I confess that in my teenaged years, I succumbed to the same temptation as many others.
That temptation was to develop a multi-page character record sheet, that included every conceivable piece of miscellanea about a character, from her height, weight, and eye-color, to her turn-ons and pet peeves. In my defense, the development of my multi-page character record sheet was roughly co-incident with the roll-out and rise of 2nd Edition D&D, so I blame TSR for my folly. The character record in question was an 11x17 sheet, folded once, to create an 8x11, four-page character booklet. Oh, the humanity!
Flash forward several (cough) years. Having re-discovered the in-elegant simplicity of old-school gaming, my thoughts again turned to the character record sheet. But considering the fragility of low-level characters in old-school D&D, it just seemed so, well, decadent and presumptuous to use a full sheet of paper as your character record sheet. At a minimum, doing so would reveal your cockiness, brashness and over-confidence, thinking your first-level character would survive long enough to justify a full page. In fact, bringing a full-page character record to the table, and parading it before your old-school DM, would be like waving a red cape in front of an angry bull: you're just begging for an early exit from the game!
As it turned out, at the same time that I was thinking about this, there were several OS bloggers talking about simplifying and shrinking character record sheets. Some had gone so far as to post their own minimalist character sheets, many of which were quite well done. As I read their blogs, and reviewed their efforts, this got me to wondering, just how small could one make a character record sheet, and it still be useable?
My goal was to create a character record sheet that would fit on a 3x5 index card. In that effort, I failed. The best I ever managed was to produce a 4" x 5 1/2 " character record sheet that would fit, four to a page, on a regular 8 1/2 x 11 sheet. Any smaller, and there was not enough room to record all the information that seemed critical, at-a-glance.
The character record sheet, above, is NOT the 4" x 5 1/2" version. Instead, it is its slightly larger 5x7 cousin, that I print onto index cards. I like the above-pictured character record sheet, because it has the fist, signifying the area to record your preferred weapon, and the shield, a visual cue for recording your armor class. Both just scream 'old-school' to me. I was tempted to employ either a cross or band-aid to signify hit points, but neither seemed entirely appropriate. I actually designed two different 5x7 character record sheets: one, for magic-using characters, and another, for fighters. I will also post the fighter sheet: on that sheet, the section for spells is replaced with additional space for weapons, loot and equipment.
Character record sheets are a very personal thing: the layout that works for me might be completely un-intuitive to you. I don't think this is the be-all and end-all of character record sheets, but hopefully it will inspire you to develop your own minimalist character record sheet.
After all, the player with the largest character record sheet is also the one most likely to trigger that 30' deep pit-trap.