Marking your opponents

One of the difficulties in D&D’s combat is system is keeping track of all the different status effects. It’s not so bad when it comes to tracking the effects on your own character; you can use the boxes on a character sheet, status markers, or status effect cards to record multiple effects. Each player also has motivation to track the effect’s they’ve put on enemies, like status conditions and ongoing damage. The DM has the same burden but for all the monsters, of which there could be many.

What’s more difficult to track are the non-constant effects. That is effects that vary depending on which character’s viewing it. For instance if a monster provides combat advantage to some but not all of the PCs, line of sight, hiding, cover, etc. In particular this was an issue I touched on in my last post on stealth. When a monster rolls a stealth check against the PC’s passive perception, they may be hidden from 0-N players. In this case it may be important for a player to know if his character can see the monster, and it’s important for the DM to know which PCs can see the monster. This situation seems pretty difficult to track on the board. If I get time before our next game, I may pick up a small piece of plexiglass and make a “visibility token” with 5 or 6 small boxes that represent each player and can be marked for depending on who it’s hiding from. Doing the same for tracking player visibility is harder as there are generally a ton of opponents… however that’s a problem for the DM.

Another thing I wish was easier to track on the board is line of sight/cover. I have trouble remembering the deal about figuring out the unobstructed path from one corner to many corners. We’ve tried string and dowels, but rarely is there a nice flat path between two minis. Usually there is some kind of terrain with hard-to-follow rules about how it affects cover, as well as other minis in the way.  This prevents laying down something straight on the table.  This seems like the thing an electronic board would excel at (that and light/concealment). But without the $10,000 for a Microsoft Surface, I can’t think of viable alternative that isn’t more annoying than string and counting.

I plan on eventually getting around to reviewing some of the tools we use already for marking up the map, but in the meantime I’m interested in what people use, especially if players use any software that is more than a character sheet to help with this problem. I found this list on the ‘net and its pretty good.

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3 thoughts on “Marking your opponents

  1. Hello Mike! I chanced upon your site while surfing. Pretty solid post. 🙂 Here are the main things that we use for our games:

    For conditions, we’ve come into the habit of using 1″ cheap poker chips. We use the red ones for bloodied, blue/white for marked, and we repainted a number as green for quarry. In another game, marks are kept as white chips, while the warlock’s curse gets the blue.

    For some reason, we rarely get LoS issues. When the monster becomes hidden from everyone, I simply take away its mini from the board. But if at least one character can see it, I simply mention which of them can see it. My players tend to act accordingly based on what they perceive their character to know.

    The only real issue that we’ve had comes with summoned creatures. Which LoS should matter?As the attacks come from the summons, and not from the character, it seems to imply that it’s the summoned creature’s LoS that’s important. But since the actions come from the character (when the summoner is unconscious, the summon can’t move about), an argument can be made wherein a character can’t direct the summon to attack unless it can see the target, too. The rules seem to be a bit unclear with this.

  2. @beej!,

    Does a character share some mental link with the summoned creature? If so then I think LoS from the summed creature should be obvious. If not it’s hard to say how the summoner can direct the creature, what if that creature doesn’t even speak the caster’s language? I think in 4e, it’s best to treat it like other attacks, like Flaming Sphere or a ranged area attack, where it only matters if the caster can see the square the effect originates in. Of course I’m not sure I’d let a caster move an effect out of LoS.

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