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We're about to play our first game of Dungeons and Dragons (all things being equal) and we've just noticed a rather basic question that we can't find the answer to in the Player Handbook or on a Web search. (It seems to be a difficult one to search for).

Are all players supposed to be able to see each others' character sheets, or does only the DM have that information?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 9 at 19:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks very much, everyone! That was fast! Just what we needed. With all this, we're going with sharing the character sheets, except possibly for the backstories and maybe those too if we feel like it later. (We're using DNDBeyond.com's character sheet function, which doesn't display backstories to anyone except the sheet's owner. In fact, for some reason it doesn't display descriptions either so we're having to share those manually, as that's DEFINITELY something that everyone obviously ought to know!) \$\endgroup\$ – A. B. Mar 9 at 20:04
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The bottom line is that it's a playstyle preference.

Some tables let other players see some or all of their character sheet. Some DMs are even open about monster and opponent stats - "He has 5 hit points left!" or at least roll dice openly on the table. These tend to be games where the playstyle is more focused on the game and achievement aspect and less on the exploration or roleplay aspects.

Other tables don't, and maintain various levels of preventing "metagame knowledge" - from the more basic DM not sharing monster/enemy stats and rolling behind a screen, to players not sharing character stats with each other, to even techniques like note-passing and taking people aside so the whole group doesn't know things that only one PC experienced. This focuses on a more "realistic" environment.

I have (and do) play both ways. It's easier and more casual and more goal-oriented to share the information. Right now I'm in a Coriolis game and we're happy to just say "hey, who has the best Data Djinn skill, you take lead on this check..." Easy and gets us through challenges faster so we can go cut up at a space bar. And we have veteran roleplayers who will often do the suboptimal thing anyway if the metagaming would make for a lamer plot. It makes challenges more predictable the more information you have.

But it can make a deeper, more engaging game to do the latter. I ran a 5 year AD&D 2e campaign with full information compartmentalization and it was the most immersive experience we'd all had before or since in gaming, but it was also a lot more work, both for the DM and for the players. It also is necessary for some styles of game, like PvP or hidden-agenda games.

There's not a single right answer, so it's something your table and DM should discuss and agree on a common answer to for that specific campaign (you can always switch it up later).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Mar 10 at 19:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is worth to note that those methods of play exist in a spectrum - you can also have games with several different levels of partial information sharing, like the character sheets being public but monster stats being hidden away, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Mar 11 at 19:47
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I know of no hard rule in 5e, and have seen it go either way from game to game.

In my experience, it is mostly a matter of how much trust and teamwork is expected (or permitted) through the game.

In a game where significant player-vs-player actions are expected, open character sheets are not the norm-- each player will want to keep the others guessing about how hard they would be to hit, or to steal from, or what they have to steal, etc. Less frequently, some GMs and groups are also a little allergic to too much trust, as they feel it leads to one or a few players who are good with numbers hyper-optimizing battles and plans for their side.

Those are not the only reasons I have seen for secrecy, but those cover a lot of the ground that I have seen.

If I may be so bold as to offer a suggestion for your situation: Unless you know you're going to be doing a lot of player-vs-player, I'd opt for openness and sharing. That way, as new players, you can help each other and bring yourselves more quickly up the learning curves. That is where I would aim if I (as an experienced GM) were running a game for new players.

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There are no rules for this in D&D 5e.

This is something you decide as a group, individually or by GM ruling.

When I GM I let each player decide if and how much they would like to share with other players.

There is a wide variety of information contained on a character sheet - which can depend on what style of character sheet you are using, and also what information the GM requires. I generally separate the info into Basic, Advanced and Personal History.

The basics

Almost all players I've ever played with are ok sharing at least their abilities and basic stats (6 abilities, HP, speed, damage, level, etc.). This allows players to work together as a synergistic team when in combat or when any challenging situations arise.

Personal items and advanced features

Class features, feats, spells, loot, magic items and magic weapons are sometimes kept secret. This decision by the players can be based on player sensibilities or on PC sensibilities. I once GMed for a beginner group and the Druid did not want anyone to know they could Wild Shape (transform into animals). This allowed the PC to transform into a kitten and endear itself to the other PCs while learning certain information about them and their belongings. It was tedious to play but it worked out well and was lots of fun for everyone, because kitten.

Personal Histories / Back Stories

I personally prefer not to share my PC's back story. I leave it up to players when I GM. I'd say this decision goes about 50/50 by the players I've played with. Some players like to reveal their back story during game play and others like to share it at the get go.

Minimum required info to share

If a player does not want to share even basic stats (HP, abilities, class, etc.), I do require them to provide a detailed description of what other PCs see. In other words they need to describe to the other players what their character looks like - there's no avoiding this. Often this means that the other PCs/players can guess what class and race they are and maybe other aspects of the character. As GM, I may also add some details to the description as I deem necessary.

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Good answers so far, but here's a caveat:

If you have a player who is pretending to be something else (such as an assassin on a mission to kill one of the other player's characters) when you will probably want some means of enabling the charade.

Having a rule against sharing character sheet information is one way to ensure this. However, if that rule is not in effect then you should have the player keep the sheet of his "cover" in front of him, with his real character sheet behind the DM screen.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. (Also, if you have a characters whose mission is to kill the others, you have bigger problems than shared knowledge or metagaming... That kind of PvP rarely works out well, given that it's a cooperative game in general, and the game isn't designed for PvP; PCs are high-damage with low-HP vs. monsters, which have comparatively high HP and low damage.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 9 at 22:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't say I was endorsing PvP. While it may not be recommended, the DM is always at liberty to allow it, and the answer was given on that understanding. \$\endgroup\$ – EvilSnack Mar 9 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ As far as I can remember in cases like that, what you're looking for is a successful check roll. Your assassin would have to roll a deception check and beat everyone else's perception checks. In order to discover something about that player, one would have to roll an insight check to see if they are observant enough at that moment, or can roll a persuasion check (against a perception check) to convince the other player to reveal a piece of particular information. Unless someone's showboating, everyone can have secrets. \$\endgroup\$ – Victor B Mar 10 at 17:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Quite true. If the cover is blown, it should be done through role-playing and the game's mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ – EvilSnack Mar 10 at 17:19
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Though the rules are undetermined, I don't think sharing character sheets themselves is beneficial in the long run. Though I agree some information should be shared, as it's obvious for the characters to know (such as race, gender, appearance), there are a few problems I can see with fully disclosing your character to the other players:

Page 2 is quite personal.

There's your whole backstory, your quips and qualms, and your most prized possessions listed there in black and white. Though it's important for that character's player to know, the only time you'd ever know another person that well is if you've spent a lot of time with them. So if your party are childhood friends, then they should already know that information, but if not, I feel that would be as violating to the character as if I would ask you all sorts of personal information just because you asked a question on this site...

That said, the one person who should know your character's back story besides you is your DM. Since they are forming the story to challenge your character and can award points based on how well you play your character, it would make sense for them to know who they're dealing with.

A character might be shrouded in mystery.

There are many reasons a character can be mysterious. Be it their profession, their past experience, their trust towards strangers, or their backgrounds they want hidden (like Criminals or Urchins wanting to change their ways), as a character, they would naturally be reluctant to share personal info with people that they just met. Those kinds of revelations are often earned by building trust between characters, an act of role-playing that your players can involve themselves in, immersing them further into the story. In my experience, if a player already knows a character's mysterious past, they are less likely to have their own character pry for that information as well.

Doing so might feel like hand-holding.

I might be wrong, but D&D has always been, for me, a way to express myself in new and fun ways. Since every action I make has irreversible consequences, it allows me to fully engage in playing the character and exploring a new aspect of myself. In that way, if my DM was to tell me "You don't want to go into the forest, there's an ambush waiting" or "If you do that, you'll get robbed", it makes the game feel less personal and more like I'm just a pawn in the DM's fantasy. Likewise, if I was invested in a character as I made them, and I was forced to expose their secrets to others, I'd feel like I'm exposing myself to them as well, which would break the fun of the game.

Again, the rule is that it's up to the DM and the players in the end, and some people might enjoy that full exposure, but I found that, for me, the best method of introducing my character beyond what I look like and what first impression I give, would be to leave me do it my own way, to grant me full control over my character from the start. And if I want to know about another character, as a player, I can simply state that I ask them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the fact that it makes people interact more when they have to discover each other in roleplay terms. Another fact is that DM can create story plot from the background of one of the characters. If they all know each one back stories, then surprise (and maybe fun) will be lesser. \$\endgroup\$ – Zoma Mar 11 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast How? I don't see how you were able to make the bold text so big... \$\endgroup\$ – Victor B Mar 12 at 5:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zoma True, I remember my ranger knew to speak giant and freaked out everyone as he warned them of a pair of giant's plans... That lead to a little sidequest where my character had to prove that he wasn't a spy.... (Thanks Favored Enemy) \$\endgroup\$ – Victor B Mar 12 at 5:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB: It's not bold, but rather header formatting. You can see it here in the editing help page: rpg.stackexchange.com/editing-help#headers \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 12 at 5:58
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In my own experience as a DM, players don’t share character sheets as they keep a good chunk of their backstory on the sheets and my players like to keep the backstory private until personal quests.

However, if your players aren’t bothered about that or want to share backstories, there shouldn’t be an issue with each other seeing that I can think of.

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D&D Beyond lets you see their stats

I agree with most of the answers here, particularly mxyzplk's, lightcat's and Victor B's. So I'm going to take a slightly different approach to this question.

D&D Beyond, the official online tool for D&D 5e, has a campaign feature. This campaign lets players add their characters to the DM's campaign group where the DM can give out items, monitor stats and a variety of other things. On top of giving the DM access to the character, players can also view each other's character sheets.

Player's are able to see each others:

  • Abilities, Saves, Senses
  • Skills
  • Actions available
  • Equipment
  • Spells
  • Features & Traits
  • Proficiencies & Languages

They cannot see:

  • Description: background, characteristics, traits, ideals, bonds, flaws, and physical description
  • Notes: backstory, NPC allies and enemies, organisations and other notes.
  • Creatures: Pets, animal companions, etc.. (Not relevant to this question)

D&D Beyond is owned and run by Curse Media, and it is endorsed by WOTC. So although not technically official, I feel that this is the closest answer we can get to what WOTC believes players should be able to see of each other's sheets. Abilities and stats that could be reasonably deduced from race and class are visible. Attributes, traits, and backstory, the things that make a character unique, are hidden.

I think this is the right place to draw the line. If another player can work it out by reading the rulebook, there is no point keeping it secret anyway, if they can't then let it come out in roleplay at the table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Though not technically official I feel that this is the closest answer we can get to what WOTC believes players should be able to see of each others sheets." It's worth noting that WotC doesn't make those sheets or decide what can be seen by other players. D&D Beyond is run by a totally different company, Curse Media. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 12 at 6:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast True, I edited to make that a bit clearer. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Mar 12 at 6:12

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