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.