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I saw this:

PS: I began in the BCS days (before character sheets days) where we all started with a 3×5 index card, 3d6 in order …

in a comment on The Angry GM. What game/version (or something else) does “BCS” indicate in this context?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe just ask Korvin in Role-playing Games Chat since it appears to be his comment. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 23, 2022 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think there is a better question here, some thing like “which, if any, editions of D&D did not use character sheets?”, rather than just asking what a commenter was talking about. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 23, 2022 at 21:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Yeah, it's not like I am hard to find. 😁 \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25, 2022 at 2:01

2 Answers 2

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BCS = Before Character Sheet

There is no deeper meaning here.

Character sheets are de rigueur these days and are usually provided in the rule book with permission to photocopy or as free pdfs.

However, in the era BCS, a character sheet was any piece of paper you used for the purpose or recording your character notes, laid out however you thought best. The first official character sheets from TSR were published in 1984; 10 years after D&D was first published.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was curious about the 1984 claim and did a little research. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_Character_Record_Sheets says TSR published its first set of character sheets in 1977. (Although in the sidebar it says First Published -1984, which is confusing.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Costa
    Apr 24, 2022 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Through wikipedia, also found a link to this nice blog post - playingattheworld.blogspot.com/2013/07/… - which includes images of fan-made character sheets as early as 1975. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Costa
    Apr 24, 2022 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveCosta The first published sheets would have been a book of them on nice paper that you tear out. This would have been even before you could drive to a Kinko's to make your own copies. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 24, 2022 at 15:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ So it's "back when there wasn't a special sheet coming from the designers" and not "back when we didn't even have a sheet in front of us". it may have been obvious, but I didn't know. There is no deeper meaning, but this was a potential for confusion. \$\endgroup\$
    – 3C273
    Apr 24, 2022 at 15:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ The AD&D 1e Player's Handbook (1978), p.8, references a character sheet ("character record" or "record sheet") as a necessity, and recommends ready-made sheets sold by TSR. "Before character sheets" would likely cover only OD&D (i.e. White Box and supplements, 1974-1977). However, the practice of playing without formal sheets could easily have survived into the AD&D era in some groups. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25, 2022 at 7:30
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Pre-character sheets suggests Original D&D era (1974-1976), but perhaps even later

The idea that you should record your character's stats in some written form dates back to the original 1974 D&D "White Box". There is at least one surviving older example of a hand-written character record from Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, dated around 1972.

However, the notion of an official printed "character sheet" did not appear in the White Box (1974) or any of the Supplements (1975-1976).

D&D history site The Acaeum's page on Character Sheets describes a product called The Character Archaic, first published in 1975. TSR's magazine The Strategic Review, issue 6 (Feb 1976) advertises this product as on sale from TSR. However, it was $3.00, which was expensive when the D&D box set was $10, so most players probably didn't buy this.

The Acaeum notes a 1977 TSR product called Character Record Sheets (product number F-1009, later 9014), and later a 1980 product called Player Character Record Sheets (9037). Confusingly, the product code 9037 was re-used for slightly different character sheet products, including the AC5 Player Character Record Sheets, released 1984, and AC6 Player Character Record Sheets, released 1985.

There were also official AD&D character sheets published by TSR from 1979 onward, and the AD&D 1e Player's Handbook (1978) recommended the use of official character sheets, but also recognized hand-made sheets. The 1983 Mentzer D&D box set included a formal character sheet, but also suggested that index cards may be suitable for character records, suggesting that this was still a practice at the time.

I suspect it's only really by D&D 3rd edition (2000 onward), where they gave the character sheet away for free in the back of the Player's Handbook, and your character stats are much too detailed to fit on an index card anyway, that official printed character sheets become completely ubiquitous. However, official character sheets properly came in around 1976 to 1980, so most people who played without them were likely White Box (1974-1976). Of course, people continued to play the original edition in their own way, so the use of index cards or hand-written character records likely continued after they were formally available, especially in 1970s AD&D 1e and Basic.

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