Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Complete Character Sheet

In my forays into solitaire B/X D&D gaming I find the classic character sheet lacking in its organization and presentation of stats and rules I find most essential for solitaire play. But everyone customizes mechanics to their personal game style – one of the hallmarks of the Old School Renaissance movement (OSR) – and the character sheet should reflect that. The more complete the information on a character sheet the less one needs to constantly add modifiers or reference the rulebook.

Take the character sheet for West End Games’ D6 Star Wars roleplaying game. Almost everything needed to play is on that sheet. In October, when Nuke-Con generously flew me out to Omaha as a guest, I had to carefully pack everything for the convention into one manageable bag (which I checked anyway, but still...). I was running a healthy slate of game scenarios which would normally necessitate me packing the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, 2nd Edition – Revised & Expanded and D6 Adventure rulebooks for reference at the table, or at least to prop up to promote the game. They wouldn’t fit with all the other stuff I brought (how I managed to bring enough toys to run a Panzer Kids game is beyond me). Instead I made sure I had one spare pregenerated character sheet for each scenario to serve as my gamemaster’s reference. Everything short of difficulty numbers – which I’ve memorized or were in the scenarios – was on that sheet: attribute names and their requisite skills, wound levels, basic damage for weapons.

The classic B/X D&D character sheet seems almost minimalist to me in its lack of notations. One might view this as an opportunity to write personalized notes in the white spaces; I appreciate this, but this becomes tedious when, in solo roleplaying, I’m generating a handful of characters, all of whom should have similar notations for easy in-game reference. I don’t expect notes for all a game’s rules to fit on the character sheet, but I do like some reminders for frequently used mechanics. I vaguely recall some sheets for third edition D&D, with their multiple pages and long lists of skills and feats...a bit too much inventory without practical notes on mechanics. I also like a character sheet that evokes the game it serves. Either through the design or nostalgia the classic B/X D&D sheet reflects the game. I love Dyson Logos’ collection of hand-drawn character sheets; each one evokes the atmosphere of the individual game while presenting stats in a visually satisfying package. Others I’ve seen range from artistic to merely functional. Some evoke the quality of the dot-matrix-printed documents of yore...not too graphically pleasing beyond any nostalgia factor. While I’ve collected a number of B/X D&D character sheets from the vast expanse of the internet, I’ve yet to find one that organizes and fits all the information I find most relevant to my forays into solitaire roleplaying...meaning at some point I’ll have to find the time to design one myself.

My Ideal B/X D&D Character Sheet

What would I want in the most useful B/X D&D character sheet for my solitaire gaming (and presumably group forays into the game)?

Name & Class: These two are the only formalities I need to identify the character. I don’t need “player name” or “date created” or any of that miscellany. I long ago gave up on alignment in favor of “personality,” “disposition,” or some other means of describing their general demeanor; even that remains something better relegated to a back-of-the-page character description. More often I take the approach used in West End’s Star Wars Roleplaying Game of attaching a descriptor to the class name, like “Surly Dwarf,” “Laconic Elf,” “Jovial Cleric,” or “Determined Fighter.”

Ability Scores: Obviously ability scores remain key in defining a character. Besides spaces for these – listed in three-letter abbreviations for brevity – I’d want a place to note modifiers, along with reminder notes on what those modifiers affect. On the classic sheet I’ve scrawled such notes in the space after modifiers, but I tire of writing the same bits repeatedly on subsequent characters. Printed reminders would help me take advantage of all the various modified circumstances during a game.

Vital Stats: Essential notations for armor class, hit points, and saving throws must have their place, though I’m tinkering with home-rules to distill saving throws to one number, with modifiers applied for various circumstances.

Thac0/BHB: Depending on whether one uses armor class or ascending armor class (a convention in some OSR games) I’d consider listing a character’s combat information as necessary as vital stats. The beauty of Thac0 (“to hit armor class zero”) is one simply subtracts the target’s armor class from the given number to get the sum to equal or beat on a d20 combat roll. BHB (basic hit bonus) works for ascending armor class, where it’s a bonus to the d20 roll to hit the target’s armor class (acting as a difficulty number). The table on the classic D&D character sheet on which one wrote every number to hit every armor class from 0-9 took too much room to reference a fairly intuitive rule employing simple math.

Weapons: Although it isn’t on the original character sheet, I like having a notation for primary and secondary weapons, including hit bonuses and damage. I’ve seen several character sheets present this information clearly (sometimes even including ammunition). Weapon notes like this serve as relevant in-game reminders that speed play.

Special Notes: A sheet still needs adequate space for extra notes on special abilities for various characters, including spells, turning undead, thief abilities, extraordinary vision, and possibly languages (eliminating the need for a separate section taking space on the sheet).

Sundry Skills: I often forget about a character’s chance to open doors, find traps, listen, and find secret doors. I’d love a section listing one’s chance to successfully use these skills.

Reference: I’m terrible about remembering to use monster reactions; in solo play if I encounter monsters they’re naturally hostile, but my character survivability might increase if I roll reactions to vary their response. This reminder would probably be the only non-character information I put on the character sheet, more a solo player aid than anything else.

I’d love to fit equipment, treasure, and experience points on the front; since the most important gear (weapons and armor) are factored in on the front, a more comprehensive inventory can go on back. I can do without the space for a character portrait; I’m a terrible artist when it comes to this kind of work, and it takes too much room on the character sheet. While I’d love to include some graphic embellishments to liven up the sheet, these remain the last of my concerns and most disposable of my preferences. They look nice highlighting appropriate areas, but aren’t always the most practical use of space, even if they help the character sheet evoke the game’s atmosphere.

Enough talk. No more idealizing about what I want in a B/X D&D character sheet. Here it is. Download the PDF if you want. It’s not perfect, it doesn’t quite hit all the points I mentioned above, but it works for me. I’ll have to find some time to test it out in actual play. Until then, share and enjoy.


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