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I'm playing a D&D 5e character in Curse of Strahd who's currently an Arcane Trickster 7 / Divination Wizard 2. We're playing online via DnDBeyond. Today I died, and it wasn't until 3 or 4 turns later that I realized I could have used Uncanny Dodge to halve the damage from the last blow I'd taken while conscious and kept myself from falling unconscious in the first place.

This is the second time something like this has happened; a few months ago I only survived because a Warlock in the party begged his patron to save me and, on a 99+ flat d100 roll, rolled a 99. But then I realized later that I'd had inspiration the whole time and could have just used it to try not to get into the deadly situation in the first place.

I don't know whether it's my ADD or what, but I hate that this keeps happening. I've tried making a list of all my abilities in a Word document so as to have them at my fingertips but then I forget to look at it in the heat of the moment. I'm going to try printing it out and making a policy to glance at it every time I take damage or something, and keep my fingers crossed that I can remember that policy, but knowing myself I don't love my odds.

I'd love to hear methods forgetful or ADD players have successfully used to remember their characters' abilities. My party is planning to revivify me next session, and I'd love not to keep having this problem.

EDIT: With the insight gained from Ryan C. Thompson's comment on this question and from TheDragonOfFlame's answer, I've come up with a method that works for me. Since the things I keep forgetting about tend to be reactions (either in-combat big-R-Reactions or out-of-combat small-r-reactions), I've written down every ability/item/whatever I have on a list headed "Things I Can Do When Bad Stuff Happens." I look at this list whenever I get hit or when, well, bad stuff happens. It's a short enough list that it's not overwhelming in the moment, and the trigger (something bad happens) is noticeable enough that I don't forget. Thanks, everybody!

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Compile a Tactics Sheet

I had a similar character a while back (though with more classes), an arcane trickster, divination wizard, sorcerer, bard, cleric. He got so complicated in combat, I found it helped to compile a sheet of tactics following the pattern “If X happens, then use X ability”. For example, “if I take more than 15 damage from one attack, then use Uncanny Dodge” and “if I roll an important saving throw, then use my highest portent roll”. I printed the tactics for all such common situations in large print on a sheet of white paper, that I put beside my character sheet during combat. Simply having the tactic sheet there reminded me to look to see what abilities I had, and I stopped forgetting to use Portent, Bardic Inspiration, Uncanny Dodge, etc.

Practice

It may seem weird, it may seem silly, but playing yourself through mock combats in which you pay very close attention to using all your abilities can help you to remember to use them in the real game. Simple combats work fairly well, I like to do a PC vs a simple monster of 2 CRs lower: maybe a Troll would be a good one for you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh, this sounds really great—rather than just remembering to look at a list, I can have a trigger. IF this THEN that. (Though OMG an arcane trickster divination wizard sorcerer bard cleric!!! My head would have exploded.) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26 at 22:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoelDerfner it did get a little bit out of hand 😂 \$\endgroup\$ Mar 26 at 22:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for suggesting 'practice' fights. This is basically the structure of most introductory adventures and video games, where you add situations of increasing complexity or which involve different ability usages as tutorials before you hit the real thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Mar 27 at 15:24
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3×5 Cards

When 4e came out, one of the things I very much liked about it is that the various PC powers were presented in a card-like format. When using the Character Builder, I would encourage players to print out extra copies of their characters sheets for the purpose of cutting out those cards into, well, actual cards.

In 4e, the main purpose of that was to keep track of what powers had been used, by flipping them over or marking them.

But it turned out they were also incredibly handy references to have right there to remember what power they had and what those powers did. Ever since, in any crunchy game I've run or been in, I've encouraged people to use 3×5 cards if they're starting to feel overwhelmed by their characters' abilities.

In your case, I'd make the additional suggestion of putting colored marks in one corner (or some such) to separate out various types of abilities-- defensive, offensive, and reaction, perhaps. Then, it's a matter of making a habit of scanning through these cards regularly during combat.

This is much the same as you recognizing, in your own words:

I'm going to try printing it out and making a policy to glance at it every time I take damage or something, and keep my fingers crossed that I can remember that policy...

...so this is not a magic bullet. It is still down to an act of will and discipline to keep doing this until (if ever) you no longer need to. But sometimes a card format will work better than a big sheet of text for some folks, or vice versa. If neither thing works, keep trying different formats.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've done this once or twice and found that having not just the name of the spell in big writing, but the actual rules of the spell on the card, made it far far easier to keep track of what I had and how it was useful. No more leafing through rulebooks (or checking with the GM). I knew how to use the spells I had, and could quickly check through the "deck" to find something appropriate to the situation. I found it also made the game feel more gamified and accessible. I'm not a very experienced player, so anything that helps is always welcome. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rowan
    Mar 28 at 8:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I played a Crusader in 3.5e. Tome of Battle is incredible, but well, the wealth of maneuvers (and stances) and the mechanism of spending/recharging... there's a lot to keep track off. So for the first time I printed cards, and it was amazing. I had such a positive experience that I now print cards even for simpler characters: color-coded based on recharge (per-turn, per-short-rest, per-long-rest) and I lay them down per color: face up if available, face down if expended. A single glance gives me a quick overview of what's available, and a quick summary on the card helps smooth play. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 28 at 11:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Has anyone tried putting an uncanny-dodge reminder card next to your HP total? So you notice it specifically when you're marking down damage? Seems like it might be useful, but I'm reluctant to post it as an answer without personal experience. (And if you're using digital tools for tracking HP, there might not be a way to add a hook that triggers on HP updates.) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 29 at 4:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I suggested this to my recent party members, they'd say "3 by what?" :) Still, +1 it is a great suggestion and I've used this myself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Mar 29 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ +many. I've been using 3"x5" cards since 1975 (then it was the 'character sheet') but now it is 'important notes for this session'. Or I use the notepad (about the same size) that comes in junk mail, or a 3M sticky pad that is 3x5 also. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 29 at 20:01
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Lean in

You don't have to "win" to have fun in an RPG. If you feel that if you are not playing optimally then you are not playing well then you are making a rod for your own back. I have played soccer and tennis for years despite being barely average at them. Embrace the fact that your PC is a "barely average" adventurer and take some of the pressure off yourself.

You can even replace your character flaw with "I panic in stressful situations and do the first thing I think of rather than the best thing."

Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't try some of the other suggestions posted here to be less "barely average", just that you shouldn't flagellate yourself when you fail.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was about to post this as a frame challenge. Treat such occurrences as a learning opportunity - I don't think you or your character will forget to Uncanny Dodge the next time you take a big hit. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 28 at 14:09
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Cheat sheets are your friend

When I first started playing I was in a very similar situation. For the life of me, I just couldn't remember the options I had or which dice to roll.

So, I made a cheat sheet.

For me, I organized it by Actions/Bonus Actions/Reactions and then also had a section for common triggers and choices I started seeing (yes, I added and improved my cheat sheets.)

I'm a fan of spreadsheets and tables, so I organized it that way. But it really can be done any way. I had thought about using index cards and color coding things, but that isn't really my style... and I like the digital file that I can easily update.

Having a cheatsheet key that I could easily and quickly reference that included the names of the actions, descriptions, and the required rolls and modifiers really helped me. I did need to reorganize it until it was something I could reference quickly, and it still did take me time to 'learn' it.

I've used them for others, too

When my kids started to play, I made them and their friends cheat sheets to use and reference along with their actual character sheets. They found them helpful, but I could also help them by going through their cheat sheet and showing how it worked from their character sheet.

Beware of asking the table for help

I had tried this method a bit, but I did not have as much of a positive experience. It's not that it was negative, but more that I was getting an idea of how they'd play the character and not how I would. By helping myself, I was able to get a better idea of who my character was, what they did, and gave me ideas on how they could progress.

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There are many other great answers here. Here are some things that have worked for me.

Cheat sheets

Like others, I have used cheatsheets in the past. One that particularly helped me was, like NautArch's, organized on Actions/Bonus Actions/Reactions, with key items to remember. At one point I tall thin lists of reminders and taped them to the sides of my monitor.

Online tools

For me, once we switched to D&D Beyond, I have rarely gone back to paper. The character organization of D&D Beyond works pretty well for me. Additionally, I use start.me, which is a free link saver, which allows me to organize helpful links with little overhead. I have many links to useful things in D&D Beyond, including the class descriptions for my characters.

Notes

I keep notes during the session, using a text editor, one file per session, with the last week's session at the bottom, and reminders to myself at the top. I will list spells I want to remember to cast when we're not in an encounter (for instance, mage hand, telepathic bond) and also cheats like the Avrae command for the to-hit and damage for 10 small animated objects to attack something.

I was using an outliner for awhile, which I intially liked but the overhead of the tool was too much to deal with.

I also use a sticky notes program so that I can keep some notes floating on the screen.

Lists

I make lists all the time outside of session. Typically things I want to remember in session. An example is a list of teleport objects my wizard has picked up. I just can't remember them all without keeping a list. Another list is NPCs we've met.

Review

I typically review my character before the session. My current character is a conjuration wizard and way complicated, and I just can't remember it all, even with the great organization that D&D Beyond brings to it, so I like to spend few minutes refreshing myself with obscure items.

Tools don't matter

The individual tools don't matter. What matters is you working to figure out what works for you. The cheat sheet that works great for one person might or might not work for you, and what works for you this month might not work as well next. Just keep trying. As time goes by you'll find things that work for you, improve them, keep them or throw them away.

The human condition

The problem you describe is as common as air. It is the human condition.

It happens to everyone, all the time. It is a particular challenge in professions where split-second decisions have to be made in challenging circumstances. There are whole professional disciplines dedicated to helping people remember the right things to do in life-or-death situations, and despite all efforts, mistakes happen, often with tragic consequences.

Back to the relatively low-stress world of RPGs, our last session we concluded a melee where we got beat like a drum, and barely made it out with our lives. I realized later that I cast a non-concentration spell and was subsequently incapacitated a round, and forgot that the spell was still running. It might have turned the tide. The other PCs also noted mistakes they had made. The battle happened at all because we the PCs camped in the middle of a snow-covered valley, in hostile mountains, in a cute little conjured cottage with smoke coming out of the chimney, and forgot to set watches. I, I still don't know what we were thinking. After the session, the DM said to me, you know, I think so-and-so probably should have died, I think I let them make a movement they couldn't have made. It was a great encounter and a great session, and everyone made mistakes.

It happens to everyone, all the time. It's not just you. It's not just RPGs. It's life. Human brains are marvelous instruments, but they just lose track.

So, my best and final advice, give yourself a break. Don't hold yourself to an impossible standard. When you make a mistake, learn from it, try to course-correct, but most importantly, give yourself a break.

Good luck!

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Make a card deck

rectangular laminated cards are laid out in a grid pattern. They are different colors and have titles and descriptions written on them that explain different D&D abilities and their casting times, range, components, etc as relevant.

I don't have ADHD, but I do have memory issues. When playing a character who had both spell slots and physical attacks I quickly got overwhelmed by the mix of actions and found myself repeating the same 2-3 turns over and over again because I had forgotten how x or y worked. When I finally noticed the pattern, I sat down and made myself a deck of cards for every ability, spell, attack, reaction, etc (and a few extra just as reminders), got them laminated and kept them laid out on the desk when I played.

I found for me the physical reminder helped so much, and being able to flip cards over when I'd exhausted that option or move little trackers on things like bardic inspiration or spell slots meant I never forgot how many more times I could do an ability. As a bonus, you look cool as heck to the other players on the table. I ended up passing around my template file for others to use.

In my case, I color coded the cards into groups by the type of action/ability. For example purple are spells and dark green are physical attacks. If I knew I'd used my action already, I could quickly skim for all the cards marked as Time: Reaction and see if I wanted to use any. I could also check the brown cards to see if a particular circumstance triggered any of those conditions. I also printed up my DCs so I didn't have to refer back to my character sheet at all, which sped up my turns since I only needed to check one area rather than flipping through multiple sources.

My only extra advice if you go this route is to play a game before you get them laminated - I ended up making some changes to my initial set to make them more playable for how my brain works and had to print off a second set and get them re-laminated.

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Ask the other players for help

This of course is going to depend on the rules at your table -- does your group allow meta-talk, or not. It won't work if you are not allowed to communicate other than in-character. If however your DM and the players are fine with it, this does not cause any problems.

We actually had the same situation repeatedly in the past, both with players who were new to the game (or this specific version of the rules), or who just are not very good remembering what their characters are capable off, especially with new characters and new abilities. If the player is fine with it, the other players just remind him of what abilities his character has when they are in a situation where the ability could help and they obviously are missing it. It then is their decision if they want to use the ability or not.

This also is not surefire -- you are likely knowing your own character best, and the others may miss it too. But if someone is especially strong with the rules and mechanics at your table, it might be easy for them to remember that you can use Sneak Attack on a disadvantaged enemy, or Divine Smite as a paladin when you just landed a critical. Many groups have one person who knows the rules better than the rest of the table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Regardless of any other considerations, accommodating for someone's disabilities should be the default behaviour (and a diagnosed ADD is a disability). \$\endgroup\$ Mar 27 at 9:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a DM, I have one player who is a min-maxer and wants the challenge of remembering all his abilities; I almost never help him. I have another player who is a role-player and has no memory for rules; her I remind of abilities all the time. And my third is someone who loves strategy, but is very forgetful. Him I remind of things when he has made a glaring omission. I am perfectly stone-faced about whether they should use the abilities in question, but they very much appreciate being reminded that they have the option to do so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Mar 27 at 15:30
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Use a good character sheet!

Find a good character sheet, like this one from Tintagel, keep it up to date and print it out for quick reference. I also have a shorter version, like a monster stat block I use as well, for quicker reference.

Read your character sheet!

Right before the session, I carefully read through my character sheet, especially all my class abilities, skills, feats, resistances or immunities and items, and review what tactics were useful in the last session. If I neglect to do this, invariably I will miss out on a benefit by not recalling it!

I play in several games and DM even more, so even as a veteran, I have definitely caught myself at the table forgetting which abilities I have!

Take notes

I also recommend taking copious adventure notes and reviewing them before each session. In similar fashion, you might not remember key information, especially if from several sessions prior!

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Write A Short List of Defensive Abilities And Hand It To The GM.

The GM has a lot on their plate, and if they're overwhelmed this might not be a great idea. But if the GM has on hand a short list of your defensive abilities and has been told that you will forget them, they can bring it up when they notice that they have dealt you or are likely to deal you a particularly tough blow. Keeping track of PC aliveness and monster damage is a key part of encounter design - GMs are already doing it. Noticing that you're about to get OHKO'd and reminding you that your defensive abilities exist is something they can do much more easily than other members of the party, and more logically fits within their remit.

Think About Your Turn During Others' Turns.

This may seem obvious, but many people become distracted, or engrossed, during others' turns and forget to think about their own. A few seconds (or minutes) of thinking directed at your own character's actions will give you much more time to remember that you have various abilities, or do a mental inventory of the ones that your character does have.

Don't Hoard Resources.

One of the most common reasons people forget about abilities is they simply do not use them enough due to hoarding them for 'emergencies' that rarely or never develop. Try using your abilities as much as possible, at least for a period, to help acclimatize you to them and cause your brain to remember they exist even if you later go back to hoarding.

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Read your character sheet before the session.

I found very useful to read all my character sheet before each session\$^1\$: in this way, I am recalling all the features, feats, items and spells that may come in hand. I found it very useful, specially at high levels or for multiclass characters. For example, as a wizard I have a look, in order:

  • To prepared spells, specially the ones that allows further effects rather than simple damage, as Bigby's Hand.
  • Items in my inventory/backpack, to be aware of what I actually have and what I may use ("Wow, totally forgot about this Potion of Breathing! Since we are going to the Isle of Pathetic Doom, it may come in hand...")
  • Class features (for avoiding situations like the one described in the question about Uncanny Dodge)
  • Feats: for example, if I had Lucky, I would check how many "charges" I still have.

Moreover, I have a look at the options a character has during its own Action: Attack, Dash, Dodge, et cetera.

This seems to work: one of the players of the group I am DMing did the reading of their char sheet before session, and during a combat they said: "Wow, I can not reach the wyvern with my shortsword: I doing something that I completely forgot that I can do, I take the Dodge Action!"

Write a paper version of the character sheet.

Maybe I am too old-school, but I think that writing down your paper character sheet really helps in remembering all the feats, class features, et cetera.

Using a paper sheet forces you to search on manuals, look at all the requirements, and most important you have to write it down: the time you spend in compiling a paper version of a character sheet helps in fixing in your head what the character can do and what they have.

Writing down with your own hand is not the same of clicking on a tick box on DnDBeyond, both in terms of time and concentration.

The above processes helped me a lot in early stages of my first sessions, when I started to play the 5th edition\$^2\$ of DnD, and I found still very useful reading the character sheet before session even after several years of playing the same character.

Plan during other players and monsters turns.

In combat, I pay attention to what my companions and the enemies are doing, and I plan what to do next. Usually, there is enough time between your turns for having a look at your character sheet and plan successive moves.

For example, if the tanks are not engaging immediately in melee combat I will cast Fireball, if they are too close to the enemies instead of an AoE spell I will try to confuse/paralyze them, if I am low in HPs regardless what happen I will drink an Healing potion, et cetera.


\$^1\$ I totally agree with Wyrmwood in doing this.

\$^2\$ I skipped the 4th edition, hence I jumped from the 3.0 directly to the 5th one, and at the beginning the spell system puzzled me a little bit.

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