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Tracking initiative

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
How do you track initiative at your F2F games?

I built the high-tech device pictured below. The white pins are PCs, and have names on both sides. The blue pins are the enemy, and are only marked on my side. The pins are stacked with high at the bottom (first to go) to low at the top (last). A small green clip it attached to the end of the pin currently active.

This way my players can see the order and anticipate their turn, rolling up their actions while the player ahead of them is resolving his action. It makes for a smooth, quick flow.

Regular NPCs work in groups, major NPCs have their own marker.

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Retreater

Legend
Similar system, except that I write the player's name on a clothespin and put it atop my DM screen (which is eye level and easy for everyone at the table to see). I also use M1 - M5 as placeholders for "monster initiative." To make it even easier for me I have taped small numbers written on a strip of 1" grid paper along the top. Just snap the clothespin on the right number and go down the line. For ties, you can easily stack on clothespin on the other. If someone wants to delay their action, give them their clothespin as a physical reminder and put them back on the track when they want to act.
Numerous players from my group have adopted this method when they GM other tables.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
How do you track initiative at your F2F games?
For D&D's cyclical initiative, the same way you do. The stick is held up by something a bit more crafty that one of the players did - a mountain with a dragon coiled around it, made of clay. The clips are clothespins, but same idea.

For my Ashen Stars game, I was using "popcorn initiative" (aka Elective choice initiative), for which we used a set of cards - one side says "ready" indicating a character that can still act this round, the other saying "Done".

When I was running classic Deadlands, the initiative is generated by dealing standard playing cards, and the cards also serve as order trackers.
 

I build an initiative card for each PC and each monster type. These are the size of a playing card, with a black-and-white image of the PC/monster printed on a sheet of paper (I can fit eight on a sheet), cut out, glued to the back of an index card, cut out again, I write the name of the PC/monster on the back, and then I cover it with ConTact paper and cut it out again, this time leaving about 1/8" around the edge of the card. I save these in a series of index card holder boxes. It's a little extra work before each adventure if I don't already have initiative cards for all of the monsters I'll be using, but once an initiative card has been built for a given monster I have it for any subsequent adventure using that monster.

In use, I have everyone roll for initiative and then assemble my deck for the encounter. The top card shows who's currently up. If they take their complete turn, I move the card to the back of the deck and press on with the next PC/monster's turn; if the PC/monster readies an action, I place their card at the back of the deck like normal but turned 90 degrees so it sticks out, indicating there's still a readied action that can come into play at any time. (Once they take their readied action, the card gets turned back like normal.) And if a PC is, say, paralyzed or held I can put his or her initiative card upside down as a reminder there's something going on with that PC the next time his or her initiative rolls around.

The initiative cards are handy not only in tracking initiative but also in showing the players what their PCs see. On occasion, I've purposefully used monster images from different sources so the players don't automatically recognize the picture of a given monster from the Monster Manual; as an example, I used a Tony DiTerlizzi image of a skum and made sure to describe the creature as a "fishman" rather than a skum and the players had no idea their PCs would likely be encountering aboleths later in that adventure. It allows me to overrule Monster Manual images I don't like - since I still run a 3.5 game, I can make sure the carrion crawlers, homunculi, and ogres in my game look more like the traditional versions of those creatures than the oddities that showed up in the 3.0/3.5 Monster Manual.

Johnathan
 

Gilladian

Adventurer
I don’t use a player-facing init tracker. As I dont like alerting them tothings I track at times. I have a strip of cork in a fancy plastic holder, with sharpie numbers down the side, and I use plastic thumbtacks. White with a letter on top for PCs, and colors with numbers for NPCs. I still run My houseruled 3.5, so I also track trap and spell durations And other fun stuff. I’ve used it for years and it works quite well.
 




Lanefan

Victoria Rules
We reroll init every time, and as our init system revolves around d6s (and can't go higher than 6 or lower than 1) it's easy for the players to just leave their init dice in front of them (everyone has loads of d6s!). I roll the opponents' init's behind the screen; and then usually lay them out in rough spatial approximation of where the particular opponent is on the table so I can remember which init(s) go with which foe.
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Last game F2F game I was in just used a dry erase board and markers. Erased after each combat.

That’s what I use for my face to face games too. I got some folder-sized dry erase boards at a school supply store. They work great and are easily portable.
 

For my 5E D&D game we recently switched to alternating by sides. So the PCs go first and they decide which of them will act first. Then the opponents go and I pick which one acts. Then another PC then another opponent and on and on until each participant has taken a turn. Then the round ends and we do it again.

We’ve found this method to allow the players flexibility for tactics and teamwork. It also keeps everyone engaged at all times since they’re deciding as a group who woulf be best to go on each of their turns. Everyone is also actively thinking about what their PC may do on each of the PCs’ turns to go. This speeds up play because everyone’s paying attention and not just checking out until their turn comes up again.

We lifted this from Star Trek Adventures. It works well for D&D.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
For my 5E D&D game we recently switched to alternating by sides. So the PCs go first and they decide which of them will act first. Then the opponents go and I pick which one acts. Then another PC then another opponent and on and on until each participant has taken a turn. Then the round ends and we do it again.

We’ve found this method to allow the players flexibility for tactics and teamwork. It also keeps everyone engaged at all times since they’re deciding as a group who woulf be best to go on each of their turns. Everyone is also actively thinking about what their PC may do on each of the PCs’ turns to go. This speeds up play because everyone’s paying attention and not just checking out until their turn comes up again.

We lifted this from Star Trek Adventures. It works well for D&D.

I've never had problems with player inattention with 5e; the fight moves fast enough and the odds are always against the PCs. Plus using a VTT teds to keep player involved, checking distances, adjusting light sources, and the like.
 


Standard: I jot on scrap paper or on a tablet draw file the initiative sequence with number, name, then cross off as initiatives are eliminated.
D&D running AL...
I often have used a card deck of custom cards - I write the name, class, level, initiative mod, dex. Their laminated, so I use wet erase markers (Staedtler gray barreled pens). The cards also have a hole punched. I feed them on a ring when initiative is set.
Sentinel Comics: Since initiative is popcorn, I make a tracker with PC seats, and put a marker over the PC or villain spot when they have gone. When playing via discord, the bot handles tracking that.
FFG Star Wars: I use the tracks from WFRP 3E... Red for NPC, Green for PC.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
Small dry erase board. I think at one point I had a magnetic one with little magnetic nameplates.

I've seen enough variants of the clothespin tracker to think it must be pretty useful. If I ever go back to in person gaming (highly doubtful) then I'd build something along these lines.
 

I've never had problems with player inattention with 5e; the fight moves fast enough and the odds are always against the PCs. Plus using a VTT teds to keep player involved, checking distances, adjusting light sources, and the like.

When we play in person it’s just with minis and a map. I notice a natural inclination toward distraction at times when players have set turns. It was never a major issue, but was noticeable at times. If every turn could be yours, there’s less chance of that happening. It also really fosters teamwork, which is the main reason for doing it.


Same. If they're not paying attention, don't react or make up their mind quick enough, they get skipped.

Fair enough. I prefer a method that doesn't punish people.
 

payn

Explorer
F2F? I use the Paizo combat tracker. Magnetic dry erasable tags that can be moved easily.

Online I have been making my own tools for Traveller on excel spreadsheets.
 

Fair enough. I prefer a method that doesn't punish people.
Doesnt happen very often and I do it more to keep the game moving along than to punish anyone. If it takes a player 2-3 minutes to figure out and complete their turn then it tends to create enough of a distraction for the other people at the table to stop paying attention.
 

Doesnt happen very often and I do it more to keep the game moving along than to punish anyone. If it takes a player 2-3 minutes to figure out and complete their turn then it tends to create enough of a distraction for the other people at the table to stop paying attention.

Right, I hear you. I find the same to be true....when someone takes a long time and another player thinks “well it’s ten more initiative spots to my turn” it’s that much easier for their mind to wander or to check their phone, or what have you. It doesn’t happen all the time or anything, but we’ve noticed that the idea of “our turn” rather than a bunch of “my turns” keeps people focused and discussing what to do, so there’s a lot less wasted time.

It was kind of an additional perk we noticed. The main reasons we adopted that initiative system was primarily to save time by not having to roll a bunch of dice and then set the order, and also to promote teamwork. The increased focus was just an added bonus, really.
 

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