D&D General Tips for Using Paper Character Sheets

Quickleaf

Legend
What are your best tips to help players use paper-based character sheets? What tricks have you personally found helpful when using paper character sheets?

I’ll offer a couple:

  • Write page numbers next to spells, powers, class features, and anything else you might want to look up at the table.
  • Track hit point and other expendables on index cards so you don’t wear out your sheet.
  • For DMs: write down or print out magic items with descriptions in small sheets or index cards so you can hand them to your players so they can hang onto them with their character.
  • Track damage done instead of subtracting damage from hit points. Adding up is easier than subtracting down.

What are some of your top tips for using paper character sheets?
I know the context seems to be longevity of play for an established group, but I've actually found the layout/design of many printed character sheets to be a bit of an issue – more so for newer players, but not exclusively. One of the challenges with paper sheets is information accessibility where the "tax form" nature ends up "burying the lead" so players don't get what they need at-a-glance-or-two. Digital sheets solve this with a hovering cursor opening info boxes. However, getting players to write "short form notes" of what their spells/features do (the paper equivalent of "cursor info boxes") can be an uphill or fruitless battle, depending on the players.

The other oooold hack I used was taping a piece of packaging tape (cut to size) over the hit point box, effectively creating a laminate layer, and using (fine or extra fine tip) wet or dry erase markers to track hp. Sorta a variant of the slipcase mentioned earlier, but specific to the area that gets most wear-and-tear.
 

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RichGreen

Adventurer
I don’t really have any tips but paper characters are one of the joys of playing at the table for me - although I find D&D Beyond helpful for online play. I keep my characters sheets in clear plastic folders along with any handouts etc. My Cthulhu character’s health & stability have been rubbed out and rewritten many times but that’s all part of the charm of a physical sheet.
 


In the Features and Traits box, I draw a series of bubbles next to per/long rest and per/short rest powers so I can check them off as I use them. I use squares for long rest powers and circles for short rest powers.

As well as a page number, I write either bonus, reaction, or no action in parentheses following the power's name. Standard action powers are assumed otherwise.

Under each power's name I calculate and list all variable aspects of each power.

In the Attacks and Spellcasting box, as well as tracking ammunition, I make a list of always-on powers, bonus action powers, and reaction powers that petain to combat.

In the Equipment box I make four lists: Person, Pack, Pouch, and Property. I list equipment that is worn on my character's person in the Person list, equipment in their backpack in the Pack list, stuff in their belt pouch in the Pouch list, and everything else in the Property list.

I like to "accidentally" spill wine on my character's sheet, or get burn marks on it, and maybe stab it a few times with my dagger. These are character marks that I cherish. Eraser holes in my Hit Point boxes are badges of honor that speak to the longevity of the character.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I prefer a sheet that spells out abilities at the level of action economy they take, and I tend to rewrite abilities in a simplified form to cover that. Including default or universally available actions (like Grapple or Shove) is helpful both in getting players to think of their abilities that way and to provide a template for other abilities to be put down. My custom sheet is broken out by action, then has a space for "cost/frequency" to record things like the level of spell slot required, or how many times per day or rest an ability can be used.

I then also separate out "Defenses" into their own section, so players have a single space to look when attacked to evaluate whether it hits, what their savings throws are, and the effect on their HP. I've toyed with putting reactions in the same area, but haven't committed to it yet.

Generally I try to diminish the prominence of values that don't translate directly to play. Ability scores, for example, should be smaller than modifiers, and probably should be moved to the bottom of the sheet, or to a subsheet, because they're only relevant when recalculating their outputs after the sheet changes. Most character sheets seem to be structured for calculation, not for at the table use.
 
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aco175

Legend
I set up my sheet so the HP section is all the way on the right. This way, when printed out, the margin provides a large place to track damage.

I also hand out cards for consumables like potions that get used a lot or at least remind the player they have it.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Player
1) find the spell dc section of the sheet, and write down your spell dc.
2) now circle it
3) now draw little arrows pointing to it.
4) now highlight it with a highlighter

DM
1) have a calculator ready every time your player casts a spell, as they will have to recalculate the spell Dc…every…single…time
 


Zaukrie

New Publisher
I mean, cards were one of the best parts of 4e for players......I haven't played in person in years, but we are starting an in person campaign (fingers crossed) this week at my house, with 4 people that haven't played 5e (or wait, I guess 3, and two that have). So this is a great thread, thanks!
 

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