Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 14, 2013
Over-engineering D&D

My D&D campaign just started the level 4 adventure, which based on previous form will take around 5 sessions. So this weekend I started preparing the adventure after that, at level 5. Love it or hate it, 4th edition D&D combat is a rather technical affair, where good preparation really pays off in terms of making combat shorter and smoother. But I was wondering whether I hadn't over-engineered the initiative tracking in the previous and current adventure.

Basically I have two initiative trackers: One is little riders on top of my DM screen showing the initiative order with all monsters and players involved. The riders have pictures on the side facing towards the players, and names on my side. Very useful so that players know "Oh, it is currently the wizard's turn, so I'm next". But in addition to that I have a pack of 3x5 cards, one for each player and monster, sorted in order of initiative. The cards have some basic stats like speed, defenses, and attacks, and I use the monster cards to keep track of the monster's health and status effects. And it turns out that this isn't ideal. The shortened stat block isn't always sufficient. And of course the monsters tend to lose hit points when their card is *not* on top of the pile, so every time a player does a successful attack I need to find the monster card in the pile.

So while I was preparing the next adventure, in which there are a few self-made monsters I created using the D&D Insider tool, I printed a page with the complete stat blocks of one encounter. And realized that it would be a lot more practical to note the monster's health and status effects on that page instead of on the 3x5 cards. And as the initiative order is already kept track off by the ini riders, I in fact don't need those 3x5 cards at all any more.

Preparation is good, but I do need to watch myself to not over-engineer it. The ultimate goal is to run combat as fast and smoothly as possible, and an excess of notes can hinder that. I think I'm on a good way to find my optimum by experimentation.

I also have a public initiative list for the players and one for me.
I manage my monster stats using a computer program on a laptop.
I find it easier to keep track of health and status effects.
The program also includes dice rollers so that I don't have to roll for every attack.
I'm also using a rider on top of my DM screen to keep initiative. And i also print the sheet of the monsters from the D&D insider tool. But the way i'm tracking HP and conditions is on a separate sheet of paper, on top of the sheet, i write the first few letters of each monsters name and under it, i add its maximum HP. I find it easier this way.
I've just started up a game recently and was looking at how best to keep the monster details as well. Flipping to the page in the book isn't easy with several types in an encounter, and writing it all down isn't feasible either. Also scanning and printing takes up alot of ink. Perhaps monster cards? But not sure they have them and if they did, would i need them all? jeesh, have to think about it and see what I can come up with.
You can place the cards not in a pile, but in a flat queue (like HoMM5 combat queue), and move a card to the end of queue after the actor on it took its turn.
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