March 1, 2011

PAX East Dungeon Master's Challange PreGens


PAX East is barreling down on me ... fast! I feel like I'm under considerable pressure, and for me , that helps kick my creative juices into high gear. I work great under pressure. The largest threat looming on my mind is the DM's Challenge. However, today I've crossed off a considerable hurdle: pre-generated character sheets.

I've put a lot of thought and effort into this, even going so far as to print out color character sheets. I never print out in color. I have easy access to black and white, but color is a real pain in the ass. However, I've decided to pull out all the stops and try and create the best D&D experience I can for my unknown players.

I feel like there is a science and an art to creating a good character sheet. I'm often asked what program I use to create mine. I open up MS Word, and I type. That is my program of choice, although I will often go to the Compendium to look some things up. I don't trust character sheet builders. They're always full of bugs and low on style, making them more trouble than they're worth. Even going through a spreadsheet like Excel to do the arithmetic is too problematic for me. I need to be in control of where, how, and what is being placed on that paper. To this end, I have endeavored to create a basic 4E character sheet format that is intuitive and easy to use.

Many people nowadays simply go to the DDi Character Builder, slap together a sheet for themselves, and call is a day. That is lazy and inexcusable. While I do feel that the CB is a very useful tool, and may be the best automated system out today, its flaws are too great to ignore.

+ Font size. Due to having every single power on the exact same size 'card', may powers descriptions get squeezed down to the realm of illegible

+ Too little information. This is very pronounced in the Feats/Features section. In many areas of the sheet, things are not adequately explained, or at all. Key details to a feature are often left missing.

+ Too much information. If a feat/feature has only a passive benefit (ie. improved initiative), update the numbers and sweep the description to the side. Don't clutter up the character sheet explaining the function of iron will.

+ Jesus Christ, these sheets are huge! I'm talking file size here. Because everything is stored as an un-editable, non-text image, the file is big as hell.

+ Similarly, underemphasizing the wrong information. On all attack powers, the real numbers that you're using, your attack roll, your damage roll, ect., are hidden in small font away from the center of the 'card'. You have to scan around for what you really need, and the not helpful at the table information is distracting you. I don't care what happens to my At-Wills when I hit Epic Tier. I'll worry about that when I level to 21. I care about what my modifiers are. I care about what all happens when I crit. I'm living in the now, at the table.

+ Information all over the place. An example: you are playing a high-level cleric and cast healing word. You look at the spot where the healing word prayer is located. But! you need to go back to the page listing all your feats and features, because you've got a half dozen riders going along with it (someone gains temp hp, someone gains a bonus to defenses, etc.). Why can't we have everything in one place?

When I set about creating my own character sheet, I had several key points to implement, in addition to addressing the failings noted above.

+ Action economy. I wanted to group action types together in descending order of 'speed'. Similar to how creatures are organized in the Monster Vault and MM3, I grouped PCs' actions into Standard, Move, Minor, and Triggered Actions. Rituals got their own spot where appropriate.

+ Very condensed. I hate shuffling around too many papers, so my character sheet is very streamlined in this regard. I've made very usable, legible sheets that are only a single page in mid-heroic tier, and a max of three pages all the way up to Level 30.

+ One sheet to watch at a time (more or less). In general, triggered actions, defenses, hit points, and related information that is needed most outside of your combat turn are on the front page. Information you need when it's your turn are on the second page. If you have so many powers that you need a third page, Move and Minor actions are put there. For the vast majority of sheets then, there is a page for "my turn" and a page for "not my turn".

+ 4EDings. I like the little doodads that represent action types (aura, melee, ranged, close, area).

+ The 'used' checkbox. DDi CB does this, and I love it; so I do it, too. It's worth mentioning.

So, here are my characters. I think they're pretty interesting and I hope they'll be fun to play. I'll be posting their backgrounds/character stories later in the week, when that's all finalized. As you can see, I'm going with a Tolkien theme for names and (as you'll see later) themes, hacking up the mythology to better fit D&D canon and the story I have brewing. Their powers fit in so well with their stories, I'm really excited about this. I'm also excited that the Fighter has a ton of spells. Thanks to Rob Schwalb for the excellent Fey Knight DDi article. I like to think that Glorfindel is the modern version of the Elf Magic-user/Fighter of old.

I've got the broad sketch outline done for my adventure and I'm really excited about it. I've got a lot of tricks and traps that you've seen on this blog going into the adventure, as well as some brand new surprises. I can't wait to share them. I'll be posting my adventure and talking about my decisions sometime after the con.

No comments:

Post a Comment