Creating Character Sheets for Online Play

When setting up for running an online open table through Barrowmaze, one of the key resources I wanted to prepare was a character sheet which players could fill in and leave in the cloud, preferably one I myself could see.

For much of the last two years my regular online group has been using Roll20 for our 5e game but, with GM burnout looming, I wanted to run Barrowmaze with a lighter system. We settled upon Off-White Cube – my hack of a hack of a hack of Original Dungeons & Dragons, a game playable with just the dice from that dusty old monopoly box you have tucked away behind the sofa. Easy to learn and play, but with no usable character sheet on Roll20.

So we played a couple of one shots beforehand, and I experimented with a few options.

Form-fillable PDFs

I already had a PDF of the character sheet for printing out copies for physical play, and used PDFescape to make a form-fillable version. Players filled out their sheets and at the end of play uploaded them to our Discord channel.

Functionally, this was fine and the virtual equivalent of a GM collecting everyone’s paper character sheets after a session. It does depend upon everyone have Adobe or some program which allows filled PDFs to be saved down, which wasn’t the case for us. Recreating a sheet every session would be a bore.

Google Sheets

I had used Google Sheets before, both in the 5e campaign and for my own homebrew system, Wretches & Riches. Its formula functions and conditional formatting means it can be quite a handy tool to either handle the maths of complex character sheets or play around visually with very simple ones. Wretches & Riches revolves around a character’s inventory, so I set up a sheet which would colour the inventory slots grey if they weren’t relevant or red if filled by an injury or some other condition:

Google Sheets a number of advantages – it’s very similar to Excel, with which most online players presumably have some degree of familiarity, it’s stored in the cloud so that, if you can access a microphone you can probably access your sheet too, and it allows for simultaneous editing. This was of particular use when managing a boat and its cargo, and in the end we started using a separate tab to record characters’ slot-based inventory which then fed numbers into the boat page:

But Sheets sacrifices aesthetics for function and, while perhaps it is more of a personal thing for me coming back home from my day job, using it for character sheets feels a bit too much like data entry.

Google Slides

It is only recently that I’ve started using Google Slides for anything at all, and it was in the context of using Microsoft Powerpoint for laying out booklets of Off-White Cube and Wretches & Riches (and, indeed, the character sheets) that I turned to it. Handily, it also allows one to set a background for each individual slide, so I turned the character sheet into an image and uploaded it. A fair number of borderless text boxes later and we had a usable, shareable character sheet.

Like with Sheets, Slides should be familiar enough to most of the online community that they can select and edit the text boxes, and has the added benefit of being able to create new slides below each character sheet should the player wish to make notes of some kind. If you’re really keen, you could even use its editorial history to chart the character’s adventuring career. My hope for the Barrowmaze campaign is that players will link their character sheets to the wiki I’m putting together so that others will be able to see, but not edit, the stable of characters.

Alternatively, we could switch back to Roll20, but at the moment I’m disinclined to buy back into their subscription model – if they were to offer a one-off licence payment, I’d be much more willing, but for now it seems that there are alternatives out there (and frankly the alternatives work better for games with slot-based inventories). There’s relatively little extra buy in needed from players – most of us have been suckered into using the all-seeing and all-reaching services of Google – and allows the use of the wonderful trove of character sheets already out there on the internet.

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