low-tech combat and character tracker

I see lots of people talk about using software on their laptops or smartphones for tracking combat in D&D. Mostly, people talk about tracking initiative. This always struck me as weird: I just write down everybody in order on a scrap of paper and throw it out later.

I have seen some tools that show you everyone’s defenses and hit points, and that’s good, but the programs I’ve seen generally stink. I was always happy with my scrap of paper with “Orc - 12” and so on. At the most recent game, though, I think I must’ve said, “What’s your reflex defense, again?” about two dozen times. I’ve been trying to find ways to avoid combat getting boring and repetitive, and eliminating that question seemed like a good way. I’m also rereading the chapters on the fundamentals in DMG and DMG2, and making quick references was encouraged there, too.

The web character builder prints out a little quick ref panel, but it had some things I didn’t want and was missing some things that I did. The last thing I wanted was having to deal with visual clutter while trying to speed up a complex combat. I figured it would be easy to make my own cards, and it was.

I used OmniGraffle to make a roughly 2” x 6” form, and printed it, two up, on 4x6 glossy photo stock that I had sitting around. After a few iterations, I was happy with the result. I bought a small magnetic whiteboard. I’m going to keep the character cards on the board and organize them by initiative. Monster notes can be scribbled onto a 3x5 card and put into the initiative order, too. The exposed whiteboard surface is useful for noting who is bloodied, stunned, or whatever else.

new D&D combat tracking technology

I’ve ordered new magnetic clips to hold the cards so that I can move them with one hand. I think this is going to be a nice improvement, and I look forward to finding out whether or not I’m right.

Written on March 11, 2011