Temporary Character Sheets 1611

One of the main problems of newer players in role-playing games is the fact they have to design a character sheet. For a person is not accustomed to role-playing games creation of a character – the person, the avatar of the player – is something quite alien. Also, it is very easy to create a character which simply does not work, even in the easiest possible role-playing system.

A solution to this problem is to create a way for new players to actually play without having characters. For example, imagine you are playing a Batman. We all know, more or less, what Batman can do. Batman is awesome at being a detective, catching crooks… But his disadvantages are women (not in case of Bruce Wayne’s persona).

Is it required to create Batman’s character sheet in a role-playing system? Or is it enough to understand what Batman is supposed to be good at and bad at in a role-playing system? Those things are not identical. Character sheet is a way to crystallize the understanding of a particular concept of the character.

Another example – let us create a stereotypical paladin. Diamond the paladin. What can we say about Diamond? He excels at fighting evil – sorcerers, monsters, evil cults. He is awesome in terms of raising morale of the commoners. He can detect evil and turn evil. But probably he sucks at deceiving people and at intimidating those who know that he is bound to a code of conduct.

So let’s assume a situation that Dave is playing Diamond. And Kate is Dave’s Prototypist. Let us assume that Diamond doesn’t have a character sheet. I can believe the exchange between Dave and Kate would look like this:

Kate: “you hear the ominous chanting coming from the basement. But there is no entrance.”
Dave: “I am going to find this entrance focusing on the floor.”
Kate: “it seems to be an amateur level task; however, you are pressed for time. This raises it to proficient level before the chanting changes into something unpleasant.”
Dave: “in my opinion, a paladin is an amateur in detecting things like those hidden floors.”
Kate: “true that. Amateur versus proficient.” <she rolls the dice> “failure.”
Dave: “so what happens now?”
Kate: “Well, you wanted to find the entrance in the floor. You found it. However, the darkness engulfs your soul when you try to enter the dark chasm below the floor of the basement.”
Dave: “I am a paladin. I fight evil. I am used to it.”
Kate: “Yep, you do. Expert level. You fight against proficient only.” <rolls> “and you succeed. The darkness of the rituals does nothing to your pure intention.”
Dave: “poetic; okay, I unsheathe my sword and descend into darkness.”
Kate: “you may be a better swordsman than wielding a knife, but, you know… Small corridors, no place to really swing it.”
Dave: “sucks. Okay, just proficient in knives. I will still use a stiletto instead of sword…”
Kate: “a wise decision…”

So, in the exchange above Dave does not have to have a character sheet for Diamond. It is enough that Kate and Dave know in general what a paladin can do and what to expect. This mechanism is something I would recommend to the newer players - also to people not having time to create character sheets and just willing to play the game.

So how to make it work?

There exists a table in this system, which shows various difficulty levels. When you think about a character, try to describe it in two or three sentences; try to focus on where does this character excel at, what does this character do for a living without excelling and what does this character dabble in, usually for fun.

Then during the role-playing session try to map the “excel” things onto “expert” level. Map “doing for a living” onto “proficient” level. Map “dabble” onto “amateur” level. And that’s all, really.


Marianne is a commander of a small semi abandoned frontier outpost. She excels at recycling and repurposing things to whatever is needed the most in a particular moment and she excels in defending her small post. As a commander of this post she does for a living what the commander usually does – boost people’s morale, administer resources, some tactical decisions, local politics and diplomacy with nearby villages. As a hobby, she dabbles in astronomy and writes quite bad poetry.

This small description above shows more or less what the character can do. Let’s assume a set of tests with Kate being prototypist:
Kate: “a soldier is quarreling with a villager over a trade which has gone bad.”
• If Marianne wants to force the soldier to give up the trade in his disadvantage, she is at “proficient” level (because she is a commander) and has a bonus because of her rank.
• If Marianne wants to peacefully resolve the situation without bad blood, she is also at “proficient” level (because politics of this type is her bread-and-butter work). She may get a bonus because she is working with those people for a long time.
Kate: “a transport will be coming soon to the village, but the bridge will not hold it. And outpost is being asked to help resolve the situation.”
• If Marianne wants to expend some resources and repurpose some older buildings to reinforce the bridge (especially using the engineer from an outpost), she is at “expert” level (repurposing and adapting is her area of excellence)
• if Marianne wants to drop responsibilities not to risk her people and her mission, she is at “proficient” level (politics and diplomacy).

As you can see, as long as you’re able to properly set the conflict level and you are able to assess the character level, it is completely possible to work with temporary characters without creating character sheets. And this means that the game is easier to get into and requires less investment from the players.

I personally suggest playing two or three times without character sheets even if you’re experienced. That way you are able to play with the convention, create different worlds, different seeds of campaigns and see what sticks to your group. That way you are able to create a first set of characters after playing two or three sessions with them. They will be more materialized in your heads and they will be more adapted to whatever you want to actually play.

So – prototype of character sheets during your first sessions, actual character sheets after the concept materializes. This is how I do it and it works for me.

Remember to allow players to change the concepts of the temporary characters on the fly! They are not stabilized yet, let the players (engineers) adapt their tools (characters) to whatever they feel will serve them the best.


Actual example of using this under the current Invasion system (with current Invasion numbers):

Difficulty Should do it easily Equal level Typical 'hard' test
amateur 04 07 09
proficient 09 10 13
expert 12 13 16

Marianne takes "amateur", "proficient", "excel" at equal levels. So for the purpose of the mechanics she has 07, 10, 13 under the current system in WHATEVER suits the concept of the character.

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