Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Secret Shame

While reading the latest post over at Destination Unknown my eye was immediately drawn to the character sheets in the photo. "Where did you get those?" I asked in the comments, trying to conceal my feverish excitement.

Most gamers have some sort of game-related fetish. By far the most common fetish is dice. Outside of the fact that I use Gamescience brand dice, I'm not that much of a dice fetishist. But character sheets? That's where I totally lose all self-control.

I have been sold on entire systems based solely on the character sheet.

I completely reversed my stance on the Paladin class in AD&D because I fell in love with the custom, four-page character sheet in the back of The Complete Paladin's Handbook.

I collect character sheets for games I'll probably never even run.

It's even sadder when I actually do run the game; I recently discovered a custom Pendragon character sheet meant to be printed on an 11x17 piece of paper and laid on the table like a placemat. I was actually surprised when Des said she'd prefer sticking to her old sheet.

"But this one is new and shiny and it puts all the information right in front of you in this cool, visually ergonomic way!" I chided, dancing around the PDF on my screen like an excited toddler.

The players in my Cthulhu campaign all have different sheets; some are "official" (albeit from different editions), others are made from Word DOCs. The twitching in my face while I run my Cthulhu sessions is from the effort involved in repressing the urge to start distributing the same style sheet for everyone to copy their info onto. I'm not OCD by nature, but when it comes to character sheets this little demon of conformity rears its ugly head.

For a long time my obsession with character sheets translated into "the more pages, the better." If I'd known about this sheet (complete with a Table of Contents!) back in my AD&D days, I almost certainly would have made use of it. My high school/college group shared my enthusiasm for long sheets, and for years it was common practice for each player to sport not a mere sheet but a FOLDER. When they started selling actual "character journals," we thought we'd attained some level of gamer nirvana. Strangely, we never took the bait on those old Player's Pack briefcases TSR tried to shill in the mid-90s; even our mania knew its bounds, apparently.

Eventually (thanks to 3.x, really) I learned that multi-page character sheets generally denoted complicated systems, the sort of systems I'm not terribly interested in these days. (This is not always the case, of course; I've got a four-page BRP sheet that's printed in 8-point font in three columns and BRP is hardly Pathfinder). There's a great beauty in economy, but I'm still a sucker for a well-designed sheet. I mean, the whole "put your character on a 3x5 index card" thing? I could never do it. That's why I got so excited when I saw those Labyrinth Lord sheets. Works of art, those are.

Of course, my secret shame is not my fetish for character sheets, but rather the fact that I feel completely inadequate when it comes to making my own. I'm always on the lookout for the "perfect" sheet for whatever system I happen to be flogging at the moment, but I never stop to think that maybe I could just make my own. I mean, I'm reasonably competent with page layout and Photoshop and what-have-you. I've been pretty happy with the couple times I have ventured down that road. But then I see something like how DiTerlizzi makes his character sheets and I just say, "Fuck it."

Suitable for framing.

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