Epic Ideas #3: The Roleplaying Cheat Sheet

Update: We’ve now become http://www.epicheroesonline.com. No need to update bookmarks, but when you tell your friends about us, no need to add that extra bloogadargle.

At some point in time at the table, in between combat, roleplaying, and note taking; both the players and the GMs end up accumulating small charts, reminders, and tables. Game Masters have screens that hide their most used information. Players have notes on their character sheets, to remind them of items and abilities to use. The fact of the matter is that cheat sheets make tabletop roleplaying games faster, and easier. I want to show you how to make the roleplaying cheat sheet. Something to fall back on when you’re not sure what your character should do in a situation.

It happens to the best of us. There is an amazing item just two levels down. We can risk getting to it, but someone might die… We might fail the mission. The player in you wants the weapon, but you’re just not sure what your character would do. This dilemma hits us in all sorts of ways. Most often for me, it’s when I’m presented with saving a PC vs an NPC. The player in me wants to help my friend, but what about my character? Well, I guess it’s time to bust out another Epic Idea. You’ll need only an index card and pen for this project. We’re going to write down five questions about our character and answer those same five questions. And, Game Masters, this also works wonders for any notable NPCs and enemies you may whip up.

Questions and Answers

Alignment? I’m not talking about what the books say about alignment. I’m asking, what does your character lean to. If you wrote good on your character sheet, or lawful good; that’s fine. But, here we need to know where they lean most. Think about how they act in the following situations: witness something tragic such as loss of life or loved one, accidentally take part in a murder (they were set up), they were rewarded much more than they were promised…

As you can see, these are all questions that make you think about your characters moral compass. Someone who leans toward good may respond “Cry and give respect, turn themselves in, be thankful for the reward and donate the excess…” Someone who leans towards chaotic may respond “swear unending revenge, hunt down those who framed me, be thankful for the reward because they saw I was well worth it”.  The good person simply that, a good person. Good happens to them, bad happens to them, they just move on in the least resisting path possible. The chaotic person is all about them, they’ll be responsible for who wronged them.

So, when we look back at our index card, and see “Alignment?” we now have a bit clearer picture. The good person would answer “Good, path of least resistance.” the chaotic person would right “Chaotic, vengeful, self-centered or greedy.” Give that alignment meaning with key words. So when that moral compass question comes up, and you can’t think of what to do right away, you can look down and have something to lean on, role playing crutches, heck yeah.

Fight or Flight? When your character is, or has been put in grave danger, what is the first thing they do. Let’s use the same two guys as above. We’ll give them some names now, Goody McGood and Angry McStab. Let’s say your party is threatened. One member has perished in combat, and the others seem to suffer the same fate soon. We can fall back on our first question and answer to help us with this question. Because Goody has always followed the easiest path, and knows his companions will need help; he’ll likely seek to flee. He knows of magic that can bring his friends back. Though the loss may be hard for him. As long as he can get out of there, there is a fair chance of the party re-uniting one day. Having everyone die would just be pointless. “But wait?” you say, “he’s good!” You’re right and wrong… He leans towards good. He always takes the easiest path out. He’s a smart man to get out of there and try to save them another way. He has a great point about all of them dying for nothing. He’s going to feel terrible about leaving them… But, what he is doing is by no means cowardly or wrong. He’ll often choose flight in the sense of grave danger.

Angry McStab on the other hand… He just saw his buddy die, and potentially more on the way. He fights with more intensity than ever before. He blows through his special powers, if he can down the enemy; he doesn’t just kill them, he sends a message. No one wrongs him, or his friends, no matter what it costs him. He’s chaotic, vengeful, and this shows it.

Goody’s answer may look something like “Flight, look for a smarter approach or way to get help.” Angry’s answer may look like “Fight, leave no wrongdoing to me or allies unpunished.”

Temptation? This one is a tricky one for a lot of people. The out of character reward of better stats almost always wins over the actual in character choice that should be made. Your Game Master throws a juicy pile of treasure at the end of an out of the way path. It risks your life, and your party’s lives. Your goal is towards the left, and your GM tempts you to go right. You should really be getting a good feel for your character after answering the first two questions. They’ll help you here as well. Goody takes the path of least resistance, and chooses the smarter, wiser, routes; while Angry chooses vengeful or more greedy paths. It’s already pretty clear how they’d respond.

Goody sees this path and weighs the risks. If he just goes left, they may come across an easier path later on. Perhaps if they complete their goal first, they may be able to get to it. If not, it is fine, the goal is to the left. If they went right they’d be risking more than just not completing the goal. They would risk life and limb.

Angry sees what could come to him if he got to that treasure. He might even be able to use some of it right now, to make that goal an easier task. Screw the risk. Heck, he can probably make it there on his own. If he does, it’s all for him. (You’re starting to see why  most players choose Chaotic Neutral characters!)

So, Goody would likely answer with “Weighs the risk, if life-threatening or may cause the goal to go uncompleted; it’s not worth it.” Or even “Always focused on the task at hand.” Both would work well. Angry would most likely go for “That could help me now and later. Go for the gold.” or even “Get what I can and move on quick.”

Everyday Life? This is more of an off the wall question when compared to the others, but it really helps nail down some of those awkward moments of downtime. Especially when you’re going to be in a city for long periods of time; or in non-combat situations like my players often are. How does your character handle everyday life? This will help you when your GM says “You’re in so-and-so town and there isn’t a lot going on, what do you do?”

Goody may have once been a farmer, he led a boring life to begin with. He became an adventurer to do good and help others. In downtime, he isn’t worried about money. He may wonder if there are any people that need aid. He might offer his previous farming skill to those in town that need it. He might even just enjoy doing nothing for once and decided to check out the local places to eat.

Angry, on the other hand, seems to be focused on himself a lot. Maybe he used to be the guy that starts bar-fights just to get some action going. Perhaps he’s out to see what’s going on behind the scenes of most places. He likely just wants to earn some quick cash, gambling, selling gear, short-changing a few drunkards are all on the to-do list.

Goody’s answer may look something like “See if anyone needs help. Learn about local lore. Earn money from farming skill.” While Angry’s may say “Gamble, sell junk, pickpocket and earn coin fast.”

Both situations help you give the GM valuable information. Sometimes, on a night where they are less prepared, they set you all up in a situation like the above. Saying “Hey I want to see if anyone needs help.” or “Hey, I want to gamble.” Can move the story right along.

Goals? The final question. With the information we’ve gathered above, and any background you have on your character already; we can see what they set out to do. Let’s say the players know that they are after an ultimate bad guy. We’ll refer to him as many others do, Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG). Their goal is, defeat BBEG. But, that’s really just the player’s goal. Your character needs a reason as to why it may be theirs. So, here we are going to answer why it is our goal, and the goal itself.

Goody wants to help, in as smart a way possible. He seeks to defeat BBEG like his allies do, but he wants to do so by trapping him away. Goody seeks to one day have a spell powerful enough to contain BBEG so he can be locked away and monitored from here on out. That is his goal, not just beat BBEG. But to capture him and keep him away so he can’t just be brought back to life. Why is this his goal? Probably because BBEG is doing harm to innocent people, as Goody wouldn’t like that much.

Angry has lost people close to him. Not only that, but by beating BBEG, he’ll be known across the lands. Treasure, fame, all of it would be his. No one would dare cross him after obtaining such a status. Vengeance and greed power him.

Goody’s answer would be “Trap away BBEG through magic, keep him from being able to come back. No more harm to innocent people.” Angry’s might be “Kill BBEG, aquire fame and fortune, no one will mess with me again.”

Why do we need this last question? So we can keep focus. It’s easy to get caught up on side hooks and other adventures. There is nothing wrong with that. But, when your GM throws something that you’re not quite interested in; or if you feel like things are out of place. Look back at your character’s goals and see how your current task is helping them achieve it. If it isn’t, then you should take steps to start correcting that; along with your GM.

BONUS! 

As a GM, I think it would be great to hand out these index cards at the start of a campaign, or perhaps an adventure that may take a couple of weeks to complete, or even each night. These aren’t static answers, after all. People change, and so do characters. Sometimes their goals will change from beat BBEG, to get revenge against so-and-so. For me, if a player completed a goal, or something was no longer true, or they matched up character actions with this sheet. I’d award some experience. Say, if Goody asked for help around town, it lead to a bit of a fight and saved some people; then yeah bonus experience or other rewards, for sure! Achieving their goal? More stuff!

All in all, if something changes about your character, note it, or white out your answer and put the new answer down. Perhaps something horrible happens to Goody and he becomes Angry! These are all very real things, they are great, they mean that you’re role playing! It’s what you’re supposed to do. This cheat sheet just helps you answer more efficiently, especially if you don’t deal with being in the spotlight very well.

Hope you enjoyed! As always, check out the poll below. See you space manta rays! ~Vexar

Feel free to discuss or ask for help in the comment section!

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