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Tips for Paper Character Sheets

by Mike on 1 July 2024

Though the technology is 5,000 years old, there are new tricks we can learn to more effectively use paper character sheets in our TTRPGs. Using paper character sheets gives us a degree of flexibility and resilience we lose when relying on digital tools. Get used to using paper-based tools and find ways to make them as easy and fun as possible to use.

Why Use Paper?

With all of the awesome technology we have these days, why would we ever consider using paper-based character sheets? Here are some reasons:

Flexibility. Paper character sheets don't lock you into whatever a digital tool wants you to fill in. You can write anything you want, any way you want, on your paper sheet. It fits core rules, rules published by other publishers, or your own house rules. Nothing is locked in.

Disconnection. In our always-on digital world, sometimes it's nice to set our electronics aside and live in the moment with our friends and our physical character sheets. Even for the roughly half of surveyed DMs and players who play online, you can still enjoy using a paper-based character sheet and keep your online tools focused on communication instead of game management.

Resilience. Paper-based sheets can last a long time – far longer than electronic records, tools, services, or devices. If you care for them, your character sheets can last your whole life. You can also take pictures of them if you want online versions.

Independence. Removing your reliance on digital tools means you never need to worry what direction a particular digital tool takes. If you're comfortable using physical books and paper-based character sheets – nothing can change that situation. No one can remove or edit your existing physical books. If you rely on remotely managed digital tools, you must live with whatever the company running that tool wants to do with it.

Nostalgia. There's something fun about playing these games we love the same way people played them fifty years ago. Regardless of the technological advances in that time, we can still enjoy the game the same way it was enjoyed half a century ago.

Top Tips for Paper-Based Character Sheets

Here are some top tips for using paper-based character sheets.

Write Down Page Numbers. Write down page numbers of spells and class features on your sheet. Use your character sheet like a custom index of the rules in your RPG sourcebook you need to run your character.

Use Index Cards. Use index cards to track continually changing features like hit points, damage, short rests, luck points, spell slots, and other consumables. GMs can write down magic items and their effects on index cards or print them out on small pieces of paper you can hand out to players when they're acquired. Use paper clips to keep index cards organized.

Use Sheet Protectors and Dry-Erase Markers. Some players use sheet protectors to make their entire character sheet a dry-erasable white board. Others put pieces of packing tape or dry-erase tape over key areas of their character sheet like the hit point box.

Use Quality Paper. Print character sheets on good quality 32 pound paper. It's more durable and feels great.

Other Quick Tips

Here's a selection of other quick tips from players and GMs on EN World and YouTube:

Enjoy Your Analog Game

Tabletop roleplaying games are so different from the digital entertainment that surrounds us. We control our games. We run our games. No one but us and our group decides what game to run or how to run it.

Embrace pencils, papers, and books. Enjoy the game using tools humankind has used for thousands of years and keep your game flexible, resilient, and fun.

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