Last week, I talked about the fact that character sheets are inherently incomplete and that it might be a good idea to rethink them. This week I’m going to float a new definition of a character sheet: “A character sheet should describe the relevant traits of a character at a particular point in time and helps the GM and player understand the character’s role in the game.” Since that doesn’t sound all that different from the standard definition (and since stopping here would make for a short column), I’ll expand on that.
First off, the character sheet describes relevant traits. Relevant to what? Two things: The game and the character.
“You are not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis.”--Tyler Durden, Fight Club
If Tyler Durden were a GM, he might add that you are not your Charisma, you’re not your Gimmick, you’re not your Light Side Points, you’re not your Cheesemaking Proficiency, even that you’re not your Yum Yums. And I certainly hope that you’re not your fucking equipment list; there’s a special place in gamer Hell for those people.
Anyway, the point is that there’s a lot more to a character than the stuff that’s written on his character sheet. Most modern players will think that’s a pretty obvious statement, and it is as long as we’re talking about stuff that we generally classify as “flavor”: personality, physical appearance, style, and even things like personal relationships and lifestyle to a certain extent. I say “to a certain extent” because at some point we’re used to seeing those last two traits, and ones like them, represented on the character sheet. Sure you don’t need a stat for knowing “little people” or for living in a crappy apartment, but if you want the Governor to be your old college buddy or to be a wealthy jet-setter who lives on a palatial estate, you need a “Contacts” or “Resources” Advantage/Merit/Gimmick/Aspect/Whatever.
We all do it. You’re getting ready to play a new game and, unless it’s just a mindless dungeon crawl where the characters aren’t going to talk amongst themselves, the time comes to introduce your character. Maybe the GM wants you to describe to another player who his character sees sitting in the other corner of the bar with his back to the wall. Maybe the PCs have worked together before and already know each other. Whatever the case, it’s time to let the other players know who their characters are adventuring with, so you promptly begin introducing your character sheet:
“My character has a Body of 14...Gimmick is Weird Luck...Skills are Guns +3...WWPHITM? is…”
Some players aren’t quite so blatant:
“He’s an athletic guy...strange things always happen when he’s around...he’s a good shot...kind of looks like…”
But the effect is about the same. The other players get word salad of game stats or an inventory of abilities but when it’s all over they still have no idea who this guy who they’re about to ask to join them on a dangerous journey or who they’ve known for years actually is.
Josh Burnett was a co-writer of the ENnie Award-winning Hobomancer, and now he has written the first Hobomancer supplement, the Hobomancer Companion, all by himself. The Companion includes new hobomancer powers and secret hobomancer signs, new monsters and sample evil sorcerers, a new optional rule called Histories, and the complete adventure “Bad Train a-Coming.”
I had a few questions for Josh, and he was kind enough to answer.
1. Josh, you’re one of the five writers who worked on Hobomancer. What were your main contributions?
Josh Burnett: I contributed little bits here and there, but the monster section was my biggest contribution. I wrote most of that. I also wrote and drew the intro comic.
2. For you to spend so much time working on these books, you must like hobos. What is it about hobos that makes them so appealing?
An Interview with Sharktoberfest Writer Steve Johnson, Conducted by Dale Ryan
Just in time for October, Hex Games has released Sharktoberfest, written by Steve Johnson and illustrated by James and Lindsay Hornsby. I’d never really given much thought to shark movies before, but reading the book I was struck by how much time Steve has clearly put into analyzing the genre. I wanted to know more about this project came together, and Steve was gracious enough to answer my questions.
1. Sharktoberfest is an adaptable adventure that allows players to recreate the thrills of a shark movie. Why shark movies? What makes the genre compelling?
Steve Johnson: Shark movies can be compelling in a lot of different ways, but I think Quint’s line from JAWS about a shark’s “lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes” is the thing that separates shark movies from other monster-type movies about real animals. Most of the other familiar big, scary critters in the real world are mammals, so even though they’re terrifying, we kind of understand them because they’ve got the same basic instincts and biological drives and in some cases even mannerisms that we do. If a lion attacks someone in a movie, there’s a sense of emotion and purpose behind it--it’s scared or hungry or protecting its territory. Sharks are completely alien to us, so they’re easy to portray as cold, emotionless killers who live to cause senseless destruction.