Electronic games, be they roleplaying, strategy, or what-have-you games, can make character sheets a real hurdle to gaming. The user interface isn’t necessarily designed by someone who understands the information being displayed, how it will be used, or how people process information they’re given.

The same problem exists in board games and tabletop roleplaying games. The last decade or so has seen some better designs for character sheets, but players are still forced to do lots of convoluted, repetitive math and write numbers in tiny boxes with little context or importance attached to them. Most of them are just numbers.

A character sheet is a lot like a user interface. It’s supposed to serve the player as a quick-reference guide, but it’s also where the player should be able to find the most important or frequently-used information quickly. In my opinion, it should also be usable as a teaching aid for new players, but that might be expecting too much.

Ask yourself what kind of information you expect to find in your phone book or your daily planner. What kind of information you want on your resume. If you look to your character sheet and the first thing you feel you need to do is look up information from another source, your character sheet has failed. Then it’s an index. An appendix.

Ultimately, the most important aspects of a character are never recorded on a character sheet, they’re in the way the player chooses to act, and the way they’re perceived by the game master and other players. Most of that information simply doesn’t exist in writing of any kind, and it’s often never even defined.

My thoughts on the matter? A character sheet should really only have a minimum amount of information related to a character’s game statistics, and beyond that, only three to five pieces of information unique to them. If it’s a special weapon, a magic spell, or another language. They all need be relevant to the game, as well.

Next time you look at your favorite character, ask yourself what there is to the character that isn’t on the sheet. Is it an illustration, a personality quirk, or an incomprehensible battle cry? The goals, motivations, or quest? A funny accent?

What’s in a character sheet?