by Mike Shea on 9 July 2012
Back at the Dungeons and Dragons Experience in February of this year, I learned a new way to handle initiative tracking perfect for the lazy dungeon master. I learned it from organized play tzar and published D&D author, Teos Abadia, who goes by Alphastream on twitter. He says it came from Paul Lauper Ellison, a DC Area gamer, during the Living Grayhawk days. And now I give it to you.
Take nine or so 3x5 note cards and fold each one in vertically in half. Then number them on both sides with the biggest black marker you can find from 1 to 9. When you're done, you should have a set of folded 3x5 tent cards numbered 1 to 9 written on both sides.
When it comes time for initiative, have everyone roll their initiative result and then hand them out, with the highest initiative winnner starting at 1 and counting down. Each player puts their initiative card in front of them. This makes it easy to see who has what initiative count number.
Make sure to include the monsters which get their own cards set up in front of the DM. With six players and three different types of monsters, you will use up all nine cards. Fewer PCs or monsters mean you won't need all nine cards. If you need more than nine, your game is too complicated.
When you begin, look around the table to see who has card 1. After that person takes his or her turn, look for the next card down the list and so on.
At the end of the battle, have the players throw in their initiative cards to prepare for the next battle.
One way to make your life easier and help keep your players' attention on the game is to delegate the handling of initiative. At the beginning of your game, ask for a volunteer to handle initiative. If no one is forthcoming, ask someone in particular to help you. With the initiative cards in the player's possession, he or she can call for rolls and pass out the cards. This makes it easier for you to roll monster initiatives and give your scores to the delegated lord of initiative.
Unlike previous initiative card systems, this one requires no DM screen upon which to hang your cards. Some DMs, myself included, now forgo the screen to keep dice rolls open and knock down the physical barrier between DMs and players. Letting go of your DM screen also keeps your DM kit small.
To keep your cards always standing upright (*snicker*), use a binder clip to keep them together when not in use. Make sure to bind them in the folded position, not flattened, so they'll hold their shape over time. If treated right, this single set of cards could last the rest of your life. These cards are an excellent accessory to throw into your DM walk-away kit.
If you enjoyed this article, please take a look at Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips and Running Epic Tier D&D Games. You can also use these links to pick up my three favorite DM books, the Dungeon Master's Kit, the Dungeon Master's Guide 2, and the Monster Vault. Need some battle maps? Pick up some Gamemastery Flip-Maps from Troll and Toad, an official Sly Flourish sponsor.