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A very common situation in the games I DM: my friends have all returned from a couple week break to restart our campaign. We sit down and review the character sheets and briefly discuss where we left off. Everything makes sense and is accounted for, except X-per-day abilities (ie, the Fighter's Action Surge, the Barbarian's Rage, etc.). "Did I use this? How many times? Did we rest yet?" Bah!

I'm a computer interface designer, so to me the 5e character sheet is terribly missing some location where players can emphasize items and abilities that have limited uses per day and how many uses they have done. Even just another column in the abilities section (though this gets cluttered so fast!).

How do others handle this problem of keeping track of these abilities. And yes, "Just write it down" occurred to me. What I am hoping for is something novel or home-brewed that hasn't crossed my mind.

P.S. I have the same problem with things like hit dice for short rests and other limited resources the characters have that aren't explicitly tracked on the character sheet.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Which character sheet are you using? Some of the things you mention having trouble keeping track of do show up on certain character sheets (including official ones) \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Jun 14 '18 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you explain more why the solution of writing it down doesn't work for you? If we knew a bit more about how that solution is insufficient for you maybe we could better address your problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 14 '18 at 17:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose, a couple of reasons. First, it is too variable for my players. Some players put offensive abilities under "Attacks". Some put them under "Abilities". Then when they ask questions I have to figure out which method they used. So it's messy. Second, it's easy to forget what you meant by "1/2" next to an ability (and there isn't much room for that anyway). Third, because we can do better! Interface redesign is a perfectly acceptable method for improving the gaming experience, and the D&D community is not lacking in creativity. \$\endgroup\$ – SeeDerekEngineer Jun 14 '18 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is your concern more that different players are using different sheets and using them differently or inaccurately? It seems like (based on your comment) that they are tracking them, but not clearly. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 14 '18 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ In my day, there weren't premade character sheets (we could afford or that were any good). We had to design our own character sheets, so we made them to suit our needs. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways. And we didn't have modern hi-tech gadgets like tearaway Post-It pads... So get designing, Mr. programmer! \$\endgroup\$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 15 '18 at 15:09

12 Answers 12

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Use card tokens

Every player who has an once-per-day ability writes the ability (and their name) on a card and keeps it. Whenever they use that ability, they put the card in a box.

Whenever they rest, they get their own cards back from the box.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've used this approach when playing with some of my kids, and found it useful in part because the tokens in front of them saying "L1 spell slot" and "hit die" and such also helped them keep track of what their options are. I put "short rest" or "long rest" on the bottom, and it was a pretty quick process to hand back the appropriate cards when the players took a rest. Use a binder clip or equivalent to keep the cards with the appropriate sheet for unused cards between session, and used cards were separately clipped to the folder we had the sheets in. \$\endgroup\$ – user37158 Jun 14 '18 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe the table could manage this instead of the DM. Assign a player to manage the bag/bowl and let them collect tokens and hand them back out on short or long rests. The DM is in charge of (most of) the story, they don't need to be in charge of ALL of the mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Brown Jun 14 '18 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem seems to be that the OP ends their sessions without a long rest, so, in the next session, they don't remember whatever happened. Unless the tokens were guarded in separated places, I fail to see how this helps (this particular case). \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 14 '18 at 19:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint well, the used cards stay in the box. The unused ones stay with your character sheet, wherever it is. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Jun 14 '18 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LorenPechtel I have seen face-up/face-down fail horribly and cause considerable loss of time at my table. Placing them in a different place prevents the players from picking them up to see what they are and forgetting to turn them down again, it prevents not knowing if a card knocked down from the table had been face up or down, it prevents not remembering which side was up from session to session: not everyone is as consistent as Draco18s. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Jun 17 '18 at 12:32
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Write them down

I'm not sure exactly what you're looking for, but the simple solution is to write them down.

Just because there isn't a specific spot on a pre-gen character sheet doesn't mean you can't include it somewhere else on the sheet.

Make your own character sheet

As an alternative, if the pre-gens just don't fill all the recording needs, make up your own! You can use pre-gens as inspiration, or go bare-bones and just write down the pieces you particularly need or want. Laminated sheets and dry-erase pens can do wonderful things (but watch out for accidental erasures... and wet erase pen may be a better option).

Standardize

Based on your comments, it also sounds like creating a single sheet style that each person uses will make it easier for you and them to stay on the same page.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I use card index files for consumable actions spells etc I have on card per level of spells plus a blank one I use to track HP uses of rage and so on \$\endgroup\$ – Neuromancer Jun 14 '18 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ In one of my games we use white boards to track things like this. At the end of the session I just take a picture of the board before erasing it. Next game, I will check my calendar for the date we last played, go there in my phone's gallery, look at the photo, and write it all back down. \$\endgroup\$ – Captain Man Jun 14 '18 at 22:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Make your own sheet." That's what I do. I have a sheet someone put together 15 years ago (XLS format, using 10x10px cells merged together) that I've highly and heavily customized over the years. It does everything I'd ever want, and if it doesn't, I can make it. E.g. I'm playing my first prepared caster and the rule about familiars having "their master's skill ranks or their own, which ever is higher." I just went in and modified the formulas using Max(master_ranks, familiar_ranks) \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Jun 16 '18 at 0:16
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I had the same issue

I know this is a variation on "write it down", but it is also something that has helped me (who also have a problem keeping track of fiddly bits) quite a bit with this exact issue.

What I did was simple, I am playing a bard with lots of feature with limited uses (anything that uses Inspiration Die for example as well as spell slots). I was having an issue keeping track of it all.

Customize your character sheet

I realized that just because someone else made the sheet didn't mean that I could not make it better.

So, I opened up the character sheet in a PDF editor and reorganized the layout a bit so that I had a small area for each of the relevant abilities. Then, I added little icons for my limited use features. When I use them, I cross them off (in pencil). When I rest (or they otherwise refresh) I erase the pencil marks. One of my friends even got his sheet laminated and uses a wet erase marker to do the same thing.

Simple, foolproof, and completely solved the problem for me.

Find a new character sheet that has the fields you want

Also, there are many different character sheets out there. If you don't want to (or can't) take the time to try to customize your own sheet to work better for you, then you can always search and hope someone has already made one that solves your issue. Many people design character sheets even for specific classes (I have found ones for Druid and Monks specifically and they were designed for their specific features).

More Purple More Better makes a great versatile digital character sheet that can be printed and has fields for all those abilities. Even sheets just for tracking limited-use abilities. It also works very well overall. And it can also be printed in a good-looking dead-tree version to take along to game night (if you don't like using electronic sheets).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ditto on MPMB. It's a little bit more of a pain than it used to be because of WOTC taking it off the DMSGuild, but it's a really nice sheet. \$\endgroup\$ – Rob Rose Jun 15 '18 at 23:32
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Use D&D Beyond

Character sheets on D&D Beyond make tracking limited use abilities amazingly easy. You just pull up their website on your smartphone, tap a button, and it's tracked. Hit the short or long rest button and appropriate abilities are reset. Close the page, open it back up next session and you're ready to go.

But that site would make me buy stuff I already own paper copies of...

Not much, no. Everything on D&D Beyond can be purchased piecemeal, and everything from the Basic Rules or SRD is free. Let's say you want play a city watch lizardfolk drunken master rogue. To buy the books, you would have to buy the the PH, Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, Volo's Guide to Monsters, and Xanathar's Guide to Everything. That's almost $200 msrp. On D&D Beyond, rogue is free, and each background, subclass, or race is just $2. So, you're looking at $6 instead of almost $200. Seems like a great deal to me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I did not realize you could purchase subclasses/races/backgrounds a la carte! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 14 '18 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's 6 dollars on top of the 200 dollars you already spent, not instead of. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jun 18 '18 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're right. Paying 3% more is simply outrageous. \$\endgroup\$ – Derek Stucki Jun 18 '18 at 18:48
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I make use of More Purple More Better's Character Record Sheet. It has a section in the middle of the front page specifically to track X per Y abilities.

This section allows you to specify how many times per period the ability can be used, and how many times you have used it.

It also has sections on the same front page for:

  • tracking hit dice (from multiple classes if necessary)
  • what actions/bonus actions/reactions your character has access to
  • how your various attacks work, with separate to hit, damage and damage type columns for each weapon
  • death save successes and failures, damage resistances, AC (with the full calculation beside it)
  • languages, tools
  • proficiencies
  • saving throws
  • senses
  • various sources of hit points
  • speed
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Tokens

For keeping track in session (and even for between sessions) I used a token system with my players. I ran out to the dollar store and bought a bag of colored beads. Distribute to your players as needed. Red beads are how many rages you have left. Each color represents different level spell slots, etc. When you spend a slot, you give the bead to the DM. When you rest, your DM gives you the beads back. When you go home at the end of the session, you take your remaining beads with you along with your character sheet (throw them in a ziplock bag or keep them in your dice bag, whatever). The DM takes all the beads that players gave him home with them. (they can be stored in bulk/mixed between all players - since the only thing relevant is color, when players rest they just ask for x amount of y color beads).

Players can manage the beads without the DM getting involved, too - just have a bowl in the middle of the table that players toss their expended beads in. When they rest, they reach in to the bowl and pull out however many of each bead they need to reclaim. DM doesn't have to get involved at all other than to take them home at the end of the session.

The advantage here is that you don't have to worry about your paper wearing down. If you use a card or an alternative character sheet, you end up constantly erasing and re-writing your number as you spend and regain slots. Eventually, you'll end up wearing a hole straight through the paper; not to mention that things usually don't erase perfectly, leaving shadows of numbers previously written down, overlapping over and over, making it harder to read.

The beads are cheap and come in bulk, so no harm done if some get lost or w/e. I personally try to get the glass beads that are disk-shaped rather than spheres so that they can lay on the table without rolling away; but you can get more color variety (and larger bulk) if you buy plastic beads, and especially if you get the round ones.


Now, that being said, when it comes to longer extended breaks, I have to ask...

Does it matter?

Within a session, or when jumping between two sessions, yes it typically is a good idea to keep track of how many spells or rages or w/e you have left. But if you just took an extended break, does it really matter when you come back? I would posit that most of the time, it doesn't. If you have all of your rages available or only one left wont make a big impact unless you left off just before the final boss of a dungeon or something. If the DM knows that there's only one such encounter left, then it'd probably be best to just do said encounter before wrapping up for the night.

As a DM, I would typically just handwave it and say "lets just assume you all took a rest and are back to full". The vast majority of the time, it wont make a difference.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This might be good for some uses, but each player has to keep track of which color corresponds to which ability. \$\endgroup\$ – Shawn V. Wilson Jun 14 '18 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ "As a DM, I would typically just handwave it and say "lets just assume you all took a rest and are back to full". The vast majority of the time, it wont make a difference." This is honestly our system if we can't remember, and we generally can't unless it is something like "we finished after that vampire attack I know I used my cleric burst of light in that". But we all also know none of us are cheats who would take advantage. \$\endgroup\$ – WendyG Jun 15 '18 at 9:35
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Keep a "Current Condition" sheet

Separate from the Character Sheet, encourage your players to keep a scrap of paper recording temporary conditions (current HP, current spell slots, current arrows, current gp total, conditions/modifiers of abilities).

Use the Character Sheet to track long term/permanent information about the character.

Keep this scrap of paper with the Character Sheet during breaks. The goal is to minimize the amount of erasure that occurs on the main Character Sheet, as that eventually wears it out and makes the whole thing less legible.

On a regular basis (e.g. when it gets a bit full or too messy), get a new piece of paper, copy over current conditions, and start over.

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Add Circles behind the abilities

Personally, I write down the abilities at the Features & Traits part, then I draw small circles equal to the max amount of uses per rest behind the ability.

In each circle I write an 'S' or 'L' based on whether it comes back at a Short or Long rest.

Then, when I use such an ability I fill the circle with pencil. When I do a rest long enough for the ability, I erase the pencil so I can fill in the circle again later.

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Checklist Cards

Everyone make out a 3x5 card with all their abilities on it, each one followed by a number of boxes for the number of uses it has. Each time they use an ability, check off a box in pencil.

After a rest (or whenever these abilities are recharged), erase the checkmarks. Paper-clip the card to the character sheet.

Works good for spells too, if you don't have too many to write down.

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In my current campaign (my very first D&D campaign) I went with a hybrid of "use the premade character sheets", "grow your own", and "write it down".

My character is a Ranger / Beastmaster.

I'm using the Revised Ranger premade character sheet, which does have space to record hit dice and death saving throws. I have a separate Word document that I use to record spells I know and spell slots available. During sessions, I make a tick mark whenever I use a spell. When I take a long rest, I erase the tick marks. I also have an ability I can use once per long rest - similarly, I make a tick mark when I use it, and erase it after the rest.

Because my character frequently uses a shortbow, I write down how many arrows I have in my quiver, and how many arrows I use in a particular combat (so I know how many I can retrieve after combat).

For my beast companion, I created a character sheet from scratch. It's just a Word doc with stats, max HP, available attacks (he's a panther so he can bite, claw, and pounce). When he takes damage I write down his available HP.

It works for me and it works for the DM.

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My method? have a spell sheet that lists your x per day abilities. (instead of a list of 0 level spells, it headlines "rage") then put coins in the little space you normally list spells. Heads means usable, tails means not usable.

Between sessions we just pencil in how many uses we had left.

though i like the deck of cards idea.

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Use whatever your players use to track their usage of spell slots.

Your magic using characters have spell slots to keep track of that they don't get back until a certain length of rest.

I'm in the habit of drawing spell slot checkboxes in a convenient space, typically either on the front of my character sheet, under "Attacks and spellcasting" - one row per spell level (i.e. 1st level slots second level slots) or on a separate spell sheet in the space to the right of the level indicator. I just check them off as I use them and then rub out the check marks when I take the relevant rest period. Every so often the sheet gets messy but before then I usually need to print out a new version of the sheet

What I typically do is take a fillable pdf character sheet and edit it to add extra info and details (I find Foxit reader adequate to the task; I use a portable version). The commenting tools make it easy enough to add text. If I want to write over an area (because I won't use what's there now) I make an opaque box (white background), but sometimes I want to "fill in" a section using a larger or smaller font than the fillable pdf has, in which case I may do a transparent background on the comment text box (so things like lines show through).

Here's some sample checkboxes I added to a character sheet (I think this was initially a pdf of a character I built on D&D Beyond but I have edited the heck out of it because the sheets don't show nearly half the stuff I want and include a lot of stuff that's not useful). This is a level 4 character (which even though I made a while ago I haven't played yet; the DM says "soon"), an Eldritch Knight with Magic Initiate (Warlock). The Hit Dice and 1st level spell parts of the character sheet have had some little boxes added to check off as they get used:

enter image description here - and - enter image description here

(Yeah, I wasn't consistent there, squares vs circles. They're on separate pages, I don't mind.)

So if you have a suitable character sheet pdf that you can use commenting tools on you could just find a suitable spot and add some checkboxes like those.

When I have trouble tracking some other feat or ability, I just add checkboxes for that as well, and the "Attacks and spellcasting" section on the front page is a good choice, though sometimes I use the bottom section of "features and traits" or the 9th-level section of the spell page. There's usually some place it fits well enough.


Sometimes if it seems like we'll be doing a lot of combat and such, to save my character sheet some damage I write (by hand) a new temporary sheet for spells which just lists the spells I have prepared, draw checkboxes for the slots I have and other information (like Combat: remember your XXX ability, dummy), whatever important items I'll likely need to remember to use and so on. In that case I can add a set of checkboxes for whatever else. I keep that temporary sheet with my character sheet until we hit a suitable rest, at which point I can make a new one.

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