RPGs and Story Telling: Character Sheets


I’ll admit, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to the Bundle of Holding. For those who don’t follow it, you should. The site takes the notion of the Humble Bundle, pay-what-you-want pricing for a collection of games with proceeds going to charity, but instead of computer games the site goes for pen-and-paper RPGs. The most recent bundle is my eighth, and even though I don’t know when (or even if) I’ll get around to giving them all a try, I enjoy having them.

Fact is, I’ve always enjoyed owning RPGs, even if I don’t sit down and play the actual games nearly as often as my collection suggests. As a kid I would buy Toon books from Steve Jackson. I was a high school student playing Mage in the heyday of White Wolf. For awhile I collected some of the GURPS books. As an adult, I’m finally getting into Dungeons and Dragons (4E) and Call of Cthulhu.

BoH FilesPDF has given a new life to pen-and-paper RPGs, allowing for cheaper pricing and easier distribution. It’s fantastic, and it has resulted in the file directory at right. I was going to keep expanding folders, but they wouldn’t all fit on the screen at the same time. Maybe I do have a problem.

Anyway, I enjoy RPGs as much for the playing as for the opportunities they present the story teller. So this is part one of a new, short series about RPGs and story telling. It’s not about how better to play or run RPGs, because I can’t give that sort of advice. It’s also not about how to turn your RPG session into a short story. The answer to that is: don’t.

It’s about how I approach RPGs as a story teller.

The first place I turn in any new RPG (or scroll, as I tend to do PDFs) is to the end. First because I’m always curious how good of an index they have. Second because I want to see what the character sheets look like. These can range from complicated multi-page layouts like Dungeons and Dragons to simpler notions of asking what is your name, what is your quest, and what is your favorite color.

Each is a different way to approach how to create a character, tailored to the kind of story-telling that the game shoots for. You can get a very quick feel for the style of an RPG by looking at those blank sheets at the end.

Every now and then I like to approach characters in my stories and novels this way. Pull out a character sheet and look at the methods of creation. Whether it’s considering each of their skills at a micro level in Call of Cthulhu or considering the connections between characters required by Fate Core. These are things that I always try to think about with characters, but by pulling up an unfamiliar system, I’m forced to consider them from a different angle.

Which I find a powerful tool. Finding a different way to approach a characters sometimes ends up being an interesting thought experiment. Sometimes it results in me finding a plot line hidden in the characters that I wouldn’t otherwise see. Oh, I don’t do it every time. Only when I feel like I need to goose my creativity.

The best part about this method? You don’t need to become a Bundle of Holding junkie like me (though you should). RPG makers want you to play their games, which means most of them allow for wide distribution of the character sheets even if the rest of the book is protected under copyright. RPG Sheets is a massive online database of these sheets, including old editions of oft-updated systems, games you’ve never heard of, and games that perhaps should never have been made. They don’t necessarily include character creation instructions, but they’re a good starting point to get the brain going.

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