Character Sheet and Nomenclature

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The contest for the Character Sheet has me thinking about the Playtest rules from a different perspective. Especially, how these rules look “on paper”.

The rules must use limited space efficiently.

This means the word choice - the nomenclature - needs to be brief as well as clear - concise.

Terms that are lengthy phrases, ambiguous, inconsistent, or undefined are disruptive to the game. Also they are disruptive to the Character Sheet.


The prase “ability modifier” is distracting, appearing over and over, even in simple equasions. Please just call it an “ability”. Make the word “ability” always mean the modifier to a d20 roll or a class (DC, AC). For example, the formula for Wizard hit points.

6 + “your Constitution modifier”

Change it to:

• “6 + Constitution”

In other contexts, where meaning is already clear, and space is a concern, this can further reduce to:

“6 + Con”  

Again, the problem is repeating the lengthy phrase many times over, such as when rewriting spell descriptions or weapon descriptions on the character sheet, where space is valuable.

Power Descriptions

The character sheet often needs to rewrite spell descriptions, weapon attacks, “pet” attacks by other creatures, magic item effects, and so on. Often the character sheet needs to abbreviate these “powers” and standardize them for the sake of space and clarity.

Rather than explain why (a long post), I will just give examples of the kinds of descriptions that I want on my character sheet. I hope the advantages of the format are apparent.

Note, melee weapons have a default range and target, namely “(melee one)”. The weapon can reach any target within melee range, and can affect one target. So even when this parenthetical information is absent, it remains implied.

Melee range is within 1 yard (arms length). Close range is within 10 yards, equal to a move, also equal to the throwing range. Distant range within 100 yards. Generally any distant target is beyond a standard move, and usually only reachable by an arrow or a spell.

Sword (melee one), + Strength: d8 + Strength slash or pierce damage.

Bow (distant one), + Dexterity: d6 + Dexterity pierce.

Dagger (melee or close one), + Strength or Dexterity: d4 + Strength or Dexterity pierce.

Fireball (distant each in close radius), Dexterity save: 5d6 fire; if saved: ½ fire.

Sleep (distant each in close radius, awake, from one with lowest hit points, upto total 5d8 hit points): Sleep (for 1 minute).

- Notice for the Sleep spell, there is no contest, no attack or save. There is simply an unusual (and unusually complex) description of the target. The automatic effect is: the target sleeps, for a duration of 1 minute.

- Sleep is a spell that I am likely to want handy on my character sheet, and need it to be as brief as possible. I will consult the book for any narrative implications if in doubt. But normally, the shorthand on the character sheet suffices.

Sleet Storm (distant in close radius): Cloud of freezing rain (for 15 minutes for concentration); (Each, in cloud, ending turn): 3d6 cold damage; (Each entering), DC 10 Dexterity check to balance: fall prone, end move; (Each exposed flame): Extinguish.

- Sleet Storm has a complex sprawling spell description. Looking at the abbreviation above actually helps keep track of all of its parts. Semicolons mark each new part of the spell. Colons mark the actual effect. Parentheses explain the target. Duration is a technicality that distracts from the effect, and is also in parentheses. Notice the Wizard doesnt actually target anyone. The Wizard simply “conjures” a storm, and that is it. The results are indirect, depending on how others interact with the freezing rain. Thus different targets engage different contests with different results.

For a Round  

The standard unit of duration is horribly long: “until the start of your next turn”. Please just say “for a round”. Then define the “round” as “until the end of your next turn”. It defacto starts immediately during ones current turn, but the countdown is treated as if starting when the current turn ends all the way until the next turn ends. Then rewrite all spells with this definition of “for a round” in mind.

Concerns about the character sheet include making the nomenclature as brief, clear, and consistent as possible. This includes making the single word “ability” always mean the modifier for a d20. Also, mechanical descriptions benefit from reducing ranges to the concept of “melee, close, and distant”. The standard duration can be expressed simply as “for a round”. It is especially the long complex spells that need the most abbreviation on a character sheet.
Here are two examples of Character Sheets that make the word “ability” mean the same thing as “modifier”.

Several people recommend this, and it seems sound.

• Wisdom (perception) = Initiative bonus, “Perception Save” versus Invisibility, Hidden, Illusion, Forgery

• Charisma (willpower) = Save versus Charm and Fear, being in rapport with others, empathy

• Dexterity (still awesome) = AC, Reflex Save, Finesse Weapons, Missile Weapons

The slight shifts, where Wisdom takes Initiative from Dexterity but gives Saves versus Charm and Fear to Charisma balances these abilities better.

Equally important, it makes the abilities more consistent. Wisdom always covers tasks that require noticing things. Charisma always covers social skills. Dexterity is literally physical “reflex”. Spontaneous response to stimuli. There is a difference between leaping away from an unseen pit (Dexterity), versus noticing enemies approaching (Wisdom).

There are still some issues with what the abilities mean, such as when Intelligence checks are useful, or the difference between Strength and Dexterity with regard to an “agile” speeding, jumping, climbing, hero. But just the Cha-Wis-Dex shifts above help much.
There is still confusion about when to use the “Search” skill (Int) and when to use the “Spot” skill (Wis). Their descriptions make them defacto identical.

In sum, a solution is:

• Split Spot and Listen into: See, Hear, Smell. Smell includes taste.

• Delete Search.

• However officially use Lore instead of Search, to improve any Intelligence checks to “recognize” what someone is looking at.

Lore knows what evidence to look for. Usually knowing what to look for makes it obvious to find. The evidence itself is rarely invisible. Just unfamiliar.

Sometimes discovering something requires a Wisdom check + a See skill bonus to find barely detectable traces, then afterward an Intelligence check + a Lore skill bonus to understand what it represents.

The sense skills - See, Hear, Smell - are brain-simple. Certain animals can have sizable bonuses to a sense, without implying heightened intellect or spiritual enlightenment. The senses simply reflect the ability to notice a physical irregularity. They dont imply understanding what those irregularities might signify. An Alchemist might detect the acrid smell of an elixir, but fail to recognize it is an elixir. A dog might track a familiar scent, but not realize twenty others accompany the one being tracked. (A dog is unable to recognize itself in a mirror.)

Lore then is the Intelligence check when using extensive and sophisticated knowledge to discern what causes the physical irregularity, and what physical irregularities to look for when reconstructing a phenomenon.

Not only does this make Lore more useful during typical encounters, it makes Intelligence more useful, it also helps the game clarify when to use Wisdom and when to use Intelligence.

Also, use Lore instead of Craft Item. Technology is technology. Some is Easy, some is Difficult. Often a person either knows how to make something or not. Also, one cant make a Forgery of an item, unless they thuroly understand the item. Sophisticated forgeries require both an Intelligence check to understand the nature of the original, and a Wisdom check to perceptively duplicate it.
The Background has a “trait”. Please call this a “knack”.

Trait is the same word that appears in the bestiary for non-action features. Reusing the same word for different technical meanings is awkward and sometimes confusing.

By contrast, a “knack” is an unusual word, unlikely to compete with other technical meanings. One Background has a knack for getting invited into homes, another Background has a knack for ferreting out research, yet another Background has a knack for faking an identity, and so on. This is actually a great use of the word “knack”.

By contrast, “trait” sounds weird in this context.
Please stop referring to “spell levels”.

Too often the ridiculous phrase has appeared “spell level 4 spell slot” because the class level was also in play in the conversation and required consistent distinction. Too often the meaning of “level” was uncertain in the context.
Best of all refer to them by their actual level of mastery. “Wish is a level 17 spell.” (A spell of Legacy.)

Or refer to the nine as Orders, or Circles, ... anything except “levels”.
I have long wished they would standardize the use of the three-letter-acronym when referring to the ability score modifier. That would save a ton of space. We can't forget that it is the modifier, though, because there must also be situations where the actual score matters. (When improving them, at the very very least, though hopefully they will find more use for them in the future.)

I'm also a fan of Circles or Tiers for spells, instead of spell levels.

The metagame is not the game.
I have long wished they would standardize the use of the three-letter-acronym when referring to the ability score modifier. That would save a ton of space. We can't forget that it is the modifier, though, because there must also be situations where the actual score matters. (When improving them, at the very very least, though hopefully they will find more use for them in the future.)

I'm also a fan of Circles or Tiers for spells, instead of spell levels.

Ah. When I saw “three letter acronym”, I somehow thought you meant SDC (Strength Dexterity Constitution). I just realized you meant the 3-letter abbreviation for each ability.

But yeah, how I wish D&D can just write: “+ Str”.

It is even great for the character sheet. You can just leave a space between the plus and the ability name, so the player can fill in the value.

For example, a bow deals “1d8 + Dex pierce damage”. So the player can just pencil in the Dexterity.

1d8 +   2   Dex pierce damage

I continue to tinker with a Character Sheet. There are an enormous number of variables. It feels less like calculations, and more like adapting to an ecology.

In any case, here is the close up of the abilities. It too conveys how “ability” always means the same thing as the ability modifier. But perhaps this arrangement looks more familiar for many players.

Personally, I will probably use the phrase “Strength score 18”. But word order can be a cue to help others disambiguate between the “ability” and the “score”. When referring to the ability, always say the bonus number before the ability name. But when referring to the score always say the score number after the name.

Ability: +4 Strength
Score: Strength 18

The difference is innocuous, but it feels helpful as a reminder.

By extension, if someone asks, “Whats your Strength?”, say, “Plus four”. If someone asks, “Whats your Strength score?”, say, “Eighteen”.

With the nomenclature above, it is still possible to say “ability score”. But it means exactly, “ability modifier score”. In other words, it is a score that is used to determine the value of the ability.

I know alot of this sounds pedantic, but the ability to say officially, “plus Strength”, is gold. It is worth ironing out any crinkles.
If every class is going to have some kind of per-day resource, they should come up with a catchy name for the general concept (a better name than "dailies").

There is no “Jump” skill. Or rather, the skillful part of a jump is Tumbling.

Strength determines the base distance for a running long jump. This distance is moreorless consistent. There is no ability check for it.

The base running jump distance is 2 + Strength yards. An average Human can reliably run and jump over 2 yards. Then the “plus Strength” corresponds to reallife statistics of athletes.

For other kinds of jumps - the standing long jump and various high jumps - the micro-variations in distance tend to be negligible for D&D encounters. Roughly 1 yard, forward and up forming an arc.

Beyond this set distance, jumping techniques rely on coordination, balance, swinging, and momentum. Dexterity can finesse the distance. Athletes who compete in jumping events train in Tumbling skills, acrobatic flips, falling, and so on. Even the weight training focuses on quick agile movements. It is the graceful agility that gives the jumper the edge over other athletes.

Running long jump distance: 2 + Strength yards

Other jumps: 1 yard (long and high)

DC 15 Dexterity check to increase jump: +1 yard (long or high)

Tumble skill bonus to Dexterity check to jump

Vault feat: +2 yards long, +1 yard high

Altogether, a Human can leap 10 yards - the full distance of Close range - without magical enhancements. The reallife world record is almost 10 yards (8.95 m).

Note: there are different kinds of high jumps. Standing still with feet together then jumping straight up, virtually never happens during encounters. But the height would be a Hard DC 20 Strength check, while denying benefit from Dexterity, just to reach 1 yard. Specifically, even world class athletes max out at about 1 yard, around 0.91 m (Chu 1996, Explosive Power and Strength). Meanwhile, simply climbing something 1 yard high is trivial, and if necessary to reach something, using a staff or sword grants better results.

An other kind of high jump is the semi-somersault of the athletic events. The technique spins the body, to actually jump backward, so the backside can vault over with the momentum without touching a bar. The jumper lands on their back. Whether the jumper starts standing or running makes little difference. (The world records are 1.90 m for standing, and 2.45 m for running.) As far as D&D might care, both are about 2 yards. Equivalent to: 1 yard + DC 15 Dexterity check for an extra yard.

Now there are many kinds of high jumps, such as the running leap of a basketball player. Probably most people can dive over a yard-high hurdle, if they had to. Moreorless all of these jumps reach roughly 1 yard high, and Tumbling skill can enhance this distance.

The point is, there is no such thing as a “Jump” skill. Or rather, “Tumbling” is the same thing as the jump skill. The Strength sets the distance that a hero can achieve with a running long jump. However, this distance is moreorless always the same. No ability check for it. What gives a jumper a variable edge is technique and natural agility, corresponding to Dexterity and the Tumbling skill.

Ironically, the heroes who can reliably jump far, typically 6 yards, are probably wearing heavy armor and cant.

The best jumpers are super strong plus an agile edge.

If every class is going to have some kind of per-day resource, they should come up with a catchy name for the general concept (a better name than "dailies").

“Per sleep” is what it is. Might as well call it that.

I look forward to non-per-sleep options for the Wizard.
A post above suggests deleting the “Search” skill, because it is defacto identical to “Spot”. Instead, use the Lore skills for searches that use Intelligence, because “you know what to look for”.

In this context, add “Masonry Lore” to the list of skills. Masonry is the premodern version of architecture and construction engineering. It covers building structures out of stone, wood, brick, clay, even tents, even cement and other sophisticated materials, etcetera. It also covers mathematics, sometimes sophisticated math such as for temples, pyramids, and other sacred and monumental structures. It covers ground surveys, and floorplans. By extention, the Masonry Lore can add a skill bonus to Intelligence checks that search for secret doors, pits, and other structural installations.

Again, also use Lore skills to craft items.

Oppositely, use Masonry Lore in Intelligence bonuses to demolish structures, such as sapping walls during seiges.
Both spell points and spell slots are “magic energy”. It helps to refer to them as this. The Wizard is a spontaneous spellcaster and uses the “energy” to fuel any spell, chosen at any moment.

Spell points are simpler, and easy to understand as fuel. But even spell slots are just complicated packets of energy.

Instead of referring to the problematic term, “spell level”, refer to “energy”. Some spells require more energy to cast than other spells. So there are energy 1 spells, energy 2 spells, energy 3 spells, and so on up to energy 9 spells.

Athletics ← Strength Contest, Run, Swim, Climb, Jump Distance, Break Object

Acrobatics ← Tumble, Jump, Balance
Drive ← Ride
Sneak ← Conceal Object


Lore ← Search, Profession, Craft
• Nature ← Track
• Aquatic
• Subterranean
• Spirituality ← Religion, Forbidden
• Alchemy ← Elementalism, Chemistry, Metallurgy
• Magical
• Folklore ← Fey
• Masonry ← Construction, Architecture, Mathematics, Search Pits, Secret Doors
• Military ← Craft Armor, Craft Weapons
• Political ← Heraldry, History, Law, Scribe
• Commerce ← Appraise


See ← Spot
Hear ← Listen
Administer First Aid ← Herbalism, Anatomy, Poison

Persuade ← Charm, Gather Rumors
Establish Rapport ← Empathy, Insight, Sense Motive, Handle Animal
Perform ← Bluff
Format for Annotation

( Timing Frequency ;  Actuator ,  Range Targeting ,  Challenge :  Effect ) .

If a factor of the annotation remains unsaid, refer to default.

Which technique causes the effect?
Class feature
Race trait
Ability check
Specialty feat
Weapon attack
Compare 4e “Power”

How long does it take to actuate the effect?
Trait (timing is instant, frequency always on, range yourself, targeting yourself)
Action - Default
15 Minutes

How soon can you actuate the effect again?
Atwill (Action per Action, Move per Move, etcetera, usually unmentioned and implied) - Default
Per-Turn (including enemy turns)

Who or what is actuating the effect?
You (the actuator is usually you yourself, unmentioned and implied) - Default
Conjuration (however, spells become complicated if you conjure a phenomenon that then functions semi-independently)
Transmitter (your target gains the capability to cause an effect at other targets)

(Typically, the other actuator appears as the primary effect. Afterward a semicolon “;” introduces the actuator causing a secondary effect.)


How far from you can the effect reach?
Melee (upto 1 yard) - Default
Close (upto 10 yards)
Distant (upto 100 yards)

At how many can you send the effect?
At one - Default
At two
At each
• in melee radius
• in close radius

The struggle to impose the effect
+ Weapon attack bonus (namely, your d20 attack + weapon attack bonus versus enemy AC)
Versus ability save (namely, your spell DC versus enemy d20 ability save)
Autosuccess (no struggle, so usually the format omits the automatic success, unmentioned and implied) - Default

: Effect
(The puctuation mark, colon “ : ”, always preceeds an Effect. It likewise preceeds Damage, a specialized form of Effect.)

(If there are multiple effects, they appear separately, each after its own colon punctuation. But if an effect requires a different actuator, different target, or a different challenge, then a semicolon introduces a new actuation to determine this different effect. For example, Cure Wounds can heal a living target with autosuccess, or separately damage an undead target with a challenge versus the Constitution save.)


Unarmed Strike (action; melee at one, + Strength: 1 + Strength bludgeon damage).

Magic Missile (action; close at upto one per dart: emanate 3 darts: if higher energy, + 1 dart per energy above 1; each dart: 1d4 + 2 force damage).

Cure Wounds (swift; close at one living: heal 1d8 + 4 hit points: if higher energy, + 2d8 + 2 hit points per energy above 1; close at one undead, versus Constitution save: 4d8 radiant damage: if save, half damage).

Dwarven Resiliance (trait: gain advantage to save versus poison: gain resistance to poison damage).

Maybe a capitalized abbreviation should mean the score, and an all-caps abbreviation should be the modifier?

Str = 18, STR = +4 
"Therefore, you are the crapper, I'm merely the vessel through which you crap." -- akaddk

I tend to read all caps as an acronym, like AC = A(rmor) C(lass), HP = H(it) P(oints), etcetera. So when I see STR, I read it as if it stands for something, S(...) T(...) R(...).

The clearest, most traditional, and most natural way to refer to the score is to call it a “score”. For example, if someone asks, “What are your scores?” everyone knows what this means.

But if some one asks, “Stats?” anything in the “Stat Block” is a stat. Hit points are “stats”. If someone asks, “Abilities?” it is the modifier that matters most often.

Writing “Strength score” or even “Str score” has no ambiguity. Also, it is ergonomic to write down a longer term for the score and a shorter term for the ability. Generally, the scores only matter while leveling, to sort out the new stats. So, the game refers to the scores seldomly. There is little need to make writing “scores” brief. By contrast, the ability (aka modifier) appears for almost every feature, almost every round, many times per encounter. The ability needs to be brief. So, the forms are convenient: “+1 Str”, but “Strength score 13”.

Maybe abbreviate score as “S”:

Strength score 18 → Str S 18 → StrS 18

StrS 17, DexS 13, ConS 14, IntS 8, WisS 12, ChaS 10.