BUILDING D&D JOURNALS FOR ACCESSIBILITY
Updated: Mar 16
A discussion about using journal tools to make Dungeons and Dragons more comprehensive.
We all love Dungeons and Dragons, but for some, the number of rules, dice rolls, spell lists and gameplay mechanics can make the game a real challenge. Differences in learning styles, different abilities and play styles all affect how easy we find it to play. There are many ways to improve the accessibility of D&D, and one of the key ways to make things easier is to keep conversations open between players and game masters and encourage asking questions. This is particularly helpful for new players as it lets them benefit from other players’ knowledge, and for new DMs, as players are more likely to understand if something goes wrong or becomes confusing.
Aside from this, how else can we make D&D more accessible to players, especially those who find the mechanics hard to grasp? Online tools like D&D Beyond, Roll20 and Foundry can help players who play online, but what about if you play in person or enjoy physical prompts that can be personalised or colour-coded in your games? This is where player aids can really help. Custom character sheets, booklets or journals, trackers to track spell and ability use, spell cards, or even rule reference cards can help everyone feel included, organised and free to enjoy the wonders that D&D brings.
We move on now to two D&D player aid creators, who share their thoughts on how player aids can create a more accessible space in tabletop gaming.
First things first, let’s introduce ourselves briefly.
Hi, I am Lauren from The Tinkerporium. I started making D&D character books after a few friends remarked on the bullet journal layout I had created for my first ever character. When presented with my player sheet, I was overwhelmed – the text was tiny, the boxes were really small and the layout wasn’t working for my brain. I felt disorganised and confused, so I sat down and drew it all out in a journal how I liked it.
Hi everyone, I’m Dan from DanDMadeEasy. I often DM games and I spend most of my prep time creating things to make games run more smoothly. Eventually, I turned this into a business! Part of my work history is as a Technical Writer, which is all about making difficult concepts easy to understand, and I feel blessed that I can bring these skills to the D&D community by making helpful player aids.
Smoothing the learning curve
DanDMadeEasy: There are a lot of rules in D&D, and anything that can make them easier to understand and remember can really help a new adventurer out! Many things that can smooth the learning curve are also useful for seasoned adventurers, too, either to help their gameplay or to help other players at the table! What is your experience, and can you share some ideas of things that you feel help players with the games?
The Tinkerporium: Personally, I need maps and visual aids. I am a visual person and I struggle to visualise ranges, distances and sizes without a map. I also find long lists of spells and actions complicated. When it comes to player aids, I have seen some wonderful ones that can turn the game into a visual feast, such as spell cards, trackers, tokens and character books.
DanDMadeEasy: That’s so true. It’s a really rich marketplace and there’s something out there to fit every player. There are countless independent creators that create all sorts of player aids in a variety of visual styles.
The Tinkerporium: What is one of the best aids that you feel can make D&D more accessible to players?
DanDMadeEasy: For me, the core of any character is their character record. The more organised and complete this is, the better. Default character sheets aren’t very easy to use, but many creators have really put the effort into improving accessibility by providing custom character sheets or character journals that can really make things easier!
The Tinkerporium: I agree, there are some really well-thought-out character books, journals and sheets out there and finding one that works for you can really help. When designing my own character journals, I really wanted to make sure there was space for a character to grow, and that key information was really easy to find. I designed my books to be user-friendly, helpful and adaptable, using my own experience of using them to improve the layout. You make character books too, how have you designed them to help Players?
DanDMadeEasy: Yes, I do – I make hyper-customizable print at-home character journals that support multiclass characters while also presenting abilities in a focused way (think “Second Wind” rather than “Encounter abilities”). I’ve thought a lot about accessibility in my journals. For example, I’ve provided a visual reminder of which level each class gets access to each ability (such as a specific spell slot). I’ve also included reminders for things that adventurers often forget about, such as adding your Constitution bonus to hit dice rolls, and making concentration saves when you take damage while you’re concentrating on a spell!
The Tinkerporium: That sounds great, I do find that concentration saves can be so easily forgotten when I play because I am usually busy trying to figure out my next moves. Why are there so many things to do? Maybe the game should come with reference cards as you get in board games, which list all the things you can do on your turn of combat.
DanDMadeEasy: It’s funny that you mention that – I’ve made just that in the form of a free actions reference that you can print out, laminate, and bring to your game table. This is available to download on my Discord server. For a game table, the fewer time players need to think about what they want to do or calculate outcomes, the smoother the game runs. Can you think of anything else that makes this easier?
The Tinkerporium: If we are talking combat, I like to think about what my character would do while other players are taking their turns (while I listen in, of course!) or before the session. I have a go-to actions list in my character book, where I list anything I would class as an action my character could take. For spells, I have a page for each spell level with a little section for page numbers from the source books, and a notes section, though using spell cards and a separate spell slot tracker would be another great idea for visual players like me. What about out of combat?
DanDMadeEasy: Out of combat, we’re mostly talking skills, non-combat abilities, and tracking how your abilities refresh when you rest. I thought about this when developing my character journal. Opposite my journal’s Skills page, I’ve included a specific section for Social abilities (basically anything that could be relevant outside of combat). By splitting this out of the “Features and traits” you get in the default character sheet and listing them opposite skills, it’s way easier to figure out which of your character’s abilities are relevant to the situation they’re in. I’ve also included handy references to when specific abilities refresh (on either a long rest, short rest, or for some abilities, after other periods such as in 7 days' time (the Cleric’s Divine Intervention ability))! How about you?
The Tinkerporium: I kept to the features and traits pages, but gave my book lots of them, so players have the freedom to customise them themselves. Personally, I colour-code mine by colouring in each title. I did, however, split out and create a separate Companion Stats area for classes like the Wildfire Druid.
Accessibility for adventurers with learning difficulties
The Tinkerporium: Let's move on to players with learning difficulties. This is a subject I have very little knowledge of, but one that does come up in the D&D community and I feel we should address it. Do you build your aids with learning difficulties in mind?
DanDMadeEasy: I’m also not an expert on this, but I feel that many of the tools that can help people with learning difficulties access D&D are helpful to everyone. Clever use of colours and graphics, and providing adequate spacing can all make things much easier to understand. In my player aids, I use graphics wherever possible – for example dice graphics to represent dice rolls and infographics to explain concepts such as how hit dice get turned into hit points and how a Sorcerer can spend and gain Sorcery points.
The Tinkerporium: I like the use of infographics. For me, I kept my designs simple but big, while adding space for making notes. I am big into colour-coding as it helps me understand and pick out things quickly, so I have put in sets of colour coding keys for things like proficiencies, advantage and disadvantage. All my pages can be coloured in to suit the player.
Want to make your D&D games more accessible?
If you are looking to add player aids to your table, or want to find some for yourself then check out ‘The Tabletop Creator Hub’. It is packed full of amazing creators, making a wide variety of items and D&D player aids to make your games more accessible! To help check out the inspired works of these creators listed below:
DanDMadeEasy provides accessible player aids, including a hyper-customizable Character Journal (currently in development through a Kickstarter campaign)
Dungeontokens creates wooden tokens for features like advantage, bless, and tracking hit points.
DM’s Workshop has DM sheets and combat trackers to make game masters’ lives a little easier.
Warlock's Quill offers downloadable files for sheets like player combat trackers, session notes and NPC notes.
Discount Dungeoneer has minis available for visual additions to your games - as well as a spell slot tracker for caster classes.
Until next time, happy adventuring!
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