characters, and what are they trying to do?”, and had a few false attempts before the one I settled on — agents who enter dreams (like in Dreamscape) to conduct missions. I’d been puzzling as to what the 5 sub-elements might be, each with its own name and source — I figured they had to be sub-elements of the character rather than eg. NPC henchmen, because apart from them there was virtually no information about the character itself. So it was apparent that it lived through them in some important way. The shifting reality of dreams gave me my answer — different dream personas, each drawing on a different archetypal source. I started thinking about the challenges involved in entering the dream world, and in shifting between personas, and why you would want to use different personas for different occasions: and the rest of the mechanics and tension-drivers pretty much emerged naturally from that.

Hopefully the game would be fun to play with a good GM, but it’d be a lot of work to GM — making a dream world seem engaging and playable is tough (as anyone who’s ever used Call of Cthulhu Dreamlands will know). It needs quite a bit of fleshing-out — you’d need a lot more examples of archetypes, lots of suggested resources, examples of things that trigger the various point spends and tests, and some thoughts about how to structure a campaign and involve the characters’ outside-dream life despite there being no stats etc associated with it. But maybe I’ll give it a go at some future point!

Edit to add: Oh, and TonyP adds: “I was hoping for a vote and a *winner* at the end of this… I’m pretty impressed by what the nice lady did with my sheet too!”

I’m happy to run a vote if people are generally keen?

16 replies on “Sheet has completely Happened”

My approach was broadly the same. When I designed my sheet I didn’t have anything particular in mind. I thought the initial statements about the character would situate them strongly in the world. The grid with desires and needs was designed to be somehow related to that and the cheese wedge thing at the end (must have been a Zeitgeist thing) I thought might be used for tracking something, or even in system resolution.

I haven’t had time to properly read the result yet but I’m impressed by the presentation!

As for my game, I’m afraid that I didn’t manage to complete the game. I didn’t try to second guess the designer either. I printed the sheet out, drew all over it and had lots of pieces of paper that had game ideas on them. I distilled this down to what I sent Mo yesterday and whilst there’s the germ of a game there, it’s not finished.

I think the difficulty came from what I perceived to be lack of personal information on the character sheet. Eventually I hit on a formula whereby the character acts through the agency of others and had a system of how this might feedback to, and affect, the character but it hadn’t gelled into a workable system.

Also, given the quantity and quality of what other people have produced, I’m rather disappointed not to have a more finished product. It’s probably not a failure, but it’s not really a success either.

When I designed my sheet I didn’t have anything particular in mind.

Interesting to read that, because when I first looked at the sheet my initial thought was: this could be a sheet for anything ! Indeed, I think it could quite feasibly be used in a GURPS-like way as the basis for a backgroundless rules system.

I adopted a much less friendly approach with my sheet design, adding enough detail to awkwardly constrain the designer but missing off anything which might lead to particular system mechanics. My thinking at the time was that the aim of the game wasn’t so much to maximise the playability of the resulting set of games as to have fun doing it. Accordingly, setting someone an entertainingly impossible task seemed like fair play. (Or not so impossible, as TonyP has since proven !)

As far as system design goes, I found the “blue satsuma” at the bottom of the sheet trickiest to deal with. In the end I only half suceeded in finding a use for it. I would have been happier if I’d come up with something that made the circular format more genuinely important.

The game’s theme ended up being inspired by the “I Will Be” mechanic. I wanted the PCs to be naturally in some sort of transitional state where they had a future which wasn’t just more of whatever they were doing right now.

My one major reservation about the game is that I think it would be almost impossible to run as a one-off. That kind of plotting and the nature of the experience mechanic both demand some sort of campaign setting.

the aim of the game wasn’t so much to maximise the playability of the resulting set of games as to have fun doing it

That’s certainly in accordance with what I intended. I’m deeply impressed to find that any of them actually came out at all playable.

I’m glad that you took a less friendly approach, as it’s made for more variety, but gladder that it wasn’t me having to deal with it 😉

I’m not exactly sure what my inspirations were. The three statements might have something to do with Paula having attended a Tarot conference.

I put the middle table in as some kind of exploration of enablers of the three statements. As you said, it’s about transition of some kind, but I didn’t want the aimless d20 kind of transition but something more tied into who the character was and is.

The blue satsuma was more of an afterthought. The sheet looked a little sparse so I wanted to put something at the bottom. I think I had in mind something tied to mechanics but I wasn’t sure what, perhaps something about redistribution of resources or some kind of draughts mechanic, I don’t really know.

I think if I was doing it again that I’d add a bit more detail to the satsuma, perhaps some boxes on the outside to allow naming of the segments. Or put a bit more thought into how it might link up with the stuff above.

I’m looking forward to reading what you’ve done with it, which I should have time to do at the weekend.

I didn’t waste effort trying to puzzle out what sort of thing they might have had in mind

I think that’s the only sensible (and interesting) approach.

FYI, the deadline for sheet design for my variant was yesterday. We’ve got three out of five handed in, with promises that the other two won’t be far behind…

… and then swappsies and some time later, we each get to play in four one-offs.

making a dream world seem engaging and playable is tough

Oooh yes, very much so.

I used to run dreamscapes in Werewolf (largely thanks to a nifty Gift that allowed characters to view & manipulate others’ dreams) – and I do remember one scene where we had one player and three STs – very different from your usual player:ST ratio! It actually worked very well to create a suitable sense of overlaid imagery and confusion as different aspects fought for control of events, but it did require us to be completely tuned in to what each other were doing, and ready to take a image and run with it completely on the fly.

Sounds like fun! And for the player. I guess this sort of overwhelming rush of sensation is going to be a good way of conveying the otherness of it all — the more chance the players get to catch their breath, the more likely they are to start automatically imposing their own default patterns on what they’re being told.

Character sheet – I found myself thinking about the sort of things in a game that would lend themselves to a non-standard character sheet and went from there. The middle section came first (ghosts linked to mind or body or spirit), then the demons, then the events and finally the graph. Character name and stuff was something of an automatic; I did consider not putting them on, but decided I didn’t have a good reason for leaving them out.

Game – I started with the mouth (could anyone not?) and considered various ways in which teeth and numbers of teeth could be used. Instruments and Rhumbas brought in the shaman and the double sex gave me the idea for a dual character.

I’ll comment on all the different games when I’ve had a chance to read them – which should be this weekend at the latest.

I’m pretty impressed by what the nice lady did with my sheet too!

I like that TonyP! 😉

Character sheet
I didn’t have anything particular in mind when I designed my sheet. I simply wanted to
a) Put some unusual components down to inspire a novel concept
b) Put some awkward components down to challenge them (The multi-sex thing was glee-ful)
I didn’t want to be too mean though, so the open ended note boxes were included.
It was a good thing I ran out of time, because I think I was in danger of putting too many cluttered bits down. Shame I didn’t get to polish the layout though…
By the end of the design, I had come up with some ideas for my own game from this character sheet. I’m glad to see Lathany’s was very different.
I also learned that its a bad idea to google for teeth during your lunch break. Yuck!

Game Design
First thing I did on viewing the character sheet was resort to google for all the strange words. I then swore some at the awkward design. I then paid a visit to the inner bookshop and bought a beginners guide to Voodou. Not only did the book provide me with coutless ideas, it also gave me a quick how-to on creating a voodoo doll to punish the git who forced me to incorporate multiple teams and time lines into a single-player character sheet! (Had any neck pains recently Dom?)

I set myself the additional requirement of not grossly misrepresenting Voodou in that Hollywood-esque fashion. The opening story draws heavily on the traditions, and was the first and best bit I wrote.

I like numbers and rules a lot, so I wanted a concise dicey system. This proved hard to do with the boxed I’d been given. The middle section had so many permutations compared to the top section, and the very loose bottom section that it was hard to balence them out. Whats more, the talent section at the top was the only bit that got into specifics about what the individual could do. The rest read more as a history of what they had done, and what they had.

The chain of boxes in the top section intrigued me, and I’m pleased with the chain reaction style gameplay that resulted from it. The Talent-Chains and the Team Seasons that provided them proved to be the core of the game. My main problem then was in finding a use for the other segments of the sheet to justify the space they took up. That was more a case of sleepless nights and subtle shuffling of bits than major alterations to the core mechanic.

Another problem was tying the mechanic into the character and the setting. There is no space for a character name, so that had to be largely unimportant to the game. Thus, I ended up with something that works more like a collectable card game (without cards!) than a character driven campaign. The sheet also had a strong Haiti theme to it, and I had to make sure that atmosphere came through in the rules. The only way I felt I could really portray that mix of dirty racing and occult was by writing an awful lot of stuff…

My biggest mistake was in not reading the competition rules before I started. I didn’t see the bit about the page limit until the day before deadline… Sorry about that. My next biggest was in not re-reading the character sheet until just before hand in, when I realised the game was called GanGan Rally, not Mambo Rally. As far as playing the game goes, I imagine it would be some good munchkin fun as the players gain more potent talents. It would also mainly focus around what innovative track details the GM could come up with to surprise the players. Overall, I think it would work better as a card game, with each card representing a talent, but that was outside of the design spec, so maybe next time…

I then paid a visit to the inner bookshop and bought a beginners guide to Voodou.

Hehe – and there was me thinking that my sheet had somehow ended up in the hands of some kind of l33t scholar of Vaudun ! I was getting a bit embarassed at having done half my research using Wikipedia. 😉

Overall, I think it would work better as a card game

Hmm… might try that sometime. I likes a bit of game design.

There is no space for a character name

Eh ? Right underneath “Player Name” on my copy…

The rest read more as a history of what they had done, and what they had.

Mmm… I hadn’t noticed that when I designed it. A lot of my past parties of PCs have been rather equipment-obsessed. Maybe it’s rubbed off on me a bit ?

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