Have you ever needed to reverse-engineer a character sheet? Have you ever run a flashback scene and wish you knew what your PCs’ stats were during that time? Have you ever cloned a PC or had her meet an alternate universe version of herself that diverged from a common point and wished you could have built the new version’s experience on top of the old stats? Has a red-faced player ever sheepishly come up to you and said “I forgot how much XP I had used and I think I made a mistake a few sessions back?

Meet the character sheet archive!

I must admit that, for the sheer number of times I’ve had similar issues to those above the idea of keeping a character sheet archive took a long time to gel. I usually keep copies (or the originals) of all the PCs in my campaign, but they were usually reasonably up-to-date versions. I’ve since discovered that it’s really handy to have each step of a PC’s development at my fingertips for when one of these weird situations pop up.

With information technology being what it is these days, it’s painfully simple to keep a PC archive, especially if your group uses spreadsheets or character generator software. Simply give each iteration its own file number and you’re good to go. I tend to play rules-light games, which means it’s relatively easy to design a character sheet in MS Word and just update it as we go along.

Alternatively, you could keep initial character sheets and just keep track of XP expenditures. I generally do both. I track XP expenditures when “at the table” and update the sheets later.

Having a character sheet archive is handy for several reasons:

  • We’re only human and even computers glitch on occasion. It’s easy to reverse-engineer a mistake if you can go back and look at the archived sheets.
  • Regular updating leads to regular oversight. Not only are you better able to nip mistakes in the bud, but players are likely to be more careful if they know they’re being scrutinized.
  • Some games have different rules for spending points at chargen and as XP. Having an archive makes it easy to determine what was spent where.
  • My crazy campaigns do sometimes involve time travel or alternate universes. It’s handy to be able to “regress” PCs back to what they actually were. Ditto if I want to run a one-shot with the PCs at an earlier stage of development or a flashback scene.
  • While D&D and its various iterations do a great job of keeping track of XP, I’ve found that in other games I’ve been lax in remembering how much XP I gave out and my players generally only keep track of unspent XP. Without a tally it can be a nightmare to do a PC rebuild or check for accuracy if you don’t know the total XP spent (GURPS is a notable exception, since its “character points” are uniform from creation through experience).

Do you keep track of your PCs’ progress along the way and keep notes of the changes? If so, has it been overly burdensome or do you find it useful? If not, do you think this is something that may come in handy?

Walt Ciechanowski

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.

4 Responses to Keeping a Character Sheet Archive

  1. I use a notebook for tracking NPCs, loot, plot threads, and anything else as a player.

    As a GM I tend to award XP to the whole group. If I give certain players XP I note that clearly so that I can go back and see why someone has more or less XP. I also keep the sheets between sessions so I rarely have issues with someone forgetting XP or things like that.

    This is an idea worth considering. I think it would be better in a game like D&D or Pathfinder where optimization for combat becomes something that is very rewarding to the characters, especially if the group is competitive. .

    Still, very neat idea. Even just to see characters advance. I think Google docs would be pretty great at helping create archives for this.

  2. Back in 2005 I bought a domain and installed a copy of Mediawiki (the same software that runs Wikipedia). Every campaign that my friends and I have run has a record.

    This makes referencing past items easy. It also allows us to go back to a campaign and reread our session notes if we’re feeling nostalgic.

    I’m currently turning our session notes into a print on demand book so that we have a nice little something to put on the gaming shelf.

  3. I often keep old copies of my characters as a player-if it’s a system that goes so far as to print character sheets (like 4e, or Pathfinder with Hero Lab).

    I’ve long kept an XP log–for White Wolf and Shadowrun games originally, later transmuted into a changelog for just about every system–including our Star Wars game.

    As a GM, I’ve rarely kept my eye on character sheets–at least not the math, figuring that’s the player’s work. I’ll often make a copy when the character first sets of adventuring, but I’ve been bad about collecting more copies along the way. With a scanner and versioning, it wouldn’t be hard, and it does give you a net for when someone forgets their sheet…

  4. I also started doing this due to some flashback adventures, and like Walt, I’m surprised it took me this long to start.

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