Hello and welcome!
Sarah has recently completed the redesign of the Forthright Open Roleplay character sheet for Beta 3, and this week we’re going to share it with you. The latest design was heavily influenced by Jason Morningstar’s Visual Design as Metaphor talk at Metatopia. But before we do, I want to take a look back at some of our older character sheets, spanning 3 years of development, to illustrate just how far we’ve come. Take a walk with me down memory lane. . .
v0.1 (July 2012)
This was our first character sheet, and it still bears the original name of the system – Infinite Earths. We were identifying Roles as Primary/Secondary/Tertiary, and Bolsters had a space of their own on the character sheet because we wanted to provide a place to “hold your token” without using tokens. Bolsters and Hinders, at this time, could stick around a lot longer than they do now. Attributes were placed in a traditional position, and were basically the d20 attributes renamed – sensible, as this version of the system was intended to be OGL-compatible. Mana is present for spellcasters, and both Morale and Resolve are present – a reflection of the design of the social system at the time, which treated social interaction like combat but using words instead of weapons. Social Rank is also present on the character sheet, as are three “Reputation groups,” reflecting a design where certain characters would be more comfortable and develop reputation differently with different social strata. Talents are crowded, getting only space for their names (and not enough for any but the tiniest writers). Finally, Skills are bog-standard d20, using a varying amount of skill points depending on how high you slotted your Vocation, and allowing you to take 10/20 depending on whether you were Secondary or Primary Vocation (Tertiary just had to accept the dice as they rolled).
The second page held various types of Words of Power, a spellcrafting system we eventually abandoned, as well as Equipment, Relationships, and any beast NPCs the character might travel with. Overall this character sheet was functional for what it was, but it reflected a system that had only the slightest amount of innovation in it.
v0.5 (September 2012)
Four iterations down the line and the character sheet has an updated logo and a new layout. Social has been moved to a more prominent upper-left location to emphasize the importance we wanted it to have, while attributes – not actually referenced during most play – are moved to the far right. Social Rank is still present as a component of Social Interaction, but Resolve is gone (by this point replaced with an overly-complex Rapport system that acted much like a sociopath-trainer). We’d added more roles with resource attrition mechanics, so Mana is gone replaced by a blank line to fill in your particular flavor of resource. Relationships also now get space on the character sheet, as in this iteration they are the central focus of social interaction. You can also see in this version a short-lived Resolutions section, featuring a character’s Duties and Desires. We ultimately decided not to mechanize this, but at this time we were trying to ensure clean roleplaying mechanics on the sheet itself. Finally, we placed Attacks and Equipment at the bottom of the front page in order to de-emphasize their importance.
The second page is now entirely devoted to the Talents a character would be able to earn through leveling up. Oddly, this is where players would record their proficiencies in any given Role. Because Talents were not stat-adders, but each their own complex structure, a lot of space was provided to record the effects of the Talents. This general design is one we have held to throughout the evolution of the system.
v0.29 (December 2013)
Many iterations later, the character sheet has a slick new logo for a slick new game (Forthright Open Roleplay), and has been largely redesigned to reduce the appearance of complexity earlier sheets had. At this point we had replaced Attributes with Boosts and reduced their total number to 4. Resolve is back and in Social, this time as an “Armor Class” for social play. Relationships are now gone from the character sheet, having been moved to the Fellowship Sheet to prevent any single character from having to be the relationship-management workhorse. Reputation takes on a new form through simple Renowns and their descriptions, and gets much more space to indicate its relative importance. The Skill list has shrunk again, but remains largely bog-standard d20. Fighting Style remains in a de-emphasized bottom-of-the-page position, and equipment is removed from the front page entirely in order to provide more space for Fighting Style. This particular version of the character sheet has expanded to 3 pages, with magic, beasts/familiars and brawling – at this time a complex combo-based system – all appearing on the third page.
v0.36 (May 2014)
The character sheet for Beta 2 illustrates the overall stability of the system by this point in development. Boosts have been removed, and Persona maintains its position of prominence in the upper-left. Shapes have been added to all sections to illustrate the purpose of information: numbers that add to d20 rolls are d20-silhouettes, while defensive numbers appear in a shield and numbers that must be resisted appear in bursts. This reorganization allows the character sheet to shrink back down to 2 pages by placing Magic and Beast/Familiar on the front page and Equipment on the bottom of the back page. This is due largely to the transformation of the Skill system away from Skill Points and into a single “Training” skill applied to 4 Skills of the player’s choice. Fighting style has been moved upward to join the other two Roles, while Reputation gets a large space near the bottom of the the page. Resource-attrition for magic is also gone at this point, though there are still some unnecessary redundancies and conceptual ties to d20 remaining on the character sheet. With only slight modification, this sheet was the one we brought with us to Metatopia 2014. This sheet, like the others before it, suffered from a complexity that wasn’t in the system once play began, but thanks to a very traditional rules-writing style we still didn’t realize it.
v0.39 (January 2015 – the new character sheet!)
The release of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition threw us for a bit of a loop, because we were effectively designing the same system. Once we held the Player’s Handbook in our hands, it was apparent to us that there was no place for Forthright in its then-current iteration when the biggest name in the business did a lot of the same things we did. Part of our trip to Metatopia was to refocus and try to design beyond where 5th Edition went. From that was born Beta 3 and the new Protagonist Sheet.
Character creation has been simplified and streamlined, and this is reflected in the new layout. Players choose a name, appearance and personality to give everyone a sense of the character. Speed and Resolve (now the “fighting spirit” of a character, and used solely in combat) take up positions of prominence because they are no longer directly tied to a character’s Roles. Fighting Style, Persona and Vocation now take equal place on the character sheet, and icons are used to indicate which Role is recorded where.
Three-star chevrons are used to indicate a character’s Proficiency, with Best equal to 3 stars and Worst equal to 1 star. The specific Role (such as Juggernaut or Chemist) that a character chooses is recorded next to the chevrons in the title area of each Role’s section.
Beta 3 reflect an “Actor Acts” philosophy, so Resists are gone. Impact, Presence and Aptitude now reflect a character’s skill at combat, conversation and non-competition activities, while Defense and Will maintain their former functions with new, more shield-like icons. Equipment is de-emphasized through dealing fiction-representative damage for their Role instead of their equipment. Vocations now provide 2, 3 or 4 Expertises, which are Skills that are always Bolstered when rolled. And space is provided on the front of the page for a character’s starting Talents in each Role, minimizing the need to flip the page constantly.
Reputation is cleaned up, giving Players a way to record their Renowns as they see fit, and a Miscellany section provides players with a space to record their Arcana, Beast Abilities, or any other information they would like to record on the front of their sheet.
Talents are no longer subdivided by Role, as there are no longer levels in the system and characters advance by purchasing new talents with Achievement, The Talents available to characters for purchase are dependent entirely on their actions and the adventures they have – there is no more determining an optimal path, because your character learns and evolves based not on a pre-determined template but based on actual lived experience.
Each section is identified by unique iconography that helps draw the eye across the page and firmly identifies the different sections of the character sheet. Increased space between lines provides more freeform writing areas and helps the perception that the system is not very crunchy. This also helps the sheet to very clearly say, “this is not D&D, this is something else.”
Thank you for taking this stroll with me down memory lane. We’d love to read your comments in the comments section below!