Sometimes, putting a thought to paper (or pixel) will solidify a thought or an idea into something more concrete. In the discussion over Patrick’s review of the “Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming”, I pointed out that third edition D&D (and similar games) unintentionally encourage players to play their character sheet instead of their character. Which raised the question “How the hell do I address this?”

Well, I could track down one of those indie games which marries character goals and game mechanics, and try convince myself and a bunch of players that it’s what we’re going to play. Or I could come up with my own solution, and continue to set my sights on the broad swath of players interested in mainstream games.

My back burners were apparently cooking away at this issue all weekend, and the answer is blindingly obvious: Use a coversheet. 

Not just a blank piece of paper, a good coversheet should help define non-mechanical aspects of your character: history, goals, enemies, allies, contacts, likes, dislikes, etc. Perhaps a portrait, if you are so inclined. 

This trick will not work for all groups. The ‘beer & pretzels’ and ‘fight club’ styles of play probably aren’t interested in this; neither are the old hands. But the novices, the players striving for a unique character identity, and the players frustrated by game mechanics which focus on ability more than goals may find it useful.

For those who prefer the “emerging complexity” approach to character-building, the sheet need not be filled in at the beginning of the game, but it can definitely facilitate the process.

What to use

I’m not going to post a coversheet here. The whole point of a coversheet is to help the players (and yourself) to define their characters by something other than the game mechanics. Each group (and possibly each player) will want to choose what is important to them, and focus on those things. So each coversheet should be somewhat unique.

That said, here are a few ideas:

  • Real character description, more than simply height/weight/eyes/hair
  • Character portrait of some sort
  • Brief history
  • Personality, including preferred problem-solving methods
  • Long term goals
  • Short term goals
  • Favors owed/earned
  • Allies
  • Enemies
  • Contacts
  • Organizations, and the relationship with them
  • Likes/dislikes

Regardless of what you have on it, the coversheet needn’t be much, but it should be enough to jog the memory of players who tend to look at their character sheet every time they’re faced with a situation.

I’m not going to pretend that this idea is for everyone, so sound off and let me know what you think. Would you use this, or do you know someone who might benefit from it? Did I miss any important (or not-so-important) elements? Or is this just another “typical gamer” over-thought solution to a nonexistent problem?