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Sadly, most of the games I play in have monthly sessions at best. Also, players travel from a somewhat greater distance to play. A consequence is that during the month many players misplace their character sheets, or they accidentally leave them at home.

Depending on the game it might be relatively easy to reconstruct the sheet. I'm also trying to force the players to scan in, or otherwise digitize, their sheets, and to store them in an Internet-accessible location such as Google Docs.

Even so, there's always that time when a player shows up ready to roll, but has no sheet. Without the sheet, the experience for everyone will be diminished. It's like putting a big old asterisk on the entire session. I know what precautions to take to avoid it, but how to make it as painless as possible when it does happen?

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In general: "keep them yourself" may fall under the category of "precautions to take to avoid it." Apreche probably knows that trick -- but what do you do if for some reason you didn't do that? – Bryant Aug 27 '10 at 13:22
Thump them on the nose and say, "Bad Player Character! Bad! No!". Then re-print the digital copy they e-mailed you. – Präriewolf Aug 27 '10 at 15:54
Would it be improper to suggest that the player be incinerated slowly, while the others watch in horror? Seriously, though, having the GM store the sheets is the way to go, in my experience. – Erik Schmidt May 2 '12 at 22:01
@Lohoris I'm looking for one comprehensive answer that includes several of the popular options (preferably with detail), instead of many partial answers. – C. Ross May 11 '14 at 22:09
@C.Ross nearly all answers are focused on prevention (photocopies, online backup, the DM keep the sheets,...). However, the question explicitly asks about the cure: what to do when you are in the situation (and you didn't prevent it). Under this angle, there aren't so many options: or you build the sheet again, or you improvise it, or you forbid the player to use the character. – Flamma May 12 '14 at 10:10

23 Answers 23

up vote 24 down vote accepted

I allow them to reconstruct it during play. To a degree, this depends on the game, but even in the more complex games it's the end results that matter more than the formulas. For example, if I know that my energy blaster in Champions has a big energy blast with a bunch of different options, I can probably get away with saying I do 12d6 with a single-target blast and maybe 8d6 with an area effect blast. I don't need to reverse-engineer the points I spent on each version of the power.

Likewise, if I'm playing 4e, does it matter that much if my daily does 4d8 or 3d8 for one session? Probably not.

I also don't need to figure any of this out until it comes into play. Did my Unknown Armies character have 55% or 65% in Running From the Fuzz? Until there are cops on my tail, I don't need to even think about it. I don't want to burn an hour of everyone's time asking about the details they remember before we sit down to play.

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After years of being plagued from the same problem, we started to keep all the characters in a single folder, which is either kept by the DM or where we usually play.

My backup option is: "wing it". it's not really a problem if your skills are a bit off for a single session :)

On top of that, I always keep a "character cheat sheet" for all characters with class, level, ac, hp, saving throws (and spot and listen scores for d20). That's enough to play D&D :) It's easy to copy and archive, and it's helpful for the DM in a lot of situations.

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We usually had an assigned "book-keeper" - who kept and managed the character sheets - and someone would have to visit him before a session to bring the sheets if he's not going to be there. Sometimes the DM works better since he has to be at every session anyways - but the DM already has way too much work on his plate, imho – blueberryfields May 13 '14 at 15:11

My groups have the DM hold on to the character sheets, plus any notes the players have made (loot, etc.)

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All character sheets for my games are posted online. No chance of losing them.

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up vote 10 down vote

This is an answer that tries to do a summary of all other answers, and to add something new

Solution 1: Reconstruct it

When you did nothing to prevent it (or something went wrong with your prevention), you'll have to rewrite the sheet.

1.1 The player has lost his sheet
The advise is to rebuild it before the session. All players should help the guy who lost the sheet, to gain time (that will be used to play!) and as much details as possible. Five/six brains are usually better than just one. Once the player has rebuilt his sheet, the party can resume playing.
Cons: If neither the party nor the player can remember the sheet (because it was a very advanced one, or it was their first time playing), the player should consider its rewriting from the beginning, following the same guidelines.

1.2 The player left it at home/college/whatever
If the player only left it at home, he could do a sheet rewrite on-the-fly. Whenever he needs to roll something, he tries to remember his bonus/malus. While this isn't very fair, the party won't have to wait the player to end up his sheet to play. You should consider it if you think you won't need sheets so much in the session. This sheet will be a temporary one, since the player still knows where his original one is.
Cons: Like I've said above, this isn't very fair.

1.3 You don't care and you forbid the player to play his PC to make him play an NPC instead
This is kind of a soft-punishment, that (hopefully) won't make the player leave the sheet at home again. Also, you don't lose time to rewrite the sheet before the session.
Cons: Is it really worth it? A player wants to play his character, not an NPC. He won't probably enjoy the session. Roleplay should be fun. Even if he leaves his sheet at home or loses it, you should help him in making a new one.

Solution 2: Online Saves

Probably the most advised solution. Since you already talked about it in your question, this shouldn't be a problem, but there are cases in which the party will not be able to connect to the Internet (f.e. sometimes we go play in an estate where there's no Internet connection. We still have our smartphones, but the connection speed there isn't very fast and we have no printer), so choose this option wisely.

So, what are the options for you to store your data online?

2.1 E-Mail
Players will place the sheet on their scanner and will send it to your email. This way you will always have a backup copy.
Cons: This whole procedure must be done every time. Plus, you should always delete the previous versions of the sheets to be sure you only store the up-to-date one.

2.2 Clouds (Dropbox, Google Drive, Onedrive...)
In the cloud-computing era, this is probably the most valuable option. Create a shared folder and store all the sheets there. If the sheets always have the same name (f.e. Vereos.pdf), the cloud will automatically replace them with the newer version.
Cons: You still have to scan the sheet everytime.

2.2.1 Electronic editable sheets
If you use such a sheet, you can avoid the cons and get 100% benefits from this! In fact, you will be able to edit it from your smartphone/tablet and then upload it to the cloud at the end of the session. If every player uses this method and they always download other players' updated sheets from the cloud, this is 99.999% safe, since the only way to don't play is that all the players leave their tablet/smartphone at home (if this is the case... are you sure you still want to roleplay?).

2.3 Website specific services (Obsidian Portal, D&D Insider...)
Some websites allow you to store your sheets and lots of other stuff. Even if sometimes the generated sheets are incomplete/inaccurate, this may be a good backup solution.
Cons: You have to access the portal everytime; Sometimes the sheets are not 100% accurate (inventory is missing, f.e.)

2.4 Social Networks
Just store your sheet on a Social Network. For example, Facebook allows you to store multiple versions of the documents, allowing you to rollback or see the changelogs from one version to another one.
Cons: Almost all the 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3.

Solution 3: Physical Data

You're not able to connect to the Internet: pens, pencils and paper are the only thing you can rely on. It happens more frequently than you may think.

3.1 Photocopies
One of the most popular advises: the GM always has a photocopy of the sheet to use when needed.
Cons: You must photocopy all the sheets everytime! Boooring! You have to cut out 5/10 minutes from every session (if you have issues with your scanner/printer, even 20 minutes). Plus, forests would not be that happy :(

3.2 GM (or a reliable player) holds the sheets
Use this one only when you know that the player (or the GM) is reliable and will never, ever, ever, leave the sheets at home. No forest-killing is needed, nor backup sheets.
Cons: Such reliable player does not exist. If he leaves the sheets at home, you can only switch playing Halo.

3.3 Changelogs
I went for this once. It's a very hard work but it eventually pays off. The GM holds a copy of the starting sheet of the players and then writes in a separate sheet of paper every change in order. This way you can always rebuild the sheets.
Cons: The GM should never forget to take note of every single change. This may be hard and overwhelming.

3.3.1 Shared Changelogs
In this variant, the GM is not the only person who writes out the changelogs. Everytime a change to a sheet is made, the player writes it down in a shared changelog sheet. This may help the GM since it's a very hard work if he's on his own.
Cons: Still, if the GM loses/leaves the changelog at home, this is just a waste of time and energies.

3.4 House as a holder
Who said that the sheet holder must be a person? If you always play in the same house, keep the sheets there. Just make sure you remember where you placed them, and keep them safe to avoid damages from wind, time, pets, moms, housekeepers, boyfriends/girlfriends, and so on.
Cons: One should remember to bring the sheets if for any reason the session won't be played there.

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There are a few things that you could do to help prevent this sort of thing from happening in the first place, and to mitigate the damage when it does occur.

Have the GM keep the sheet.

This is probably the simplest solution. If the GM keeps the sheet with the rest of the campaign notes, then whenever the game is run, everyone can be assured that they have their sheets ready to go. The drawback to this solution is that players aren't able to reference or change their sheets in between games. Some groups like to have players level up their characters in between sessions, so session time isn't taken up with people leveling up. This drawback can be mitigated by having the GM keep a copy of the sheet, rather than the original. This way, even if a player forgets their sheet, the worst that will happen is they will have to spend some time leveling up again, rather than having to reconstitute the whole thing.

Store the sheet online.

You mention this in your question, but it's a very good solution to this problem. One way to encourage players to keep their sheets online is to provide a standard, internet-friendly character sheet to all players so that they can keep their primary sheet online, and print out a copy whenever they need to play. This would be a bit onerous for a weekly or more often played game, but for a game that takes place monthly or less, it shouldn't be that bad.

Remake the character sheet in play.

This is the least valuable of the options. If a player still manages to not have a sheet despite precautions being taken to prevent the loss, the best option is to try and remake the sheet while playing. For simpler games with less rules and advancement options, this might not be a problem. For something complicated like D&D, this can take quite a bit of time. In addition, some information is nearly guaranteed to be lost, unless the player memorized the whole sheet.

When remaking the sheet, make sure to pick the parts most likely to come up to rebuild first. For example, if I made an Oracle in Pathfinder that acts as the party's face, I should try to figure out what my Diplomacy and Bluff skills are before I pin down what my attack routine was.

I would suggest that the GM keeps a 'cheat sheet' that contains the most important parts of the character, especially advancement options that the player wouldn't necessarily remember, or the character's basic stats. If the GM gives out special powers that don't use the normal advancement mechanics, then the GM should definitely keep a sheet detailing those as well.

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Good answer, thanks! – C. Ross May 18 '14 at 0:57

I have a DnD insider subscription and require all players to enter their character in to the character builder. This way I can print off a spare copy if it is ever needed. However, this does not take in to account their inventory, however, it's usually good enough for us to get by, or have someone else take control of an absent player's character.

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If the DM has a photocopy of the sheet, and the player forgets theirs; then they can borrow the DM's copy.

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The player's sheet makes a great memory aid, a place for notes, and a way to track progressive things like XP and damage, but the character sheet "of record" is the one that the game-master has. It's the responsibility of the player to make sure that any changes he or she wants to make are reflected on your copy.

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Unless the character is specifically made to move between campaigns, the character and its sheet are tied to a specific campaign and the GM can justifiably insist on keeping the character sheet. This is especially true when forgetting a character sheet can seriously impact a session.

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I keep all of the Char sheets on Obsidian Portal. Then we simply print up our char sheets before the session. That way there is no way to forget it. When the players leave, any notes written on the sheet I update on the digital copy. Nice and easy. Hope it helps!

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We print out a new one. If we weren't using electronic methods of generating sheets then I'd be very tempted to keep photocopies for some of my players!

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I (as the DM) usually hold onto the character sheets. It's a lot easier when the guy who's got to be there has all those easy-to-lose papers.

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For my group, we keep one copy on gDocs and the other with whomever is DMing the game. That typically removes the lost sheet controversy.

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We use Dropbox for the same purpose. – TALlama Aug 27 '10 at 15:47

I'm currently running D&D 4e at the moment, so if someone shows up with a character sheet fail I can just stick them in front of the D&DI Character Creator software to re-create and print their sheet while we get on with the game. The only awkward bit is keeping track of their inventory, but we can normally piece that back together from the notes I keep on what loot's been handed out.

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I used to always keep all PC sheets now I tend to make the players keep their masters on my Wiki. It is not as pretty but they can always be updates and printed as needed.

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I favor simpler systems because (among other reasons) my group has a few players who invariably lose their character sheets. If the system's simple enough (FATE, WR&M, that sort of thing), I can easily keep my own records of their character's stats. If the system is more complex, I prefer to keep the sheets myself. D&D3.5, though... we all know it well enough that recreating a character sheet during play is nothing. We've all done it at least once.

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We as a group, keep the master copies of the characters sheets, on a wiki, so they can be references / updated as needed, the players are then resonible for bringing, having access to these for the sessions. Having them online works for out group as most of the players are playing over skype anyway.

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My basic rule is the character sheets stay with the GM. Since I'm usually GMing, I also have clipboards for everyone to use, which makes it real easy to simply keep the clipboards and character sheets together.

Players will take pics of their character sheets if they want to check info back at home.

But, assuming the situation you describe, where someone left it at home? I would usually do a quick re-construct with approximate values. ("Oh, yeah, you totally had the Fire Fist power... I think it was rank 4? Let's just go with rank 4.")

This shouldn't ever happen more than once - I mean, the first time it happens is a good sign the player should just leave the character sheet with the GM.

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"how to make it as painless as possible when it does happen?"

I would simply give the player a new character sheet and the book, then send him into a room without a TV and out of eyesight of the rest of the group. That way his character, who has suddenly fallen very ill to his stomach, can get back into the game as soon as possible. The other players should continue to game, because after not gaming for a month, they should not be punished by having to wait. Nor should they be distracted by a player making a character at the gaming table during the game.

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Almost everyone has a printer with a copying capacity.....I simply make a photocopy of each players sheet at the end of the session, and if they forget their sheet they can reconstruct a new one from my photocopy.

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If where you play has a multi-function printer either scan it in or make copies. In either case I'd have the player, the house where you play (if it is constant), and the GM to all have copies.

If it is a rare occurrence reconstruction as best you can during play.

if it is a constant issue with a particular player keep an older version and when forgotten that becomes the character and the lost sheet becomes irrelevant permanently. If you don't want to be that harsh just declare the character gone (ie, no xp or other benefits of the session) and provide a pregenerated character.

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We generaly live the sheets with the GM.if a player insist on keeping it(and why not:he can have his reason) and still forget it... well in this case he just don't play.after the first couples of time nobody will forget his sheets anymore!

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