Back When My Characters Were Written on a Legal Pad.

Everything was written out by hand. Some of us used typing paper to create mock-up character sheets, which took some time. And really kinda sucked if you spent half an hour or more painstakingly drawing your character sheet just to have your Thief get eaten by the Owlbear in Room Number 2. Also, some of us did everything with pen back then.


I have so many characters, it’s not even funny.

Not just D&D, either. Oh no. Old Guy story time everyone gather around.

See, back in my day (*my kids just ran for cover) we were kinda poor. It was the 1980’s. Cell phones, computers with scanners, and printers that did everything weren’t really around at all. Photocopies at the dime store or public library, or post office cost money. No PDFs, obviously.

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So, that left us pretty much one good, fast option.

Everything was written out by hand. Some of us used typing paper to create mock-up character sheets, which took some time. And really kinda sucked if you spent half an hour or more painstakingly drawing your character sheet just to have your Thief get eaten by the Owlbear in Room Number 2. Also, some of us did everything with pen back then.

For the player that wanted to get a character made relatively quickly, we wrote everything down by hand. That meant having all of the important stuff memorized. D&D and AD&D were pretty easy to remember (spellcasters notwithstanding.) Marvel Superheroes? Easy. (Still had to look up skills and powers, but otherwise not hard.) Warhammer Fantasy literally took 10 minutes or fewer for basic characters. Star Wars RPG (WEG D6,) I can still build build a character and a ship in my head and write the whole thing down in minutes.

I discovered a ton of my old characters when I was cleaning house recently. I was so thrilled. I still even have all of my 11×17 legal pads with my 2nd Ed AD&D characters. I made so many characters back then. I still fondly remember those days with love and joy.

Some things still got us dirty looks from whoever was in charge of the copier.

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Heck, by the time I got to college, I could write down an entire DC Heroes character from scratch without even picking up a rulebook and still have it come out balanced and point correct. But there were a few games that gave us a tough time and required a trip to the copier, unfortunately.

Any of FASA’s excellent wargames at the time pretty much required photocopies. Battletech, Mechwarrior (RPG,) and Centurion all took a lot of time to write out by hand. FASA’s Shadowrun went easier with professional character sheets. Vampire: the Masquerade pretty much necessitated it. Role Master was detailed to the point where we pretty much needed character sheets. It made those high end lightning crits a truly character-changing moment.

As I stated, the worst part was getting the stink eye from whoever was in charge of the copier. I mean, obviously as far as they were concerned we were playing that devil-worshipper game Mazes & Monsters from the “documentary” starring Tom Hanks. Some of the keepers of the photocopier were happy to take our money. Others were a little more preachy and/or judgey.

Things got really high tech later on.

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Any time we wanted to play Middle Earth Role Playing, (MERP,) my best friend printed our characters out on his dot-matrix printer. Super high tech, right? The best part was, I think he programmed the sheet himself.

About the time I discovered Palladium’s RIFTS, I had this really neat word processor that had about three pages of memory and used floppy disks. Which is great because if anyone remembers RIFTS and Robotech, you probably remember how detailed the skill lists for those games were. I had to make my own spreadsheets the hard way on ye olde word processor. It took me a couple of days of typing and typesetting. Don’t get me started on my favorite Palladium game ever, Ninjas and Superspies.

Once the Internet became a popular thing, it got a lot easier. I was on Usenet News talking about RIFTS, Shadowrun, and D&D. I have entire dot-matrix printouts of fan sourcebooks and weapons conversions. Cyberpunk 2020 was the future. Now 2020 is a year that nearly requires a memory wipe and I still don’t have my cyberware.

Thank you for stopping by. It’s been fun. I appreciate you. More fun tomorrow.

Thank you!

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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