Friday, January 30, 2004

Game Product: Character Study

Deluxe Character Sheets Dungeons & Dragons, developed and assembled by Christopher Perkins and Ed Stark, aided by Kim Mohan and Michael Donais, $14.95, Wizards of the Coast, 2004,

This is another D&D entry, so its heavy in jargon. If you're looking for political rants or local history, check elsewhere on the page

This particular product appeared on my chair at work two days ago. At WotC, the designers, developers, and editors get new product from the company (though it often takes a long and sometimes tortuous path to get here) so we have the latest tools. So I got one as well (thanks, guys!). Having just rejoined, I was unaware that this was in the pipeline until it showed up. So note that it was free, and not something I would normally go looking for.

That's because character sheets are in the "nice-but-not-necessary" category of game product. Some people swear by them. Others get by with normal paper (we have an editor in Bill's gaming group who regularly keeps his massively multiclaseed characters on 3 by 5 cards - he also keeps the record of all the facts in the campaign so this trait is overlooked by all). Others photocopy the generic sheet in the book and write very, very small (that would be me). Still others have such specialized needs for their characters that they end up creating their own. And why purchase a book of character sheets when you can download them off the net?

So it was with no little apathy that I unsealed the shrinkwrap and took a look at our latest attempt at character sheets. I mean, we've done this a bajillion times in all the years I've been at TSR, and later WotC. Its going to be a bunch of loose pages, right?

Well, yes and no. Pulling off the paper cover, I note immediately that this is a notebook-style cover with interior pockets. Immediately this is better than most of the similar product I've seen. I'm one of those people that jams my character sheet into the rulebook I happen to be using at the moment. This is . . . nice. Sturdy stock, shots of the 3.5 iconic characters.

And inside, on the pockets, the two tables I'm always checking when I level up - Base Save/Base attack bonus and Experience/Level Dependent Benefits. This is . . . very nice.

The sheets themselves are 4-pagers, which allows enough room to really write on them (most two-page sheets result in a lot of cramped, crabbed handwriting, particularly in the equipment section). Each 4-pager is customized for its particular character - lots of Feat entries for the Barbarians and Fighters, turning rules for the Clerics and Paladins, and the lot. This is . . . really nice.

And the Skill listings have check-marks for which skills are Class Skills. This sounds like a small thing, but it always bothered me on earlier versions that they checked the Skills that your character DIDN'T have. Its a small thing, but I'm pretty pleased they addressed it.

And there's permission to photocopy (I remember incarnations back in the 70s where the company went to great lengths to try to prevent this). And there are d20Modern character sheets as well (and if you play D20 Modern only and eschew D&D, well, deal with it). And there is a generic sheet as well. I actually am excited by all this, and hunt down my friends in the office responsible to congratulate them. This is very, very good.

Is there a downside to these sheets? Sure. Even with the 4-page character sheets, some player characters need more space. Spellcasters in particular need more, and the additional space requirements vary widely according to the class. The Wizard/Sorcerer gets a full additional 4-page signature, whereas the Cleric gets three pages for spells and two pages for domain abilities.The last page of its spell signature is used for Ranger spells, and it shares its domain abilities sheets with Bard spells. Similarly, the Paladin spells shares the same signature with the spells of the Druid, Assassin, and Blackguard. Its a bit of a muddle, but is pretty easy to sort out.

So now I'm bringing over Relique, my Warforged Paladin, to this new setup, since he just leveled up. So I think these sheets are a good thing. And the editor that keeps his characters on 3 by 5 cards? He likes the new sheets such that HE is transposing his current character over. Of course in his case, he's cutting them up and re-photo-copying them, since he double-classes regularly and is just moving into his first Prestige Class..

Anyway, this is one of those products that's worth checking out. Its probably the best set of character sheets since the ancient gold-paper ones done back at the dawn of gaming history. And its a real good DM-to-Gaming-Group gift - one that pays back when the players can find their stuff easily.

More later,