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The best D&D tool that you don’t know about

Written by Expy - Published on October 6, 2008

I am marked, challenged, cursed, bleeding, and stunned (and confused!)

There are so many powers and effects you can use in D&D 4th edition that it can become difficult to keep track of everything.

That’s where the magnetic markers from Alea Tools come into play.  The markers are stackable color magnets and make it very easy to keep track of what’s happening in a combat encounter.

After hearing about the markers at GenCon I decided to order a few and tried them last week for the first time.  They work – the flow of combat was really good. 

Of all the books, supplements, online tools, and game helpers available out there the magnetic markers offer the best bang for your buck – they will become as ubiquitous as dice in my games.

» Get your magnetic markers now! 

An interview with Craig Andrie from Alea Tools

Craig was kind enough to answer a few questions about his magnetic tools (and red dragons!)

Q1: How did you come up with the idea of stacking magnetic markers under

This came right off our gaming table. It was actually an evolution of
ideas. It started when Jeff (our GM and the other half of Alea Tools) got
tired of answering a couple questions – which one did I attack before and
how bad is it hurt? He cut up some one-inch wooden dowels, wrote some
numbers on a few of them and then painted a bunch black. By putting a
number under a critter we could tell one wyvern from the next and by
stacking black markers under them he would indicate that the critter was
down about 25% per marker. 2=50%, 3=75%… those visuals saved us a lot of
time and enabled him to keep track of a lot more creatures and what was

The thing was, the stacks of checker-like markers were hard to move around –
that is when we came up with the idea of sticking them together with
magnets. We also thought – wouldn’t it be cool if we had a lot of colors to
indicate lots of things… and wouldn’t it be cool if we could just write
and erase stuff like we do on the battle mat.

Just like that we had “invented” the concept of stackable status markers for
use in role play games. That and about 18 months of working with our supper
efficient and streamlined US Patent office landed us our patent on the
concept. A classic American inventor story that has led us from rags to…
well. slightly nicer rags.

Q2: How many markers do you usually need to run a D&D game?

Lots and lots! Er… Maybe that was my marketing voice. Seriously, it really
depends on how much you want to do. A handful of the right kind can cover
something like flying or numbering for a typical party. But if you want to
track a lot of buffs and other effects you can get into more colors and the
count goes up. With the advent of 4e we see folks using more for the key
status indicators like bloodied. They are also perfect for marking as in
the Warlock’s Curse or the Combat Challenge. In those cases we tend to see
people using two markers of the same color to “link” a character to the
critter they are targeting.

In our game we often get attacked by multiple creatures of the same type, so
we often use a dozen or so just to number the critters. Then there is the
bloodied/wounded concept, plus the flying, plus a half dozen or so common
spell effects. we might get a couple dozen pieces going in a typical fight.
In bigger fights it can sometimes get pretty crazy with a couple spell
casters on either side and hordes of critters milling about. The key is
that the GM can actually keep track of very complex fights and the players
can more easily determine options. So in some ways the markers have enabled
bigger and more complex (read that as fun) battles.

Q3: Do you like red dragons?

Do bugbears do their business in the woods?

Q4: Are your products available in gaming stores?

At this time we are not in many gaming stores – though we do have retail
terms and have set up direct relationships with a few stores out there.

It actually seemed that our entry into the market was not at the best of
times for retailers. They have been forced to be a bit cautious with new
products over the last few years and accessories like our represented some
risk. That and the fact that our product has needed a bit of explaining –
sort of like the first time you see a paper clip. It looks very simple and
a lot of folks don’t really understand it until they see in demonstrated.
Then the simplicity and usefulness becomes apparent. That is one reason why
conventions like Gencon have been so great for us. People get the
one-minute demo and the light bulbs just go off.

All that said, our momentum have been building and the 4e rules change has
put us front and center. We are now looking at a new style of retail
packaging and will likely be striking a deal at some point in the near
future with a distributor or two. So any retailers out there give us a
ring! And call your distributor to tell them you’d love to see us carried!
(was that too blatant?)

Editor’s note: No, no, it’s ok, but only because you enlightened us on the daily life of bugbears…

Q5: What games are you currently playing? Are you using the markers during
these games?

We are wrapping up a Dragonlance 3.5e D&D campaign that has been about a
year and a half in the works. We have been playing some 4e on the side to
get to know the rules and start thinking about our next campaign. At our
current pace we’ll be into the new campaign before Christmas.

Q6: How will the markers make my game better right now?

If your group is playing 4e, they are simply perfect for the bloodied status
(red markers) as well as the marking of things like Combat Challenge I
described earlier. A player pack of 10 reds and one of our GM packs of 24
colored pieces would get you going for those purposes.

I’d also recommend 10 whites that you can write on – put numbers on them and
keep track of groups of similar critters. Solve that problem for a few

If you have fliers, use the different shades to indicate different
increments of height – light blue 10 feet, medium blue 50 and dark blue 100.
Now you can show 0-500 feet with 9 markers.

So – for about the price of one of your rules books you can streamline your
game. This is kind of like pizza – if everyone at the table pitches in a
few bucks you can get a really nice starter set to share.

Q7: Do you have any advice on how to maximize the usefulness of the markers?

The biggest thing is to just give them a try. Start small and grow with the
natural inclinations of your table. Let folks be creative with them and it
is interesting what they will end up using them for…

Also – don’t forget the magnetic conversion material we sell. It comes in
one-inch circles and 2×3 rectangles. That is the stuff that sticks to the
bottom of the miniature and adds ferrous metal to the base. That enables
you to move the miniature and the pieces as a unit – like a chess piece.
The circles are pre-cut to use with D&D minis that are on a one-inch circle
base. The rectangles can be cut with a scissors and pieces trimmed to fit
the bottom of irregularly shaped minis – like the pewter ones we like to
paint. Very handy stuff.

» Get your magnetic markers now! 

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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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21 Responses to “The best D&D tool that you don’t know about”
  1. Aresnasti says:

    I saw these at Gencon and bought a few to try them out. All i can say is thank you Red Dragon cause I have been trying to find the link so i can get more.

    These will be the best investment you can make for your gaming. I just got a whole bunch more and picked up some new colors due to some suggestions that were made in the article.

    simply put….run don’t walk and get these. you won’t regret it. :D

  2. DnDCorner says:

    I’ve been looking for a product just like this for a long time. We’ve been using some ceramic discs with color tape on them. They look very similar but they aren’t magnetic. These are so much nicer.

  3. KatsObsession says:

    My old dm (IronDM dreads) used these and I loved it, gave us a chance to see how badly a character looked instead of interupting and saying “how bad does this guy look, how about him, and him..”ect..

    I was planning on buying these at GenCon this year and didnt, so thanks for the site!
    I may be joining a new group and would love to bring these to game.

  4. Milambus says:

    A good combination with the markers is the Magna Map. Its a roll-up map that magnets will stick to.


  5. Fozz says:

    My first DM at Gencon was using these and I found myself fascinated by them and played with them the whole game and then bought some later at the convention. I brought them out at all the other games I played and the reaction was pretty good. They are excellent tools and I highly recommend them. Great for hordes of enemies that you don’t have minis for. I just use a wet erase marker and write A1, A2, and so on.
    The only downside with these are that since they are magnets you are going to have to deal with polarity. Sometimes when you are pushing a mini next to another, they end up pushing away from each other. This problem is magnified when you have lots of minis in a group and are then trying to add new markers. They are so strong that they suck up other nearby magnets and can cause a little more headaches than they are worth.
    There so cheap, give them a try and see how it works for your group.

  6. MadBrewLabs says:

    @Fozz: Yeah the magnets pushing each other can be a real pain. Our group got a magnetic receptive battlemap from Dark Platypus and it really seems to curb the pushing. It has just enough magnetic receptivity to halt the Alea Tools markers from pushing each other in close quarters yet it isn’t difficult to move your minis around. And it is dry erase marker friendly to boot!

  7. Ahwe Yahzhe says:

    These were actually featured in an article on Wizards.com- as soon as I played the preview adventures for 4th Edition last spring, I knew there was no way I was going to survive without them. The guys at Alea were pretty cool, too- they let me pick my color combos for what I THOUGHT would be enough for a game. Take my advice, having just two of each color for marker and marked is NOT enough. I’ve found in a serious battle with a range of character classes, I need:
    10 red markers (bloodied)
    10 orange markers (ongoing effect/dying; since it’s just a reminder for damage/saves, I don’t differentiate between effects)
    4 markers per color for warlock’s curse, fighter’s mark, divine challenge, hunter’s quarry and other mark-like abilities. You need four because it’s possible to mark multiple targets with an attack in one round, even if you can’t maintain it the next round:
    Light/Dark Greens for Quarries (I have two rangers in the party)
    Light/Dark Blues for Fighter marks (I have two fighters in the party, too)
    White for Divine challenge (yup, I have a paladin, too)
    Purple for warlock’s curse (although I’ve found that I sometimes need 6 (5 for the cursed, 1 for the skirmishing warlock)

    Then I use whatever’s left for badguy markers, usually a few yellows and grays.

    Moral of the story: You need one of those pimped-out cases with about 40 or 50 markers. I initially survived with 20 markers: 5 red, 5 orange, 2 each light/dark blue/green and white. Once combat started flying and people started remember what color was for what, it was apparent I needed more…

    When I hear people saying combat is slow in 4th edition, I think of two things- the DM isn’t kicking the players in the butt to be ready when it’s their turn, and they don’t use markers… This is a new ‘requirerd gear’ thing for running games…


  8. Joshua says:

    We use poker chips, which stack nicely and stay together when pushed around, are readily available, cheap (about 6 bucks per 100) and take a dry-erase marker. They are bigger than a 1″ square, which could be a problem for some people, but they’re thin enough that they can be overlapped without the figures falling over…at least with LEGOs, which is what we use for minis.

  9. AvatarArt says:

    Another good review of the Magnetic Markers (among dozens of other cool gaming things):

    I’d also like to publicly thank Craig & Jeff for being a friend of AvatarArt.
    Since 08/2006.

  10. I’ve seen these, and they’re a fantastic idea. Keeping track of status is difficult, especially with the increased number of monsters you might see in 4th edition. Making all this visible to the players is an excellent idea.

  11. Dave T. Game says:

    Hmm, I think I DID know about these, since we used them in a certain game of D&D at GenCon… which we’re not supposed to discuss publicly…

  12. Noumenon says:

    He’s right about how the demo at GenCon grabs you… the other awesome thing he was demo-ing was a circular punch. If you punch out an illustration (say off a Magic card) and stick it to the magnetic circle they sell, pow! You’ve got a token! I didn’t buy the punch but I probably should have because I’ve started cutting up all kinds of magic cards for tokens now. Especially Spiders.

  13. symatt says:

    i have been useing poker chips from day one they stack easerly and they come in many colours and very cheap

  14. Yax – thanx again for the opportunity to discuss the markers.

    All – thanx for the comments!

    Couple of things:

    First – the repulsion thing can be a challenge when you get a lot of markers in close quarters. Obviously (maybe) flipping one stack of magnets over will often cure the problem – polarity is an interesting thing. When that does not solve the issue the Dark Platypus mat is fantastic, but you can also accomplish the same thing with a piece of our mini-conversion material. Just put one of the 2×3 inch sheets down in the problem area and the magnets will stick to that rather than mess with each other. Any piece of sheet-type ferrous metal will do – hobby stores or Home Depot have stuff.

    Also – we had a LOT of requests for 2-inch markers. I am happy to say we will have those in a week or so. Very cool big pieces that look/work just like the 1-inch. Great for use with or as a 10×10 critter. You can check them out on the website.

    Again everyone – thanx for your interest!


  15. newbiedm says:

    Hey guys.
    I play with tokens, metal washers to be exact.

    1″ metal washers work great with the hole punch, and on the other side of the washer I duplicate the image and tint it red in photoshop, indicating “bloodied”.

    For markers, I have a similar setup to the Alea Tools, using magnets.

    Office Max sells a tub of colored magnets for 4 or 5 bucks in different colors, they look similar to the Alea Tools ones. The polarity is an issue, but they work rather nicely, holding the washer firmly in place.

    Question: Is there a 2″ hole punch available somewhere? I’d pick that up…

  16. You can find the 2-inch punches at some cropping/craft stores soem times… But we do sell them. We also just announced 2-inch markers – same magnets in a 2-inch version. Very cool and due to their size there is no issue with repulsion. We also sell 2-inch circle conversion material fow use with 2-inch base minis or to make 2-inch tokens. Sorry about the blatant ad, but we are pretty fired up about the 2-inch expansion to the line.


  17. AvatarArt says:

    VERY cool. Congrats on the product addition. How soon ’til Gargantuan-sized markers? ;)

  18. Yax says:

    Looking forward to the big markers!

  19. Craig Andrie says:

    Check out the new product line – new magnets eliminate the problems of having too many markers in a small space!

  20. mike says:

    i think you only need some basic ones
    red = bloodied
    black = marked by monster
    and 1 color per pc, for their mark/curse/quary etc

    the dm should keep track of everyone else condition (simple white board/dm sheet can do it)

    there are something like 19 different effects. its going to slow the game down if every turn i have to add and remove different markers.

  21. Erik says:

    Just a caveat emptor: I highly suggest shopping around to see if you can locate the products elsewhere. One of my items arrived damaged and I have been trying to get in touch with someone at Alea Tools. It’s been nearly a month now and despite repeated efforts to contact them using the e-mail addresses provided on their site (plus replying directly to the invoice e-mail) I haven’t heard anything back. Now that I am looking around online I am hearing from other people that the company does not seem to reply to e-mails–ever. As neither their site nor their invoice includes a phone number, I am at a dead end. Their products may be a good idea but if you run into a problem with missing or broken items, or any situation at all in which you need to reach someone at the company, best of luck. Remember: caveat emptor if you place an order with them.

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