The Alphastream Gaming Blog
(Originally posted on my Wotc blog in 2009)
A common staple of the Living Greyhawk campaign was the PC table tent, a folded piece of paper or card stock with the name of your PC. Players would sometimes adorn this with images and catch phrases, as well as titles earned through play.
Table tents are a huge benefit to RP. When the DM and other players know your PCs name, and can see it constantly, they are more likely to use it. With the whole table using table tents, everyone can stay in character as they speak to each other. NPCs can similarly, via the DM, refer to PCs by their names. The DM is especially key to this, since they play such a role in influencing whether the table stays IC or OOC. A DM can use table tents to really keep the action focused on the PCs as people rather than as minis moved about by players.
The table tent can be a nice place to capture a quote or one-sentence capture of what your PC is about, conveying some RP. You can also add something that the party should know, such as warlord benefits or even something you need (a rogue could advertise they need flanking).
You can download a Word template of an example table tent here: Drom Battlecaller Table Tent
Download and change the image and text to be whatever fits your PC. You can find lots of images online – the WotC galleries are a good source as well, especially the galleries for the PH and Power books.
While PC tents help track who they are, mini-tents can be used to track when each player and monster will act. There are a lot of ways to track initiative, but this is by far my favorite. You can see an example in this image:
The key benefits of mini table tents for init is that everyone gains transparency. The monsters know when everyone will go and the players know when everyone will go. This has several important effects that are beneficial to the game.
Speed. The players can see when their turn comes up. They know who goes next and when the monsters go. This lets them accurately plan what they will do and to know when their turn will come up.
Tactics. This is my favorite reason. Even when I am playing and the DM has some other way of tracking init, I still use these so the party knows what will be taking place. The DM often stops using their method because this ends up being better. With the init tents, leaders truly shine. They can say things like “ready for me, it won’t change your order” or “I won’t use my healing interrupt because I go before any monsters and I will heal you then.” PCs can see exactly when others go, making movement into flanking clear in terms of when it will pay off. End of turn effects are easy to gauge, for things like granting saves. Monster turns are clear, so players know when the pain will next come up. The transparency results in players being much more tactical and much more effective with their tactics.
Fairness. Now both PCs and the DM are on the same footing with the same knowledge. In addition, because everyone clearly sees the order, the chance that anyone’s turn will be skipped is extremely low. A DM will practically never skip a player’s turn because that player is ready for their turn and will notify the DM immediately.
The only possible downside I have found is that delaying and readying can require some tent shuffling. However, I am impressed at how easily the players do this. Sometimes players will just move the tents on their own, before I even look up from the adventure to do it myself.
To make the tents, just cut up some card stock (colored is nice) and put large numbers on them. You will want from 1 to 12 at the least. I haven’t gone over 12, but I have used 12 tents. Beyond 12 I would likely just group some monsters together. The DM’s area gets a bit crowded with more than 5 mini-tents, but this is also about as often as you want to see DMs go anyway – group similar monsters together so they go at the same time.
Some DMs (especially in home campaigns) will take cards with the PCs’ names on them, and then arrange them in order along their area. This is fine, but you need small tents to make this work. I prefer the numbers, especially for LFR and similar living campaigns.