Montag, 5. Juni 2017

Better campaigns through Character sheets

Running an open table game means that I have new players at the table every now and then, and most of them have no idea what they are up to before the first session. That's alright -- my games are prep and homework free for the players (not that I would stop them, but it's certainly not required, even if the campaign wiki has many entries describing parts of the world, previous sessions, as well as PCs and NPCs.

My game is also a bit West Marches inspired; i.e. the players are open to go where they want. But most often, the players just pick the most straightforward next thing, even if I have some other options at the ready. My biggest shortcoming here is that I usually fail to give the players proper choice (although in the next-to-last session, they simply decided not to explore the ruined underground city, which was a bit sad considering all the fun they could have had there, but player choice is player choice ...). So, to make sure that players are aware that each character can have their own goals and can try convincing the others to help them pursue those, I'll leverage AFGs concept of Accomplishments and a Character sheet re-design that puts these Accomplishments right on the table every time we play.

Accomplishments are memorable deeds, tasks that cause characters to grow in renown and/or gather specific bonuses when they ... accomplish them. A sample Accomplishment from AFG:
Recover and Peruse a Lost Tome / Unlock Next Tier or +1 Craft
Tiers in AFG are groups of levels: Levels 1-3 are Tier 1, levels 4-6 Tier 2, and so on. You need to unlock higher Tiers before you can level up to a level in that tier (i.e., your character needs to get one Accomplishment before they can level up to level 4, even if they gained enough experience through plundering, research, training, or other methods). There is a special Tier, Tier 5, which unlocks level 13, the highest achievable in the game. Achievements can be Tier-specific, for example:
Absorb the Crystal Skull of the Star Child from the Vaults of Dread / Unlock Fifth Tier, gain Ultimate Foreknowledge (all Saves automatically successful).
Tiers have to be unlocked in order (i.e. you have to unlock Tiers 2, 3 and 4 before you can unlock the Fifth Tier), and the nature of the Accomplishment reflects the growth in power and status.

Besides those campaign/game world specific Accomplishments I quoted before, players can also come up with character specific Accomplishments like revenge / proving your worth to someone, etc. So while Accomplishments can be used to give the campaign some meta-structure, players can easily side step that, and they only need to do four of them to unlock all the Tiers (Tiers also are used to modify Saves and Fighting Capability, so it is more than just a leveling limitation you want to overcome).

An empty note paper sheet makes a good beginner's character sheet.
This image thanks to +Wayne Rossi 
Now, you may ask yourself what does this have to do with character sheets? My thinking is this: So far, as referee I have not done a good job reminding players of Accomplishments, nor have I divulged many to them (I did one, once, but it did not stick). I thought about this, and I hypothesize the reason is that the typical character sheet for a new character looks as depicted to the right:

This is completely viable; a beginner AFG character has like nine things to note down plus equipment. While this means that I never need to worry about having enough character sheets around, it also means that I am missing out on using a reminder to the players what's important, and what will be filled in later in the game. So, the players do not know about Accomplishments etc. and will not pursue these parts of the game.

My goal was to build a character sheet that helps remind the players about the potential their characters have by calling out more ways to grow besides leveling. I started with building a character sheet, and I still wanted it to be simple and fit on one page. My first draft had all the skills on there as well because I wanted to give the players the opportunity to pursue the level-independent skill-improvement system; but I was afraid of putting the cart before the oxen and have the players turn to the skill list rather than think about the situation at hand and solve them creatively. So I nixed most skills, reshuffled the sheet a bit, and now it should be pretty clear that Accomplishments are important!

Chthonic Codex - Euphron the Gatekeeper
Euphron, a typical first-year Gatekeeper student
So, what does the new sheet look like? Check out this pre-filled example (full sized version on Google Drive). The first block of the character sheet is what players usually write down (except the Saves), together with the starting equipment and beginner spells. On the new sheet, a good 20% of the sheet are now reserved for Accomplishments and Tasks (the AFG moniker for skills) now have their own section as well. I did not drop them completely, but as a lower-left part of the sheet they're clearly de-emphasized. I also added Spells, Secrets, Mysteries, Riches etc. in parentheses to the Notes section, in the hopes that players will ask how to to uncover secrets, discovery mysteries and recover riches; all which should feed both into the goal of players having more options to move within the game world and having level-independent character growth through Accomplishments, Research, Discoveries, and Plundering ...

We'll see how this works out!

PS: The unfilled-version of this character sheet is also on Google Drive.
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