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RPG Character Keepers


I know a lot of people who grew up with them because they had older siblings or parents who were into them, but I didn't discover tabletop roleplaying games until I was already in my mid-20s. There was an episode of the TV show Community, which is no longer aired because of an unfortunate joke about blackface, called "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons".

The premise of the episode had our titular community playing a game of D&D with another student that they had never really interacted with before. My partner at the time said, "That looks fun, we should try it". So I called up someone I went to high school with that I knew had played, asking him if he'd teach us.

In a few ways, that simple action changed the shape of my life - I hadn't discovered what would become one of my favorite hobbies. Now, a decade later, I've written some supplements, contributed "officially" to games, and at least started to design a few of my own.

For me, the hobby changed a lot the past few years. The pandemic was a factor, of course - but it was only part of it. I hit an age where a lot of my friends were moving away, buying houses and starting families. They still wanted to play, but it was no longer practical for us to all be together around a table.

I discovered some tools and communities and worked on building my own. And one of the biggest obstacles for me was how to present the amount of information to players that would normally be on a few printed sheets in front of them?

Like a lot of other gamers, I turned to Google Sheets. There are a lot of functions that most people don't know about that can do a lot of automation - not just simple "Add these two cells together" or even "Change the color of this if x", but really complex things where you can change entire blocks of content.

This quickly became something that I loved to do. It presented really interesting challenges - information architecture, ux design, and a platform that I could not actually make changes to. I had to work within a system and navigate its flaws. And depending on the specific game I was adapting, different aspects could be a lot simpler or a lot more complicated, which kept it feeling fresh.

Mothership: A scifi horror RPG, and my first keeper
Lady Blackbird, a swashbuckling steampunk adventure game
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Borderlands RPG
Masks, a game about teenage superheroes
My own game, A Passage Through
Monsterhearts, using my Camp Monsterhearts supplement
Brindlewood Bay, a Murder She Wrote inspired mystery game

I have made a few dozen of these, for a variety of different games. At first, I stuck to making games that were "one shots", games designed to be played in a single 3-4 hour session.Eventually I branched out further - which brought up additional complexities like tracking character advancement or session notes or relationships between characters. Just more data. And adding in the idea of character advancement generally meant that your character could take different paths.

With all of these games, the real struggle is in how to display the data in an intuitive and accessible way. In some cases I go further than others will applying a sense of "theme" / style, because that's much less important - but certainly there are cases where it can help with the information architecture.

I've made a few dozen of these over the past few years. My Discord community has around 10 game masters in it now, and I will frequently make keepers for them for games that I'm not even playing in, because I enjoy the challenge.

In 2021, I was hired to make a keeper professionally for the game Intergalactic Kammerjäger. While I'd designed keepers for my own games before, it was a really interesting and fun new challenge to build one alongside someone and make changes as they were playtesting the game. With this keeper, being official, I incorporated more of the game's artwork and color scheme than I typically do, to try and give it a real feeling of being a companion tool for the game.

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