I’ve been running my online Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition game for several months now, and MapTool has been fantastic for running the game. The players have macros for their powers and abilities, we can keep track of hit points electronically, etc. It’s also great because it’s easy to keep track of all of the conditions that can be put onto a character – bloodied, prone, marked, cursed, ongoing damage, weakened, dazed… the list goes on and on. My MapTool states for the online game consist of little icons that can show up over a token in a 3 by 3 grid (so there can be up to nine states on a token at once).
I love this about MapTool for in-person games that I run using my projector, too. Unfortunately, it’s much harder to make out the details on a monster token when I’m using the projector because I have to keep the map zoomed pretty far out in order to project a grid with 1-inch squares. This means that it’s really hard for the characters to see all of the states on a creature. Is that guy bloodied? Is he marked? What about prone?
The solution here is a combination of using bigger states and using different states.
- Bloodied: The most important state. Instead of an icon on the image, use a red circle around the token
- Prone: A purple triangle (actually a yield sign)
- Marked: A blue or green X (have two different marks available in case you have multiple defenders in your party)
- Cursed/Quarried/Oathed/etc.: An orange cross
- Other: Normal icons, but in a 2 by 2 grid instead of 3 by 3 (so they’re bigger)
The most important states for players to be able to see clearly are those that are most likely to affect their interaction with a creature. They have to know if it’s bloodied, prone, marked, or subject to a striker ability (quarry, etc.). It’s nice to know if the bad guy is dazed or has -2 to its defenses or it’s slowed, but not AS important. The really important conditions, therefore, should get big, prominent marks across the face of the token. The less-important conditions can rely on the 2 by 2 grid (at the very least, you as the DM can still zoom in on them on your screen to see what they are.
The easily-visible conditions can be tailored to your own campaign, of course. Every defender should have his or her own color of marks, but they can all use the same symbol (since a new mark will override an old one, you’ll never have to worry about making multiple marks visible). If you have multiple strikers that can put conditions on a creature, you’ll want to use multiple shapes (maybe a cross for one and a diamond for another). Assassin shrouds are tricky – I haven’t yet come up with a good way to keep track of how many are on a creature, but fortunately my regular games don’t include any assassins (though I see them occasionally at convention games).
Bottom line: Icons are great for understanding what a particular symbol means, but they’re hard to see at a distance. Colorful shapes are better for in-person games with a projector.