I've stumbled on a system that makes D&D combat move incredibly fast.

Before the session, I wrote down basic statistics for each monster the PCs might encounter on index cards. To be clear: there's one card for "Orc" and one card for "Orc Eye of Gruumsh," not separate cards for each individual orc in the encounter.

I don't know about you, but I don't need every single stat on the stat block in most encounters. I just need this:

  • Armor Class
  • Speed
  • Initiative bonus
  • Attacks
  • Particularly relevant abilities (like multiattack)
  • Major spells
  • Hit Points

Why are Hit Points at the bottom? Because I write all of that on the index card, in that order, in pen. I usually then have about a third of the card left over.

If the PCs are facing multiple creatures of this type, I just copy the HP total in pencil for each one, so at the bottom of the card I have HP totals for each monster and mark those down as each creature takes damage.

That would be helpful enough, but then we get into initiative tracking.

I also have an index card for each PC, and those cards are a different color (green). I also have blank index cards in yet another color (yellow) for NPCs.

When we roll initiative, I write down (in pencil) each creature's initiative in the upper-right corner of that creature's card. I then sort those in order.

RPG index cards

Why is this so useful for me?

  • I find out who's next in initiative by flipping to the next card in the deck. I always know where we are in initiative.
  • As soon as I flip to a monster's card, I have its most relevant stats right in front of me and can begin running it immediately.
  • I can track PC conditions by writing them on each character's card.
  • I know immediately once we've gotten to the end of a round (once we go from a creature with initiative 5 to one with initiative 18, I know we're at the top of the round). I can even track per-round actions by adding a card for it.
  • I can add a creature to the battle -- without even having to roll initiative for it -- by just inserting a card for that creature into the deck.

There's a side benefit, too: I now have a compact monster manual in a space that's 3"x5"x1" in size. I can throw that into a bag much more easily than a full monster manual.

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