Home > 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips > Combat and Clothespins – DnD 4e Combat Speed Tips

Combat and Clothespins – DnD 4e Combat Speed Tips

November 3, 2011

I know this was the hot topic a few months ago, but Skyland Games didn’t have a blog back then, so you get our 4e combat speed tips now. @slyflourish had mentioned on twitter that removing the DM screen can really open up the table and give you a better view as to what is going on. I tweeted back that I had been rolling in the monster vault box and tracking initiative with clothespins. He requested some pictures of the clothespins system, and I figured I would turn it in to a full-blown post.

"Tap" a pin on that person's turn

Tracking initiative with clothespins helps speed up 4e  combat (really any RPG with init) in a few ways. The biggest advantage is that if clipped along the top of the DM screen or edge of a rolling box, the entire table can see the play order, and can plan their turn accordingly. Once a player has had their turn, the DM taps the clothes pin to one side or the other to show the entire table where we are in the round at a glance. This is also a great cue for the DM to announce its the next person’s turn, and keep combat moving at a brisk pace.

Another great advantage to using clothespins is when a character (or monster) chooses to delay. Once the player announces they are going to delay, the DM just takes their clip off and puts it on the end. I usually try to put it at a different height to remind myself the character is delaying. When they “un-delay” you just drop their clip in the order whenever they act.

The biggest advantage I’ve found using the clothespins system as a player is planning my turn while the another player is up. This became most important as a controller when trying to judge whether you’ll have the right position to pull off that sweet Area of Effect daily that’s burning a hole on your character sheet. You can also request the striker delay until you can set him up for combat advantage.

If a PC delays, you can set their clip aside

Having that visual aide of the initiative order can also have more subtle advantages to speeding up gameplay. As a player, you need to know whether you’ve got time for a bathroom break, or to grab a drink from the fridge; check the initiative order and either plan out your next awesome turn, or take care of whatever you need to and jump back in to the action closer to your pin. No more waiting on players for the little things!

We write our actual names on them, as we play multiple systems with multiple different characters, but clothespins are cheap so you could write the PC’s name on them to help everyone remember the names of their fellow party members. For multiple types of monsters going on different initiatives, we typically use Roman numerals to indicate the different groups. The DM can just make a note next to the stat block of which number pertains to what creature.

There are a ton of great combat speed tips out there, but I felt this is one more that tables could really benefit from. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Scott is angry at the Fire Giant

Categories: 4e, DnD, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , , , ,
  1. November 3, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Genius! Simple, effective, cheap! The only way to roll.

    • clayton
      November 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      I am completely using this in my next session. Brilliant.

  2. Michael
    November 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    If you use pogs for monsters (like those included in the DM’s kit and map kits by Wizards) you can photocopy them and tape/paste them to your monster pins as well. ^_^

  3. November 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    So, this is good engineering and cost effective. How can we apply this to the US Congress?

  4. November 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

    I’ve adopted the similar index cards, folded. You can hang them on the screen. They take up a bit more room, but they have the bonus of character info on them. I’ve got hp and all defense stats, so I never have to ask players if I hit them.

    • November 4, 2011 at 6:09 pm

      Thats another awesome system. Maybe create a hybrid and tape some stats to the pin? My favorite part about the pins is being able to see where we are at in the turn at a glance. Especially helpful with interrupts/reactions so we can remember who was up.

  5. November 8, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Minor question: Am I seeing that you write the names of the players rather than the PCs on the clothespins? I’m guessing that helps if a PC dies and is replaced or a player just tries out a new one, but I’ll admit that I’m a strong proponent of using PC names everywhere possible at the game table. In my own initiative tracker, I use PC names, and I find that it helps me be a better role-player at the table.

    Of course, it’s possible that your players have chosen to give their heroic dwarves and elves names like Michael, Matt, Scott, Ben and Kevin…

    • November 8, 2011 at 6:26 pm

      This is true, those are our names. We could use character names for the clothespins, but as we play a lot of different systems with different characters, it could be a lot to keep track of. I see your point tho.

  6. January 9, 2012 at 8:50 am

    This is a totally excellent idea. I have been doing something similar for a few years now. My take is slightly different and requires a little more preparation but places all the relevant character and creature data at the gm’s disposal. I did an article las year about it. http://www.wastexgames.com/blog/?p=1692

    • January 9, 2012 at 8:52 am

      Glad you like it! It has proven to be one of our more popular articles so far. Being a visual person, it really helps me keep focused as a GM and a player.

  7. January 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Completely 5e compatible. Assuming 5e uses initiative 😉

  1. November 4, 2011 at 5:26 am
  2. December 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm
  3. February 6, 2012 at 11:07 am
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