Home > 4e, DnD, Lore, Pathfinder, Pirates, Tips > Many Sheets or One? The Character Builder Conundrum

Many Sheets or One? The Character Builder Conundrum

September 14, 2012

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in quite a few campaigns in the last 3 or 4 years. Some of which spanned 10-20 character levels. In 4e and increasingly in Pathfinder, the easiest way to level up your character was to open up the character builder, hit the “level up” button, and choose the appropriate options for your character and print it out. I think 4e was a worse offender in this arena, but often the character sheets were between 5-10 pages per PC. On Herolab for Pathfinder, if you’ve got an animal companion or heaven forbid a spellbook, the characters can easily get in to this range as well. My main problem with this is every time you level up, your printing again. If not, you have a game table filled with laptops and all the distractions they can bring.

For the Pirate campaign, I wanted to stop the madness. I printed out a Pathfinder Character sheet, double-sided, that I would use for the duration of that character’s existence. It’s easy on first level. Just run down the requirements for your given race/class combo, buy your gear and start rolling! As the levels progress, things get more complicated. You start getting more bonuses from magical loot you’ve found, or through feats and increasing your ability scores, and a standard character sheet can become a jumbled mess. My character in the pirate campaign is a elven ranger/rogue, and I have about worn a hole in both the ammunition spot on the sheet for my arrows, and the hit point area for when he takes damage.

Overall, I am really enjoying just having the one character sheet. I have kept notes on it from previous sessions, and it just feels more authentic to how I feel like a veteran character sheet should look. That being said, I had one session last week in which I forgot my sheet. I borrowed Steve’s laptop and did my best to recreate him in herolab as quickly as possible. It was wonderful to see all the options that applied to my character all laid out in front of me, allowing me to carefully way my decisions and draw from several source books worth of material quickly and easily. At the end of the process I printed him out: four pages. It would have taken me a lot longer to open all my books to the appropriate pages, evaluate the options, and add them to my existing stats. Even making a first level character with only Pathfinder books, a character sheet and a pencil can take hours if you consider all the possible archetypes and race/class combinations. It would have ground the session to a halt.

So what is the answer? Is one way better than the other? I suppose it comes down to personal preference. For me, I play role-playing games as an escape. I enjoy pouring over the books, and the art in those books. I like finding new things in them like a wizard discovering knowledge in a tome of ancient lore. I suppose it just comes down to personal preference: ease of use and a fair amount of waste, or piles of books and maybe missing out on the best option for your character while your sheet gets dingy with eraser marks and quickly scrawled notes. It all comes down to how you want to roll. How do you role/roll? One sheet or many?

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Categories: 4e, DnD, Lore, Pathfinder, Pirates, Tips
  1. Seventh Son
    September 14, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Character sheets have definitely grown with the complexity of the game. A 1st edition sheet was once a half page (though even that got complex at times; see the class specific ones from 1E as shown here: http://www.mad-irishman.net/pubs/MI_AD&D2CharacterRecordSheets.pdf )

    I enjoy the complexity and detail, and like having a completed sheet. I’ve found a good program like Herolab gets you back to the game faster, and checks your rules compliance for you to boot. If you want simple, it can bang out simple. If you want complex, you can spend the time and develop the nuance. Plus, as a spell caster, having all your spells summarized can be a real time saver.

    It can all still be done with pen and paper, but why walk when can fly?

  2. September 15, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I’m a fan of the multi-sheet option. I wish it still existed, but for a game as simple as Savage Worlds, someone had put together a four page character sheet. This left plenty of room for details to be added in while leveling up, including a great little chart to track what advancements the character picked up and at what level, so there was no wondering if a point had been spent and when.

    Add to that the rest of the pages for room to write down everything you needed to, and it was still a darned sight cheaper on paper than any other option.

  3. September 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    My preference is the Character Builder. What I’ve taken to doing is saving the PDF of the character at regular intervals… usually once per level. That way I have a history of it, if I need to go back.

    • September 16, 2012 at 12:27 am

      True. I’m getting more in the habit of playing from PDF and iPad. 0 paper!

  4. September 18, 2012 at 3:10 am

    If you’ve seen my character sheets (fewilcox.wordpress.com/downloads) you know I’m a big advocate of only ever needing one sheet of paper for each character. There are two ways I try to make that happen.

    The first is making character sheets that are totally class-agnostic. That means no dedicated spell space, no limited number of weapon slots, and the like. That way each character sheet has space for everything a character could possibly need, with nothing that it doesn’t.

    The second is a habit that has spread to most of our weekly group’s members: using small dry erase boards to track volatile data, like HP, during sessions. (One player keeps his character sheet in a sheet protector, which achieves the same result.) Only at the end of each session do we update our character sheets with current HP; number of healing surges and ammo remaining; dailies expended; current exp, Honor, character or build points, or Luck; and anything else that is liable to change over the course of a session. (In case you missed it, that list includes things from GURPS, both editions of HackMaster, and D&D 4e.)

    Not only does that save a ton of wear on our character sheets, but dry erase is much faster to erase than pencil and doesn’t get eraser boogers all over the table since no one but me bothers sweeping them backwards onto the floor instead of forwards onto the table, possibly into people’s food or where others are trying to write.

    Even on the rare occasions when I have used any kind of character builder software, I still wrote out the character instead of printing a stack of papers. As evidenced above, we use several systems, so even having two or three characters for each results in having to haul around a huge stack of paper if you need more than on sheet for each one.

    Currently I’m working on converting some of my characters to epub, if that works out then I can keep copies of all of my characters on my ereader, but since I won’t be able to change them without a computer on hand, that will only be useful for keeping backup copies or for lending out my spare Encounters characters.

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