- why people would study visual design, and
- why people would pay someone else to design things for them.
I also learned that the major advantage of the Character Builder character sheets is that the CB makes them for me. If you want customization, be prepared to put in a lot of work! I used Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and a Wacom tablet to make this sheet. These tools allow me a lot more control over the placement and look of things than Pages does, but making changes in the text takes a lot longer.
So, here's the first page of what I've achieved so far:
The character name, class, level, and ability scores run in a line down the center of the page, pretty much in the order a DM or fellow party member might ask for them. Please forgive the spinal motif: I've been thinking about the primacy of ability scores lately, and couldn't resist a little visual suggestion of what I want their role to be. At the bottom is a quick summary of the character's speed, initiative, and defenses: the information you'd want to know at the moment of ambush.
Flanking this mainline are the character's supporting details: race, background, theme, description. Where the "monster block" character sheet concentrates on numbers, I wanted this sheet to devote prime real estate to context. The next draft of the sheet might expand these blocks upwards, though I like the blank space set aside for experience points.
The far left and far right columns are designed to fold back, leaving the central column looking like a 5.5" by 8.5" sheet-- very tidy on a crowded table at the gaming store. Flip the character sheet over, and you're looking at the character's skills, gear, items, and treasure-- the sort of info I want during general exploration, travel, and roleplaying. Open those flaps, and you're looking at this page:
The header and footer for the central column summarize details from the front page. Combat information is presented from top to bottom in roughly in the order it will be needed: initiative and movement, defenses, hit points, and surges. The defense "shields" provide space for temporary modifiers. After reviewing the wear and tear on my old character sheets, I put the hit points box dead center and made it extra large. I also put the "condition" box where I'm less likely to miss it-- lately, it seems like my characters are always getting slowed, knocked prone, or poisoned. The darkened surge boxes indicate the character's daily limit.
You'll notice there's a lot of open space in the central column. I wanted to avoid a confusion of boxes in the middle of the character sheet, and spreading things out a bit seemed the best way to achieve that. It's inevitable, though, that I'll use that space for notes during combat, so it'll take a few encounters to tell if the design can still meet its goal of clarity when filled with scrawl.
The fold-down flaps to either side contain the character's feats, powers, and other class features. Since this is a character sheet for D&D Encounters, I only need to allow space for three feats (for a human character) and a couple more powers over the life of the sheet. I could tailor the right-hand column to the animal companion a bit more, and in the next draft I probably will, but for the time being I wanted to see how I'd fit it in if I were filling it out by hand. (That's not my handwriting, by the by. I used the "Handwriting-Dakota" font for the text and "Monotype Corsiva" for the numbers.)
Now that I've got a serviceable draft, I'm probably going to go back and try to make the whole thing prettier (or grittier). I might try expanding on the bone theme suggested by the "ability spine," but that might be a little too metal for a druid. Another possibility is emphasizing the character's water elemental theme and air elemental companion with waves and clouds and such. In either case, though, the embellishment should not overpower the information the character sheet is supposed to deliver.