This is a guest post by Troy Taylor (who goes by Carolina on the GMing Q&A Forum), who won 3rd Place with this entry in the Treasure Tables GMing Tools Contest.
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My favorite GMing tool is my homemade initiative index cards.

The best part of the initiative cards is that I no longer have moments where I have to tell a player: “Oh, it looks like I skipped your turn this round. Sorry.”


Each 3×5 index card has a dark box in the upper right hand corner where I can record their opening initiative score.

Very quickly after initiative is rolled and recorded on each card, I can shuffle together the PCs’ and NPC/monster cards in their initiative order, and combat can ensue.

I use a blank card or one marked “End of Round” to indicate the bottom of the pile.

A PC that delays his action simply gets his card turned on its side in the shuffle. Any changes to the initiative order during an encounter simply means re-arranging cards accordingly.

Additional Use

In addition, these initiative cards have become an integral part of my game prep, and have been an immense aid to my organization.

I’m no longer juggling large, loose sheets of paper with NPC/monster stats. I prepare an initiative card for each NPC/monster planned for an encounter, then paper clip it to the appropriate page in my three-ring binder, which contains my notes for that adventure.

When that encounter comes up, I simply pull out the correct card(s) and the first initiative roll quickly follows. No longer do players have to wait for me to find the right stats in an index or monster manual.

Moreover, the paper clip comes in handy too. The left side the card has the hit point entry, including a sliding scale (1 through 10) where I use the smaller loop on a No. 1 size paper clip to track the NPC/monster hit points.

If the hit point total is greater than 10, I use a tally in the 10 slot to indicate the multiple of 10 the hit point total is currently at. Or, if the card represents more than one monster of the same type, I simply make tally marks on the scale.

Afterward, used cards are kept in two alphabatized index file boxes, one for NPCs, the other for monsters. They are kept handy if I ever need to use them again.

Each card is essentially a PC sheet/NPC stat block in miniature. I have three kinds. The first two are forms with blanks that I can fill in by hand, the third is made using a computer database, which I find is more useful for keeping NPCs on file, reprintable at a moment’s notice. All three cards were made using AppleWorks.

One card is for general fighter type NPCs/PCs, another is for spellcasters, and the third is the database version which includes the most information.

I have come to rely more and more on the database version, since I can prepare them more quickly than the handwritten versions. I always keep the handwritten blanks around, however, in the event there is a random encounter or the PCs take the adventure down unforseen paths.

I have provided versions of all three cards as PDF attachments: sample 1 and sample 2.
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Thanks, Troy!

Initiative cards were a hot topic in the comments on the TT post Tools of the Trade: Index Cards, and they’re a great implementation of a simple tool. Troy added a lot of functionality to his versions — I particularly like the sliding paper clip idea.

Do you use initiative cards in your games, homemade or otherwise? They really shine in D&D 3.x, but they’re handy in other games too — have you found any other RPGs that benefit greatly from using cards like these?