I'm having quite a bit of trouble understanding how things work during combat and how to keep track of the health and status of everyone in combat. My questions are:

  1. When rolling initiative, does the group of enemies get only one initiative roll, or does each individual enemy get their own roll?

  2. How do you keep track of how much health everyone has? (Specifically the enemies)


2 Answers 2


Theoretically every enemy has his own initiative roll. But this is often quite tedious and you can for example roll for every group of enemies. For example if you have four Goblins that are armed with a Shortbow and you have two Goblins armed with a Scimitar you could make six Initiative throws. But you could also just make one Throw for the group of melee Goblins and one Throw for the group of ranged Goblins.

This makes the Initiative phase faster and it also means that you can move all enemies at once, which is easier because you only have to assess the situation once when moving the enemies. But it can also be harder for your players as all the ranged Goblins are attacking at once. If they take aim at the same PC this could be quite hard. You could make them attack different targets though, depending on their tactic and your preferred approach.

To keep track of the initiative and the general battlefield from the player's perspective we use a Whiteboard where the players can mark their positions and the enemies positions. The Initiative order is defined with magnets, each of which has either a players name on it or a creature's type, like "Ranged Goblin".

Keeping track of the health is often done by noting the points on a sheet of paper. For example I like to make a very, very rough sketch of the terrain for myself on a DIN A4 sheet of paper behind my DM screen and mark each enemies position with a single letter, like "R" for "Ranged Goblin" or "M" for "Melee Goblin". Next to each letter I write the number of health the creature has left and whenever it is hit I update the number.

The rough map sketch for myself is important because sometimes other creatures are in adjacent rooms that the players don't yet know of, or there are hidden enemies nearby that will join the fight in a few rounds. In those cases I roll their Initiative, too, and will just interrupt the current turn order once the unseen enemies are joining the frey. Then I will add them to big list that is visible for everyone on the table. When a unit is downed I will just cross them out on my own sketch and the Whiteboard.

You can also use little index cards if you don't have so many creatures or if you have the encounter prepared beforehand. This is especially handy when you have a creature with more abilities, something like a Boss Monster. There you can note the most important things like HP, AC, attack options and treasure - depending on what you perceive as important of course.

  1. Per PHB p.189: "The DM makes one roll for an entire group of identical creatures, so each member of the group acts at the same time".
  2. I normally track damage on post-it notes next to the creature's stats. For multiples of the same creature type, I often make columns on the post-it (associated left to right with the creatures' starting location on the battlefield). Alternately you could have a player track the damage for you.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Index/Record cards are good for this as well, they're pretty cheap if you search Amazon. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt McF
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 17:39

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