Keeping track of combat in D&D

One of the things I’ve struggled with as I’ve learned to run Dungeons and Dragons games has been keeping track of what is going on in combat. I’ve often been running through the initiative order and realised I’ve skipped a player or a monster’s turn. Either that, or I’ve lost track of which one out of half a dozen zombies is closest to zero hit points and just had to make a guess.

For the last two adventures I’ve run I’ve tried out a new way of tracking initiative order and monster hit points. I was at Officeworks in January and I noticed this product, and I realised it could help me so I bought it.

I’ll demonstrate how I’ve been using them.

Say that my party of adventurers is exploring the temple of a forgotten god. As they enter a chamber they’re surprised by a pack of gricks who were camouflaged against the grey stone.

I’ve got to roll initiative for the gricks and my players will roll initiative for their own characters.

What has generally happened for me in this situation is that I’m trying to get everyone’s initiatives written down on an index card in order. Not only do I have to get their initiative written down, I’ve also got to write down their name and try to make sure I leave enough space for other characters that might just just above or just below in initiative order. What tends to happen is that everyone is telling me their initiative at the same time, so I have to ask some of the players to tell me again what they rolled. Then I have to roll for the monsters and add the monsters rolls. Keeping track of initiative in this way is overwhelming for me, and it slows down the flow of the game.

So what I’m doing now is using a table with two columns – one of the adventurers and any friendly non-player characters and one for monsters and any unfriendly NPCs. (Because it has worked well I’ll probably print a fresh copy and laminate it.)

Before we start playing I write down the name on each player character on a flag choosing a colour that I’ll associate with that character, so that when we start combat I can just add them to the right spot in the lefthand column. (There’s normally enough space on the flag to also add their armour class, which is often handy to have their. I haven’t done that in this example though.) When I roll for the monsters initiative I choose a different coloured flag for each monster and add that flag to the righthand column. I also add the monster’s hitpoints to the flag, which I can update throughout combat.

The fact that each monster has a different flag helps to make sure I know which grick or zombie or whatever it might be has its turn next and how many hitpoints each one has.


If you’d like to use the table I’ve made to track initiative, you can download it here.


Each Sunday I’m publishing a monster illustration I’ve made for use in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. (Tomorrow’s illustration will be the grick that I’ve used in this demonstration.) You can download the files and use them in your own games if you back me on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/ChrisABooth

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