Saturday, April 14, 2018

Party Sheets

Player characters have a state composed of many variables.  Hit points remaining, inventory, saves, etc.  All of this is reflected in the character sheet.

A player-facing character sheet: it helps with feelings of ownership, allows players to make informed decisions quickly, and potentially teaches some of the game mechanics.

The Party Sheet

Like individual players, parties also have a state composed of many variables: reputation, shared inventory, ongoing plots, etc.

Unlike a character sheet, this information isn't always player facing.  Most DMs inform their players through play, or through updates at the beginning/end of each session.  But the information isn't at the players' fingertips, and this is probably a shame.

Shared resources should be available to the whole party to examine, and liting them on a party sheet does exactly that.  But there's another, less obvious, benefit here: lots of information that was previously in front of one player (or just the DM) is now on a sheet that the players can pass around between themselves.  This helps with transparancy and awareness, which in turn helps with agency.

So let me talk about all of the things that might belong on a party sheet.

Shared Inventory

So the party bought a pony to carry their 200 lbs of calimari rations.  This pony usually exists as a loose piece of paper, attached to a character sheet via paperclip.  This player might be the ponymaster, and do all the imaginary work of feeding the pony and all the actual work of being the pony's accountant.

If the pony's inventory is on the party sheet, the party can just pass it around and shuffle calimari rations as they see fit.  Efficient!

There's another, less obvious advantage here.  If everyone is looking at the pony's inventory, everyone is more aware of what the pony is carrying.  This doesn't necessarily happen if the ponymaster is the only person who is looking at the the pony's inventory.

Honestly, players should probably look at each other's character sheets a little bit more.  It's good for versimilitude ("I didn't know your character was fourteen years old!") as well as for tactical awareness ("Micah, *you* have a mirror!  Throw it to me!")


Make this shit transparent.

Markov, Level 1 fighter, chainmail tunic, spear, 3 javelins.  Loyalty 12.  Cheerful.  Distrusts women.  Loves games of chance.

Sure, maybe fill in the personality traits after Markov has been adventuring with you for a while, or don't fill them in at all.  That's certainly optional.  The point is to give players more information at their fingertips.

I encourage you to list the Loyalty (Morale) of your hirelings.  It makes sense in-game, since you would know which hirelings seem more respectful, and which hirelings seem more bitter.  People talk, after all.

It also makes sense at the table, since players can see the consequences of how they treat their hirelings.  Each time they treat a hireling like a disposable resource, or the hireling's life is endangered, they can see the Loyalty drop.  Each time they treat a hireling like a fellow party member, or grant them some boon, they can see the Loyalty rise.

Wisdom / Passive Perception

I use this sometimes to figure out how much description I should give a player when they are alone.  Low wisdom characters get more minimal descriptions of things.  High wisdom characters get non-obvious descriptions of people's emotions.  ("You can tell that the dwarven rock-rider captain is intensely proud from the way that they stands and speaks.  His words are meant for his men as much as for you.")

When the party is all together, I just tell everyone everything.  That lets them make better-informed decisions.

If you're playing 5th edition, this is also a good place to put down everyone's passive perceptions.

Noise / Perception

I've written before about my Noise/Perception system.  Basically, random encounters are rolled on a d20.  You have a 15% chance of getting a random encounter (a roll of 1-3) and a 15% chance of finding traces of the random monster without encountering it (a roll of 4-6).  These chances correspond to Noise 3 (chance of getting a random encounter) and Perception 3 (chance of finding traces of the random monster without encountering it).

Encumbrance and pack animals increase your Noise.

Rangers increase your Perception.

A party composed of six rangers would have Noise 3 and Perception 9.  They would get a random encounter on a roll of 1-3, and encounter traces of a random encounter on a roll of 4-12.


Reputations are held with factions or with significant individuals.  They represent the party's ability to successfully request special treatment or favors.

They start at 1 (by default) and improve by 2-4 points at a spurt until 10, when they improve by 1-2 points at a time.  I also include a single word describing the nature of the reputation.  For example:

The Goblins of Mount Daggermouth 11 (awe of magic prowess)

King Oswic 9 (for service performed)

So, if the party asks the goblins of Mount Daggermouth to spy on the dragon on their behalf, the goblins have a 55% chance of accepting (11-in-20).  If the PCs back it up with a credible display of magical power (e.g. lightning bolting a tree), I'd probably give them a +4 bonus on this roll.  If they try to flatter the goblins by praising the goblins' power, I wouldn't give the +4 bonus, since it doesn't mesh with the reputation.

If the party asks King Oswic if they can read his dead daughter's diary, they have a 45% chance of success

Don't make reputation rolls if there's already a better way to settle it.  Business negotiations over the cost of a service are usually pretty cut and dry.  For example, just because you are friends with your drug dealer, don't expect cheaper rates, since prices are usually set.  Favoritism manifests in other ways: availability, information, opportunities, access.

Similarly, you don't need to make a roll if the conclusion is obvious.  If the party can credibly threaten the goblins with major destruction ("we can flood your caves with lava") then you don't need a roll to convince the goblins to spy on the dragon for you.  Just don't expect them to be incredibly loyal.

Team Spirits

Team spirits are spirits that respond when party members call on them.

  • Anyone in the party can use a team spirit.  It takes a standard action to invoke one.
  • Most team spirits can only be used a fixed amount of times (usually just once).
  • They are comparable to spells, usually just a minor spell, but sometimes a very powerful one.
  • You find them like treasure.

Team spirits are obtained by helping the local spirits/angels/daemons.  Restoring a head to a decapitated idol, saying prayers over a long-abandoned grave, freeing a luminescent spirit from where it was imprisoned inside a lantern, et cetera.

Once the party has a team spirit, any party member can invoke them.

<digression> A long time ago, I tried to fix the cleric's problem of being the heal monkey (which felt very salient in Pathfinder at the time).  People would need healing, and the cleric would spend all of their turns delivering heals.  My solution was just to give the cleric a divine spirit that followed him around.  Anyone in the party could petition the spirit for a heal, thereby saving the cleric an action.  To put it another way, clerical healing cost the healee an action, rather than the healer.  </digression>

Potential Drama

The party burns down the inn and leave town, never to return.

The party traps the wizard in his time cube, but are unable to kill him.  They leave this area of the map.

The party saves the life of a fairy princeling, who promises that he will repay this favor, someday, somehow.  Then he vanishes into a tulip.

In many games, these things are forgotten.  The party moves on, escaping their punishment or their reward.  And that's a loss, I think. 

One of the greatest things about a tabletop RPG (compared to a computer RPG) is that consequences can be both logical and wide-ranging.

Sometimes the consequences become visible when the party returns to the area.  Or sometimes the compaign is constrained enough that the party is always adjacent to the results of their actions.  But these conditions aren't guaranteed.  Better to have the effects revisit the party, instead of relying on the party to revisit the effects.

Here's my simple system:

On the party sheet, list all the potential drama that may come back to bite the party in the ass someday (for better or worse):  Grateful fairy prince.  Scorned wizard.  Angry, sober villagers.

Each session, roll a d6 for each of the potential aftereffects.  If you roll a 1, the party's history catches up with them:

  • a battalion of cricket lancers shows up and pledges their services until the next blue moon
  • an acid cloud shaped like the wizard's face chases the party for 48 hours
  • or the elephant-riding bounty hunters show up.

If you rolled a 1 one all three of the potential dramas, then all three of them will resurface this session.  (Probably all at the same time.)

Will an ensorcelled acid cloud chase the party through the dungeon?  Absolutely.  The elephant riders are more likely to ambush the party outside the dungeon, which might be potentially disasterous if the cricket lancers didn't already warn the party.

I've attached a chart of possible wizardly reprisals at the bottom of this post, just to get the ball rolling.  Feel free to write more.  (I already have some good ideas for goblin reprisals.)


1d6 Wizardly Reprisals

Because let's be honest, your party has probably pissed off a few wizards already.

1. Harpies show up, attack with tridents and feces (causes blindness until washed with snow, or blessed by a cleric).

2. Giant pink cloud shows up, taunts party, shrinks them all to 2 inches high.  Lasts 24 hours.  Have fun fighting velvet worms, you poor bastards.

3. Giant purple cloud shows up, taunts party, shrinks all of their possessions 100x.  Lasts 24 hours. 

4. Mushrooms start sprouting up around the party, releasing plumes of hallucinatory spores.  Each mushroom resembles the wizard.  At a minimum, the spores make navigation impossible (all directions are effectively randomized, because when you see four suns, how can you navigate?)  All encounters for the rest of the day have their appearance and speech randomized, to the best of your ability.

5. Powerful demon shows up, attacks the party to the best of its ability.  While it attacks, it complains about the wizard, describes the wizard's weaknesses, including how to deprive him of the services of this demon.  When defeated, the demon vanishes with an exasperated sigh.

6. Hired mercenaries, riding a titanosaur, forced into tractability through the use of a fragile obedience helmet.

7. Just a shit-ton of rust monsters, driven onward by a trio of cackling imps.  The rust monsters bleat like scared sheep, and they will very efficiently devour the party's metal.

8. A spirit that looks like a hummingbird with the wizard's head.  It will fly around you, tell people of your misdeeds, warn monsters that you are attempting to ambush, and generally just be a pest.  Incorporeal.


  1. I feel like you could and should publish your system, perhaps with the input of other fellows of the OSR scene.

    What would it take for a superteam to publish a rulebook? I am thinking Jeff Rients, False Patrick, Dyson, Luka Rejek, Skerples, yourself...

  2. Why has no one ever thought of this- this is brilliant! And even if this was apparently common practice for everyone but me, thank you for telling me about this, Arnold!

  3. Having a party sheet in Blades in the Dark is pretty great.