by Steven Hammond
First let me open by saying that https://theblackbook.io is live and taking email addresses for anyone who wants to take part in the alpha or beta tests, or get notified when the new Black Book goes live.
You may recall that during the months of September and October we asked all of you to upload your character sheets — scans of used print sheets, custom digital ones, etc. The idea was to learn where the current sheets were coming up short and use the knowledge to make better ones in the new app. Thanks to your input the exercise was a success. We gave away both certificates — Alf Joakim Persson from Sweden won the first. The other winner didn’t give us permission to publish their name.
So, what did we learn? First, almost everybody was looking for an easier way to find a character’s abilities in play. A common solution was to only show the abilities their character had points in. Many people wanted those abilities in a single, alphabetical list — not sorted into categories. From this suggestion, we think the app needs to have separate edit and play modes. The categories, seem useful when creating a character so edit mode might look a lot like the current sheets. Play mode would streamline the list of abilities to only those possessed by a character, sorted into a single list. There could be an option to group into categories, or maybe we could indicate the category with some iconography. Reducing the number of abilities shown will be critical to the mobile experience where we can only accommodate a single column of text.
The second most common change was to make Health and Stability more prominent. People achieved this by making larger label and numbers in place of the number grid used in Gumshoe character sheets. Again, I think this calls for separate edit and play modes. When creating your character, health and stability are but two of the many abilities you will need to manipulate. In play, however, they can become larger and more prominent.
Two other reasons people customized their character sheets were to add custom abilities and game specific features like cherries in Night’s Black Agents. We will support these features though perhaps not right at launch.
Which takes me to the final topic I want to discuss this month. I am still not publicly discussing dates, but we should start an alpha test phase in the next few weeks. I expect that the alpha will be basic character sheet functionality for Trail of Cthulhu and Night’s Black Agents. We will quickly add more GUMSHOE games and additional features and enter beta when we are feature complete for launch — or close to it. I haven’t decided on numbers for the test phases, but we will send invitations out in groups in the order in which people signed up.
How do you sign up? Go to https://theblackbook.io and enter your email address. That is all you need to do. We won’t use that address for anything other than inviting you to join the new Black Book. And while you are waiting for that invitation to arrive, go ahead and answer this month’s poll. We are looking for more information on how you want your character’s abilities listed during creation and in play.
Our analysis of the submitted character sheets showed that the most common reason people customized their sheet was to make it easier to find abilities in play. Help us find the best sorting methods with the two questions, below. If you have other ideas, leave them in the comments.