This is the second post in Michael's Character Keeper series. You can find the first post here.
One important step for game designers in designing a game is designing a character sheet. It encourages players to step back and consider exactly which elements of the game designer’s design a player will interact with and which parts are necessary or overlooked. For a potential player, designing an online tool that we call a “character keeper” can be a similarly illuminating experience. A character keeper is an online tool for all the players to keep the information that would otherwise be on their character sheet. Character keepers are especially helpful in online play because it allows all the players and the game facilitator to access all the information any of the other players have about their characters including rules for moves, descriptions of characters, and other relevant statistics and modifiers. You may find that reading through a rules text through the lens of, “How would I create a character keeper for this,” is a helpful exercise for learning and synthesizing the most relevant player-facing aspects of the game.
Most games that need character keepers for online play will come with character sheets already. The task, then, is to translate that character sheet into an online character keeper. Having the character sheet as a resource certainly makes things easier when designing your character keeper, but with practice you could feasibly make a character keeper from scratch.
In order to demonstrate this process, I will be creating a character keeper from the ground up for Offworlders, a rules-light sci-fi game that’s (as of this posting) free. You may find it helpful to follow along and practice making this character keeper yourself! Read through the text with this goal in mind; How does it inform your understanding of the game?
On page 27 you will find the character sheet presented for play. It is presented in a pretty straightforward and simple manner, useful for our purposes today. Check out the headings and see which information the designer thinks are important for players to have noted. It looks like the designer thinks the following are important to note: Name, Look, XP, Attributes, Health, Supply, Abilities, Skills, Advancement, and Gear. These are things we will keep in mind as we design our own character keeper.
Next, let’s go to sheets.google.com and start a new blank spreadsheet. Wow. A blank canvas. So many rows and columns. A little intimidating! Let’s just go ahead and start getting some stuff on the page so that it seems less scary. Up at the top, click Untitled Spreadsheet and go ahead and give your character keeper a title. Then, click on a cell to start editing it. I like to start with B2, because I think a small margin around the characters looks nice. Cell B2 is the one positioned in Column B, Row 2.
You’ll also want to add a space for including the player’s name to distinguish ownership. After that, let’s go ahead and add some of those headings from our list and get them on the page. Line them up in Column B. Think about how your players will be looking at this info. We want the most relevant information to be at the top so that players will be scrolling up and down less often. We should also keep in mind that if we order the steps of character creation from top to bottom, it can make the process smoother and more intuitive. Further, think about which parts of each character sheet the other players will want to be able to look at. Remember, this a unique advantage of online character keepers that we absolutely want to take advantage of!
With this in mind, I want to reorder these headings in a way that makes sense to me. I also added another heading to the list that wasn’t on the original character sheet: Class. This is the order that I chose, but you may like to order this differently:
While we’re thinking ahead, we have to keep in mind that one of the advantages of an online character keeper over a regular character sheet is the ability to be able to see multiple character sheets on the screen at one time. As it stands, my character sheet in this character keeper is looking pretty wide. At this rate, I’ll only have room for about two character sheets on the screen! I tend to play with at least three or four players at one time (and I’d like to save space for more characters in case I have a new crew member join), so I’ll have to find some more real estate here. One way I can do that is to adjust the width of each column. There’s are a few ways you can do that. When you hover your mouse over the border of the column heading, a double-sided arrow will appear. You can click and drag that to manually adjust the width. If you double click, it will automatically resize the column to fit the width of its contents. And, if you right click the column heading, you can then click resize column to set the width in pixels. You can also highlight multiple column headings and right click>resize column to do them all at once. Here I’ve resized the columns to a conservative 50 pixels, and narrowed the margins as well:
Thanks for sticking through the basics. However, if you’re interested, there are further modifications you can make to your character keeper to make it even more functional and accessible. If you’re willing to put in more work, keep an eye out for future posts in this series! We’ll cover such wondrous things as checkboxes, dynamic drop down lists, images, and conditional formatting.
Stay tuned next week for the next entry in this series.