Tracking Stuff with Gewgaws

Based on a post (copied below) from guachi on RPG.net (click here to see the original discussion thread), I’d like to take a moment to talk up some of the cheap gewgaws and doodads you can make use of at your gaming table to quickly, easily, and — most of all — visually track all those random consumables and points that come up in various roleplaying games.

First, the post in question (paragraph breaks are for ease of reading):

…[Players] have enough free time to spend the few seconds it takes to cross/erase one number and add another number in its place. I track arrows with toothpicks. Just give them a box and they get to place them on the map when they use them. It also gives the player something to play with when it isn’t his turn but he loses the arrows if he spills his box. It’s fun when a battle ends and there are a dozen pike sized toothpicks on the map. Player gets 1/2 back and off we go!

Players get Monopoly money for their character money. 1:1 dollar:gp initially and then after they are rich it’s 1:10. The minimum any player can spend at any one time is 1 gp or 10 gp so there is lots of rounding if they go shopping for small stuff. Total all the purchases and round up. Again, players like having things to play with. At the end of the session I take their money and paper clip each player’s money together with a slip of paper indicating whose money is whose.

All the money, toothpicks, and my dice go in a flip top cardboard box and it’s super easy to store.

In 5e, spell casters can’t have any more than 4 spell slots of any one level of spell. Each caster gets a deck of regular playing cards with a number of aces equal to his 1st level slots, deuces for 2nd level slots, etc. When the player casts a spell he hands me the relevant level card. No need to track spell slots. You have no cards? You have no spells to cast.

A King represents a reaction and a Queen is a bonus action. Tossing a king on to the table means you want to take a reaction. No need to shout or verbally interrupt. The game stops and we resolve your reaction. And since I take the card you can’t forget if you’ve used it. If you use a bonus action, I take your queen and having a card is a good reminder to take your bonus action so you don’t forget and lose it when the next guy moves. At the end of the round, I hand the cards back.

I also purchased a full set of the Spellbook Cards from Gale Force Nine for my players. Playing with guys at my local gaming shop is maddening as one of them repeatedly forgets what his Cleric spells do and others who aren’t maddening just don’t have every spell memorized when they create brand new characters.

It’s easy. It’s fun. And it gives the players lots of stuff to play with when it isn’t their turn that ISN’T THEIR CELL PHONE!

That right there is some good advice. To add to it, here’s a list of things that you can track with gewgaws, and a list of gewgaws you can use to track them with.

Track These…:

  • Hit Points
  • Hit Dice or Healing Surges
  • Limited-use abilities, like spell slots, Daily Powers, etc.
  • Ammunition
  • Effect duration
  • Condition or status effects
  • Area of effect

…With These:

Tokens from board games. I’ve gotten several years of use out of the little spaceship doodads from Cosmic Encounters. Singly, they work well as areas of fire, tree trunks, or stalagmites.

Cosmic Encounter

Never liked the game, but always use the bits from it.

Glass beads from various art stores. These dudes are good counters for just about anything. I use them when shoving giant mobs of enemies around a grid, or as counters for effect durations and ammo. Currently, I have green beads and red beads, so that gives me easy differentiation…and makes my setup look a little festive, too.

Glass Beads

Nice watermark, butthead.

The most useful thing(s) ever: Index Cards and Post-it Notes. Index cards (usually the lined 3×5 ones) and Post-it Notes of various sizes and colors can be used for damn near everything. I use them a lot in Cortex Plus roleplaying games to hand out Complications, Scene Distinctions, and other persistent rules that affect a single character (hard to ignore a pink Post-it with “Missing Arm d10” stuck on your character sheet) or a specific setting. Index cards, folded in half and used as stands, work well for the same reasons, but especially work as “Name Plates” or badges so everyone at the table remembers their character or player names (such as at Conventions or game stores where strangers might sit down at the same table for a session). Similarly, you can fold them over your Gamemaster Screen and change the order to make for a visual Initiative Order reference that everyone at the table can see. I’ve done something similar with the smaller, bookmark Post-it Notes like the ones pictured here:

Post-it Notes

My favorite thing ever. Seriously. Except whiteboards.

Clothes pins & paper clips. You can get wooden ones or plastic ones (which also serve as great chip clips for that bag of Cheetos at your gaming table), but whichever you choose, try to find the ones with flat handles, like below, so you can write on them or add the bookmark tab Post-its above with character and monster names on them. Doing this gives you a neat, visual way to handle initiative order by clipping them to the top of your DM Screen. If your standard Post-its lose their stickiness, or you use index cards, these allow you to clip notes to the DM Screen or to character sheets and battle maps. You can also use colored paper clips for much the same, in addition to tracking ammunition or any Health Trackers or whatever might be featured along the margins of your character sheet.

Clothes pins

Not just for hanging your stinkin’ undies.

The Official Gewgaws(TM)

Over the life of Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop RPGs, there have been countless official, semi-official, and clearly in-breach-of-trademark accessories created to help manage individual character traits or abilities or entire campaigns. Below is a small list of some of my favorites:

D&D Character Tokens

Snazzy. Anyone ever buy these?

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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