Official RPG How-To Topic: Writing, GMing, and More (or Less)

Admin’s Note: Because this topic is ultimately one I’ve been considering creating for years, and Ghid’s doing the work for me, the floor is his. This Topic will remain pinned and is as official as I can make it without putting my name on it.

Now get school’d sons, -Hawkeye


Hello everybody, typing in your wacky stories about transformers and chivalry and whatnot! I’ve been involved with RPs on these boards for a while now, and I just realized there’s no official writing etiquette topic - or rp how-to topic at all! Well, at least not any visible staff ones.

So I figured I’d change that by offering up a topic where you can ask questions, get answers, and generally improve your writing quality and the games you GM. Better skills mean better content, and the more memorable your interactions and storytelling will become.

Something to get out of the way first, though:
I have a very skewed opinion on text-based RPs. I’m not a fan of DnD in the slightest, and I absolutely never approach this sort of RP from that perspective. I consider text-based RPs to be a creative writing exercise, to see how well you can consistently write a given character in a variety of circumstances. How would they operate in a casual setting? After a battle, or some hardship? Romantic endeavors blossoming or ending in terrible heartbreak?

How your character reacts isn’t entirely up to you - it’s up to the rules you wrote for your character; who they are, how they act, walk, talk, eat, speak, and breathe. It’s your job to write consistently, and to write well.

As a GM, it’s also your responsibility to give your players every opportunity to write expressively. Don’t confine them to combat all the time, or campfire scenes all the time - give them plenty of variety in which to act and react. I’m not the best GM, as every game I’ve run on the boards has stalled out and bit the dust, but I can comment as an expert player who knows exactly what works and what doesn’t.

Of course, if a question here isn’t covered in any of my posts, go ahead and ask! I’ll be happy to help any way I can.


The Basics


The Next Level


Managing Your Game

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The Basics #1: Giving your Character some Character


For the examples I’m giving, I’m going to use Bob’s Medieval RPG That Has Elves for our base game. The setting is medieval fantasy, there’s a simple magic system, and a lot of DnD influence in the worldbuilding because Bob is an unoriginal gollumpus who can’t envision the middle ages as anything other than Lord of the Rings- er, sorry, got carried away.

Right, so here’s what his character sheet looks like:

Name
Race
Gender
Appearance
Weapons/Equipment
Skills/Abilities
Bio

Pretty standard stuff. Let’s go ahead and autofill all but the last part and see what we get:

Name: Kyle
Race: Elf
Gender: Male
Appearance: Dark green skin, pointed ears, ragged clothing with patches of leather for added coolness, standing at around 6’1" with a long face and very thin body
Weapons/Equipment: Elven shortsword, elven bow, 30 arrows, rolled-up sleeping mat, satchel
Skills/Abilities: Kyle is really good at hiding in the shadows, which makes him an excellent pickpocket. His years of living off the streets has made him excellent at worming his way out of situations he finds himself in with his silvery tongue and his gymnastic capability. He can play the flute, but he doesn’t have one.

That skills and abilities area is quite large, but if you look closely, here’s all the things Kyle can actually do:

-Play the flute
-Pickpocket
-Hide well
-Talk well

The rest is all description to pad things out, which may help to have or it may not. It helps to know your GM a little beforehand to know what they like to see - or, alternatively, wait for someone else to sign up and see how they do.

Anyway, let’s get to that bio.

Bio:
When he was very young, Kyle lost his parents in the frenzy of a fire at their local clan, which burned his village to the ground. Wandering into the woods, Kyle became hopelessly lost until running across one of the local towns and being semi-fostered by its inhabitants. Accustomed to living on the streets - and especially getting into trouble with the gentle townsfolk - Kyle became excellent at pickpocketing, smooth talk, and a carefree life living off small jobs and walking off with people’s belongings.

See that? There’s an explanation for why he’s good at pickpocketing, hiding, all that stuff. The flute skills aren’t mentioned, and depending on the GM that might be an issue. It’s alright to reference part of the bio with the caracter’s appearance, skills, etc. If you include it in their bio.

Well that’s enough with the bio for now. Let’s begin posting! So far the rest of the adventures have been chatting and have come to a stop to rest the night. What’s Kyle going to do?

Kyle sits down.

Uh… No, Kyle. Bad, Kyle. Too basic. Too boring. There’s nothing going on here with this post. Liven it up a little.

Kyle sits down and folds his legs.

That’s… Better, uh… Okay, here’s how I’d do it.

Seeing the rest of the party come to a stop, Kyle scanned for the perfect spot of ground, and having selected it he descended, crossing his legs over each other and leaning forward out of habit, his eyes shiftily scanning the group to see what would occur.

Same exact action, but 44 more words and way more interesting to read. This post says something about Kyle as a character, not just a basic action, and for your fellow authors and players it’s much more engaging than saying the bare minimum.

This has actually been an issue on these boards for the last couple of years at minimum. A general improvement there would be appreciated.

Your party of adventurers may have been safe at first, but now- Monsters! Goblins specifically! Because as I said, Bob is so dumb he can’t- oh, just go reread it.

You’ve got two goblins attacking you, Kyle. What do you do?

Kyle stabs both goblins in the neck and walks back to the campfire.

Kyle… No. Bad Kyle, disappointing Kyle, you’re-not-my-legal-son-but-I’m-still-disowning-you Kyle. Don’t be so bland! Nobody sympathizes with a flawless master of combat; it’s why those characters get killed off in fiction so often.

Try again, but be descriptive. And give the GM a chance to describe how successful your attempts were.

Kyle drew his sword, muttering some foul insults in the direction of the goblins. Not wanting to give both of them the opportunity of attacking first, Kyle flew upon the one towards the left, jumping through the air and attempting to bury his blade in the goblin’s throat.

There ya go! You’re really getting the hang of this, Kyle. Quality of posts is greater than quantity or rapidity of posts. Take as long as you need to write the perfect reply; nobody wins any rewards for getting things over with quickly.

Say, uh, how did the GM respond, anyway?

The first goblin shrieked in terror, collapsing under Kyle’s weight and meeting the business end of his sword. However, his companion uttered a howl and swung at Kyle’s head just as he landed. The second goblin was wielding a nasty-looking club with wolf’s teeth stabbed into it, and given Kyle’s position it would take a lot to dodge.

Alright Kyle, let’s talk about how-

Kyle dodged the club and ripped his knife out of the first goblin to plunge it into the second.

-to take a hit in combat. That, by the way, Kyle, was horrible. The GM literally said it’d be really hard, and one of Kyle’s capabilities is not Combat Expert. You’re going to have to bite the bullet on this one.

Kyle looked up at the club and buckled back - but not well enough. It collided with his forehead, mostly smacking it but leaving a few small scratches as well. He tumbled backwards and flipped onto his feet, crouching low to see what the goblin did next and if there was any opportunity to get his knife back.

Excellent, Kyle! I’m almost considering adopting you so the disowning can be more legitimate. You’re getting better at your posting and making it more fun for other players.

That’s Part One of Writing. I’ll add part two before too long. Let me know if this helps you out, or if there’s something related to what i covered that you’d like to know. Seeya!

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The Basics #2: Live, Laugh… And Love


Setting is extremely important for your character’s immediate needs - a transformer doesn’t exactly need to eat food every few hours, while a human will typically, at the minimum, complain about how hungry they are. No matter how you run things, the realistic expectations for bodily necessity are going to be stretched whether you are a player or a GM, so don’t go overboard on making sure everyone’s had exactly eight hours of sleep and uses the restroom twice a day.

There’s other things you don’t want to go crazy with, like… Um, like eating! Yeah, you don’t want to… Y’know, make your characters have hunger fatigue unless that’s a key element of the story. Because if you’re in a post-apocalyptic survival setting that might apply, but if you’re in Bob’s Medieval RPG That Has Elves it might be less applicable.

And uh, what else, what else… Oh, you can’t forget about, um… Sleep! Yes, sleep is for the weak, and unless you’re playing a self-insert you’ll need it before too long! But you’d be surprised how long your characters can go on if they aren’t aware of the passage of time. If they’re underground, exploring the ruins of an ancient temple, they could be down there for many, many ‘hours’ only to reappear later on with no hunger, no weariness, etc. It’s all how you decide to manage it, GMs.

Uh… There’s gotta be something else… Wait, what about character sheets? No, I already did that sort of. Combat? I already gave a brief overview. Uh… Um… Oh, I know!

So, you know how, uh, there are, y’know, NPCs? Characters you as the player can’t control? Well… You have to be careful not… To, um… Since the GM might not have time, and, uh…

Sigh.

Alright, we have to talk about it. How do you properly write a love scene? Do you plan it with the other player? Is it really awkward if you’re both bros or something, writing opposite sides of a romantic endeavor about two love-crazy peas in a pod? A pod which happens to be situated in an RP about having the most amount of people die in the shortest amount of time? (There’s a couple like that on the boards currently and I’m in them both)

Well, the short answer is… You don’t. Trying to make a love scene occur is almost always going to force an extremely skewed romantic endeavor and make you look like you’ve never had a girlfriend (It’s okay, we know you haven’t). If one occurs at all, it’ll be a natural process of the characters interacting - which, by the way, hardly ever leads to romantic endeavors. If it occurs, though, you won’t have to debate with the other player as to how it’d turn out - write things naturally and have the character react as he would in such a circumstance.

Hey Kyle, how’d you like to be part of a social experiment where I give you a love interest and then pretend it never happened? You wouldn’t? Well, that’s just too bad!

Kyle’s girlfriend, Kylie (the naming department at Ghid Inc. was cut due to how good of a job I’m doing) wants to have a romantic chit-chat. She’s begun by mentioning how the stars are so pretty right now. What does Kyle do?

Kyle kissed her on the lips. “Marry me.” He said, his rock-hard abs glistening in the moonlight even though he was wearing a perfectly modest shirt the entire time.

Boy, are we off to a fun start.

Okay, I think the point about the difficulties in such an endeavor has gotten across well enough. But how do you write the… Other kind of romantic endeavor? The one where there’s no happily ever after, no lasting bond, no positive outcome at all.

The Heartbreak.

You’ve got two characters, Kyle and Kylie- stop looking at me like that, Kyle. You flubbed your only opportunity at a happy marriage and it’s definitely not my fault, so shut up. Kyle and Kylie have been going strong for a while now, and Kylie had the utmost audacity to realize Kyle is a big jerk and she doesn’t want him anymore.

Kyle leaned forward, his hands trembling. “But I want to be with you.” He whispered, trying to find his voice. “We were the only ones for each other - you said that!”

Kylie turned away, bitterly wiping a tear off her eye. “That was before I realized how rotten you are. You’ve stolen from people your entire life… You’ve even killed some of them! No, Kyle, it’s over!”
With a muffled sob she rushed back to the camp, leaving Kyle alone with his thoughts. He had been royally dumped.

And so he had. But now what does he do?

He’s a smooth-talking, cocky, evasive young elf-man who’s very used to hiding behind that mask of charisma. With that cracked, now would be an excellent time to show what kind of low Kyle’s emotions can reach. Go ahead, Kyle.

Kyle froze in place and tears ran down his face.

Ugh… Kyle, if you won’t, I will.

Kyle’s trembling hands slowly contracted to his chest as his heart collapsed. Here was his big chance - his one shot - and the fatal slip had been… His entire life.
How was he to know that his misgivings and petty thievery would keep him from the love of his life? Moreover, how was he supposed to move on? He had promised her a piece of his heart… She took it with her when she left him. And there in the gloom of the forest, the distant campfire waned thin, the tears in his eyes distorting his vision.
His hands caught the drops of blue as they fell. His tongue turned to stone in his mouth. She was gone.

Now what did that tell you? Nothing! Get played, foolish reader!
Okay, it actually did tell you nothing. But it’s the exact same as the post directly above it, and guess what? It’s fun to read. Yes I’m continuing the point I already said I had covered shut up

More specifically, that earlier point - that posts should always be full and rich with content, that you should never say something basic when it can be complex - applies to every single circumstance you’re in. No matter if your character is fighting, walking, talking, eating, sleeping, living, dying, or already dead! There is no limitation to your ability to fully describe a scenario beyond your own ability to do so.

So how do you write a love scene, or a heartbreak scene, or any romantic endeavor? You write it interesting! If it sounds like a literary work, you’ve done it well. And if it blossoms or falls - you win either way.

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The Basics #3: We Can’t Expect Godmodding To Do All The Work


Alright, it’s time to discuss the major negative aspects of RPing that you’ll run into constantly, and ones you should very much avoid at all costs, especially if you’re a player. GMs, however, can make use of these all they want to keep the game flowing - it’s when the players do it that it’s problematic. Essentially, doing any of these things is the GM’s responsibility, not yours.

Kyle’s back after seeking therapy for the tragic loss of his relationship, and he’s super ticked at me for some reason, so he’s decided to do some nefarious against-the-rules behavior. Little does he know that it’s exactly the example I need for my demonstration.

In this scenario, Kyle is in combat with Elyk, his evil twin. They’re having a squabble over which one is the evil twin. What does Kyle do?

Kyle grabs Elyk’s arm and pins it behind his back, throwing him against a wall.

This is called an Autohit. What does that mean?

It’s usually only an issue when it’s Player versus Player combat, but an Autohit is when you describe an attack against another character without giving them the opportunity to respond. Autohits can also be non-aggressive, like pulling another character out of harm’s way, but most players and most GMs are fine with ‘autohits’ occurring in a non-combat scenario, such as laying a hand on a shoulder, et cetera.

To avoid Autohits, write that you are anticipating the follow-up action, like I will now demonstrate with Kyle’s unquenchable rage:

Kyle suddenly dove for Elyk’s arm, hoping he could use it to pin against his back.

In certain circumstances, the GM will allow you to autohit if the opposing player refuses to acknowledge your action - you wind up and send out a punch, the other character does nothing to prevent it, and the end result is that you punch them and describing the impact is your responsibility. That’s not the case with every GM, though, but it’s something I prefer.

Anyway, let’s look at Elyk’s turn:

Elyk almost dodged, but was just a little too slow, as Kyle managed to grab his wrist.
Elyk thought for a split second and devised a plan: Feint a more dangerous attack and gain the opportunity to kick Kyle in the stomach. With this in mind, Elyk reached for Kyle’s head, pretending to aim for his neck to choke him out.

Interesting… Elyk’s devised some strategy on the spot, but he didn’t have to spell it out, although here it helps to illustrate his intent and the devious, scheming nature of the character now that his mental plan is formed. Let’s see how Kyle responds.

Kyle ignored the hand, aiming a kick towards Elyk’s knee to spoil his plans.

…Uh, no Kyle, bad Kyle, why-didn’t-I-disown-you-the-first-time Kyle. That’s not a good! Elyk made it very clear he didn’t verbally announce his plans to you in the split second he had to create them. You’re taking advantage of information you had no way of knowing - that’s called Metagaming.

How to avoid this? It’s very easy to accidentally have your character act off of info only you are aware of. Just keep in mind you’re writing a story and your knowledge doesn’t necessarily coincide with your character’s knowledge. I may know Elyk’s love interest Elysia has a birthmark on the back of her left ankle in the shape of a crescent moon which indicates she is the legendary lunarchild destined to die and free this RP’s horrible David Bowie insert from his celestial prison, but Kyle doesn’t know that because he hasn’t had an opportunity to find out.

Alright, I’ll skip ahead a bit and show you what happens next. Kyle lost the fight because Flavius, master of the flail walked into the room and slashed both of his legs before dragging him out to mope about how they didn’t get to solve their bitter dispute. He can’t walk currently due to the pain, but a cobgoblin (a goblin made of corn) has wandered in from the neighboring field and is attempting to rush him! What should he do?

Kyle got up and bolted, being in no condition to fight a cobgoblin.

Ah Kyle, you can’t change the condition of your wounds because the situation demands it. You’re still recovering from the attack by Flavius, so it looks like you’ll need to be slightly more inventive than cowering and running for your life.

I’ve seen different terms used for this one such as ‘retconning’, i.e. changing previous info because the new info contradicts it, but I’m going to include it under the term Godmodding since it more often than not occurs with players forgetting or just ignoring previous events entirely to get out of current situations.

Well Kyle, what will you do?

Kyle immediately flopped on the ground. “Don’t look at me, I’m salad dressing!”

The cobgoblin immediately turned radish and bolted for its life. No wonder it wanted to beet it, with how horrible that pun was. Lettuce hope it was a celerysonable delivery.

Oh well. At least cobgoblins are easily fooled. Kyle would’ve gotten squashed otherwise, but would anyone carrot all if he were to turnip dead?

Please stop booing.

Two more and then I promise to release you from your pain. Bunnying is when you, as a player, take control of another character to manipulate events in your favor. This commonly occurs when traveling long distances, by including the other characters in your progress without express consent. Sometimes this is the polite thing to do when a player has gone silent, or is absent for a month, meaning your writing has to include them in the background. They may miss out on a lot of great moments, but at least they won’t be left behind. Just make sure the GM approves.

And finally, there’s Railroading. You may have only ever heard this in association with GMs mismanaging a game, but in essence it’s forcing things in a specific direction and limiting freedoms to progress to a certain point or force a specific outcome, and while it almost always occurs with GMs and poor game management, players are very capable of it as well. Several RPs on these boards have been the victim of railroading - one was an entire series of sequels with deep lore - and railroading can ruin an otherwise fun and enjoyable story and setting.

Warning signs of railroading is if the setting takes place in a massive, open area, and all the players are shoved together and made to practically ignore the rest of the world when the premise is the world itself. Also, if you’re worried you might potentially railroad players, tell them how you plan to run the game in advance of the game occurring. And if there’s railroading, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

This is hardly a comprehensive list of what kinds of Godmodding and other cheating occurs, but it should give you a general idea of what to look out for. And since this is the end of the Basics category, the next few steps will be getting into the meat of things - combat, storytelling, characterization, etc. so ketchup on your research and prepear to be amaized by what romaines - truly a work of art…ichoke.

I said stop booing.

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The Next Level #1: To Fill A Paper


“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
― William Wordsworth

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again in the future, and I’m saying it right now - I have no interest in roleplaying. Before you get any further in this understand that my perspective is only that of a writer thrilled by the challenges presented in the creative writing environment of Boards RPs. I desire the immediate difficulties with scenarios thrown your way and you, as a writer, have to write the story with no personal interjection - your merit and skill as an author either carries the day or sinks the whole ship. And that’s what I’m here to talk about.

In fact, that’s the premise of this entire series of haranguing prose. To instruct on how to write better, think more creatively, and actually care about what you put in your posts. To me that’s important - when I write a story I want my fellow authors to care about what they compose because when it’s terse and empty, the quality of the story drops. More is more, not less.

To perhaps finally get me off my high horse on the topic, I’m putting all my woes into the first chapter of the next level of How-Tos. It’ll probably show up later anyway though.


Never Write Less when You can Write More

“A word after a word after a word is power.”
― Margaret Atwood

Without getting into flowery palaver, let me first say you have a post with a ridiculously high character count here on the Boards. Use it. Never settle for less than a paragraph no matter the circumstance, the scenario, or the character. Is your character in a coma? There are ways to fill a paragraph of text in relation to your character being completely incapable of providing any feedback.

Kyle lay motionless and still, completely unresponsive after all this time. At the minimum, he appeared peaceful, and the steady rhythm of his heart rang out the proclamation that for now, at least, he was alive. One could only hope he did not remain that way for long.

Why a paragraph minimum? Why not simply say things quickly and be done?

Kyle remained in the coma still.

Because this provides absolutely nothing for anyone else to work off of. If I’m the next player, what the heck am I supposed to do with this? I’m more likely to ignore the post for having nothing and move on to other events.

Paragraph-size posts have another advantage which you as a player, whether you like roleplaying or writing more, will require to get anywhere in the game: Attention. The GM is less likely to care about your post if it’s a sentence long or conveys the information in the most basic and banal manner possible. Good writing is honored with good prompts; bad writing is ignored even if there isn’t a writing focus.

If you don’t like that, then you really shouldn’t be RPing. Is that a bit rude to say? It is the only appropriate response to actively ruining the experience for others, especially if it is done intentionally.


Love, Laugh, Cry, and Cut to the Bone

“Tears are words that need to be written.”
― Paulo Coelho

In the heart of a waterfall, Matoro fell.

These are the words which begin the most emotionally investing moment in Bionicle literature - and that’s hardly confined to just my opinion. The Death of Matoro is almost universally considered a shocking and dramatic twist which nothing in Bionicle has come close to before or since, and even years after reading it I still have difficulty finding a sacrifice sequence which brings such a heavy feeling to my chest as that one did.

But why? Why does the death of Matoro work so well? It’s quite clear the writing quality is the acceptable level for children investing in an action figure line, so there’s no induction into literary fame for the author coming out of this. And yet in spite of the simplicity, the emotional pangs are there. So why does this - a work with mediocre writing quality and a basic plot - not only invest in our emotions, but builds upon them to the point that one action figure dying twists a knife in your heart?

The universe is a riddle, thought Matoro. Turaga Nuju often said that. It hints at the path you are meant to walk, but never makes its message clear. You have to figure that out for yourself . . . and maybe I just did.

Because we as readers like to care. And compelling dialogue doesn’t have to be written well to elicit an emotional response of some kind. Read about a character’s thought process revealing itself as unnecessarily cruel? You’re more likely to detest that character now, or more than you did before. See the sympathetic pangs of sorrow illustrated on a page? It might be inhuman to take it all with a dry eye and a hard lip.

And when bringing the personality of your character forefront, you want to do exactly that. A good way to tell if your audience will find emotional investment in your writing is if you do. So always seek to stab at the heart of the reader and at your own if you can. Aldous Huxley said that words can be like x-rays if used properly - they go through anything. Read and you’re pierced.

Once before, long ago, a Toa had donned the Ignika and lost his life to complete his mission. That Toa had tried to be brave, but there was fear in his heart and he met his end with grief and regret. The Ignika sensed none of this in Matoro ― only a will and determination that rivaled even that of Mata Nui himself.

Much like the grapefruit you received on thanksgiving from your estranged uncle who smells of cigars and car exhaust and ends every sentence with “ya know”, your characters will only show what’s inside under pressure. A good GM will invent scenarios where just this occurs, and the opportunities for writing in that scenario are bountiful, but so often this is ruined by the players muffing through like it’s potato salad. When these opportunities occur, and you are willing to take advantage of them, you can generate the same visible emotional pulls Matoro’s death accomplishes - negative or positive.

And above all else, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you feel your writing isn’t bringing about your intent, or isn’t detailed enough, or too detailed perhaps, just ask the other players for feedback and advice. It’ll be their fault if you don’t receive it.

Just as countless beings had sensed the death of Mata Nui, so did they now feel life return to him. And in the sky above the city of Metru Nui, the stars shone brightly once more…


Nowhere to go but Up

“A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.”
― Sidney Sheldon

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter how many times I reiterate that good writing and more writing directly equals higher quality RPs and stories, and that less always makes things worse. If you aren’t willing to put it into practice, nothing will change, and you’ll probably end up being not that fun to write with.

But for those trying to improve, who want to improve as writers and look forward to the possibility of authoring your very own novel, please give my advice a try. I’ve said many times that those who do not push themselves to be better never will be, because encouraging the casual monotony of post-by-post responding to actions not only stifles creativity, but stifles the creativity of those around you. At the minimum amount of concern, you want them to have a good time, right?

And that’s about all I can really reiterate on the topic without getting into mulish maundering about how the ineffective nature of writing classes and whatnot. Your post is a storytelling tool. Go tell a story with it.


“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
― Frank Herbert

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Managing Your Game #1: The Structure of Your Character Profile

Written by Ajtazt
Edited by Ghid


Chances are, you’ve seen a profile template that looks something like this:

It’s basic, simple, easily understood, and provides everything one could need. So we can just grab this, throw it into our game and call it good right?

Ha!

No.

That’s not good enough.

The template is just a guide, a quick cheat sheet for communicating our characters. What categories goes on our cheat sheet depends on the test we’re taking. The inclusion, or lack thereof, of these categories informs the players what the GM finds to be important and worth noting. And a good cheat sheet should be laid out in an efficient manner that flows logically and can be referenced easily. Otherwise, precious time is wasted running through notes than completing the test.

So let’s quickly break down this basic character profile, understand why it’s designed this way, and what it should be communicating.

From my understanding, profiles should be dissected into three parts. The first part above is the intro/quick info dump section. It’s for all the little information that can easily be communicated in one to a few words, maybe a sentence at most.

We start off with Name so we know what to call the character, meaning a name could be important in this world. Followed by Species, implying that more than one playable species or race is available in this game. Soon followed by Gender, which could imply romance or some societal importance, but usually there to help inform character appearance.

Speaking of Appearance, it might seem strange why this is included with the short info dump. Indeed, Appearance can be long and might fit into the middle section more than the first depending on the game. But info from the previous categories guides the reader into what the character might look like already. Though with Appearance being here, it could mean that how a character looks is important in this game. Perhaps different reactions will be received based on looks or it’s just there so everyone knows how to picture the character in their heads.

For the middle section, this is where more of the meat comes in. This is for information that can’t be summed up in a reasonable sentence, but can take up a paragraph of more. In the first category we have Powers and Weapons, telling us this game is a world with some supernatural abilities of some kind. And that weapons are important to have, meaning combat should be expected, if not a primary focus.

This part can often be considered the most important by many. They’ll skim through the quick info and appearance, but focus on the character’s abilities. Indeed, this portion can break games but it’s in the center for a reason. What the character can do to harm or help isn’t considered as important as knowing who they are as a person. If combat was more important, this might be higher up.

Equipment and gear can also influence the Appearance description like the quick info, but it’s still after. This is for multiple reasons, being more character focus as previously stated and general flow. As how the gear is described as looking can be further clarified here for what it can do.

Then we go into Personality, telling us that the character should be more than their weapons. Tends to be short for most, usually for traits and details that can’t be gleaned from other sections. Which moves nicely into the last section.

The finale, the character’s life story. Typically this is the largest section, bringing the rest of the previous categories together and adding final details. Personality can be combined with Background or included as part of the last section, but not always. But the game wants to know where your character came from, how they got here. Perhaps it will influence how their future will go in the game.

Although most of these categories are self-evident, sometimes additional clarifications may be required. A brief sentence, or even a paragraph, can be helpful if needed.

Now how about we look at an example and see what we can learn from it? I’ll be taking fellow board member MaximusPrimal’s template used in Transformers: Tournament of Terror.

This template is usable but needs improvements. There is no Race or Species, only having a Faction category, so we can assume we’re only playing as Cybertronians. Which can be considered a given, this is Transformers after all, what else would you play? Appearance is next and then immediately after that is Alt Mode…Why?

Why is the Alt Mode section after appearance? Most Transformers’ appearance will depend on their alternate mode. Usually, an alt mode is also short as well, so it would be better placed between Faction and Appearance, it flows better that way.

Similarly, splitting the sections of Weapons and Abilities into their own categories seems unnecessary. While this does tell me that characters can have unique or special abilities, since it’s optional, it could be combined with Weapons. Keeps the clutter down and all the important combat information in one place. And it ends with Bio, since even Transformers’ wikis don’t have sections for personalities or traits of the characters. So it seems it’s not as important or at least redundant.

If I were to rework this template, I would make something like this:

The subsections under Appearance (Alt Mode and Robot Mode) would be intended, but the TTV boards don’t like that. Anyways, I added Species as not everything that Transforms is Cybertronian and there are subraces even within those in Cybertron, or ones similar to them. It could still be left out, added as personal preference. Alternate Mode has now been moved above Appearance, splitting Appearance into two subsections. Alt Mode appearance is first as it was just talked about in the previous category. Robot Mode could be described first, but it wouldn’t flow as easily. And by specifying the appearance of both forms, it increases their importance and prompts the player to think about how each should look.

Weapons and Abilities are combined into one and a Personality portion is added. In my experience with the game, character was an important aspect and ended up being more of a focus than combat. So some personality could be included to emphasize that these aren’t just war robots. And ends with History, same as Bio but I think History sounds nicer.

As a homework example, look at this template from a slice-of-life, urban fantasy RP.

Even without most of the extra text clarifications, this is an absolute disaster. So what does this communicate to you, what do you think they’re looking for? How might you fix this so that it works better?

For additional homework, look at the character sheets from our tabletop relatives and what they communicate to the player. Though different, they both serve the same goal, reflecting how the game is played and what sort of characters are expected. To help give quick reference for all the vital information.

Remember, just because a character profile is standard, doesn’t mean it should be kept that way. Add categories, remove some, alter others, do what you must. Just make it so that it accurately reflects the game, contain only the relevant info, and what characters are expected. And hopefully character submissions for both GM and players will go smoothly.

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why do you feel the need to call me out like this in these trying times

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Why did you decide to tell the entire world your name was Bob

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The world was pretty persuasive.

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I’ve been considering making a similar topic, though with a lot more narrow focus. Mainly about the design and layout of character sheets and what it should communicate to both player and GM. And if anyone reading this is looking confused by that statement, you have no idea how much the structure of the character profile, let alone its content, drives me insane.

So if you don’t mind other contributors in this topic Ghid, might just toss in that essay here in the near future. I doubt there are many others quite obsessed about that portion like me.

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