4e has made combat more player and DM friendly than ever in countless ways, but in one big way it has created an enormous headache, the likes of which other editions could only dream of. I’m talking, of course, about keeping track of conditions.
Let’s pretend you have no idea what I’m talking about and layout an ordinary combat situation – nice and slow.
The evil sorcerer and his lackeys pop out from behind the dark velvet curtains of their lair, ready for the final showdown. Your Fighter moves in to mark his target, the Ranger follows up by designating him his quarry, and also manages to slow the guy (save ends), followed by the Wizard who drops a spell that lights up 4 of the 6 enemies with ongoing five fire (save ends), and the Cleric who slaps the boss with a -2 to attack rolls that lasts until the end of his next turn…
That’s five conditions on the boss, three more conditions spread across the other five enemies in the room, all timed to expire in different ways on different turns. That’s just the first round, and the thief hasn’t even started poisoning anyone yet. Cause for celebration among the player for sure, but the DM looks down at his notes and sees the jottings of pure chaos overlaying the line s of his carefully constructed fight scene. How is he going to track all of the conditions with the 100% accuracy demanded by his job, all while trying to play the sorcerer in such a way as to suggest that he was actually replaced by a doppelganger and the real sorcerer is elsewhere?
Well, obviously the DM could have the sorcerer use only physical attacks instead of spells to raise the player’s suspicions, but that isn’t the big solution here. The big solution is six simple words sucker – Hair Bands In A Pill Case.
Not only is this phrase a brilliant piece of Dadist non-poetry, it ‘s also the most convenient method of tracking any and all combat conditions. Buy a pill case at your local dollar store for, like, a dollar, fill each compartment with one color of tiny, elastic hair bands and drop the thing in your DM bag.
It’s that goddamn easy.
Just be sure everyone knows which colors stand for which conditions and stack them on your figurines/tokens as you go. Marked? Blue. Quarried? Purple. Slowed? Yellow. Ongoing Fire? Orange. Debuffed? Black. You’ve still go tgreen in your inventory to mark the poisons and red for showing who is bloodied.
Yes. Suddenly the mental, round-to-round effort of who is effected by what turnsinto an intuitive, visual system that aids the DM as much as the players. Not to mention that unlike other solutions on the market (themed stickers, etc) this system will cost you about $4.00 flat, is light, compact, neat, adaptable and reusable.
The DM’s best friend is always the DM’s Golden Rule*, but when it comes to 4e a pill case full of hair bands comes a close second.
*Just make shit up on the fly and act like you planned it.