13 October 2021

The Goldilocks of Stat Blocks

Character stat blocks can either instill or kill inspiration. If it's too short, there's too little to work with; if it's too long, one's eyes glaze over and the information is just as useless as if it weren't there. If it's just right, the player can embody the role without constantly referring to the character sheet and the GM can probably derive hooks without much effort.

Getting it just right is the difficulty. I don't wish to publicly mock the winners of the Most Tedious Character Creation Rules or the Most Boring Stat Blocks by name because I know even they have their devoted fans, some of whom are probably friends of mine, but I will say that some games get it right and some can be altered so that they, too, can get it right.

This is just an idle thought, but maybe all a character stat block needs is whatever is most pertinent to what the character will be doing in an adventure. Depending on what an adventure entails in a given role-playing game, the player ought to list only those things a character might reasonably be expected to do as well as anything else necessary to convincingly portray the character.

Some game designers, aware of this conundrum, limit the range of skills a character may have to just those that are relevant to a typical adventure. Zorro: The Roleplaying Game is an excellent example of a game perfectly pruned to the essentials. Few games are as well focused.

Another approach is to allow a player to assign some skills to a character at creation, but to reserve the option to assign others later. This way, the player and the GM have an idea of the character's capabilities from the beginning, but their knowledge of the character expands through play. I believe this idea was introduced in Fudge.

Either way, the key to the user-friendly and non-sleep-inducing character stat block is to avoid listing every conceivable skill a character might have. First, it's impossible. Can you list every single skill you have ever acquired? Of course not. And why should you list those skills that a majority of people in your society have anyways? Where does it end? Without digressing further, let me just say that the solution is to keep it short. List a few broad skills that you know your character will be using or is noted for, and reserve some points to purchase other skills later as needed. After all, when you are reading the stats of a PC or NPC, do you really need to know they are somewhat good at trivia games or driving or birdwatching?

As always, keep it simple, and fill in the gaps with imagination.

05 October 2021

Next Year Blogtober; This Year Blocktober

Some year, I would like to attempt a daily post for the month of October in the manner of my April Fools' random tables or the #RPGaDay prompts. It's too late for October 2021, but I'd like to have an idea for next year's Blogtober by the end of the month. So far, it's been Blocktober, as in writer's block, which is a shame considering how productive my gaming blogs were in September (especially Theoretical Swashbuckling and Savage Arts & Sciences). In all of my gaming blogs I am meeting or exceeding my goal of posting at least one article per month, so that's something worthy of subdued celebration. It would be nice to do something special for the Halloween season, though. This year, I might post some "How to Create a Horror Protagonist" articles similar to my How to Create a Swashbuckler series in Theoretical Swashbuckling. We shall see. Meanwhile, if I could recommend one spooky movie to gamers other than Ghostbusters, it would be The Raven, starring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and a few others you might know. It is rich with gaming inspiration.

(Rest in) Peace!