Here’s what we do in my games, as DM or player. Use any of these ideas or tools to help you and your friends more easily track the chaos of combat and save some precious session time:
Conditions: We use colored hair bands and bottle rings instead of solid tokens, since they’re a) inexpensive, and b) can often fit around minis instead of underneath, saving some space. Kudos to Mike Shea of Sly Flourish for the fantastic bottle ring idea. His Three Cheap 4e Game Aids post alone is worth its weight in platinum!
Condition Cards: We also use condition cards – a short summary of its rules on a power-sized card, next to the player or DM. You can find the PDFs of the ones I like best @ Weem’s Updated 4e Condition Cards. I’ve seen many others, but Weem’s are best I’ve found so far because they have a nice design, some color, a quick, simple visual or icon on them, plus the rules. Perfect to put right in front of the player or DM as they happen. Efficient, space-saving, and they don’t get in the way of seeing the battlemap or minis.
Zones: We also use chenelle stems / pipe clears for zones or different types of lingering areas (illumination, auras, etc.). Like Sly Flourish has mentioned in at least one of his articles or videos, a trip into a Michael’s or similar arts & crafts store and a few bucks is all you need for these.
Condition Ring Colors: I developed this list based on some common and reasonable associations, visuals or themes for the given color, so we could remember them easier:
Most Common Conditions
Bloodied: Red = Duh, blood! And red light, stop, this is important to pay attention to.
Stunned: Pink = About as horrible as Bloodied, so similar in color, but brighter, because maybe it IS more horrible.
Dazed: Yellow = Yellow light, caution, danger. Not as horrible as being bloodied, but in some ways, close.
Dominated: Black = You’re wearing a black hat now, you’re one of the bad guys! Dark side!
Immobilized: Blue = Frozen like icy waters.
Slowed: White = Slogging through snow.
Ongoing Damage: Orange = the color of fire, as fire burns for a while. The condition card shows the damage value - very important.
Weakened: Gray or Black = Both colors conjure that shadowy, wraith-like, energy-draining feel, though Black steps on dominated’s toes.
Marked: Green = Green means “go,” is a friendly debuff typically, and directly effects who a monster “goes” after.
Prone: (none) = Minis, easy, we knock over. Tokens? Not sure yet… right now, just trying to remember they’re prone.
These come up much less, so we either don’t have a color or we borrow from one above.
Dying, Helpless, Unconscious = the bloodied, prone and “I’m down!” is usually plenty to remember how this trifecta typically shows up.
Blinded = black for darkness, borrowing from dominated.
Deafened = very rare, no ring.
Grabbed = variation of immobilized, we just use blue and put the condition card next to the player.
Restrained = variation of immobilized, we just use blue and put the condition card next to the player.
Petrified = very rare, too memorable to need a ring, though we do “elevate” the miniature or token with a d6 so it’s more statue-esque!
Removed from Play = self-explanatory, though a bead or something similar to remind everyone where the creature was helps.
Surprised = surprise rounds are usually quick and clean, easy to remember.
Other Useful Markers
Hunter’s Quarry, Oath of Enmity, and other similar class features that apply a unique condition-like effect usually use one of the few remaining available colors, such as purple, teal, or gold.
Unfortunately, some of these colors are a little too close to existing colors, so we try to limit these. And we limit them so we don’t bloat the battlefield more than it already is!
Visual aids via combat markers like these are a tremendous help in D&D 4e combat. It’s hard to play without them! That’s how rich 4e’s tactical gameplay can be.
However, sometimes there’s just too many rings on a miniature or token, and so it blocks vision or makes the battlefield look a bit ridiculous, killing some of your imagination and giving it more of a board game look. I really dislike that aspect, but it’s something to live with for now considering the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
There’s a lot of great ideas out there for this – Sly Flourish and The Weem are great, and check out This Is My Game’s brand new post, 4e Cutout Condition Markers and this D&D forum post for ideas too.
Armed with these practical and inexpensive visual combat aids, your combats will start running more smoothly – your heroes will be crushing their enemies in no time!
Got some helpful, colorful, visual D&D 4e combat aids of your own? Share and let the world know in your comments down below.