[RPG] How to healers track all PCs’ health without slowing combat


I'm a GM and a couple of the players who have healing abilities are tracking others' HP on spreadsheets during combat. On the one hand, I love that they're looking out for each other. On the other hand, combat keeps getting slowed by the collective accounting of HP. The HP blockchain if you will…

Some relevant information:

  1. We're in an online zoom game (D&D 5e) + Roll20 basic tier for encounter maps.
  2. Players track their own HP in a manner of their choosing (paper & pencil, Google spreadsheet, D&D Beyond, some initiative-tracker phone app; I'm not 100% sure about specifics)
  3. While everyone keeps their full character sheets private, everyone knows each others' total HP.
  4. The HP tracking players listen to everyone's turns, and also mark their fellows' HP on separate spreadsheets.
  5. In this way, the healers do a great job of noticing when a player is low and healing them before they go down

However, this also slows combat in several ways:

  1. When I call out damage, I often have to clarify the numbers for additional players who are not taking damage.
  2. For AOE effects, there's even more accounting since then we have to clarify who is in the affected area, who is using what abilities to reduce damage, and who succeeded/failed on their saving throws.
  3. Healing spells and spells that grant temporary HP also take longer for the same reasons.
  4. Whenever a player goes unconscious (or something else happens that reveals their exact HP as recorded by the player), if their number doesn't match what the spreadsheet-keepers had for them, the group spends time hashing out whose number is right, and where the error might have happened.

Maybe I want us to have our cake and eat it too, but how do you let players track other's health without bogging down game play? One parameter is that I want to avoid having to monitor Zoom chat or text messages during combat. I could also accept suggestions/reframings about how healers in your game know whom to heal & when if they don't track others' HP at all.

Best Answer

This answer assumes you are all OK with all players and the player characters knowing each other's hit points (hp are a game mechanic. The characters can see if someone is bloodied, it is less clear if they would know anything about hp). All of them essentialy redistribute the work to each player broadcasting their hit points, instead of the healer trying to track them.

Roll20 mechanics

If you are using Roll20 with pogs on battlemaps, you can connect the character sheets to the pogs to automatically update hit point display if you change the hit points in the character sheet. Or you can just manually populate one of the fields in the pog to display the hitpoints. You can set permissions on pogs to "controlled by all players" so everyone can see/handle them.

We use the green, middle field on top of the pog. If you provide both the current and maximum value, it even can generate a little green bar underneath that shows how much of 100% is still remaining. If all players update their hit points there, there is no need for the healers to track them separately.

Hit point hats

This is a fun way to track them if you are on camera. Everyone wears a hat and sticks a little note card into front of the hatband that displays their current hit points.

Back in second edition, playing at the table we used to do this with a single hat for the player who had the least hits remaining, or "Mr. Hit Point". This gave the DM a subtle hint and allowed them to not accidentially take him out.

Have people call out

If healers tend to heal characters that are down to a certain low number of hit points, you can have the characters just shout out that they are badly hurt and need healing. Speaking is a free action.