I get distracted during game sessions. Like many gamers today, I can find it hard to resist the itch to check my phone, rationalizing it with something like “oh, I’ll just look up this one thing and be done with it”. It’s never one thing, and the itch never goes away. It’s even worse with online games, where your fellow gamers aren’t at the table to keep you honest.
I turned to doodling to resist the itch. Drawing on my character sheets isn’t anything new for me — I’ve been doodling on and off since grade school — but I got away from it as I got older. Seeking to focus, I dove back into the art of the illuminated character sheet.
For some people, doodling may be the last thing they’d want to do when attempting to maintain focus, but I’ve always found it easier to pay attention when I’ve got a doodle evolving beneath my pen. By drawing what I’m hearing, I’m subtly reinforcing the game and my character’s place in it. Is it possible to get carried away? Perhaps, but typically I only doodle when I’m waiting for folks to taking their action or there’s some other lull in the game. Otherwise I put down the pens and focus on the task at hand.
So what do I draw? I set some ground rules for myself, since the point here is to reinforce the game and not to get lost in the doodle like some latter-day Lane Meyer. I only draw stuff that’s relevant to my character or sketches inspired from the current adventure.
This leads to recurring themes. Brigga Foehammer, my character for the Blackrazor Guild’s Heart of Darkness online campaign wields the Orb of Madness. This globe allows her to scry a particular area and have black tentacles erupt from the earth and begin attacking her foes.
Obsidian orbs with tentacles that writhe across the character sheet have become recurring motif, as have incarnations of magic items like Flamewave, her magical hand axe.
I added tile formations that surround checkboxes for her “arcane recover”, “second wind”, “action surge”, and “abjuration tradition” special abilities, as well as illustrations of her decanter of endless water and strange monsters such as flaming skulls and floating eyeballs.
The character sheet for Merwyn, my fire elementalist and swordmage, features a Ring of Elemental Fire Command that doubles as a tracker for the number of spell slots he’s expended. There’s also an increasingly complex fiery eyeball representing his embrace of elemental power after surviving the Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.
With my battlemaster Odothar Bronzearm, I sketched a long sword with gems on the blade to represent the number of maneuvers he can make in a day; I color in each pip as he uses a maneuver.
While I’m sketching, I find the exercise both focusing and relaxing. In the longer term, it’s fun to flip through my older character sheets and find these moments in campaign time captured in my illustrations. I can’t say they’re great art, but they are inspired art. The illustrations are also art that brings me back to the game at hand, and for that, they are priceless.
A close up of character sheet artwork from my D&D campaigns. Credit: Ken Newquist.