So, when I do the graphic design for an adventure — the format or layout on printed pages — I’m willing to experiment. The DM’s Guild provides a low-risk environment to do that.
So, for the upcoming Lords of the Earth, I decided I would try out a different way to provide information to make running combat encounters as simple as possible for a DM.
For a layout I used a three-column grid, devoting the first two columns to the basic text of the adventure. The third column I would use for information important to running the adjacent encounter — be it a suggestion for skill checks, a bit of lore, or in most instances, a combat tracker with initiative table.
Now, this approach isn’t entirely new, but it has rarely been done on the DM’s Guild and I’m fairly certain I haven’t seen it in any Wizards of the Coast products for fifth edition. It was probably done to best effect in the Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel introductory adventure for the 3.5 edition Scourge of the Howling Horde. Along with a full stat block for every encounter, it included a hit point tracker.
I was also mindful of the abbreviated stat blocks that Paizo included in its products. It is usually the name of the monster, its type and XP, hit points, and any special tactics the creature might employ.
My offering was something that incorporated a little bit of both approaches. Monster name and description by type, as well as armor class, attack bonus, damage for its primary attack and hit points.
How individual DMs track initiative is a very idiosyncratic thing; everyone’s approach is somewhat different. When I ran the adventure, I discovered that I was using the margin column to make my initiative list. So, why not format one and include it as an optional tool?
If you, as a DM prefer something else — index character cards, magnetic tracker, hanging tags from the DM screen or clothespin signpost tracker — by all means, keep using it. But if you are a scratch pad tracker like me, this might come in handy.
As with many of these tools, they work best at the lowest
levels of the game. As the monsters gain abilities and combats augment more spellcasting along with melee and ranged attacks, such little charts prove insufficient. The time comes when there is no substitute for having the Monster Manual propped open to the right page.
Village of Leilon, a free preview of Lords of the Earth, is available at the DM’s Guild.