Minis Tips Series Finale: Marking and Condition Tracking

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0542

A Brief Word From Johnn

My 2nd Favourite Adventure Of All Time Gets New Maps

I cut my GMing teeth on B2: Keep on the Borderlands. I’ve GM’d that awesome adventure 8 times as a campaign starter.

Sandbox Exploration + NPCs + Evil Cult = Awesome Gaming

The Weem has posted new fan maps for the caves, which are beautiful. You can get the cave layout with or without trees, and there’s a map for players. Dang, how I want to run this one again!

I’m Offline For A Couple Weeks

I will be away from computers and the internet for awhile! Feel free to send in your reader tips and questions and feedback. I will reply personally to all emails when I’m back online.

My hands are shaking already. What will I do without the internet? Sounds like a good time to roll some dice, to me.

Expect the next issue of Roleplaying Tips at the end of the month.

GM’s Day sales Until March 7

You can get great deals right now at RPGNow with their annual GM’s Day Sale.

And this year Assassin’s Amulet is part of the sale! Get a 25% discount:

Reward yourself for being a great GM.

How do I know you are a great GM?

You care enough to learn how to be better! I know that because you subscribe to this GMing tips newsletter.

It’s a rare and great trait for a person who wants to be better at something to do something about it. It takes guts, action and energy – which is why self-development is such an uncommon path for people to follow.

So congratulations for striving to improve your GMing! That’s my goal too.

Have a great week learning how to be a better GM!

Minis Tips Series Finale: Marking and Condition Tracking

Last year I held a contest for minis tips and lots of entries poured in. Out of your great ideas, five categories emerged:

#1 Minis for frugal gamers

#2 Non-tactical use of minis

#3 Flying and invisible minis Text Version.

#4 Tactical gaming Text Version.

Today, we tackle the final category: marking and condition tracking.

Knowing who’s wounded, who has what condition and other battlefield statuses can be tricky.

Use the tips below to run smoother, faster combats with your Minis.

1. If a PC suffers from anything that impedes movement, or is tripped or stunned, I lay the mini on its back. I put it back upright when it stands or recovers.

If the character or monster is dead or dying, I place it on its stomach, unless the combatant has no way of recovering.

While they won’t always lay in the appropriate position due to weapons or design, it quickly gives a general idea of their state without having to ask.

2. Most DDM figures are soft enough that you can stick a coloured push-pin into the fig without mangling the mini. [Comment from Johnn: try running the mini under hot water for a couple secs first].

3. Use putty tack stuff for putting posters on the wall to mark minis. Make flags out of toothpicks and stickers to represent numbers, conditions or whatever you want.

When you want to mark a mini, attach the putty to the mini’s base and stick the toothpick in the putty.

Using the pin as a post, you can lace different colored beads (which come in cheap tumbler/organizers at craft stores) to represent different effects.

It’s addictive. You’ll eventually find heart beads for dominate effects, skull beads for dying folks, and elemental-colored beads for ongoing damage (one bead per 5 points).

4. Poker chips. I bought cheapo, generic, plastic multi- colored poker chips from Walmart.

In large battles, I use the colored chips to indicate damage status of a monster by slipping a poker chip under the mini on the battlemat.

This way, the players can see the damage state of everyone on the battlemat at once.

5. If a combatant has an ability that affects anyone within 5′ of base contact, place a poker chip under the mini in question. Poker chips are big enough to poke out around the base of most single-character figs.

They come in different colors so you can track different effects.

Need the same thing for larger figs? Save the lids from plastic food containers and use the size that just sticks out around the base.

6. If you use a lot of similar minis (especially pre-painted types) you can distinguish among them easily by painting the edges or tops of their bases with numbers.

That way, players can call out exactly which monster he’s attacking. “I’ll target Orc #14.”

[Comment from Johnn: Good tip. I use numbered stickers you can get at dollar stores.]

7. Just as player characters have different attributes and statistics, all my monsters and enemies have varying attributes. To keep track of which foe has been hit and its current hit point I use an Excel spreadsheet.

There is a color-coded entry for each foe in an encounter. I then have a dab of colored paint (fingernail polish works well also) on the base of each mini. This makes identification simple.

For example, my PCs are being attacked by 4 orcs. Each mini has a dab of paint on its base: red, orange, yellow, and green. The stats for each orc is shown in Excel with corresponding colors.

As each orc takes damage, I subtract hit points accordingly. This is fun because each orc has slightly different defense values, hit points and other attributes.

Now players cannot be sure about the details of each foe. No longer can they say, “This orc has taken 45 hit points of damage, therefore 5 more and he’s dead.”

8. Hang soft drink bottle cap safety rings on minis to denote states and status. The Coke ring is red and used for bloodied enemies. Pepsi is blue and used to mark creatures. Other brands are white and used for movements conditions like slow, immobilized and so on.

9. Many tabletop and pen-and-paper systems suffer from status overload. A single miniature can be bloodied, dazed, slowed, immobilized, marked, quarried and suffering from any number of maladies or boons.

You could keep all this information on a note card, but play bogs down when you’re checking a note card for every mini during every turn of combat.

I use the rings from two-liter soda bottles (that little bit below the cap) and colored foam sheets cut into 1″ squares (available at any dollar store in the craft section).

The squares represent common statuses — red for bloodied, yellow for stunned, brown for slow, and so on. The rings represent common marks from party members — red for a fighter’s mark, blue for a sword mage’s aegis, green for a ranger’s quarry, and so forth.

Keep your squares and rings in a zip lock bag and distribute rings to players so they can keep track of their own marks and such.

10. Our group uses small, multicolored elastic hair bands to mark various conditions by hanging them on convenient bits of the mini. The tiny spring clamps are especially good for movement effects, and we use the red rings to denote half health.

11. I bought a box of stickers from my craft store for about $5. There are literally thousands of different colored stickers in there. They come in squares, triangles, circles and hearts, and are one inch and smaller.

I managed to dig out about 300 circles that fit perfectly under the standard minis. The trick is to keep using the same colors for the same effects. This makes it clear to everyone.

We use green for hunter’s quarry and fighter marks, yellow for dazed or immobilized, blue for cold or slow, orange for fire and so on.

12. Use glass beads to measure how many rounds the Haste spell lasts, to mark out 13 gnolls that unexpectedly show up, to mark where a PC drops their spear, to count hero points.

Use a red bead for Flaming Sphere spell, a blue bead for Spiritual Weapon spell, a clear bead for the wizard’s familiar they always forget they have.

 13. I use the battle mat to track spell effects and conditions in Savage Worlds. Once an effect is active I make a note of it right on the map.

I use a line of circles to indicate rounds (most powers in SW are three-round duration) and mark them off at the beginning of each round.

You can also mark PC bonuses and penalties on the map, since characters don’t move around too much once they’ve engaged an enemy, and since most effects last a full round anyway.

So, if a character uses a wild attack and is at -2 parry for one round, you mark that on the map next to the character. Even if they move, writing it down where everyone can see makes it more likely that someone will remember.

14. When monsters are killed don’t remove the mini from play, just lay them on their side. Players will remain wary and uncertain whether their opponent is prone, unconscious or dead.

15. For condition tracking, we use a d4 or d6 on the base of the model and rotate them to count down turns until the effect fades.

16. Beer bottle caps fit perfectly around the base of official WotC medium-size minis. Get lots of different colors for different conditions and marks.

Reader Tip Request

Aquatic Adventures

RPT reader Christopher L. asks:

I’m starting a campaign that is almost entirely aquatic, where all the PCs are aquatic and the world above the water is hostile to life.

I have been having trouble figuring out how to map combat, since most combats will be highly three dimensional and I’ll have floating obstacles providing cover at times.

And if you have any general suggestions for aquatic campaigns, I’d appreciate them.

Readers, if you have any tips or advice for Christopher, drop me a note: [email protected]

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The Power Of Good In Your RPG

From John Simcoe

At my game recently, I’ve tried something completely new: I forced myself to include good-aligned creatures in the adventure mix.

Now if you’ve played role-playing games at all, you’ve no doubt realized the game often doesn’t involve much role-playing at all.

Nope. Instead, it’s about killing things and taking their stuff. Yes, it’s an overused phrase, but it’s overused because it’s easy to fall in that rut.

Far too often, wandering encounters are simply a “bag of hit points” waiting to be emptied.

In my latest campaign, I decided to change that. I wanted to use all those cool creatures that fill up the monster books, but they just don’t get any use.

Why not? Because they, like the adventurers, are good guys. Pitting them against one another doesn’t make sense in the same way it’s always silly that superheroes fight with one another. Why do superheroes fight? Because the writer wants to see what happens.

In an RPG, that kind of experience makes even less sense. Some characters would be opposed to such a battle. Just the same, some players would be opposed to such a fight.

So what’s a GM to do?

I made a promise to myself: At least half of the “wandering encounters” would include a creature or person that wouldn’t necessarily fight the characters.

  • Sometimes they would talk.
  • Sometimes they would offer help.
  • Sometimes they would just be there, hardly paying attention to the adventurers.

But most importantly, I made them exist, and that helps flesh out the world I’ve been constructing.

It also forces the players to do a little roleplaying. They don’t have to kill. They don’t have to run. They don’t have to watch their backs. They just have to talk.

Good Encounter Seeds

So what kind of things can you do with all those good creatures? Here are some ideas:

  • Use a good creature to establish a retreat point. If the characters get back there, they’re safe.
  • Use a good creature to provide limited support, such as healing, power boosts or curse removal.
  • Use a good creature to offer back story. Let them explain histories and relationships the players haven’t realized.
  • Use a good creature to warn the adventurers. Perhaps they need to know about getting supplies, a trap or even that what lies ahead is too tough for them.
  • Use the good creature to show the adventurers what to do. Maybe they spot the creature activating a magic device, appropriately dealing with a clever opponent, or offering their service to a powerful patron.
  • Use a good creature as a sentry. If the players are trusting enough, they can take a break, recover from their wounds and even leave some of their stuff with the good creature.
  • Use a good creature to assign some temporary abilities. Maybe the adventurers need to be able to breathe water, shrink or grow some wings. Maybe the good creature can do that.
  • Use a good creature to provide some transport. Not all creatures are the same size. Maybe it can give the players a ride on its back. Maybe they can open an inter-dimensional gate.
  • Use a good creature to show the players there’s more to the world. Sometimes, things have nothing to do with the players, and a good guy just doing his daily activities is enough to show them that.
  • Use a good creature to fill a role. Maybe the adventurers lack a healer or someone who can bypass a lock. The good creature can, and he sticks with them to fulfill that role.
  • Use a good creature as cannon fodder. Let the good creature join the group in combat, but have it fall early. This gives the adventurers a sense of their foes powers and adds a heap of drama to the game.

These are just a few ideas. There’s plenty more you can do.

But the best thing of all is it gets your players talking in-character…and not fighting. They can save that for the bad guys.