Thursday, August 18, 2011

The RPG Table Tent and Me

     So one of the items – other than character sheets and my own brands of issuable favors and equipment – that I have claimed a sort of ownership of is the table tent (or character tent, if you prefer).  The only real purpose of this is to let other players know the name of the character you are playing; in a sustained home campaign, the table tent is simply wasted effort and space.  It doesn't need to be complicated at all.  In fact, I would wager that most table-top RPG players have had a piece in front of them that looked something like this.
Khalem Kaletar – a name borrowed from RSI's PBM game Hyborian War – was played by Michael Pempek from 1991-93 in an AD&D 2nd Ed home campaign.  I'm pretty sure there never was an actual tent for that character.
And it works.  Sort of.  This is the kind of the last minute, write out your character's name and class on a piece of paper on hand.  Inevitably, the other players have to pick up this brand of tent and view it from about ten inches away in order to read it.  You could be a little more bold, but that has some risks as well.
My thanks to Trent (as Trask) for posting this image in his review (available here)of Dragonfire Signs products.
See, this can be seen and read from across the table.  Both the character and player are identified.  It also makes me think that Trent may be either sloppy in his handwriting or a little crazy; most likely the former, but he is playing an RPG so both are possibilities.  But it still suffers from the fundamental problem of being a type of last minute production that screams lack of commitment to the character and/or the game.
     Sometimes a company, convention, or OP campaign will create a table tent for the players to fill out.  These are still – or should be – last minute affairs.  They typically sit up at a local convention's HQ along with blank character sheets, campaign specific rules guidelines, and other things that responsible players bring with them..  Paradigm Concepts, Inc. produced one for their Living Arcanis campaign.
Perfectly suitable.  Character name, player name, advertising the very game you are playing at the table – where everybody has already bought into the campaign.  And it is double-sided, so you play two different characters without need of a new piece of paper (and having to resort to the scrap paper option).
     Some players decide to take a low level of ownership to their character tents.  There are a group of players from Wisconsin who made rather simple but effective tents that looked a little like this.
To be fair, the Wisconsin players may have also included player name and land of origin on their actual tents.
I'm not sure why they felt a need to list – and only list – Charisma on the tent, but I guess it is the easiest way in d20 games to declare attractiveness.  Again, this gets the job done, usually can be read from across the table (there are always players who will want to see it with their hands, though), and has the added benefit of giving a visual representation of the character.  Granted, sometimes these types of tents forgo the step of letting others know who the player is – and maybe that's important – but they do evince a deeper level of commitment to the character than just scribbling out something at the last minute.
     My early efforts were along the same lines as the above.  I usually made the name large enough for everyone to see clearly, but the rest of the text would occasionally be declared too small to be easily read.  One of the things I did start doing, however, was making sure I could include some image – other than the character picture – that identified what the character represented.
So this was made sometime between Joe Abboreno making the LLT symbol and correcting the spelling.
Yeah, not the easiest thing to read from six feet away.  I liked to think it got the job done, but it certainly didn't look as good as this.
Again, thanks to Trent (Trask) for posting this image.  This is a Dragonfire Signs table tent.  This screams commitment to the character and campaign.
     Dragonfire Signs table tents were big in Living Arcanis.  They had the character name as big as life, two symbols – often a holy symbol on one side and a nation or faction's symbol on the other – and any kind of quote you felt best fit your character.  You could even order them double-sided, so you could just flip it over to have the same high quality tent for a different character.  The players who invested in these often had them out even when with people who all knew and had played with the character before.  Who cared, these things just looked that good.  Actually, you can still order them.
      I went a different route.  I may have need to change things that I would want on my tent, and the Dragonfire Signs were forever.  They also didn't have any character pictures, and what is the purpose of stealing quality on-line artwork if not to put into something for personal use?  I made some modifications for my Living Arcanis characters and came up with these.
My primary Living Arcanis character.  Artwork by Timothy R. Haldane.  Most people could read the entirety of the text.
Mistocles and his cohort, Valencia.  They would be together, so doing just a single tent seemed like a good idea.  Text, other than their names, proved to be too small.
Yes, the picture is of a Bugbear – and there are people who don't know that Bugbears are just the largest breed of goblins – but it really fit my idea for an accidentally abrasive bodyguard whose primary skill was killing.
This is my least favorite tent of all time (at least from ones I've created).  It was as though I had no idea what this character was really about.
Becks was a character I created after seeing Melissa Metedy's picture of a female satyr.  I immediately knew a way to fashion a personality to fit both the image and Arcanis.
      When it came time for the end of the Living Arcanis campaign, I decided to step up my self-made tents a step.  And it wasn't just making them more complicated than they needed to be – something that would mean making the text too small to be easily read – I also went through the trouble of having them laminated.  Since I would only be playing Mistocles (or Valencia if Mistocles went and got himself killed), they are the characters I made tents for.  Well, tents isn't the right work.  These were really just cards that had to be held up with slotted stands.  I made two tents for each; below are the ones I prefer for each.
The symbols are, in order, the House Sardis crest (actually the Clan MacNeil badge), Milandir's national banner (as drawn by Joe Abboreno, then colored blue), the symbol of the Obsidian Owls (a special military unit planned for an unreleased Arcanis book), the holy symbol of Cadic, the holy symbol of Yarris (actually, this is an internet image that just looked really cool), and the Coryani falcon (another image computer colored).  Couldn't fit all of those on a Dragonfire Signs tent.
Symbols are the Legion of the Watchful Hunter symbol (as modified and colored by me), the holy symbol of Cadic, a picture representing Valencia (Katharine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps Back), and the House Sardis symbol (see above).
I miss these characters.  If I ever get around to it, I'll finish some of the short stories – in a different setting – starring them and post them here.
     So, Living Arcanis finished and I had to find another game to play; apparently OP players just can't get out of the hobby.  I moved onto Pathfinder Society OP, or PFS.  It took a while to get into some kind of regular level of play.  Once I did, I immediately set to work making table tents for the benefit of letting people know which character they were experiencing.  Most of these are not up to date – and that doesn't speak well for my commitment and ownership in regards to the campaign.
I think this was Daenaris at 10th level.  She does have a better Perception for traps and AC now.  I really need to redo this tent just to put the better, new Andoran symbol on it.
This is the much lesser seen image for Kiara – the other one is very recognizable as stolen and I don't want to put it up because of that.  When I redo this, I'm thinking of swapping out her faction for her homeland symbol.
One of my two male PFS characters – I hate the image on the other enough to not post it.  It took some serious searching to find an image of a blond paladin.
The yet to be played Jennisa is my attempt to make a Summoner.  Hadn't figured out the math on an AC when I put this together.
     I'm not alone in making personalized tents for PFS.  Mine all follow a pretty simple format, and I like to think they get the job done.  Brad Ruby uses a different approach to end up in the same (or better) place.  Below are examples of two of his tents (slightly modified so I can present them).
     See, Brad gets plugs in for his Yahoo! and convention group (COWS Gamers), the game he is playing (PFS), America (see the flag), adds dancing cows for levity, and has everything else he could possibly need – including who is playing the character.
     In the end, I guess a (foolishly?) take a player more seriously if I see them commit to the character tent as being more important than something to be hastily made moments before – or after – game play has begun.  It speaks for how important the character is to them (or it does to me).  It means that the player is serious about letting the others at the table have a reasonable idea as to who the character is.  And, when done well, the look cool as hell.
     When it comes to cool nothing has beaten the Dragonfire Signs tents, though.


  1. Along a similar note, my table tent for my higher level PFS character can be found here:

    Character name in good sized font (and I'm using different colors for each character), player name in lighter color. Small faction icon. This one happens to have a sketch that I commissioned (from a friend who could use the dough), but others use shamelessly stolen art.

  2. (the ethnicity of the character isn't really underlined on the tent -- that's an artifact of the screenshot off Word)

  3. Oh, hell, while I'm at it -- the second one:

  4. Both of those are great, Tim. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I actually put a picture of the character mini on the table tent for my main LFR character. Not only does it give people an idea of what my character looks like, but they also know which mini on the battlemat is mine.