Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Character Box, not a Character Sheet, I say!

Character sheets are not an ideal solution to represent everything about a character. It has been said on several occasions and in various rpg-related media that a sheet of paper is not versatile enough to help simulating everything the game needs.

Alright, I'm exaggerating a bit.

But think about it. What does a sheet of paper do for you? It holds all the information. Right. But what about, say, a character using a torch. He is using his resources, blocking one of his hands while doing so. And it's something a player is bound to forget, if it's written on a piece of paper or not.

Well, how about giving that player a tea light and as long as it's burning, he will have light and his hand will be blocked. Live at the table, so to say.

But wait a minute.

Our hobby is, after all, as much about the haptic experience as it is about anything else. That's why we use miniatures, props and maps and all that stuff. So what if players also were to use something like this:

This could be a Character Box ... [source]
A box of predetermined volume (by the DM, of course) that holds all items the character owns and is about. The dice*, a small character sheet (those numbers need to be somewhere), his gold, his weapons, all that stuff, visualized with whatever the DM sees fit. Let's see.

Player buys 10 torches so he gets 10 tea lights. All his character is about and everything he owns is in a small box like the one pictured above. If he's looking for something, he needs to find it in there. If it isn't there, he doesn't have it. If he isn't able to close the lid, he is over-encumbered.

Use tea lights as torches. It's standing by the player that holds it
and gives lights as long as it burns ... [source]
For gold and other treasure you could use glass beads with different colours for different types of treasure (a yellow glass bead could stand for 10 gp, for example).

Sort them by colour and give them as treasure [source]
What else ... For every other item I'd go with labeled wooden toy bricks. Size should determine how big the wooden piece needs to be. This doesn't mean it should be an accurate science. No, I believe if players and DM are able to agree on this, it'll be as accurate as it needs to be.

Some wooden toy bricks would totally suffice.
Just write the name of the item on one of them
and you're good to go ... [source]
Could this work? Did anybody already do something like this?

Nothing of this is very expensive or hard to get. It leaves enough individual space for the players to make their charater-box something very special. Having several boxes for pack animals or henchman would be no big deal either (would give wsearching for items an interesting spin and if one of them falls down a cliff, the box disappears easily enough, too).

A wizard could even have a small booklet with all his spells. Stolen items could reappear and be recognized. Paying for stuff would also be more of an at-the-table experience and not just number crunching. Looting could be more fun ... It goes on and on, I guess.

But I never saw this done anywhere. So what do you think? Is this something that could work for D&D? Has it been done already?

*Which indicates a specific set of dice per character. Would that be asking too much of the players? I like the idea mainly because it would further individualize the character.


  1. I really like this idea, especially for novice players. Our group tried something like this, only not quite as ambitious. The DM gave out item cards for magic items, stamped with a unique seal. If they got used up, lost, charges exhausted, etc. the players would hand them back in.

    1. I don't know about ambitious, but maybe you're right. It really wouldn't work on something like a convention, but for a campaign it might be just the right thing. Most Gamers invest a lot more into their hobby.

      We tried what you describe in our group as well and it does work well. But knowing my Players I'd say, if it's not written down, it'll get lost sonner or later. The HackMaster books had coupons in the back. You could give them to Players as some sort of get-free-out-of-jail Cards (among other things). They were always very happy to get those, but they'd never use them because of the reason stated above. For this alone a box would be an advancement, I guess ...

      And you got me thinking. How could a system like this handle items with charges? Anyway, I have to think a bit more about it. There's room to develop it further. Glad you liked it!

  2. It's a fantastic idea, my only issue woudl be finding 4 or 5 matching boxes and all the props for a whole party, I know that sounds trivial. but it coudl be a real PIA.
    But as far as ideas go it's an amazing leap into imersion.. I may try it

    1. Thanks! I really had to google PIA, though :) I believe this is where the beauty lies. You just need to decide on a volume, players might then get/build/borrow their own boxes (I'd say you'd have to be able to put a DIN A5 on the bottom of the box, height is regulated easy enough ...). Props might be a bit more difficult, but buying a set or two of Jenga and a permanent marker could go a long way (that and lots of beads). The wizard gets a small book for his spells and the rest should be as agreed upon ...

      Maybe I should write a follow up post on this and go somewhat deeper into the subject. Give this a spin with the group, too.

      If you really get the chance to try this, I'd be very interested to hear how it worked out, of course!


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