Character Sheets and UseabilityOctober 8, 2009
Notes for better character sheets (and… I wish my G5 was still running. Gargh)
Things that you use together, go together on the page
Don’t make players have to jump back and forth around 3 parts of the character sheet, front and back to do something. Put related materials together- combat stuff, social stuff, magic stuff, etc. It makes it easier in play and easier to teach.
Just because “Strength” and “Intelligence” are both attributes isn’t reason enough to put them together, especially if they are referenced regularly in different processes…
Visual Cues for different sections
Just like art works as visual markers in a book so people can navigate it quickly, it really helps to have slightly different appearances for the sections on your character sheets.
Having 9 boxes with different words attached doesn’t do much- do some subtle stuff- give one box rounded edges, give one box bolded lettering, another italics, put some symbols there, etc. These things become associated with the section, with the information, and with the process of info that needs to be pulled, as people play, and it speeds up reference time.
It’s also easier when you say, “Hey, look at the rounded box on the bottom left corner” than “third box down on the left..” etc.
Take out edge cases
Probably my most common pet peeve, for crunchier games, is the “box for everything” mentality, where the sheet is crowded by bits and pieces and spaces for tracking things that might come up… what? Once every 6 game sessions?
It makes more sense to leave that stuff out and give players white space to mark weird special cases. It also makes it easier for folks to navigate, instead of having to learn “Oh, ignore that part, it probably won’t come up.”
Rules & Reminders
Try to include helpful reminders and common rules. This is invaluable for teaching new players. Instead of navigating the book, it’s right there. And for the experienced players, sometimes you forget that you have a few extra options that you could pull out.
Give space for folks to draw their characters. Even if someone isn’t an artist, it provides some white space. For everyone that is, it’s a great way to give them ownership over their character and to get them invested in it.
If you’re doing a game with pregens, the character portraits also become quick-sells on characters- some players might pick based on visual cues alone, and that’s fun too.