I offer no apologies for my appreciation of D&D 4E, as it gives me everything I look for in a heroic roleplaying game. For me, it’s not enough to act like someone different, or take on unbeatable foes, or tick off numbers on papers. Don’t misunderstand, I love all these bits, but I also love the cooperative side of the game, how a goal can only be achieved if the party works together. So here is a game that I really do enjoy, and yet, there is this scar on my beloved which prevents me from embracing it completely.
The character sheets are <hyperbole>8000 pages long</hyperbole>.
My brain is old and dusty, and has lost any ability to retain information, and this game of mine has lots and lots of things you really do have to remember. There are triggers and immediate actions and opportunity actions and conditional powers and situational feats, and this is all spread across a half-dozen or more pages in no detectable order, resulting in the following popular phrase at the gaming table: “Wait, wait, wait, I think I can do something now,” following by shuffling paper. This is running neck-and-neck with the phrase, “Wait, wait, wait, I could have done something last round / last battle / last week.”
I find myself digging about for a solution. I experimented with a folded Trigger Sheet, with the top labeled ENEMY TURN and the bottom labeled MY TURN, and I would flip my sheet over depending on the circumstances. There are a few issues. First, I almost always get caught up in the excitement and forget about my Trigger Sheet, and thus forget about my actions/reactions. Second, I wind up outsourcing my confusion to a brand new document, and face an intimidating block of powers and effects. And third, my Trigger Sheet has no context, which can be important in the middle of battle. I might consider responding with this power, but this one, performed later on my turn, would be even better, so it might be better to skip the trigger this time.
After this, I turned my attention to a one-page character sheet. It seemed like an absurd solution, considering how much data makes up a typical 4E character, even a low heroic one. Am I really so optimistic, hopeful, and deluded to believe I can cram it all on a single page? Of course I am.
This was not an easy exercise, and it’s probably not quite finished yet. Maybe it’ll never be finished. I keep stumbling across another race/class/build that won’t conform to my current configuration, and so I have to go back and muck about with it again. I have test driven this one-page a few times in actual games, and it has been extremely satisfying, along the lines of eating pasta and meat sauce while watching Regular Show and listening to Judas Priest. Pure joy.
Because I have no design skills, I totally copied a layout that I actually like, the Essentials character sheet. It looks clean and sharp and modern and other pretend design words, and I can always find the bits I’m after. Granted, I had to resort to some micro-fonts, and also had to reword some power paragraphs for clarity and brevity. For example, whenever a line read, “hit points equal to Wisdom modifier (+4),” I wrote, “4 hp.” That’s converting 40 characters into four, which is a deal I’ll always take.
Also, I try to stick to powers and feats with the smallest footprints possible, with as little mental overhead as I can find. If it’s a feat that always modifies a type of roll, then I’m a big fan, my face painted with Improved Initiative, my We’re #1 foam Weapon Expertise, my ball cap of Toughness.
My biggest issue with the one-page is that the manufacturing process is not exactly a factory environment. You know those Get-Smarter shows where they demonstrate how to make fire hydrants or cream pies or fake vomit? The lathes and grinders and extruders are banging along with blurred quickness, popping out hundreds of the items per minute. My character sheets aren’t like that. They’re more like one of those products that require a hands-on approach, like a surfboard or a pool cue or a RealDoll, taking hours or days to create with loving attention. Edits are a hassle; format is everything. If I mess up the leading for Strength, everything below it goes all to pieces.
It’s not efficient, and it takes a surprisingly long time, but I feel like the time I spend in pre-game preparation is time saved and powers remembered in combat. All I have to do is roll my dice and add my bonuses. Wait, what are those again?
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Here’s a link to my template, as promised, with many thanks to Dave the Game: