bits, diy

Initiative Trackers

WP_20160109_13_19_45_Rich_LIThere are dozens of ideas floating out there suggesting how best to track initiative at the table. Some DM’s simply jot down a list in their notes. Some prefer to hang folded cards on their screens. There are templates for printing and small whiteboards for marking. Apparently there are dedicated online tools, web sites, programs and apps for this as well.

SlyFlourish writes on the topic as it pertains to his Lazy DM Method and DMDavid wrote one of the best articles I’ve read on the topic. Standing on all of these giants, I made some iniative tracking cards for my games that bring a little flair to the table, help me delegate some work at the beginning of an encounter and make it easy to manage shifting iniative places as they happen.

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bits, dndnext, tools

D&D Next Character Sheet

As I prepare to kick off a new D&D Next (playtest) inspired campaign I went looking for the community’s ideas on alternative character sheets. The one in the playtest packet gets the job done, but I tend to dislike the one-size-fits-all approach to record sheets. More after the break… but this is a snapshot of what I’ve come up with:


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bits, diy, tools

Making the most of the Insider maps archive

Creating high-quality maps for our encounters seems to be an almost universal quest amongst DMs. Everybody has their favorite approach: from Chris Perkins’ Map Fu with the venerable wet-erase battlemat to published poster maps and Dungeon Tiles. Recently, Mike Shea released a short video in which he demonstrated the benefits of sandwiching your dungeon tiles between black toolbox liner and an acrylic sheet. I’ve been using the acrylic sheet for awhile now and can vouch for it’s awesomeness… more on that later.

But I don’t use Dungeon Tiles or poster maps… I’ve always wanted to, but the limited selection of settings and pieces always leaves me wanting more. In the past I’ve played with creating some of my own tiles but, after a lot of work, I had that same “locked in” feeling. What I needed was an almost infinite source of high-quality maps that I could tweak or re-purpose as needed.

Enter the D&D Insider Map Gallery

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bits, diy

More Character Sheets

I’m still playing with the idea of a simpler character sheet to run at the table. I realize that this is one of those decisions that is based purely on personal preference… cards work great for some people, the CB-generated sheets for others,, etc.. In this case, I was interested to see what would happen if I took the D&D Encounters character sheet format to an extreme… could I get a 6th level character on 2 sides of a single page. I built these sheets for 4 of the 5 players in my regular game (the Psion is very happy with his card sleeves).

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bits, diy

Blast & Burst Template


Back in November when I played 4e for the first time with my college doggz, our DM had a couple of measured squares of cardboard that proved really useful in visualizing blast and burst ranges. These simple aids came in surprisingly handy and so I recreated them with PowerPoint.

You’ll find a single slide with blast 3, 4, and 5 square templates. I printed these onto a label sheet which I then stuck to a nice piece of stiff cardboard. A bit of X-ACTO work and voila… squares.

Download Blast & Burst Template for Microsoft PowerPoint (56 KB)

bits, diy

Power Card Template

AtWillPowerAt Sarah Darkmagic’s suggestion, I picked up some card protectors for my players… green for at-will powers, black for daily powers, red for encounter powers, and gold for item cards. Very cool. These work great and make the cut-out, paper powers printed from the Character Builder feel more substantial… it’s a meaningful upgrade, sort of like the difference between cheap plastic poker chips and the weight of a nice clay piece.

At about the same time, I was prepping to give my party their first magic items – some consumable, plus a little armor, etc.. While I think you can print out cards for the published items right from the CB, I wanted an easy way to make custom cards (most of the magic items in my campaign will likely be somewhat custom to enhance their place in the story). This template is the result. The styling is based closely on one of the CB power cards… enjoy.

Download Power Card Template for Microsoft PowerPoint (73 KB)

bits, diy

Cheaper than Minis

Combat encounters in D&D 4e are much more tactical than games I’ve played in the past, relying heavily on combatant positions on the map. I’d love to draw from a rich collection of minis to help bring the game to life for my players, but I need to keep to a budget. In keeping with my approach for condition tokens, I decided to print off some 1” labels and stick them to 1” x 1/8” round wooden cutouts. I used the same technique to insert a tiny magnet in the center of each one.


Since these are for my personal use, I used images from D&D Insider and other Internet sources (Bing Image search is your friend) for the artwork. On monster tokens, I added a number to help differentiate individuals during play. Once the players invest some time in their character, I’m hoping that they eventually provide their own artwork (found or created) for their character’s token.

I think these tokens look great and I’m sure they’ll help my players picture the battle as it unfolds before them. As for ongoing effort, I’ll just need to use my label template to print off new tokens for new monster types when preparing each game. Over time, I suspect that many of the tokens will see a lot of reuse as well. I’m also thinking I can adapt my system for the tokens in the Monster Vault when I get my hands on that.

First game on Wednesday night! I can’t wait.

bits, diy

DIY Condition Tokens

One of the things that really struck me about my first 4e game was the amount of info the players and DM needed to track during combat. While every player is capable of recording their current conditions on their own character sheet, the colored condition markers we used made it easier for the whole party to see how the battle was going. I was quickly sold on the idea of marking conditions on the battlefield.

Unfortunately, other than the fact that RED=BLOODIED, it wasn’t particularly intuitive to remember which colored token indicated which condition. Also, once you had two or three conditions stacked under a player or monster they had a tendency to topple over. And so I set out to tweak the idea a bit – clearly marked condition tokens that stacked neatly.

The general idea was to fashion 1” round tokens each 1/4” thick around the perimeter of which I could apply a label indicating the condition (e.g. “BLOODIED” or “PRONE”). I was hoping to make use of off-the-shelf craft supplies so as to minimize any actual fabrication time.

First Prototypes

I found two types of 1” round wooden cutouts: a 1/8” solid disc and an 1/8” washer-style disc with a 3/8” hole in the middle. When combined I had a Tokens11/4” thick disc with a centered, shallow hole into which I could embed a small rare earth magnet. Around the perimeter I would affix a narrow inkjet label.

It was a solid attempt, but the washer-style cutouts were beveled and I ended up with a bumpy edge which did not make for a great surface for the labels. Trying to even out that bumpy edge turned out to be a bit of work, so I reworked my approach.

Keeping it Simple

For attempt #2 I chose a solid 1/4” disc. The edge was what I needed, but I needed to drill out a small whole for a tiny cylindrical magnet. Dremel at the ready, I dTokens2rilled a small hole in each disc and inserted a small cylinder-shaped magnet. I also made some 1/8” thick tokens for characters and monsters which will have pictures on top, but no labels on the edge. This worked fairly well, but the tricky part is making sure that the whole in each disc is perfectly centered so that they stack nearly. Truth be told, I never got the holes perfectly centered, so they don’t stack as well as I had hoped.


Final Shopping List

If your interested, my final condition tokens were made with these raw materials:

Round Three?

If I were to make a third build attempt, I think I would try swapping the wooden cutouts for 1” interlocking poker chips. These would stack very neatly out of the box, but they are a good bit thinner, so you would need to pre-stack (and probably glue) a few of them together to bulk up to 1/4” thickness. I’d actually stack them slightly over 1/4” thick so that the condition label doesn’t ride the top and bottom edges (which I think makes them prone to peeling).

You could use single chips either as bases for your minis or counters for characters and monsters. That way they would stack nicely on the condition tokens.

The right kind of interlocking Checkers pieces or something would work well too…

To the Table

OK… with tokens complete, I’m almost ready for the table.


Chessex Battlemats

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently purchased a Chessex Battlemat from Amazon. First impressions are excellent… this a high-quality product made of a nice think vinyl. We used one of these during our recent 4e weekend and I was impressed with the wet-erase performance at the time. I’m looking forward to using it in my game.

Now, I’m a big fan of Amazon and have always been very happy with the service, shipping, etc.. In this case, Amazon shipped in a nice elongated box within which I expected to find a nicely rolled mat. Unfortunately, the manufacturer’s packaging within the box was less than perfect. The mat was rolled, yes, but then flattened within a slender shrink-wrap sleeve. The net effect was that when the mat was laid out there was definite series of rolled folds in the mat that made it undulate on the table rather than lay flat.

If it had simply been “memory curl” from being rolled up, I’m pretty sure that a few reverse rolls would have flattened it out, but these folds just wouldn’t go away. I found advice online that suggested that I:

  • lay it out in the sun for a few hours – which was not really an option as it is November in CT and only 40 degrees F in the sun
  • hit it with a hair dryer – I tried this, but after 20 minutes I saw almost no difference and lost patience
  • rub it down with warm water (as suggested on the slip of paper packed with the mat) – also tried with no success, how do you keep a warm cloth warm for more than 30 seconds?

In the end I used painting tape to pull it flat on a table, covered it with a large cutting mat, and piled it high with heavy books for a few days. After two days the mat laid flat, but still had a slight wave to it. A week later the mat is almost perfectly flat… success. I’m going to keep it stored under that cutting mat as a general rule, rolling it up only for travel to and/from games. Come summer, I might try laying it out in the sun to melt away the last vestiges of wave, but it’s probably not necessary.

So, fear not and go ahead and buy one of these mats from Amazon (or elsewhere), just don’t plan on using it for a few days after it arrives… a week’s rest under weight will do wonders.

bits, books

Stuff to Get Started

While my local gaming group hasn’t quite gotten started yet, November was a great month because I was able to do a lot of prep work. In addition to doing a lot of reading and podcast listening, I saw some of my college buddies with whom I used to play D&D. We get together once a year and this year we decided to play a little 4e in addition to our normal geocaching excursions. We played 4 encounters I think, mostly out of Dungeon Delves. Our DM for the weekend has been playing in a regular campaign back home, and so he was a natural to introduce us all to 4e. We had a great time and I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed 4e as much as I thought I would. It’s actually very similar to the house-ruled game that we actually played in college based on AD&D… but that’s another post.

Tactically speaking, the weekend play experience gave me some great insight into what I needed (and what I wanted) for my local campaign. I’m not talking about the story or the campaign yet, but just the mechanics of introducing a new group to the game. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Rules Compendium
    I actually bought this for the weekend, and I’m glad I had it. I may never accumulate all of the printed literature for the game, and certainly not all of it to get started. So the Rules Companion is the perfect summary for me, and the classes, races, feats, powers, and magic items we’ll pull from a couple copies of the PHB in the group and from D&D Insider. I considered the new Red Box Starter Set but, while I’m new to 4e, I’m not new to the game and felt that the Starter Set would be a bit too introductory.
  2. Dice
    Yeah, everybody’s going to want their own set of dice… but I learned a long time ago that one set of dice per person slows down a game. I picked up a Pound-o-Dice from Chessex and will have plenty to go around.
  3. A Dedicated Gaming Table (with a 1” grid and erasable surface)
    OK, that’s not going to happen… so I picked up a Chessex Battlemat. Very nice quality, unfortunate shipping practices… more on that later.
  4. Condition Tokens
    This is a big one for me. Our DM had these great little colored, wooden rounds that we could stack under our mini or token on the battlefield to indicated conditions like “bloodied” or “prone”. It really helped us visualize everything that was going on, so I knew I wanted something similar. But I had a hard time remembering what color meant what, so I thought an improvement could be made… that’s another post.
  5. Miscellaneous Encounter Bits
    There is no question that 4e is still a role-playing game, but I think Wizards was smart to introduce some elements from board and card games to enhance the experience. To that end, I’ve got a simple burst/blast template for quickly visualizing area of effect (thanks for the idea sLim) and an idea for a simple initiative tracker so that the players can all easily see where they are in turn order. More on that to come.

That’s about it I think. Oh sure, there’s tons more to prepare around the campaign itself, but don’t despair… we’ll get there.