Sometimes you only find out you need something once you don't have it with you.
Last weekend I was playing with a semi-regular group, but not at the regular location. I brought dice, including a smashing big one. I brought a ruleset, even though I rarely look at it during gaming. I brought my little webbook, with an adventure file of what we played before. I even had some jpegs of maps to use, just in case.
But I didn't bring character sheets. And my wife, usually the leading player, forgot her character booklet too. Now forgetting sheets isn't that uncommon. Some players always forget their sheets, and some write a new one for the same character each session. I don't really mind. I play a story style game, cinematic if I'm into it, and I rarely need exact stats. I mostly need a pretty solid idea of what a hero is like, and I'll wing their scores.
But to have a solid idea, you might actually need a character sheet. And I kind of forgot about that. My wife complained that she was running out of options because she forgot what this hero could do. Yeah, she knew about the few high, typical skills, but not about the many smaller ones that give flavor and extra options. Telepathy and Magickal Suggestion all right. But what else? This wasn't a regular character, you might guess.
And because she didn't know it well, neither did I as a GM. Options became a bit more narrow. Another player, who plays less often, and is a relative newbie suddenly realized that she also might be missing her character sheet. She had been playing a few sessions without a sheet already, because, well, she left it at home somewhere in an obscure place. Like in a dustbin or a box in the attic. Maybe that was why she was running out of options sooner, and found herself sitting just waiting what came at her hero. Instead of taking action for herself.
Maybe she would have been less of a rookie player if she had looked at her skill list and background notes Maybe she'd say, hey, I have night vision! So I'll sneak around and have a look in near pitch dark! Or she might have used her history knowledge to see if she could tell about the allegiance of an older NPC. Or she might just have used another weapon.
I kind of forgot, and often thought that a character sheet may be stifling. I thought you don't really need one, and can let your imagination roam free. But maybe that's not (all) true. Maybe you do need a sheet with descriptors. A sheet with constraints, to actually spark your imagination.
How about you? Do you like to play with, or without a character sheet? Do you think a good game needs them? I'd like to know.