As my players go up levels there are more and more variables in combat. I need help. What solutions exist out there and what makes them good?
A clever, if ugly, version of status indicators used at my first DnD Encounters session cap rings I found a photo of the technique at http://slyflourish.com/three-cheap-4e-game-aids/:
I also found this - http://dapperdevil.com/index.php which includes a tray-style approach:
And a mini's approach:
UPDATE: I used a laser cutter to create some of my own status "chips" and area-of-effect indicators:
This is how we handle status effects:
Since we use token for things on the battlemat (and not minis), we use a set of small colored beads to put on the tokens:
Red: bloodied Green: ongoing poison Yellow: dazed Pink: marked by the paladin Orange: cursed by the warlock ...: and so on...
We've played with it long enough that the color code is understandable at a glance.
The benefit is that it is trivial to add/remove. It's a simple visual cue. And it helps telegraph the status of all combatants on the battlefield.
One thing we have yet to figure out well is to distinguish between "save ends" and "end of next turn". Also, the tokens only fit about 4 or 5 beads before you need to stack them and the ones we have don't stack very well (i.e. easy to topple).
I'm a big fan of masterplan
In addition to combat tracking, it allows you to build out full encounters, adventures and campaigns.
Having access to graphics software, my immediate response was to design a printable paper version that I then laminated. I went through a few different concepts as they have a big disadvantage when you need to stack multiple effects.
I'm really happy with my current design and it seems to be working really well. The trick was to have each token be slightly smaller than the 1" tile and have a tab that extends out past the central square.
Probably easier to understand if you look at cover of the pdf:
For my own game I do custom markers for each of the powers as well, showing duration as well as the owner and the power name. Not managed to get them into a distributable form yet though.
My gaming group has been going for a few months using D&D essentials kits with tokens instead of minis, we use mini m&m candies for status effects and marks etc. They are handy and offer a nice snack option as well :)
Our DM also uses inCombat and it is very handy for computing HP and keeping track of initiative.
This answer is a repeat from another question but has a bearing here too:
Dark Platypus produces a line of products that we use at our table which pretty much handles all of your concerns and works very fast. See their products here
They have a magnet grid mat that is pre-printed with one inch squares and can handle magnet objects, dungeon tiles and dry-erase markers. To go with this is their set of magnet flag posts (they look like miniature lamp posts). they are magnetic on the bottom and on the top, so they stick the board and stay put. They come with a large set pf status fags that you attach to mini-magnets. Once this is done you can just stack them on the posts and easily see what is going on right on the battle filed. You do not have to pick up or handle the minis to change these condition flags. Each post has a number on it so can be used to track initiative too.
For my money this is the best. the price is not too bad and the mat is very rugged and will last as long as you take care of it. I purchased 3 set of the posts with different colored numbers, 2 mats and a bunch of the magnet bendy walls, and have never looked back. The bendy walls are great too.
I assign two players at the table to alternate keeping the flags up to date. Works fantastic that way and off loads a large amount of work from me, the DM.
I've been using http://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/DnD4eCM for some time. It gets updated fairly frequently, it's a standalone combat tracker that tracks things like statuses, saves, and recharge rolls along with the initiative for the combat.
If you're open to using a laptop at your table, check out Apprentice RPG. It's a 4e tool designed to make planning and executing combat and skill challenges easier on the DM. Unlike Masterplan, it's browser-based and thus cross-platform.
http://4eturntracker.com/ works really well if you have access to a projector or a separate screen that the players can see. You can create monsters and establish them in the program's database simply by copy/pasting the stats from the online compendium. You can then create encounters by using those database monsters. Load encounters and party members to start combat. The program tracks initiative, which it can roll automatically for everyone, damage and effects. Damage is very easy to apply to creatures, effects (particularly end conditions) a bit trickier.
The program has a lot of functionality, so the learning curve is a bit steep. If you want to use it, you should play with it for a while first to learn how it works.