|Pathfinder Character Sheets|
|Written by Ryan. Costello, Jr|
|Wednesday, 19 August 2009 12:31|
Ryan is a man that takes character sheets seriously, hoping to one day find one character sheet that suits all his needs.
Since the dawn of the RPG, gamers have yearned for the perfect character sheet, one that contains all of a character’s vital statistics in an easy to read format in optimized space. Since 3rd edition, most character sheets have followed the Wizards of the Coast model http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dnd/charactersheets, with skills on the right, ability scores, saves, and weapons on the left, and then a second page devoted for spells, feats, and equipment. Or rather, the names of the spells, feats, and equipment. The space provided rarely accommodates even a brief explanation of the more complex character choices. So the search continues. With the recent release of Pathfinder and the fan-support Paizo products tend to get, will we finally see a character sheet that is everything it needs to be?
As of this review, The Pathfinder Database has four character sheets available for download: The Official Paizo character sheet; a landscape character sheet designed by fan Treyu; and a no frills character sheet by Neceros, and another landscape character sheet by Kae’Yoss. Additionally, LPJ Design just released the Expanded Character Sheet: The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition, a 19 page PDF available for $1.99. These five character sheets are run through a gauntlet to see which comes closest to being the perfect character sheet.
Paizo Publishing Official Pathfinder RPG Character Sheet
At a glance, the official Pathfinder RPG character sheet is the most professional. The shape of the banners is more than a simple highlight and click in Microsoft Excel. Beyond the cosmetics, however, we’ve seen this character sheet before. It is the standard two pages, everything is laid out where you would expect, etc. The reason this design has survived close to ten years now is that it is logical, flows well, and it ain’t broke. An improvement over the Beta character sheet is the inclusion of asterix to denote trained only skills, but this is less a great idea to include and more a bad idea to have taken out to begin with. The only real addition is the Combat Manoeuvre Defence slot, which would have been illogical to omit.
The problems with this design are the same problems the classic design suffers. It tries to appeal to so many different types of characters that it is not very useful for any one. Caster have too much space for weapons and too little space for spells. Fighters have too little space for feats and have a wasted area for spells. Since 3.0, elves have had a +2 saving throws bonus to resist enchantment spells. And since 3.0, there has never been enough space near the saving throws to adequately write this note. If a player has to memorize a character bonus or mark it on a cheat sheet, the character sheet is not doing its job. And can someone explain to me why neither Paizo nor WotC have ever dedicated space for a dodge bonus in the Armour Class entry? It is an extremely common bonus to AC, especially in Pathfinder where the Dodge feat gives a perpetual dodge bonus.
In summary, there is nothing new here except a few changes that make Pathfinder-specific rather than a 3.5.
Closeness to perfection: 65%
Treyu’s Character Sheet
Immediately, this character sheet stands out for its horizontal layout, but what are the advantages over the standard format? The page definitely has a different flow, with a couple of items that feel slightly out of place but others that work. Skills take up the entire right hand side. The format is familiar. Although it lacks indicators for trained only skills and skills with armour check penalties, it does include empty spaces at the bottom in case you house rule a new skill or use something like Autohypnosis from The Expanded Psionics Handbook. Making the Knowledge skills all Knowledge (_____) rather than include the most popular ones and a few extra blanks was a strange choice, and the space provided is barely enough to fit “arcana” let alone “geography”.
The AC section still fails to include space for Dodge, but the way it handles Touch and Flat Footed AC is inspired. All three types of armour are next to the same six boxes (for armour, Dex, Shield, Natural, Deflection, and Misc), but Touch and Flatfooted have the irrelevant boxes greyed in. This makes the distinction between the different ACs visual, and by greying the spaces instead of blacking them or crossing them out with thick bars, the character sheet leaves the option to fill them in should you get a feat or class feature or what have you that allows you to retain these areas.
There is ample room to track Hit Points, including a second, narrowed area for non-lethal damage. There is a big box marked Notes that sits between Saving Throws and Combat Manoeuvres so a player can jot down information relevant to either. The weapons section is really nicely laid out, emphasizing the weapon (with enough space for a name or a series of magical properties), to hit and damage, but still providing areas to track the math. The weapon section might be the best innovation on the first page of this character sheet.
What most stands out on the second page is the figurine for tracking body slots. The often overlooked 3.5 rule that limited a character’s magic items by locations on the body is still alive in Pathfinder, and this section lets a player manage his character’s gear visually. It has to be mentioned that the body slots listed do not use the names of the body slots but a mix of body slots and items that occupy those slots. For example, it says eyes and head, which are body slots, but also cloak and shirt, which are items that occupy body slots (in this case the shoulders and chest).
The rest of page two is basically lines. Lines for feats, lines for class features, lines for languages. If not for the body slots section, this page would be completely devoid of visual elements. Simply not being pretty is only a small flaw, but considering how creatively the rest of the character sheets manages space, it is disappointing to see nothing similar done in these areas.
This character sheet has a third page, one completely dedicated to magic. This is very efficient because non-casters can skip this page completely, while casters can print as many of this page as they need for their most important class feature. There is room for 37 spells, with categories dedicate to the spells’ names, level, school, something L, something U, Spell Resistance, range, area, duration, and description. The space is pretty tight, but with a few abbreviations everything should fit. At least the space for descriptions is significant.
What are L and U? A small note to the bottom left of the sheet explains that L stands for Learned and U stands for Used. Still not self-explanatory, but clearer. What is not clear is why no space is provided for saving throws. With feats, class features, and racial bonuses to specific types of spells, it would be nice to have an area to write the total of all these bonuses rather than having to do the math every time, possibly overlooking a bonus here or there.
In summary, Treyu’s character sheet includes al the information of the Paizo character sheet and more, uses space well, and overall is an early contender for best character sheet.
Closeness to perfection: 80%
Neceros’ Character Sheet
This character sheet is designed with a smaller print than most. Although there are nice boxes dividing up the space, players with large print will soon find the sheet to be an absolute mess. Despite the small print, space is very cleverly used. Just above the skills is an area for up to three classes and their level as well as space dedicated to the character’s favoured class. For such an important part of a character, it is strange that most other sheets grossly overlook class.
There is logic to the sheet’s flow, and if you can’t follow it, there are labels for the different sections. Health & Combat includes HP, DR (mislabelled Damage Resistance instead of Damage Reduction), SR, Initiative, Speed (mislabelled Misc), and XP. Attacks & Defence includes the three types of AC (including a space for Dodge bonuses and two spaces for miscellaneous bonuses), Saving Throws (with plenty of room for modifiers and notes, although more could have been dedicated had the class modifier box not been so mysteriously big), melee attacks, ranged attacks, CMB, CMD, and room for five weapons and two types of armour or shield. Again, the small typeface takes away from what is otherwise brilliantly managed space.
Skills are their own section, with boxes to check off class skills, space for ranks, ability modifier, trained bonus, and two miscellaneous bonuses. There are also three empty spaces for optional skills. Shading every other skill makes following the math very easy. If skills that suffer armour check penalties had been indicated, this would be the perfect skill chart.
Rounding up the very full first page is a section for Feats and Features. Three columns of lines, again the least creative way to categorize this data.
The second page is dedicated to equipment and, strangely, special abilities. The special abilities column may not fit the theme, but the inclusion of a uses/day box is much appreciated. As always, a section for body slots is important, although this version is graphically bare. This page is neat and easy to use, with more space than usual dedicated to wealth, a handy section for loads, and plenty of room for notes. The downside is that only the basic equipment section has a column for weight, implying that if a character is wearing a magic helmet with daily charges, a player would have to write it once in Equipment for the weight, once in Magic Items for the charges, and once in Worn Equipment for the body slot.
The third page is for magic and animals. Easily the most complicated page to follow, it tries to accommodate for casters that memorize, spontaneous casters, and psionic characters, all in the same space. It does too much and leaves no room for descriptions of the spells and powers and too much goes to waste. The page considers sorcerer bloodlines but breaks them up illogically, and the space for familiars does not leave room for animal companions, meaning druids, paladins, and rangers (and some clerics) need an entirely separate sheet.
In summary, the first two pages are superior to the two pages of the Paizo character sheet but the third page is a mess. If you are a non-caster, you have almost everything you need. If you are a caster, you’re out of luck.
Closeness to perfection: 80%
Kae’Yoss Character Sheet
The most visually interesting short of the official Pathfinder character sheet, and another with landscape orientation, this character sheet does not take many risks. Without even looking at it, a player can probably guess accurately where they will find ability scores, saving throws, skills, name, level, description, etc. It is all where it is expected and in the standard format. Speed is the only thing on the first page in a strange place. It lacks information on multiple types of movement, too. In every way it feels like an afterthought.
Skills are near perfect. Area to check off class skills, skills that can be used untrained are indicated, the knowledges are all there, there is extra space. Once again, skills with armour check penalties are not indicated.
The rest of the sheet feels like untapped potential. Take AC. Does it include a box for a dodge bonus? Not specifically. There is a box for armour bonus and another for Dex modifier, then four boxes left blank. Blank boxes also appear with the saving throws and weapons. Leaving extra space for miscellaneous bonuses was a strong point on Neceros’ character sheet, but the difference there was that it covered the basics and left extra room. Kae’Yoss’ sheet fails to cover the basics.
The second page has Feats and Abilities in the standard columns of lines. The rest of the page is dedicated to equipment. Area is dedicated to body slots in a way that feels inefficient, alongside armour, shields, and protective items. A big empty space is labelled “Equipment” but, like much of the first page, it feels unfinished. The point of a character sheet is to help players organize the many aspects of their characters. If they wanted big empty spaces, they’d use blank sheets.
There is not much more to say about the third page. It is dedicated to spells and feels unfinished. Even Neceros’ spell page was more useful.
In summary, comparing the thought and effort that went into formatting most of the first page to the rest of the character sheet indicates that this was rushed and ultimately fails at its basic function because of it.
Closeness to Perfection: 50%
Those are the free character sheets available at the Pathfinder Database as of this writing. Does LPJ’s $1.99 Deluxe Pathfinder Character Sheet surpass the cheap sheets enough to be worth the purchase?
LPJ Deluxe Pathfinder Character Sheet
Advertised as a 19 page character sheet, the PDF is actually 20 pages, the last page being an advertisement. It is nice to think LPJ was honest enough to not include that in the page count. Sadly, less than half of the other 19 pages are not all character sheet. The one page of OGL legal information is forgivable. The twelve pages of character tokens are not. The pattern to these pages is 49 medium sized copies of one character followed by nine large sized copies of the same character, ideal for… what knows what.
The inclusion of these pages is baffling. What does this have to do with a character sheet? What player needs 49 identical versions of their character and nine versions in a larger scale? Had there been 294 individual medium characters and 54 individual large characters, they could be excellent tools for a Game Master although still a strange fit for a character sheet. Similarly, had they been multiples of monsters, a GM could use them. Instead, these mostly look like PCs, with one zombie and one warforged/very heavily armoured warrior. Was there any demand for encounters with 49 medium zombies and 9 large ones that practically maxes out most battle maps? Mercy to the GM that has to keep track of the individual damage of all these identical creatures.
Eventually the actual character sheet will be reviewed, but the staggering first impression of this sheet is that it has been padded for page count. Although the product description does mention “Miniature Counters”, it is at the very end of a long list and in no way implies that these counters take up twice the page count of the actual character sheet. There is no indication of the thought process that attached these counters, nor do they fit the intention of the product as “…a 19 page PDF resource that players can use to have a more detailed view of the character they are playing”.
Now to start the review of this six page character sheet.
The first page is identical in content to the first page of Paizo’s official Pathfinder Character Sheet, right down to not including a Dodge bonus to AC and not indicating skills that have armour check penalties. Obviously it is not a straight copy, but it is a sheet that does not include one ounce of thought put into it, except that the page must be formatted to leave space for the LPJ Design logo.
The second page is again basically identical to Paizo, except that some room has been made on the top of the sheet to repeat the character name, level, race, and a few other bits of important information. A small change, but a thoughtful one for a GM that might have ten character sheets in his notes. The other change is that the Paizo sheet has a column in the middle broken up with two headers (Feats and Special Abilities) whereas the LPJ sheet has the same column broken up in the same way, but the headers are Feats and Feats. Obviously a typo and not the first on these character sheets reviewed, just the first on a character sheet that isn’t free.
Since the Paizo character sheet is only two sheets long, the LPJ character sheet has four pages with which to be original. Page three actually does succeed at that. An equipment page with an inventory list that includes areas to mark down HP and hardness of the items in addition to the standard categories. This may seem like an arbitrary addition, but if it does come up in the heat of battle, the less time spent researching and calculating this information, the better. There is also a section for magic item body slots that is clean and straight forward. The only problem is that page two also had a section dedicated to gear, one that is made redundant by page three.
Page four tracks spells per day. It is one sheet for all spell casting classes, so ranger and paladin players need to include an entire page dedicated to a few square inches and even dedicated casters like wizards use less than a quarter of this page. Also, this information is again redundant because of the second page of the character sheet.
Page five is called spellbook listings, but can be used for sorcerers and clerics and all the other classes that do no use spellbooks. There is room for twenty spells, with space to fill in a almost everything you would want, including type of save and DC. The only aspect of the spell not covered is the school, but at least there is ample room for notes. Best of all, there is nothing else on this sheet so a caster can print a copy of this one sheet for every 20 spells they have.
The final page is interesting, although compact. There is an area for Campaign notes, a strangely subcategorized area for session events, then areas to list contacts and alliances, and quests and known enemies. Essentially it is a notes page, but one that specifically narrows your notes down into easily managed chunks.
In summary, of the 19 advertised pages of this PDF, one is included for legal reasons, twelve are useless, the first two pages of the actual character sheet are identical (except for a typo) to one that can be downloaded for free, two pages are okay but expand on information already presented earlier, and two sheets are original and pretty useful. Reusing the first page is acceptable because it handles vital information in a familiar way. However, the fact that the second page went unchanged despite the redundancy of information shows that this was not a product that was given enough thought and effort. Honestly, can LPJ designs in any way justify including the gear section on the second page? Is a player supposed to fill out their gear on two pages? Failing to optimize space means it fails as a character sheet.
If this truly were a 19 page character sheet, or even 18 pages accounting for the mandatory OGL, there could have been the generic first page (preferably improved upon), a second page without redundant and class-specific areas in favour of expanding the gear and magic item information, a page that is completely useful to all casters (basically the fifth page of what LPJ released), leaving 15 pages that could have been class specific. A barbarian page to track rages per day, rage powers, and other class features. A bard page that manages bardic music. A cleric page that handles their spells per day and domain. Two druid pages, one for class features and spells, one for Wild Shape and the animal companion. Handled this way, not only would LPJ have created the perfect character sheet, they would have created 11 perfect character sheets, one for each class. Instead, the mix of false advertising and lazy design means the only character sheet that you have to pay for ranks lower than all the free ones.
Closeness to perfection: 60%
The two highest ranking character sheets are by Treyu and Neceros, but for different reasons. If you are playing a warrior and only need the first two pages, Neceros’ sheet is easily the best of the bunch. Casters, however, are better off with Treyu’s overall good character sheet. Even mixing and matching the best off all these character sheets will not produce the perfect character sheet that we all continue to yearn for.