Probably one of the most overlooked aspects of DMing is knowing about your players’ stats. You might know a thing or two about them at the beginning and you might have an understanding of their story arc, but it’s easy to overlook a stat sheet. While it won’t ruin your game if you don’t know your players’ stats, you’re also likely missing out on great opportunities.
What’s In a Character Sheet?
You already likely know what information is contained in a character sheet. You’ve got your ability scores, skill proficiency, inventory, spells, etc. But what’s most important for you is something more meta to the sheet itself: the character build.
Character builds are an important part of the game whether players are min-maxing or not. A build gives you a quick overview of a character’s role and utility. There are classic archetypes we all know and love: Tank, Healer, DPS, etc. But in D&D players also have a surprising amount of flexibility in their builds that keep them from being pigeonholed into standard roles. If you look at a player’s build you can understand how their abilities, scores, and character traits fit together to inform their desired play-style.
Why Should I Care About My Players’ Stats?
First and foremost, understanding a character build and play-style allows you to plan encounters that fit your players characters. If you have one player who seems to be dominating combat, the solution isn’t to make combat harder or easier. The real solution is tailor your encounters to rely on teamwork and the strengths of different characters.
Spellcasters are an easy example for low levels. If a player has taken a bunch of spells that have specific uses, make those spells relevant sometimes. We’re not suggesting you bend the campaign to accommodate weird choices. Rather, we’re suggesting that you present challenges that could be solved with the unique sets of abilities your players have at their disposal.
Think of your session like a level in a video game. If you get a new power up in the level but then you never get to use it, that sucks. Similarly for your players. when they level up and gain new spells and abilities you should make sure they have at least a few opportunities to flex them.
Balance Through Specificity
A dungeon building exercise can come directly from this topic. Start by creating a list of all of your players’ spells and abilities, inventories, skills, and spell slots. Next, group the resulting items in the list by functionality. If you want to get really fancy, you can color-code this to correspond to your different players. What you’ll find is that you now have a list of every challenge your team is equipped to overcome and how many base level solutions they have available.
Once you have that you can set out to design your dungeon by picking from functional columns on your list. Each room or encounter should be able to to take advantage of a unique feature outside of combat. Damage and combat abilities are the majority of character skills, so you’ll have the most overlap there. Everything else should be a unique function that you can challenge your players with. If your group is already solving most issues with force this is a great way to get them to think about all their other abilities and use them in game relevant ways.
The best part of this kind of design exercise is that you get to build something that works for all of your players. If you ensure that there are encounters and challenges that utilize the builds of every player, no one will feel left out of the game and every will have an opportunity for a hero moment. As a note, you should be careful when you do this to not get over-specific and soft lock your players when they run out of spell slots or have a downed character.
Understanding your players’ characters and their builds allows you to make a more engaging game for everyone. It does take a little bit of work to review everyone’s character sheets as they level up, but it’s also easy to add to your preparation routine. Knowing the characters in your game will end up doing nothing but good for you, so start the habit early.