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The dragon hovers 2 squares over the paladin, the ranger is perched 5 squares up in a tree, and the fighter is magically flying 3 squares off the ground. Aerial minions soar all about.

In tactically heavy games like 4e, knowing the exact position of all creatures is crucial to being effective in combat. What clean, effective ways are there to represent these complex 3-D combat situations with miniatures?

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@Adriano That is awesome. Maybe I'll build something similar with adjustable platforms for variable heights... –  dpatchery Apr 1 '11 at 12:58
    
I didn't submit it as an answer because it's not actually usable for representing combat relative height, but it's just so cool. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Apr 1 '11 at 13:17
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@Adriano: The images in your link seem to have succumbed to bit rot. Here's an archive link with working images: web.archive.org/web/20111117021132/http://penny-arcade.com/2009/… –  Ilmari Karonen Aug 19 '13 at 22:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The easiest way is with dice. Every group I've played in does this. We put a die (usually a d12, because what else are they good for?) next to the mini. The value of the die represents the elevation of the character.

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Does each number corespond to the square they are in aproximately? –  wax eagle Mar 31 '11 at 13:31
    
How do you handle minis that are in the same horizontal square at different heights? –  dpatchery Mar 31 '11 at 13:31
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@wax, yes. @dpatch, the plastic box dice come in is the right size for a mini to fit under while supporting one on top. It wouldn't work so well for stacks of more than two characters, but in my 16 years of gaming, I've never seen that happen. –  valadil Mar 31 '11 at 16:05

Campaign Mastery did a blog post about this. So did Roleplaying Tips, mostly focusing on the fact that bottle caps are the perfect size for minis.

Summarizing the tips from Campaign Mastery:

Transparent elevation measuring items: - http://www.emeraldsemporium.com/Elevation_Indicators.html - http://paizo.com/products/btpy85op?Combat-Tiers-Family-Pack

Cheaper alternatives - Pizza stands

In the middle of each ‘za is a plastic, three-legged stand designed to prop up the pizza lid during travel so the cheese doesn’t stick to the cardboard. These plastic stands are great for height indicators. The little “tables” are the perfect size for a mini. They are also very stable. The tables are raised up about an inch or so, so you can place them over terrain and other small combat mat bits.

  • Dice and large objects
  • Poker chips

From Roleplaying Tips:

  1. Glue coffee stir sticks to bottle caps to make a raised platform
  2. Use transparent dice boxes (one mini inside, one mini on top)
  3. Bend a bit of sheet metal in a U shape; one mini on top, on mini inside
  4. Craft a magnetic axel stilt
  5. Pizza center pieces (just like above)
  6. Pill bottles
  7. Clear PVC tubes
  8. Create a Q-tip stand (like #1)
  9. Plastic soda bottle caps
  10. Stand with ballpoint pen caps
  11. Use a nail between two bottle caps
  12. Magnetic, stackable markers from Alea Tools
  13. Use Two Battlemaps For Normal and Elevated Views
  14. Use Snapple Lids
  15. Use Film Cannister Caps
  16. Conflict Chips (cool marker chips, but not directly useful)
  17. Cut water bottles open to provide stands; smaller bottles can fit inside larger ones for multiple levels
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Another suggestion would be to keep a stack of 10x1 sheets that are laminated. These could be used to represent a column of space in a given square. You can denote with the miniature where on the board the character is, but then use a counter to denote where in space the character is on the 10x1 square (you could even fill in starting height at the bottom of the card for distances over 50').

The only thing that this method does not address is dual occupancy, although in the even of dual occupancy I would denote where on the battle map the character is and place the character onto the 10x1 strip.

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How about a lab stand? You can get them surplus for not much money (in context of gaming and gaming accessories).

Some clamps and screens would allow you to create multiple vertical planes to put minis on. A ruler and a sharpie would let you put a grid on those screens...

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