by Mike Shea on 20 April 2009
We all know the primary needs for a good D&D game. Books, dice, pencils, miniatures, a battle mat, these are all either required or very helpful in playing D&D 4th Edition. There are, however, a few gaming supplies that will greatly improve your game, speed up battles, or make it easier and more fun for your players to play. Today we'll talk about three of these cheap and useful game aids. Please note, I am not the original source of these ideas, many came from Enworld's forums, but I felt they deserved a deeper discussion in a dedicated article. Let us begin.
The 3x5 Note Card
A lot of DMs have used 3x5 cards to run most of their games. A 3x5 card is just big enough to pack in the important details of a monster, write out a quick skill challenge, outline the five main scenes of an adventure, or pass them as secret notes to your players.
These cards also work very well as initiative trackers. Take about five 3x5 cards, cut them in half vertically, fold them in half, and write the name of your characters on the bottom edge of both sides of the card. Have your players yell their initiative, and drop the cards from high to low over the edge of your DM Screen. Make one card an arrow card, " ->", to show the direction of initiative. With the names on both sides of the screen, both you and your players can see who is up and who is up next. Write more cards labeled "monster 1" to "monster 5" to mark monsters in initiative order. This is a nearly free way to track initiative and is the best method I've seen so far.
The Soda Bottle Ring
The soda bottle ring has quickly become a popular way of marking miniatures with quarries, curses, challenges, and marks. When pried off of the bottle, these colored rings can represent every possible mark from a Warlock's curse (black) to a ranger's quarry (green). They are easily draped over a miniature without having to lift the miniature off of the mat. The only disadvantage is the crooked eye of your co-workers as you raid the recycle bin and run off with a pile of soda rings yelling "YES!" when you find one of the elusive purple rings.
The Poker Chip
There are a couple of uses for physical tokens in D&D 4th Edition outside of miniatures or marks. Using tokens for action points makes them easier to track and more fun for players who can throw them in right before rolling a 20. Poker chips work very well for this. They're cheap to acquire, at about a buck for a box, and come in a range of colors. DMs can use white chips labeled "+1" with a Sharpie as a reward for playing a turn quickly. This "momentum" bonus helps speed the game along when your more tactical players might spend valuable minutes worrying about the right positioning.
Not every D&D accessory need cost a lot of money. With these three aids your game will run faster and smoother without breaking the bank. Please share any other cheap game aids have you found over the years so we can all make our games that much better.