A multifaceted blog on RPGs

Alea Tools – A Review

In D&D 4E on January 28, 2009 at 1:51 pm

In D&D 4E, to be able to fully use and arbitrate the effect of combat in general and powers in particular, you need to be able to visualize the positions of the PCs and NPCs. This might mean pencil, paper and lots of eraser or miniatures and 3D terrain to scale. Our group has a wet dream of some kind of solution based on Microsoft Surface but so far, that seems to be quite a bit into the future. This means we use D&D miniatures and a whiteboard with inch marks, drawing terrain in different colors. We use the whiteboard for bookkeeping as well, tracking initiative and effects. Read more after the break on how some magnetic markers and a battle mat saved me lots of sanity DMing 4E combat.

The miniatures and dice approach had several problems, first, using D&D miniatures is a mixed bag, they are generally well done, but the randomness is very irritating. This means that my goblins look like a menagerie of elves, skeletons and warforged scouts depending on what I got in my booster miniature pack. Instead we use dice to represent different monsters, but they are quite charmless. Second, we still have a problem with all the effects in play. To select powers, you need to know who is bloodied or immobilized and when DMing 15 monsters, it’s easy to forget who got dazed and who got marked.

Enter Alea Tools. Alea Tools is a company making markers for tabletop roleplaying. They can basically be used for any RPG (Savage Worlds comes to mind, tracking Shaken status) but where they shine is when playing D&D 4E. The toolset includes three parts:

  • Colored one-inch and two-inch magnetic markers (like thick poker markers). These are used to mark a character as bloodied, flying, 5 ongoing poison damage, dazed, etc.
  • One-inch and two-inch magnetic tokens with one adhesive side where you can attach them to a miniature base or put a graphic label.
  • One-inch and two-inch hole punches for making cut-outs to attach to the tokens.

This has revolutionized my 4E combats. When preparing an adventure, I now create circular cut-outs, one- or two-inch (Large  creatures) representing the different creatures the characters will encounter. If multiple creatures of the same kind, I number the tokens to keep track of the individual creatures. I could of course use text labels, but images are more fun, so i scour the net, looking for good images to represent my monsters, usually, I end up on wizards homepage, using their promotional pictures for their different products. Using the punch-out and the self-adhesive tokens, together with a template I’ve made in Apple’s Pages, the whole process takes less than fifteen minutes (most of it hunting images).

When playing, I use the tokens to represent player characters as well as monsters. I then use the differently colored magnetic markers to represent different states, bloodied, immobilized etc. I started with just six different colors, but after a few sessions I realized that this isn’t enough, with marks, curses, blinds, ongoing damage and whatnot in every encounter. To remedy this I just ordered the complete set of 18 colors. Now I will never run out ;).

So, I like Alea Tools, but will you? I’ll try to break it down for you.


  • Easy and quick to use
  • Looks great
  • Improves visual assessment of the battle and bookkeeping
  • Easy to carry with you (esp. compared with miniatures)


  • Price, it’s good value, but if you want to buy the whole set, you’re looking at $100 or more
  • Non-reusabel tokens with paper. The adhesive on the token doesn’t lend itself easily to reusing. Then again, the tokens are comparatively cheap and after a while, you have tokens enough to represent lots of different monsters.

Take a look yourself at Alea Tools homepage. And by the way, now that you have magnetic tokens and magnetic markers, you’d want a magnetic battle mat. Luckily you can find one here and it’s very high quality and rolls up easily. All in all, this is a great solution for visualizing combat and aiding in bookkeeping. What tools do you use?

  1. I’ve heard good things about Alea Tools, but I don’t have a lot of cash on hand to spend. I printed out the Condition Cards found at http://www.dragonavenue.com/dnd/resources and they have been amazing! Players never forget to make their saving throw, and it explains full out what each condition means. We use folded index cards with a first aid symbol on them to represent the bloodied condition.

    • You’re absolutely right, one of the perks of finally graduating a couple of years ago was getting a monthly income, as opposed to ten years of student loans. Alea Tools make wonderful creations for gaming, but buying them wholesale can be kind of expensive. Condition cards are a perfectly viable alternative to markers with distinctive advantages of their own, the price being one of them. The multicolored markers are particularly suited for monsters, as I as a DM might have a hard time tracking all the statuses of my critters with people cursing, quarrying, marking and poisoning everywhere.

      Still, I’m thinking about adding condition cards just for the explanations, page 277 in the PHB is pretty well thumbed by now. Good link by the way, lots of good resources, I bookmarked it!

  2. Fiery Dragon productions made a bunch of token art for 3.5E — that could save you some search time if you can map the images to 4E monsters.

  3. Those are great! Thanks for the tip!

  4. 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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