Let me start off by saying, yes, I am working on a brandnew version of my character sheet app, with plans to support Pathfinder 2E, and possibly more.
The other week I reached out to users of my Online Character Sheet for Pathfinder, to find out a bit more about how they use the app, and what they think is most important. While I haven’t personally played Pathfinder in some time now, the announcement for a 2nd edition has me excited. Coupled with a recent deluge of support when I briefly considered shutting my character sheet app down, I have been mulling over how I might make a brand-new app that addressed some of the issues plaguing my maintaining the first one.
In order to make informed decisions, this feedback was crucial for me. Whereas I had thoughts (many thoughts) about how to make a new version of the app more sustainable, and more accessible, none of those would be useful if they took away the very things that made the current app so popular.
Let’s look at some of the points that came out of the survey, and then we can look at what that means for a future character sheet app (or apps!).
Lessons from the Survey
I got around 70 responses to the survey directly, plus some indirect comments and mentions. That’s not a huge sample group, but we can definitely see some trends.
How do you feel about a 2nd edition for Pathfinder?
Pretty stoked was the overwhelming consensus.
How many devices do you regularly use the Sheet app on?
The majority used it on 2, about a quarter on 1. From the comments, some people managed it on a laptop, and then used it on a tablet at the table.
Do you use the Sheet app on a phone?
Here I should have been clearer. Some people assumed I was referring to a non-existant iOS or Android app—no, I’m using the term “app” to refer to the web app. Currently, it’s totally non-responsive, and as such a right pain to use on a small device. Still, about half of the respondents said they used it on a mobile.
Rate the following features based on importance
I asked about automatic cross-device syncing, built-in spell database, and responsiveness (i.e. working across all devices). Unsurprisingly, every one of these features was vital. :)
How would you feel if you had to import/export sheets manually across devices instead of them syncing automatically, if the app made it very easy for you to do so?
Perhaps I should have asked this one before the previous one. My aim was clear: establish how important having authentication and a database really was. These two things add considerable complexity to the project. If I could just store character sheets directly on the device they were created on, I could lose that complexity and make my life easier (and cheaper).
Unfortunately for me, that seems not to be the case. While some people remarked that they might actually prefer that over automatic syncing, the vast majority were pretty lukewarm about the idea. Ah well, good to know!
I got some amazing comments, some of them a little too personal to share here. But I also got some questions, which I cannot reply to in the anonymous survey, but I’ll touch on some of them in my plans below.
The Next Incarnation of the App
It’s become clear from the survey that cross-device syncing is just too handy a feature to give up. At the same time, many people would love for the app to work in an area without connectivity. Whereas I need to minimize the complexity of the app, both for development and maintenance purposes, since my time is limited.
And yes, the app will be open-source, just like the current one, so if you have technical skills you will be able to contribute. However, from experience, there are very few people who actually do, so my point above still stands.
It then comes down to finding a balance between the above. With that in mind, here are some of the guiding princinples and features I plan to forge ahead with:
- Milestone 1:
- Static site, all pure HTML/CSS/JS (Vue)
- Minimal setup
- Hosted on Netlify to make use of their Functions and Identity services
- Connect to a simple document storage database via Lambda functions
- Fully responsive, for a great experience on all devices
- Sheets hosted in the cloud, syncing across devices
- Share functionality, with statblock, and possible other versions (e.g. for pasting into forums)
- Tentatively plan to support multiple character sheets and systems
- Make it easy for the community to create compatible sheets for editing and for sharing
- Milestone 2:
- Option to download sheets to a device for use offline, and later re-upload them (no merging of different versions, so you’ll be responsible for making sure to keep the right one)
That’s about it at the moment. A lot of it is still in the very early stages, but it helps me to have a clear idea.
What’s the current status?
Right now, I’m evaluating DBaaSs (database as a service-s). I’ve locked down the build tools and framework, the hosting, and the authentication. My hope is to have this base layer finished in the next couple of weeks, which will provide a solid groundwork to build on. At that point, I’ll also make the code repository public and open-source.
Then I’ll experiment with ways to integrate intuitive and easy-to-use responsive templating. I don’t know yet which RPG system I’ll start with. I might start with a smaller one, as a proof of concept, as PF1 sheets are pretty hefty.
What can go wrong?
The biggest danger is that I’ll lose enthusiasm somewhere along the road. This could happen because technologies don’t work out as easily as I’d hoped, or maybe if PF2 lost my interest. But this is why I’m trying to make this groundwork fairly generic, so that I can apply it to any character sheet for any shiny new system that might grab my attention.
And of course, you can always help by contributing code, or by buying me a Ko-fi. Every little does truly help.
Any comments so far?
I’m happy to answer all questions. Once I’ve got the public repository sorted out we will have an official place for feature requests. In the meantime, please use the comments below!