Character Sheet Management

Everyone at my regular game manages his character differently.  One is completely digital, a few use power cards (hand written and pre-printed), two of us, I think, use character sheets.  To be honest, I’m not sure how my fellow players’ systems work.

For those unfamiliar with the Character Builder’s format, the first two pages it offers are the standard Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition character sheet.  Your character’s stats, skills, feats and whatnot are on the first page; a list of your powers, equipment and personality notes are on page two.  Beyond that, it compiles the statistics for each of your character’s powers, up to nine per page.  It calculates the math based on your abilities and magic items.  The powers pages are formatted so that you can cut them apart and use each piece as a card.

There are some key things about the power card system that I don’t like.  The natural state for a group of cards is in a stack, and a stack of cards can only be viewed one at a time, with some shuffling required to find most information.  While it is possible to lay them out to see everything all together, this feels chaotic.  Besides, a card might be dropped, and the layout’s sequence is different every time unless you take pains to keep them in a specific arrangement.

I recognize that the ability to remove cards that are no longer available (an expended daily, for example) simplifies the sorting you have to do.  However, you also lose the ability to make a quick comparison of resource availability versus expenditure.  The fact that you have one remaining daily card doesn’t immediately tell you that you’ve already used two others and that your character’s adventuring day is, more or less, 2/3rds over.

Instead, I keep the sheets together after printing from the Builder.  Each page offers generous information, without being overly complicated.  I write a light ‘x’ on each expended power, and erase them when appropriate.  When I’m short on space, I pile all six sheets together. 

What I’d really like is to shift to an 11” x 17” sized paper character sheet.  That would double the amount of easily available information, and a quick fold down the middle, would allow it to stack and store as easily as the standard 8 ½” x 11”.  I wonder if the character builder supports large paper…

What system do you use?  Are there advantages to power cards that I’m overlooking?



Filed under continuous improvement, Information management

12 responses to “Character Sheet Management

  1. I to have been spending quite a bit of time on trying out different management styles. Currently I’m using sleaved cards with a two page character sheet. I rarely ever use the character sheets as I have an Encounter tracker form I use for keeping track of hitpoints. So other than skills the character sheet is there to look good.

    I think I’m going to switch to a style that some of the folks I play with use, cards put into card collection sheets. You know the 2 x 4 ones you can get to organize your MtG cards?

    Nice article and a great subject for discussion.

  2. One way to use cards effectively would be to mark them with color-coded flags like these:

    Colors could indicate whether the power was at-will, encounter, or daily. Power names or keywords could be jotted on the tabs.

  3. Zach

    A good solution is just to print the character sheets with the power cards, then slip the whole batch, including the power card pages, into plastic sheet protectors. You can then use ubiquitous wet or dry erase markers to mark off your powers as you use them. This also lets you track surges/hit points/conditions/whatever on the sheets and just wipe them off when you are done.

    Works like a charm!

  4. Sherp

    In addition to the automated character sheet I got from, I use a list of powers that I formatted up in Excel, sealed behind clear plastic binder sheets. Whenever I expend a power, I cross it off with a dry-erase marker; during a rest, I erase the appropriate marks; and if my powers change, I print out a new sheet from Excel. This allows me to keep the entirety of my character in a binder, which is useful since space around our gaming table is tight.

  5. Zobmie

    I’m using two different methods at the moment. In one game I use the printed out character sheets from DDI. Keeping the power and item cards in sheets instead of cutting them out. This works fine.

    In the other game I print out the first two pages of the DDI character sheet and then cut out the individual power and item cards and insert them in individual baseball card sleeves. This works fine too.

    I prefer the 2nd method, but it does take up more space for me to use it effectively. That pretty much removes it from consideration the first game as space is usually at a premium on our table. But if I had the room to spread out all the cards that’s how I would prefer to roll*.

    *unintentional pun, but I’ll take credit for it anyway

  6. David

    I quite enjoy the ‘card’ system. Admittedly, I’ve used it precisely once so far, and it took a little bit of getting used to, but by the end of the first session I had established a pretty useful little system:

    As combat began, I’d ‘unpile’ my cards and separate them into dailies, encounters, and at-wills, with a little pile off to the side for Action Points, magic items and Second Wind. Playing a human, I have particularly complex options when it comes to at-wills, so having them laid out in front of me (with interrupts/reactions on one side, and attacks on the other) means I can quickly find whatever I need for the current situation.

    My encounter and daily powers sit to the left of all these, and I can scan them quickly between rounds to consider if my next turn is the right time to use them. So, it actually speeds up my turn: I’ve already decided my course of action, precisely because I have my options organised neatly in front of me. Also, if something happens in the intervening time that means I have to change plans, I can quickly come to a decision, again because I have everything so nicely, neatly in front of me.

    I couldn’t imagine using the power cards as a deck, because that would just be horribly impractical. But I don’t see the cards as cards, per se – to me, they’re more of a movable grid of options, clear enough to plan from, and flexible enough to shift things around so I can find them quickly when my turn comes up.

    I’m really enjoying this blog, by the way! Keep it up!

  7. Khyron

    I’ve tried several different methods myself and have found that using sheet protectors work best for me. But I did find using one 8.5 x 11 and one 11 x 17 works really good if you have a some table room (though you could do with less if you don’t use a binder). The 11 x 17 sheet protector is basically 2 8.5 x 11 protectors hinged on the opposite side from the binder rings. This allows me to put page one of my character sheet in the single page protector, the second page on the front of the closed double sheet protector and up to two sheets of power cards inside the fold out. The great thing about this is that you can always see the first page of your character sheet, and you only need the extra table room during combat.

  8. Edward

    I tried the using the printed power cards but found the to be too cumbersome, so I took my usual route and compressed. I use the main player sheet and these I typed up in word using a format I’ve made and eventually split powers from the magic items using the second. I took several iterations but I feel pretty good being able to scan all my options at a glance.

  9. Edward

    Oh, I color in the power usage in color pencil once printed.

  10. Philo Pharynx

    I’m a digital type, but I don’t use DDI for play. I keep it in the background to look up details occasionally, but I use an excel sheet for play. It has all the stats I need on the screen. I keep my powers in a list. Each power is named in the right color for it’s use type and has a box to X when it’s expended. It shows my bonus to hit, targets/range, defense and three columns for hit, miss and effect. (I merge those inot one long field for utilities). I also list item powers and class features there. I keep them sorted with at wills at the top, encounters next and dailies at the bottom.

  11. Using a laptop is preferred because I can have all the information I could possibly want at a click. Unfortunately, the Character Builder is a clunky bastard for play purposes, and really serves best as a reference point if you don’t have an internet connection to get to the Compendium. That’s why I use’s Digital Squire for in-play record keeping. The problem with *that* one is that aside from the attack roll and damage, there’s no information about any given power, nor is there any tracking of equipment powers. I don’t have the programming chops to set myself up a decent little program that can read xml and give me an interactive character sheet.

    I should really just settle for a dead-tree character sheet…

  12. Philo Pharynx

    Excel, Excel, Excel. (Or any other spreadsheet you prefer). I evangelize this because it works as a good way between using just a flat word file and a customized application. If you know how to do a few basic formulas you can have the numbers update automatically based on your level and stats. You can also put in the text parts you want. You can color the appropriate boxes green or red or black. It’s not as easy as using a program, but it’s tons easier than programming your own app. Email me at philo&.&pharynx&@&yahoo&.&com (minus the ampersands – spambots are everywhere) and I’ll send you a copy of what I use.

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