Thursday, February 18, 2010

Old School Character Record Sheets

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.


ze bulette said...

I'm sticking with my 4x6's but I like this quite a bit.. something about the dashes harkens back to the 8-bit dot matrix Apple][/Atari800/C64 days of old school glory! I'm sure it goes without saying that the backside continues the equipment list.. Cos my guys are gonna want more than just a backpack, torches, flint, and spikes - I'm just saying! ;) Tiny PC card design is a challenge! Love the wounds bit, btw. Thanks for sharing.

Timeshadows said...

You guys crack me a good way. :D
--First time I've seen guys bragging about how tiny something of their was. ;) j/k :D

Aaron E. Steele said...

@Timeshadows: the last thing you want to do is wave your big character sheet in front of the DM. You're just asking for trouble.

@ze bulette: exactly the retro effect I was aiming for, unfortunately I have no idea where to find a dot matrix printer

John W said...

I am a big fan of the 1 page character sheet. Nice work.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. Great Sheet!

Eli Arndt said...

Yes, dare I say it, this is some good sheet.

There has to be a program out there that can print out what looks like dot matrix on an ink jet or laser printer.

Timeshadows said...

I'm glad you took my comment in the spirit it was intended. :)
--I lost sleep over it. :-/

BTW, a Tunnels & Trolls character sheet has always fit on a 3x5.
--May want to check 5th Ed. out if you haven't already. :D

Best, and happy gaming! :D

Anonymous said...

I made a half-page (that's half an 8.5x11) sheet with nothing on the back. Seems to work really well and it slips right into our booklets :P

So far it looks like players use the blank back for spellbooks, mostly.

Anonymous said...

I always keep my S&W characters on a single 3x5 card, including equipment, misc loot (on the back) and spells (also on the back).

That said, I love this post--particularly this part: "eye-color, to her turn-ons" (emphasis mine). Of course!

Aaron E. Steele said...

@all: thanks, glad you found the topic worthwhile!

@timeshadows: sorry to hear if it caused you some sleepless moments! Always nice to have some humor injected into my otherwise too-earnest blog! I am intending to check out T&T, thanks for the reminder.

Timeshadows said...

Paladin: Thanks.

If I've turned one soul on to T&T, I'll count that as a Good Deed. :D