I’ve already written a post about making DND accessible for someone who is blind. Today I thought I’d go in to more detail about how we make the character sheets for my characters.
I don’t think that there is any one right way to do this. What is helpful will depend on how the person likes to work. Someone with partial sight might enlarge the character sheet or use a magnifier. Someone who’s not as confident with access technology or a screenreader will probably prefer a more low-tech solution.
I use Excel a lot at work and for organising just about every aspect of life! So it made sense for us to use a character sheet in Excel. However, we couldn’t just download one from the internet and go, because many of them don’t take into consideration the things that are important to a blind person using a screenreader.
So I explained to my partner, who is also our GM, what’s important and what causes problems for me, and we built a new character sheet from scratch.
Things to consider
My character sheet looks a bit different from standard ones because I have the things that I need regularly at the top. My special abilities are more relevant than my eye or hair colour most of the time, so I prioritise the things that I need to refer to more often.
I don’t use a mouse. In Excel, I move around from square to square using the arrow keys. I won’t notice something if it’s way off to the right somewhere, so we start everything in the first column. Individual tables can stretch out into the columns to the right of this, but I don’t like multiple columns of text or figures that are placed next to one another, because I could miss something important.
One of the biggest problems I had with the generic downloadable character sheets was merged cells. I hate them with a passion! They might look good for spacing and printing out, but I think they are a total pain and quite disorientating. For example, if you have a line of 4 merged cells next to each other, and you press the right arrow key, it takes you a cell to the right of the furthest point on the block of cells, not just one cell to the right as would normally be the case.
When I’m setting up other spreadsheets, I usually have one table per page. This isn’t the case with my character sheet, but I split up blocks of information with a blank line so that I can jump back and forth between the blocks using control up and control down arrow.
It doesn’t matter to me whether all of the information would print out nicely on one page, because I’m never going to print it out! I do share it with my GM, partly so he can have a copy as he does with other players, and partly so he can help with design improvements, but we just have a shared folder in Dropbox, so it never gets printed.
If someone doesn’t like or know how to use Excel, they could use Word or even Notepad to store the information, but you do lose the number-crunching and automatic updating of cell functionality that comes with Excel.
Things don’t always stay the same
I guess it’s the same with anyone – if you need a piece of information often enough, you can memorise it. However there is also a search function in my screenreader software, which means I can search for a word that I want to locate in the text, and my focus will jump to it. This is also quicker than having to scan a lot of information with my fingertips.
Another benefit of working on the spreadsheet is that I can quickly note down changes such as decreasing hit points, how many spell slots or crossbow bolts I have left, how many times I’ve used my cone of cold etc. We’ve got it set up so that I have a permanent value, then a temporary value, and a cell which calculates how many uses/spells etc I have left.
We try to automate as much as possible without making the sheet ridiculously complicated. One way of doing this is pulling information from other sheets in the workbook, so the main sheet doesn’t get cluttered with unnecessary additional information.
One of these sheets is all the spells I can choose from. So when I reach a new level and can add additional spells, I can go to the complete spell list page, see what I want, start typing the name of the spell on my main sheet, and the rest of the row will populate with the saving throw, description, damage etc. The same works if I’m playing a character that swaps out spells on a daily basis and having the information populating the rows saves me time.
In terms of magical items or potions, the others use cards that are handed out, then handed back if the item is used or sold. I have the cards too, but I keep track of them on my character sheet, deleting things once they have been used.
I think I take more notes than most other people. Partly it’s what I have always done in previous jobs before I started working for myself – I had the laptop with me and could usually take down more information than someone trying to keep up with a pen and paper. That meant I often ended up taking the notes, and taking other people’s turn to do so in exchange for help with stuff that I found more difficult.
I do it in our DnD sessions because I can’t see the maps and it helps me to build up a mental image of what’s around us. It also gives me the chance to help other players out if we forget the name of the NPC we met a couple of weeks ago. That gives it more of a feeling of give and take when I ask for help with exactly where to go in combat or finding the best position.
So, I have a big space at the bottom of my character sheet for making notes. Each session gets a row, and each individual bit of useful information gets a square. I keep moving to the right until the session is over. If there’s a lot of combat, I don’t tend to write much. If we’re moving around and interacting more, there tend to be more notes. Having the spreadsheet means that I can not only access the important information about my character, but constantly add my own notes as well.
I have heard people talking about Braille character sheets before. I used one once, because we went to a one-off game in a pub garden, and I knew there would be no plug sockets. Making notes wasn’t so important, and it was a low level character, so I used a d20 to track the number of hit points I had left. It was ok, but I missed the ability to write stuff down and I wouldn’t want to do it all the time.
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The blog covers many interests such as beauty and skincare products, animals, accessibility, travel, and my random thoughts. There are more DnD posts planned.