When I started running 4th edition D&D I was intimidated by the prospect of being in charge of a combat. The sheer amount of information that you need to handle during a fight is kind of overwhelming. There are piles of monster defenses, initiatives, and all sorts of powers to juggle. The GM needs to make sure combat flows smoothly, which seemed incompatible with keeping all of that stuff straight and keeping 4 to 6 players on task.
Luckily, I met Jeff Sorensen at GenCon and he showed me how to use monster initiative cards. These cards let me literally hold all the stats I needed for a fight in a single hand. This massively upped my confidence in my ability to run fast, fun combat encounters.
When I got home I made up my own quarter-sheet card template similar to Jeff’s and started making cards. I made cards for monsters and cards for heroes. They made my game seem so much more polished when I had them ready to go each week.
All my monsters “take 10″ on initiative to speed up the beginning of combat and the players write their initiative values on their cards and pass them up to me. Then I sort the cards by initiative and flip through them as the fight progresses. I turn cards sideways to denote PC’s holding actions and move their card if they delay their entire turn to a different place in the order.
As I collected more and more of these cards I realized that I needed somewhere to store and organize them if I was going to reuse them. So I commissioned a custom recipe box on etsy from this gentleman. I affectionately call it my box of death.
I make my cards with a semi-manual process because it forces me to read through the creatures’ abilities and consider how they could be used in combat. I pull the text for a monster from the Compendium using my D&D Insider subscription and then format it onto a Word template manually. The template has been refined many times over the last two years. When I’m done formatting, I print my cards on cardstock and cut them with a paper cutter.
Sometimes I make custom monsters for game sessions and sometimes I pull from what’s in my box. At the moment I’m working through the first Monster’s Vault in my spare time and making cards for all the monsters. I already did something similar with the MM3. This gives me lots of random monsters to pull from if I need to create an encounter on the spot.
If you’d like to make your own cards for personal use, please feel free to use my monster card template or my PC card template. If you redistribute monsters made with the template digitally I ask that you link back to this post and credit the template to me. (I hope it goes with out saying, but) Please don’t redistribute the blank templates, instead link to this post if you want to show them to people. ;)
Both templates are Word files and I can’t promise they’ll layout correctly in other programs like OpenOffice. I’m not a graphical designer, so my layout ability is shaky even without Word “helping” me. The text uses styles, so when you add new powers, you’ll want to look at the existing styles and reuse them. If you want to use the same icon set that WotC does, this gentleman has made a lovely font called Game Icons available for that purpose. I’m too lazy to use it much of the time, but it’s really neat!
If you use my templates I’d love to hear any feedback you have. I’ve tried to make them as usable as possible over the last two years. I’m sure that other people will have different thoughts and use cases beyond my own.