(Fear The Living) Please critique my game's character sheet/rules reference sheet.

Hey everyone,

This is my first post on Story Games after being a long-time lurker on the forums. It's great to finally be a part of the community! With that, I was wondering if you guys and gals could take a look at the character sheet that I'm developing for my zombie apocalypse RPG Fear The Living. From what I've read on various RPG forums, a lot of people start looking at a game by examining it's character sheets, and I want to make sure that my sheet is easily understood, attractive, and will be useful to players (enough space, reference notes where they'll be easily read etc.)

Page 1 and 2 are the character sheet proper, and contain basic information about what each element of your survivor's sheet does.

Pages 3 and 4 are rules reference sheets that describe the core mechanic for resolving conflicts and a simplified step-by-step guide to creating a survivor.

Page 5 is a success record sheet that's used during Conflicts to track what you're spending successes on to accomplish. The boxes on the sheet are for holding tokens, coins, or dice that provide a physical no-erase method of keeping track of a survivor's successes.

My goals are for the sheet to serve as:

*A handy reference guide for players who don't want to flip through the PDF or a print out to make their character.

*A basic introduction to the game for newbies, that they can use to grasp the basics of the system as they familiarize themselves with the rulebook.

*A clear indication of what the game is about: your survivor's priorities in the wake of the zombie apocalypse, how their actions and persona affect them, and their Relationships with other survivors.

*An easy way to keep track of what your survivor is doing with their successes during a conflict (whether a tense hostage exchange between two groups of survivors or a desperate fight against a zombie horde).

I welcome any advice on better achieving the above goals, as well as general commentary on the layout, appearance, and utility of the sheet. Some specific questions I'd also like to have answered are:

*Do you get a clear idea of what the game is about by looking at the sheet?

*Does the sheet have enough space for players to write in?

*How well do the reference sheets explain how to create a character or resolve a conflict?

*How well does the success reference sheet explain what your survivor can do during a conflict?

*Is there enough space on the success reference sheet for people to put pennies, dice, or other markers in the boxes without spillover? (Assuming that most dice pools will probably be in the 5-8 Range, with the highest dice pools regularly seen being something like 15 dice).

*What is your overall impression of this character sheet?

A link is provided below to the Google Docs version of the character sheet:



  • edited April 2013
    One impatient reader's impression:

    I didn't read the rules summary. If I were already excited about the game, then I would. But if you're hoping the rules summary will help get me excited, I think it needs intro hooks and/or art.

    The character sheets are easy to visually scan, and the bolded text adds up to paint a nice picture of what the game cares about. I was grabbed enough to start reading the instructions on the character sheets. I found it frustrating that the info they gave me was incomplete. How many relationships do I start with? How many parts are in my M.O.? (Of course you may have valid reasons for the way you've broken this up! I'm just giving first impressions.)

    The success record sheet: the icons and big black words really indicate the content immediately. I read the top instruction, and get the impression that the way the game works is that I roll a bunch of dice, and then can uses successes for anything I care to narrate. On the one hand, that's not my favorite type of mechanic, so I'm wondering if my read is accurate or not; if not, perhaps some clarification should be there. On the other hand, I can imagine some fun inter-player dynamics if we're all rolling and then our successes create our action budget that we collaboratively decide how to spend. That's the kind of mechanic I do like. I look back up at the Rolling Dice sheet, scan down to (10), and it seems like the players go in turns instead.

    Although this clearly isn't a finished graphic design masterpiece, small touches like finding a question mark with some personality (for "inquire"), spacing out your headlines so they aren't touching your dividing lines, etc. might help with first impressions.

    As a design nerd, I am always looking for neat rules, and the one I read that seems most unique to me is the nominating each other for stuff. So I look to the rules for details. It doesn't seem to fall under Char-Gen or Rolling Dice, so I give up. I wish I knew whether this was a big focus of engagement and interaction between players, or whether it's an obligatory, "Dave, I'm out of Humanity, could you nominate me for a refresh? Remember I did that one thing that was Human." If it's a big deal, you might want to emphasize it more somewhere in these 5 pages.

    I hope that was helpful! You'll probably get better feedback from people who are more seriously considering playing, and/or people who enjoy reading game rules for its own sake. I tend to be kind of a tough sell. But perhaps you'll find that perspective useful too. BTW, I really dig the game title!
  • edited April 2013
    accidental post
  • Overall not bad. I'm mostly focussing on the graphic design aspects, but I will try to come back to this to answer the rest of your questions. :)

    1) Make sure that you always have some margins between the border lines and the content. Even if it's a millimeter of whitespace, it increased readability.

    2) You have two kinds of headers there; H1 (the major header) for things like "Attributes" and H2 (the subheader) for things like "Authority". Your chosen font is fine for H1, but it is too heavy for H2. It's hard to tell which header is in which category, and I find that level of visual hierarchy is very useful.

    3) Here are the first few items that grab my attention immediately, in order of priority. Confirm this matches your intention.
    *First, Relationships. It's the longest block of H1 text, and it's beside a striking red heart.
    *Secondly, the Attributes. They are on the top left corner, where most english-speaking people's eyes tend to drift to.
    *After that, I would have no idea where to go on page one, so I would move to page 2. The Wound Track grabs my attention immediately due to the larger area of H1 text, and the "face" presented by the skull icon.
    *Lastly, I would look at Talents and Liabilities in no particular order.

    4) You may want to reduce some of the explanatory text on the two character sheet pages and move that to the dedicated "Character Creation" page, since that information will only be necessary on the first game session. The less text, the better.

    5) If all of the options should be of equal importance on the success record sheet, they should be of equal size. My immediate impression of the success record is that you could only use "Threaten" if "Harm" and/or "Hinder" have been used. "Achieve a goal" might not have enough space for tokens.

    Hope this helps!
  • Thank you so much for your comments thus far!

    @David. I've been thinking a lot about moving all of the essential character creation stuff from a separate page onto the main part of the character sheet, so it doesn't immediately give the impression of being incomplete. My intention initially was to have "here's how to fill this section out" on the character sheet, and then "here's how many geegaws and whatsits you get" on a second sheet, but now I see that it can cause confusion.

    The problem that comes from wanting to consolidate all of that information into one place is one of space. If I were to cram it all into the first two pages of the character sheet, then I feel like there wouldn't be enough space for actually entering relevant information. Particularly with Relationships, where you have the option of declaring a new Relationship with someone as soon as you meet them, you can accumulate a lot of them in short order and so need a bit of room.

    My other option to allow for all of the text to be included, while leaving room for the actual rules elements themselves is to go the "Burning Wheel/Mouseguard" route and make the character sheet itself 3-5 pages, rather than a 2 page character sheet and 3 pages of supplementary material that will be occasionally referenced. This I'm leery of, because from everything I've seen, a lot of people are relatively unwilling to even try a system with a character sheet that tops 3 pages, let alone one where listing all of your character's stuff takes up 5 pages. My goal with the current set up is to have:

    2 Pages of character sheet, which will be referenced and used regularly.

    1 Page of success record sheet. Which will be used whenever there's a conflict.

    2 Pages of reference sheets, which will be looked at occasionally as a refresher without needing to go through the PDF or a hardcopy.

    With spreading out reference information all over the character sheet, I'm worried that I'll merge group 1 and 3, making an unmanageable mess. I really like how Lady Blackbird pulls off the combination reference work/character sheet, but it seems like my game has more fiddly bits and customization than Lady Blackbird, at least out of the box.

    Regarding conflict resolution and such, the setup is turn-based, but mostly to organize things at a table level. With V1.0 of the game, I had instituted a sort of "free for all" "I spend, you spend" set up where people just spent their survivor's successes freely without any sort of turn structure. It was fun with smaller groups, but once you got up to 3-4 people it was a nightmare to keep track of who had been spending successes where. The success record sheet helps with some of the issues I mentioned, but my biggest concern is that with a more free-form structure the blow-by-blow events of the fiction will get lost in the "I negate his two successes...and hit him for 2 damage...no jim is hindering me...okay,wait now you're threatening me too" hustle and bustle.

    How the setup works is you go around the table and each person can spend as many or as few of their successes as they want. Everyone has their own dice, but if you want to help out another survivor (riffing off what you said about communal actions) you can offer someone else some of your dice. It's their choice whether or not they take them, because accepting help opens your survivor up to be Betrayed, which can really screw you over (and really benefit the betrayer). Once everyone's spent successes and described what their survivor is doing or said "pass", then all of the effects of the successes are resolved (damage dealt, threats come to pass, goals accomplished or negated etc.

    It doesn't flow as well, I'll admit and I'm definitely open to suggestions about how to handle it better, but one of my big concerns with a dice-pool success-spending system like this is making it managable for larger groups. Any ideas?


    I'm glad it turned out alright-I'm just now starting to feel really comfortable with Scribus (which is, true to it's reputation a bit of a pain in the butt).

    I really like your point about the success record sheet. I'd like to decrease the size of the larger boxes, giving more space for Accomplishing Goals and for the rightmost options. Two concerns that I have are:

    1. Fitting the text describing what to do into the smaller boxes without making it insanely tiny.

    2. Making the boxes too small to contain many dice or markers.

    Thank you once again guys. I'll probably post more of my thoughts and such as they come up down the road.

  • Regarding nomination, it's a simple majority vote to see if a survivor gets to Refresh an Attribute or gain (or lose) an MO. Someone nominates your survivor for a Humanity refresh say, and says something like "Katrina nearly died helping old Bertha out of that infested Wal-Mart, even though that old bat is crazier than a snapping turtle on bath salts and about as useful-I nominate her to Refresh Humanity". Then everyone says yeah or no way, and majority rules. The GM breaks ties.

    With MOs, things are a bit different. You can't nominate someone for an MO just any time, it's gotta relate to the MO's trigger; a specific type of situation or achievement that someone's gotta do to be considered. Like here's an example:


    Trigger: You defeat an overwhelming threat in an outlandishly over-the-top manner.

    Whenever you describe your character’s actions in true Action Movie fashion during a Conflict, remove a die from your dice pool. This die is automatically considered a success.

    When you overcome a threat in an overwhelmingly over-the-top manner, choose an NPC who witnessed it. If they don’t have a relationship with you they gain one of the following at +1:
    • I love ___________________
    • I’m awed by ________________
    • I’m terrified of _________________
    Where the blank is your survivor’s name. If they already have a relationship with you along those lines, this ability does nothing. If they have a relationship with you that doesn’t involve any of those feelings, decrease its value by 1 and write a new one at +1 that includes one of those feelings.

    Lost: Another player’s survivor outdoes you, or you roll the dice in your dice pool and come up with no successes during a critical conflict.

    So in order to nominate someone for the "Badass" MO, you've gotta explain why you think it fits with the trigger like "Jim Bob killed 20 fucking zombies with a pair of safety scissors, a teacup, and a garden hose, and then after finishing off the last one, used it's severed hand to pick up a copy of the National Enquirer and a nice cold beer. That's so over-the-top badass it hurts." Once someone's done that, vote and majority rules. The GM breaks ties once again. Same thing for losing MOs, except you go off the entry in the "Lost" section of the MO's entry.

    The only exception is if you've had the MO and lost it, in which case it's got to be an unanimous yes vote in order for you to regain it. It's all cool though, because getting rid of an MO that you have gets you 5 experience (aka halfway to advancing).

    Explaining all or most of this would take up an entirely separate page (or at least half a page) which is why I don't necessarily feel like it's a good idea to include it. Character sheet bloat is one of my big pet-peeves in a game, and 2 sheets for the character with 3 as play resources and references is about my limit anyway. I would welcome ideas though to fit such information in in a way that doesn't add significantly to the length of the character sheet and reference materials.
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