Monday, September 6, 2010

More thoughts on character ownership.

For our online/voip games, I keep duplicate record sheets for each of the PCs in our game. Some of my note taking during sessions is recorded directly onto these sheets, such as the actual value or nature of magic items. I find this to be helpful in other ways - I don't have to ask the players for information about their inventory or attributes to make rulings, and I can update their items as we play (while they do) so we're on the same page.

I think this came about because we couldn't easily exchange the sheets - I didn't want to force the record sheet to be a text file continually being edited instead of the usual pencil and paper. Even if it was a text file, having to re-save and file transfer it slows the game a little. So we have this duplicate records method. As DM in our S&W games I use index cards as record sheets. These work really well since there's not as much shuffling and hunting for the right one when needed. I like the tangibility of these records too, as opposed to something stored on disk. Like using miniatures that aren't strictly required, their physical presence still contributes something to the game.

I don't keep duplicate sheets for face to face games, but I wonder if others do... For large groups this might slow the game with too many records to keep track of, but maybe not so much with index cards. I never played this way as a kid, but in retrospect maybe I should have. At that age, it seems like there was always sloppy record keeping and even the occasional cheat that got busted. Cheating at D&D! The very idea. I’ll never forget Willie showing up that day with the Wand of Orcus from who knows where.

I'm also curious as to whether most DMs hold onto the record sheets of their players between sessions or whether the players bring them to the game. I wonder if the DM holding them slightly breaks down trust or the players' sense of character ownership. Back in the day, it seems like my friends and I held onto our own records and our characters might move from one DM's game to another. Rules discrepancy wasn't an issue, since we didn’t have many house rules, if any, and the AD&D books were law. Nowadays I imagine most DMs hold onto these records for their players between sessions just for the sake of convenience.

Perhaps this reflects a subtle shift in how we’ve come to view the game having grown older. The last time I played with my nephew Josiah I thought I saw a little reluctance to turn over his character sheet. I ended up keeping it for fear it would be lost. He got to walk away with his own set of dice, so at least he owns the means of determining his character’s fate (he ended up losing some of the dice though.) Maybe I should have had him keep it, and if he lost it, well, his elf got lost and died. Or else he's fallen into a magic sleep until found and woken up. Hey kid, that paper is someone's life!

When we hold on to the only physical manifestation of our character, the record sheet, when we feel we “own” it and the character, I believe we’re more strongly in the shared, imaginary game space. Being willing to turn it over or give control of your character to the DM or other players may simply be a matter of maturity, but I also think how easy we find it to relinquish that control is a barometer of how immersed in the game we really are.


Zak Sabbath said...

My experience has been that if my player have a big book full of notes and their character sheet is in there, they won't lose it, and if they don't they will.

I let people choose whether I'm keeping track of the sheet or they are, and right now that means I have all the "loose" characters.

christian said...

I like Zak's thought. If, at the end of play, a person folds up their character sheet and tucks it into their back pocket, well, it's a goner.

I like to hold onto my own char sheet. It's MINE!

Kilsern said...

By my players choice, I usually hold onto their sheet. Most of my players don't often make every session. If they wish to hold onto it, I let them; however, I do require them to update my character roster, which has all the important stuff (stats and equipment). This gives me enough to run their character for them, if they aren't there; which I prefer not to do. My preference is, "Zappo the Mage stays behind in town to study a new spell", but sometimes it can't be avoided.

Il Male™ said...

As a DM, I'm in the same situation of Kilsern. However, since I'm so lucky that I can play in another group (AD&D Temple of the Elemental Evil), I have something more to say. I would prefer to hold my character sheet, but it has happened once that I mess the session and my DM had no idea about my character (well, I knows I was a 1st level human cleric with scimitar, which was everything I had to know IMHO).

I really would like to keep track of all my player's characters, but I don't know if I will ever make it possible since they are seven. But I'll try, next session ^^

Loquacious said...

I've actually never played a game where the GM wouldn't let me keep a copy of my character sheet. I have separate notebooks for each character, with background info, places I want to spend exp, bluebooking, etc all in it. I usually make an extra copy for the GM, and update it every third game or so.

I guess it depends on who you play with and what level of expectations there are from both parties.

ze bulette said...

Thanks for the feedback.
@Zak and Christian: Yeah, the big binder would be an obvious sign that your player takes the game, their character, and the DM's efforts seriously.
@Kilsern: Having the players update a roster at session end is a good idea and would take some of the burden off of the DM. I might just go with that at some point, although I do like to have hyper up-to-date info. without asking at my disposal, control-freak that I DM.
@Il Male™: Duplicate always up to date record sheets for seven might be a challenge! You must be both a lucky and skilled DM to retain a group that size, congrats.
@Loq: I haven't yet played with a ref who wouldn't let me keep a copy either, but I find the expectations of who will keep it to be of interest...

Andy Bartlett said...

As a GM I've always kept the character sheets - if I didn't I'd certainly have to keep a duplicate. One, I wouldn't trust every player to be able to find their character sheet (and even if they did we'd have to copy some out again quick, before the paper disintegrated). But two, if I'm planning a game session, I need to remind myself of the characters capabilities, and their fiction. The character sheets are as much a part of the fictional world being created as descriptions of NPCs, maps of dungeons, notes on the overarching plot, etc.

I worry having written this that I'm a control-freak GM...

KenHR said...

My players make me hold on to their sheets. My group seems to be unusual, though; for example, when I offered the choice of random or point buy to make their PCs for the new campaign, they unanimously chose random. I love those guys.

Chris Lowrance said...

I'm trying to recall if I ever lost a character sheet as a kid. I think I did. It was for Robotech, so mostly it meant filling out a very long list of what types of missiles I had in my M.A.C. II all over over again.

Currently, I keep dups of everyone's stats, so I don't have to ask them "What's your Listen bonus? Oh, no, no reason. Just curious."

Unknown said...

My character sheets are precious t me and I still have most of the characters that I have ever played going back almost 30 years.

That being said, as a GM I have (in the past) managed duplicate character sheets for most of the reasons you described. It became too much of a hassle in when I run crunchy systems. But if a character sheet fits on an index card (like S&W or Risus) then the benefits far outweigh the minimal hassle.

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