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I am running my first 5e game as a Game Master on Today and my last barrier is whether to use the official character sheets or to simply use a blank piece of lined paper with all the information?

I am asking what people found more accessible and more understandable for completely new players, but also more fun. What have been your experiences, either as a DM with new players, or as a new player yourself?

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For the new players I highly recommend using the character sheets provided by the game publisher.

The benefits they provide are:

  • It looks pretty and for some players might make it easier to stay in the suspension of disbelief (Warning! TV Tropes link).
  • A new player has no idea how much information they will need to write down and how to structure their own so a template will speed things up and prevent them from creating an unreadable/unusable sheet.
  • It mitigates the problem of bad handwriting by having clear labels for all the boxes and thus only the numerical values ever need to be deciphered.
  • Character creation is easier because they need just a glance to see which boxes are still empty and what is left to be done.
  • It is easy to identify and locate necessary information on their and others' sheets.

That being said, most of the experienced players I have played with preferred to just go with some graphing paper and arrange the information the way they want. The benefits of your own sheet are:

  • It leaves you with more empty space for notes and other information that might not fit the official template (Thanks SeaWyrm)
  • Allows you to structure the information the way it will be most readable to you.
  • It removes all of the noise caused by the boxes, borders and decorations which can be distracting.
  • Makes it possible to leave out parts of character information which are not needed without making you feel that the sheet is unfinished.
  • You can make it with any paper type or size you want (I always kept my characters in an A5 notebook).
  • Always on hand, no need to print anything.

In the end it boils down to experience and personal preferences so never feel pressured or pressure other to go with one style because it's the player who will use the sheet 95% of time.

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I would always start off with the default character sheet. The benefits of doing so are the following:

  1. Everyone has information in the same place. If a player can't find something, the DM or the person sitting next to them, knows where to point.

  2. It tends to have a certain logic to the layout, maybe related concepts easier to understand.

  3. It takes less time than designing your own.

However, I have also found that sometimes new players will get overwhelmed by the official sheets. This is because they also suffer from common flaws:

  1. The sheet is designed for all classes, and may have spaces or information that you don't often use.
  2. It makes reasonable assumptions about playstyle that may not be best suited for an individual who does things differently.
  3. There is a lot of information and spaces that they don't understand.
  4. A sheet might be missing places to write out unique spells or abilities or other information found in the rulebook that a player might want to refer to often.

Inevitably, when we play each person has their own style of sheet that they prefer, some found on the web some created by scratch and some made with blank pieces of paper. Often, however, I have found that even experienced players, if they make a quick sheet on a blank piece of paper will occasionally forget where on their sheet they put something. For this reason, I would recommend using well designed sheets, or designing a sheet that makes it easy to locate rarely used information.

Technically a blank sheet will always be the quickest to fill out if one is not worried about organisation, and may allow you to get to the fun part (playing the game) faster. But a well designed and easy to read sheet will be the most fun for the DM and the party overall, as less time is spent searching the sheet and more time is spent playing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with the last parahraph. In the long run most of my players always preferred to write down their characters on a piece of squared paper. It never slowed things down and was actually beneficial - it gave them enough space for additional notes, allowed to space and position things better and they were not obstructed by all the pre-placed boxes and lines. \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy Jul 20 '15 at 8:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ That being said I *highly urge * any new DnD player to start with the default character sheet simply because just by looking at the empty boxes you will know what information you're still missing during character creation and will be easily able to identify and locate necessary boxes during the play. \$\endgroup\$ – Maurycy Jul 20 '15 at 8:01
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If you are new to roleplaying games in general or if you're not familiar with the kind of system, you can begin learning by excluding technical rules and certain mechanics with a mini one-shot explaining the very basics of the game, then including the more complex mechanics as you go. When you feel overwhelmed, switch to an official character sheet.

For example, the saving throws, skils, inspirataion/background/traits, equipment and combat can all be taught separately. However, for a list of skills I would suggest at least the skills part of the character sheet, as the list could be painful to rewrite.

As things go, you'll feel and understand the need to get a character sheet. If you're still not sure, then I suggest you start with a piece of lined paper and see for yourself.

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