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For the past few years, our group has been tracking initiative using a small (11"x14") magnetic dry-erase board I picked up at staples (around $25, I think?). I had picked up a flexible magnetic sheet, and cut rectangles on which to write our PC's names. However, the name tags were really hard to move/remove from the board, and there wasn't enough space on the board to have permanent initiative counts: we would just put the PCs in relative order, and three rounds later would forget what the actual initiative counts were. Every so often the board would get knocked off the nail it was on, and we'd spend 15 minutes digging through the couch trying to find the stupid name tags. Lastly, after playing the pirate campaign (and swimming a TON), I decided I wanted to build a depth/height board to easily visualize a third axis for flying/swimming, which is not easily seen on the battle mat.
I priced out a larger magnetic board, but to get one large enough to handle both initiative and the depth chart, it was going to be almost $100! That seemed a bit much, so I figured I'd make one myself. I've been mulling over new solutions, and finally came up with this!
Initially I was going to buy a piece of sheet metal and paint it with dry erase paint. However, I recently inherited a set of white 31"x23" magnet boards from Ikea (though I'm not going to leave any wet erase marker on it for long, just to be safe).
I picked up 2 rolls of 1/8" black pin striping (for cars, should find some at any auto store) to make the grid. I carefully measured out 1 & 1/16" from each prior line, and used that as the center for the new stripe; the resulting squares are each exactly 1" inside. When we have someone flying or swimming, we'll just draw a line in wet erase marker to indicate the surface of the water or ground, and put a marker for each person to indicate their vertical position relative to the others. This way, spell/range increments are easy to visualize and calculate.
Then for the initiative board, I made a quick template in Excel (found here, feel free to use) which created 3/4" tall initiative labels. I printed this onto a removable full-sheet label (Avery 6470 for reference), cut the three strips, and carefully layered them on the left side. Another option would be to stick these to the magnetic sheet, listed above, but this seemed easier.
Lastly, for character markers, I wanted something that would be strong enough to resist get knocked off the board, but be movable quickly mid-battle. The solution was a 50 pack of circular flexible magnets (.75"), and a set of 60 square wooden alphabet tiles (also .75"), both found at Michael's for cheap. Some super glue and a day later, and these things work well! I shook the board pretty hard, and they didn't budge, but the corners of the squares allow you to easily pop them off the board with your hand to position them. The only down side was that for some reason, the tile set didn't come with any Ks! 3 Q's, sure, but no Ks... too bad for Kynatheria (one of our PCs).
All in, the project only cost me $19, due to the inherited metal board and glue/labels, which were already here with our home art supplies. If you don't have any materials it would cost around $55, and to make a surface that is definitely wet/dry erase safe would be closer to $65-$70. If you wanted to skip the label sheet and instead print on paper and tape it down, that would bring it closer to $35 (or $50 with paint).
Ikea board ($13),
- or sheet metal ($9) and dry erase paint ($15-$20)
Removable label ($18)
Pinstripe ($3 each, probably could get away w/ 1 but I used 2)
Super Glue ($3)