Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Excel!


When did this turn into a blog about accounting, you ask? Well, it didn't. Truth is, The trusty spreadsheet program known as Excel has proven to be one of the most useful and versatile tools in my GM toolbox. In fact, when I first started gaming, I ran my whole game from an Excel spreadsheet. Since then, I have scaled back my use of the software at the game table. However, there are still a number of game management-related tasks that I take care of using the program... namely the tracking of experience and loot.

Let's break it down, shall we?

Experience Tracking:
Experience, or (XP) is the metric by which characters in Dungeons & Dragons gain levels, and by doing so, gain new powers. The formula for doling out xp in my chosen edition (3.5) is a convoluted affair full of abbreviations and formulas based around a group of four characters. Essentially, if a group of four PCs (player characters) overcomes a monster of a CR (challenge rating) equal to their level, they gain a certain amount of XP (experience points). The amount of XP dished out fluctuates if the challenge faced is of a higher or lower level than the party, and if the number of PCs is greater or less than the ideal group of four. Strictly speaking, the system is a downright mess.

Anyway, the formula for actually calculating XP is far too convoluted for me to bother with, because I have seven players, which is 1.75x the ideal adventuring group. So, for calculating the XP in any given encounter, I turn to a handy online tool I found. I just plug my characters' levels and the baddies' levels into the fields and it churns out the XP each character should receive.

That is when Excel comes in. Since my game sessions tend to be short (on a weeknight) my players often do not reach a point where it would be appropriate to hand out XP. When you add in the fact that we only play about twice per month, this can make it a real pain to keep track of where the characters stand experience-wise, and when they can expect to hit the next level. This planning is further complicated by the fact that I hand out bonus XP for exceptionally good roleplaying or problem-solving during a session and 1/2 xp for any character whose player was absent. This is why, after I have calculated the XP for an encounter, I plug it in to a custom XP Tracker* I built in... you guessed it! Excel!!

The Tracker tells me how much experience each player gained in each encounter and each session of play as well as the total XP of each player and how many points they have to go to reach the next level. This can be a tremendous help when my players start complaining that it feels like they haven't leveled in years. I can just check my tracker and say... "Chill out, it's only been 4 encounters since the last time you leveled!"

Loot Tracking:
Another aspect of running a tabletop RPG which is a lot of fun for the players but a potential headache for the GM is keeping track of all the spoils. If I had a nickle for every time I had this conversation:

Player: "Hey, I have this unidentified potion written on my character sheet, do you know what it is?"
Me: "Do you recall where your character found it?"
Player: "No, it's been on there for the past few months though..."
Me: *sound of minor aneurysm*

I would have a lot of nickles and the aneurysms to match. That is why, I once again turned to Excel and borrowed one of the essential tools I use in my day job (in museums) the catalog number. Simply put, I built an ever-growing loot list in which each item is assigned a unique ID number. My formula for the ID breaks down like so:

[party level].[session].[item]

Portrait of Spear and Magic Helmet, with Fudd and Wabbit
So, a scroll numbered 9.61.003 was obtained when the party was an average level of 9, during session 61 and it was the third piece of loot acquired in the session. Now, when I hand out treasure, I have my players write down the number in front of the item they got, just in case it takes them several months in real-time before we get a session where they can sit down and identify all their ill-gotten spears and magic helmets. As long as they wrote down the catalog number, it is a simple matter of checking the number against my spreadsheet to determine the object's true identity.

*If you are a GM looking for an XP tracking system, feel free to snag the one I have linked. It's an Excel 2007 document, so people with earlier versions might need to convert it. You will also, of course need to clear the data from the main part of the tracker and change the character names to fit your own.


  1. This is really pretty ingenious. I know people who use notebooks. Imagine the aneurysms.

  2. Well, I have actually switched to a notebook for actually running my game. It seems a bit counter-intuitive, but I find many low-tech aspects of game management to be more efficient than high-tech solutions. Resource and XP tracking is, however, NOT one of those aspects.

  3. Nice! Being a fan of using Google Docs for everything, I converted your excel doc to a Google Docs template at

  4. Does the functionality still work in Google Docs?

  5. Should work unless I missed something. I don't actually have Excel to open it up and check. I uploaded yours to Google Docs and fixed the couple formulas which broke on import because they were referencing the specific sheet. XP calculates as Total + sum(player's column) and figures out the average number of encounters to the next level. If I missed something I'd be happy to add it.

    Oh, and I've made it a proper template now so its easy to create a new copy and test it out:


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