Friday, October 25, 2019

Friday Figures: Who Keeps the Sheets?

Here's one of these 4th-wall issues that no one ever thinks to talk about, but when it finally surfaces to consciousness, suddenly everyone realizes they have a militant opinion about. On last week's Wandering DMs show discussing Dave Arneson's early play mechanics, special guest DH Boggs pointed out that Arneson kept all the character sheets for a few different reasons. At the time I thought: "Why are we even mentioning this? Or wait, has no one ever discussed this as an issue before?". So I asked the question as a poll on the Facebook 1E AD&D group; who keeps the PC character sheets between sessions?


As you can see, the "Players" vote took an overwhelming win on this poll -- by a vote of 250 to 83 to 18 at last count. (So: 71% are saying the players take their sheets home). Among the many comments on the issue include observations such as, "I will always stand by the notion that a character is the intellectual property of the player.", "I don't play with people that I don't trust enough to keep their own sheets" (I think assuming the only reason for DM to keep sheets is as an anti-cheating measure), and even, "DMs that insist on keeping their players character sheets have serious mental issues."

Now, this is somewhat surprising, because all of the play groups with which I interact actually have the DM keep the sheets. I think I usually offer players to take the sheets, but no one ever takes me up on it. Maybe our community has just all fallen into this habit unwittingly. Arguments in favor of this in the thread include, "Character sheets belong to the campaign, not the player", and predominantly, "Everyone always forgets to bring their stuff that's why the GM keeps it in a folder". I'm not seeing any comments specifically about cheating but maybe there's one or two in there (and that would have been me in junior high school). One said, "I have been really surprised by New School players who want me to hang onto the character sheets".

Other options include some form of both parties keeping copies; maybe DM gets originals and players scans, or vice-versa. Some DMs keep various summary records while players take the real sheets. Some have a "current" sheet with one party, while an "older" sheet is taken by the other. And a few use technology like D&D Beyond for 5th edition where (I think) both DM and player can access it online. (One DM keeps data in a custom spreadsheet and prints out fresh paper copies each session.)

As a special bonus, Mr. Frank Mentzer joined the conversation, sharing that his players keep their sheets, while he keeps index-card summaries (color-coded by race). And in fact has kept all those records consistently going back to 1977 (making a separate post on FB sharing some photos of those stacks of cards). Thanks, Frank!



Don't forget: New Wandering DMs live chat this Sunday -- On incorporating horror in your D&D and other RPG games. Will we wear costumes? Tune in and share you spooky suggestions. Sunday 1 PM ET.

34 comments:

  1. I usually hold onto my own character sheets between sessions, but I've also left them either by accident or occasionally on purpose. A couple of my players do the same, but most prefer the convenience of having me collect them all and keep them in my messenger bag so they won't get lost or forgotten. I keep my own records on my laptop of each of the PCs as well.

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  2. I saw more tables where the GM kept the character sheet than the player kept the sheet but I started playing in 2000. We didn't had a fixed location to play most of the time so I (the GM) kept the sheets but as a habit and to keep it with everything else of the campaign. When a friend's house became the fixed location everything stayed there (sheets, books, papers) except the players pencils and dice.

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  3. As a DM, I always kept the sheets. Concentrates all the material in one person. Players always forget their stuff!

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  4. I've done it both ways. As a GM the main reason I want to have access to the sheets is for the opportunity to audit them during non-play time -- not so much for cheating as to review abilities, equipment, and so on. Now I usually just keep a one-page sheet with important details (modifiers, special senses, ...) and have players update it when they level.

    For a few games the players would keep the sheets, but upload them to our shared group.

    Also it's better to have the sheets available to the party if you're a group that allows other players (or the GM) to play characters if the player isn't present at a session. Which we've sometimes done, but not recently.

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    1. I think those are compelling. Also in that FB thread some people mentioned the DM needing to do stuff like computing & adding XP to the sheets between sessions (although in my OD&D game we can do that in about 2 minutes at session end).

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  5. The only time I've ever preferred keeping character sheets as DM was when we were playing a game with a lot of "behind the scenes upkeep" I guess you'd call it. Like Champions, where you have a half dozen characters in the group, each with different archenemies and mysterious backgrounds, it is just so much easier for the DM to tie everything together when the characters are there for reference.

    But I have definitely noticed in recent years a more pronounced tendency for players to want to leave their characters with the DM.

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  6. My inclination is usually to let the players keep their sheets. It's what I did as a player growing up, so it's really just what I'm used to. In my last campaign the players actually requested I keep the sheets, primarily for convenience. In fact they gave me a folder they kept their sheets and all the handouts they got which I just kept with all my other material. For me keeping one extra folder is no big deal given all the other material I have to have on hand, while on their end they were worried that someone might forget or lose something.

    DM keeping the sheets can also be really important depending on how you deal with player absense. When I was doing "absent player becomes a henchman", it was important that we had their character sheet on hand. So having that folder of all the player stuff was logistically important.

    As for cheating, or needing to reference the character's sheets for prep - these things have never come up for me.

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  7. I've pretty much always kept character sheets, and (for the most part) players have simply passed them to me at the end of a session, unasked. When we sit down at our next session, I hand them out to folks...it's almost like a small ritual that opens and closes the session.

    [this isn't just for D&D, by the way...this is all the various RPGs I've run over the years]

    I'd like to say that, if a player WANTED to keep their sheet I would allow it...but now that I'm considering the possibility, it makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps that makes me a bit of a control freak (I *am* a control freak), but letting a character sheet go untethered into the wind (like a child's balloon) feels like you're saying the on-going campaign doesn't matter, is unimportant...if the sheet disappears, is lost or destroyed, it doesn't matter because there's nothing terribly serious about the game we're playing. Which isn't how I like to approach the game. If it's supposed to be a one-off or a con game...okay. But even at a con I'm inclined to give back my own pre-gen to the DM (or retain the pre-gens I brought) for use in later cons or one-offs.

    I was listening to the great (and very funny) GGNORE podcast the other day when they were doing one of their "Dear Gary" advice podcasts, and one of the questions came from a player who had misplaced his character sheet and the DM penalized him by making him sit out of the game for two hours. That's an asshole move on the DM's part, but having the DM retain all the character sheets and campaign materials in one place removes this kind of mishap.

    When I was a kid, my fellow DM kept all our character sheets on her personal computer. She'd take out sheets back and update the record with our various notes and whatnot between sessions...and could print up copies (on her dot matrix printer) if we wanted something to take home. But she was very "high tech" compared to me, back then (early to mid-80s)...I just kept everything in the box we were playing out of. Most of the time (in those days) the players didn't even have copies of the RULES...which is probably how we got in the habit of keeping everything in one place (when you put away the Monopoly set, you keep all the game pieces in one box, right? One player doesn't take the Top Hat home with him!).

    I'm very surprised by the results of your poll.

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    1. Me too! I wonder if the visitors to this blog maybe fall into a "super old-school" camp where DMs control everything including PC sheets (as Arneson did); then there was a 1E "kinda old-school" camp that reversed that, and then the "new school" that's flipped back to DM keeping them?

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    2. 1E "kinda old-school" camp

      Can you talk about this group at some point? I'm not sure to what you're referring, but I'm *extremely* curious.

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    3. I don't think I mean anything very deep with that. Just that there's a population of 1E AD&D players who consider themselves old-school, and then there's a population of OD&D players who look at the former and consider them johnny-come-latelys with a bunch of degenerate rules distracting from the true game.

      Now this is mostly my impression from the online forums I interact with: (a) the Facebook 1E AD&D group (with a large body of sometimes sketchily informed but passionate players; e.g. often not knowing the difference between LBBs and B/X), and (b) the OD&D 74 Proboards Discussion forum (with a small body of often doctorate-level scholars of the original game).

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    4. And of course there's some Arneson associates who look at published OD&D the same way, and wargamers who look at fantasy gamers the same way, etc., possibly in an infinite regress.

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  8. I was initially going to say "Players, duh" but then when I thought about it I realized that I as the GM have ended up with the sheets stuck in a folder with all the player maps, etc that goes in my game binder.
    Mostly my games involve lots of casual players, so they dont want to have to worry about holding onto their sheets or have an interest in their characters outside play.
    Also, its a digital age, so I think they all had at least a photo or a digital copy on their phones at some point.
    When I was a play, we all held onto our sheets, and I would have no problem if a current player wanted to. I would probably keep a copy or jot down stats for my reference though.
    Anti cheating, or intellectual property thoughts have (thankfully?) never had to enter into the thought process.

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  9. In the groups I’ve played in it’s usually been a mix: the more casual players usually prefer to have someone else (either the GM or another player) keep their sheets. That way they don’t have to worry about losing or forgetting it, and the option’s open for someone else to use their character if they miss a session. OTOH the more dedicated players, the same ones who bring their own rulebooks and dice and rarely ever miss a game, usually prefer to keep their own sheets between games. These players are also more likely to think about the game between sessions - to add details and backstory to their characters and make plans and conduct downtime business and so forth, so it makes sense they’d want to have their sheet to facilitate that stuff. That’s always seemed to work pretty well. Every once in a while a character sheet gets lost or forgotten, but not often.

    I do remember one campaign I played in back in the 80s where the GM collected all of the sheets at the end of each session, and I didn’t like it, so I would definitely never enforce that.

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  10. As a DM, I have a folder full of all the character sheets, player maps, the list of "treasure in the party's storage unit", etc. I think I asked at the beginning of the campaign whether they wanted to keep them in between sessions or have me keep them and there was a consensus that it was easier for me to just hang on to them. Sometimes players forget to bring stuff, and my players are mostly casual players who are unlikely to be lovingly reviewing their character sheet between sessions. It's easier just to keep it with all the other maps and player notes.

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    1. It's funny because I've just recently also had to start tracking the party's communal house-in-town, butler, horses, treasure in storage, etc.

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  11. One nice thing about digital play is that since we're using virtual character sheets, usually hosted on some cloud service or another, we have the best of both worlds- both GM *and* players can have access to the character sheet at the same time.

    Back when I used to play in person, I always kept my sheet as a player, and I'd probably expect the same as a GM. I'm very unorganized, I might lose them if you give them to me :O

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  12. Usually I keep my players sheet's too, unless they want to take it home with them, but that hardly happens.

    Aside from the advantage of keeping everything together, they also rely on me to update the XP and level stuff between sessions. Also, since it can be hit or miss who shows up, we can still run a character as an NPC if need be.

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    1. I think those are great points. The adding XP between sessions was also a point made on the FB thread.

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  13. I let the players keep their sheets, although I have a master copy of their game stats (for my own reference and ease, mostly.) Still, it's a problem when people don't show but their character needs to be played due to an ongoing adventure that continues between sessions or when a player shows but forgot their stuff. Still, if they prefer to hang on to the sheets I don't mind enough to insist on keeping them.

    Back in the day the players always held onto them. "in the day" being my elementary/junior high school/high school days.

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  14. It's never occurred to me for the GM to keep sheets. No particular reason, we've just always hung onto them as players.

    My initial thoughts on hearing that some people hand them to the GM are, "but why though?" and "doesn't the GM have enough to keep track of?"

    What if a player wants to ask if they have a particular thing? Do they have to message the GM, be like, "hey I don't remember, do I have Power Attack?"

    I guess players having the sheets is also practical, since we always level up ourselves, offline. We couldn't do that if they were stuck in with all the GM's things.

    Side note: the phrase "color-coded by race" really makes you appreciate the power of context, eh?

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    1. Definitely! :-)

      It's interesting that in about 2 years of my current campaign play (and DM keeping PC sheets), no player has had to ping me for info on their PC between sessions. Could be that the OD&D stats are so stripped-down it's trivial to remember, or not an issue, or we're more casual players, or maybe I'm just standoff-ish and hard to reach. :-)

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    2. Ah right, the difference in editions. That would make a big difference, I expect.

      Right now I'm playing in a 5th edition game, and I actually keep a simplified version of my character sheet, and compute the more obscure bonuses myself, because it's so straightforward.

      I'm also playing a game of Star Wars Saga Edition, and hoo boy do you need to keep hold of your character sheet in that system. It's based on D&D3.5, but with nearly all class abilities swapped out for customizable "talents"—basically a second, separate layer of feats. Too fiddly to remember without your sheet, I would think.

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  15. I have an online gaming group made up of experienced players - we have all the sheets on a shared google sheet.

    For the more "casual" players of the real-life gaming group, they insist that I keep their sheets because they never remember to bring them/lose them once at home.

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  16. I always keep character sheets, whether as a player or DM. I just don't trust anyone else. I've had both players and DMs either lose a sheet or just forget to bring it that day. Sometimes as a player my DM will want the sheets, in which case I'll make an extra copy for them, but I keep the original. I do the same thing if a player wants to keep their sheet for a game I'm running.

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  17. I have done both. I encourage players to let me hang onto them but don't expect it.

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  18. Since my present players are my kids (11 to 8 years old), I keep all the stuff between sessions: they are careless enough with their homework already!

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  19. I think my first group mostly fell into keeping our own character sheets because we never had a permanent DM. We'd use the same character with different DMs all the time, so it only made sense to do it that way.

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  20. I'm lazy and forgetful so I prefer my dm to keep my sheet. The problem is that he is also lazy and forgetful, so the end of every session is like a game of hot potato.

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  21. We role play it. A NPC DM hands me a notional sheet at the end of a notional game and my PC takes it home...

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