Here is an idea I think I'll try with my group tomorrow. First the roots of the idea:
1. James Raggi posted about having players put two index cards in front of them on the table showing what was in their hands (because he was tired of what characters had at hand being nebulous to their advantage).*
2. Cyclopeatron gave a little orange lantern-card to place on the table in front of the person holding the party's light source.
3. My friends have gotten very excited about Munchkin and it helped clarify things immensely when my friend got the deluxe edition for his birthday, because it has a visual way of showing everyone's level.
Now, I know you need to know someone's level in Munchkin because it's a competition, but it made me think of one of the most common questions my players ask each other: "How many hit points do you have left?"
I thought it might be easier to build a sense of tension if they saw how hurt their comrades were. That the ever present decision of how far to push it would be more visible to everyone if they could see some more information about each other right on the table. So here is a draft at a display to try and do that:
I put a place for a shield card so players that can carry shield will remember they have one to splinter, also a spot to place a big d30 card. I put those because in the heat of things players sometimes forget these options and their party mates will better be able to remind them.
The middle space is for Brendan's roles idea. I thought it would be neat to make cards for vanguard, rearguard etc. and have players think about what they'll be doing rather than just where they are standing in line. They pick their role, grab that card and plop it down. If they get hurt and change roles, they need to change cards.
I don't have an explicit space for light source, or what weapon players have (though that might be less important). But maybe the light could be in front of all this. Or I could just make smaller boxes.
*I don't think that I read that when it was first posted, but it has been years since I did. I'm always surprised at how long ideas will burble on the back burner.
Update: Here's draft 2 with cards:
I think the shield slot can pretty much substitute for tracking both hands closely; if a fighter is carrying a lantern and a weapons, no shield, etc. Of course the possibilities are endless, but what they are holding has been less a problem in my group then what each of them are doing.