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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.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I suspect the real problem is the your healers mostly play MMO's, where a healer's job is watching the hit-point meters and clicking on them as they get low. Yes in D&D it's traditional to pretend HP don't exist, saying things like "I'm sort of hurt" or "I could use one of those medium-strength heals". \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1, 2022 at 2:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Points 1 and 2 wouldn't change even if everyone exclusively worried about their own HP, and point 3 would only go away if you banned healing at all, regardless of whether players requested healing or healers proactively provided it. Point 4 is the only one that's addressable. \$\endgroup\$
    – chepner
    Mar 1, 2022 at 17:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @chepner When players need to clarify their Own damage that's always been fine (and it doesn't take long since it happens simultaneously). The accounting of Other players' HP is what I'm looking for ways to address as those with spreadsheets often want the other players and I to go over each player's damage calculations one at a time so that they can understand the calculation and write it down. \$\endgroup\$
    – CabinetCat
    Mar 1, 2022 at 18:45

7 Answers 7

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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.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, that is one of the options. Right now they track it in places where the healer player cannot see it. If they instead to so in roll20 or somewhere the healer can see it, no need for the healer to track it \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2022 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is basically the system I use as well. No sheets, just give the tokens the right value for the green bar. PCs can see each others hp number on the green bar (visible to all), monster hp numbers are hidden (editors only), but I still show the bar. Then I can just update roll20 when someone takes damage and the players have all the info they need. \$\endgroup\$
    – StarHawk
    Feb 28, 2022 at 19:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ #3 is very traditional, often known as "whining to the cleric". In practice, it's very, very easy to convince players to ask to be healed. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1, 2022 at 2:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems to me you could simplify the hats to indicate damage qualitatively - e.g. little/no damage, bloodied, seriously wounded, at death's door - which would better reflect the healer's ability to observe in the heat of battle. (This lies between the 2 examples under "hit point hats", and requires no comparison or shared calculation) \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Mar 1, 2022 at 10:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I love all the options this answer gives, and I think @ChrisH 's suggestion to simplify the hats is a good addition to the idea. we might try that first :) \$\endgroup\$
    – CabinetCat
    Mar 1, 2022 at 18:46
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Roll20 has a tool for this.

If you're using Roll20 anyway, you can use the integrated token tools to do this.

Open a token's settings page (by clicking the token then hitting the gear icon, but I assume you know that). There are three Token Bars available on the right side of the popup. If you set a Value and Max for one of those, a bar in that color will show hovering above the token. You don't need to set an "attribute" (that's only for if you've linked the token to a character sheet).

So if I put in 34 and 38 for the red Bar 3, then I'll get a little red video game health bar over the token showing the appropriate amount of health. Note that you have to put the Max value into the settings page or this doesn't work. You can track numbers by just filling in Value, but it won't show as a bar. (This can still be useful for tracking temporary HP, sorcery points, or other values that you need to track and expect to change fairly often, but aren't crucial to know at a glance.)

The bar can, by default, be seen only by those who can control the token. If the control field is blank, then only the DM can move the token and see the bars, which is very useful for monster HP tracking. If the token has "All players" in the control field, then everyone can see the bars. This is usually fine for player tokens that aren't tied to char sheets; I've never had an issue with players moving around tokens that aren't theirs.

If you want the bar to be visible to everyone regardless of who controls the token, you can do that by going into the settings page, hovering over the "..." button for the bar in question, and checking "See".

Note that once the bar is in place, there's an extra trick you can do. If you click on a token, it'll pop up some UI elements including a red, green, and blue circle, which correspond to the red, green, and blue bars, and show the current value for each bar. You can then type "+5" or "-12" or whatever into that circle, and it'll automatically apply that as a change to the bar of that color.

So if you had the aforementioned red 34/38, you can click the red circle and type in -12, and then the bar will change to 22/38. Note that the + or - is required here; if you type a number without that, it'll assume you're changing the value to that, so typing in "5" would set it to 5/38 instead of adding five HP.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You might add something about the 'text overlay' option for the bars. Depending on OP's assumptions about shared information, you can have hp totals be seen as simply visual proportions in the bar, or have the actual numerical totals displayed as well (as they are for one's own characters). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Dec 2, 2023 at 22:45
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Use a shared spreadsheet

Someone is already using a Google sheet, share this and everyone is working on the same info.

To share a sheet click the big green Share button in the top right in the web version, then you can either enter emails to share specific people or share a link. In the app you'll have to click the share icon (it's a little person with a plus) then you can add people, or click the 3 dots in the top right and click "Who has access" if you want to share it by link. You can modify the permissions so other people can edit the sheet too, then each player can share the responsibility.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your answer was flagged, I guess for being too short, so I added information on how to share google sheets. I would assume the player probably already knows this, but it might be helpful to those who don't know how easy sheets are to share. FWIW I've run plenty of games out of google sheets and never had any problems. \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Mar 1, 2022 at 6:01
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Talk to the players

It's perfectly reasonable to ask if people think combat is slow, and if so what might be some ways to speed it up. You may not have to do more than that, and the group is more likely to work together to speed things up if you work out the solution together.

Simplify

This doesn't mean that you can't offer suggestions if needed. One suggestion is to simplify. Perhaps it's not necessary to track HP to the point. If players speak up when they're at approximately half or quarter HP, or are in desperate need, then healers know who to concentrate on. Also, it's reasonable for characters to be able to look at other characters and see approximately how injured they are.

We play by voice on Discord and this is pretty much what we do.

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My group (play-by-chat) uses Roll20 for this.

For some reason, you can only see the health of your own tokens, so we added another set of character tokens that are owned/controlled by everyone that are put in the corner. (You could do this without a second set of tokens if you're fine with everyone being able to move everyone's characters.)

As a player, when your character takes damage, you edit your health in Roll20. After you've done that, you decide if you want to also mark the changes on your character sheet. (I personally mark it only in Roll20 during battle, and transfer the information into my sheet afterwards since we only use Roll20 for combat.)

Specifically, we use one bar for regular HP (red) and another for temp (blue).

This allows everyone to see each other's health, a single source of truth. Even those without healing abilities appreciate it: characters that can take hits will often block off enemies from going after weaker players.

It's fast, simple, and effective.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can definitely update Roll20 tokens to have health visible to everyone, while still only being controllable by a single player. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red Orca
    Feb 28, 2022 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RedOrca We couldn't figure it out, but now that I know it's possible I'll try again (unless someone tells me how first). \$\endgroup\$
    – Laurel
    Feb 28, 2022 at 20:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Laurel Open the token settings, hover over the "..." next to the bar you want to make visible, and check "See" \$\endgroup\$ Feb 28, 2022 at 22:25
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Players can communicate between themselves

If the players want to know how much damage was dealt and the resulting HP they don't need to ask you they can ask the player directly - they even have a text chat they can do this in OOC.

Players who are at risk can also say "hey I need healing I'm at 5/60", players who are considering using their turn to heal can say "I don't have any plans next turn, anyone need healing?"

Since every player is already tracking their own health and is aware of how at risk they are, and how survivable they are, it is more efficient to have them ask for healing / offer healing than for each player to check hp.

Preventing combat from being bogged down is the real issue

To prevent combat being bogged down I find the simplest solutions are either turn timers or "seize the initiative".

  • Turn timers: every turn start a 1 minute timer. At the end of that timer the turn ends regardless if the PC has more actions/move/bonus actions/partially resolved mechanics. I find this most effective when you have players who see their turn as their opportunity to have a discussion.
  • Seize the initiative: when it's a player's turn they have to start their turn immediately or their turn ends. Any pause means that they have lost the initiative, their PC flounders in indecision and they miss their chance to act. This is a great solution when players tend to um and ah, asking questions or asking for recaps on their turn. It keeps players engaged and forces them to think between their turns.

Implementing either of these will force your players to find solutions which are efficient and can be conducted without relying on you or taking up extra time. It's their job to fit everything they want to do within the rules without slowing down the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We have some metas on the topic, this is a decent one \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1, 2022 at 5:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is probably the best approach as a round is only 6 seconds — in combat you can only determine "at a glance" none / light / medium / heavy / death injuries as well as making brief communications — good reference: rpg.stackexchange.com/a/149109/75549 \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2, 2022 at 18:19
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Improved Initiative is a platform that does this

We use Roll20 for our campaign, but our DM prefers a different platform, Improved Initiative for running our combat.

It may do more than you want, but it helps us a lot not only with HP, but also showing combat order (so upcoming people know their turn is approaching) and allows you to tag characters with status affects.

Our DM has it set up so that PC Characters HP shows up as numbers ###/### but NPC HP shows up as descriptors (Healthy, Hurt, Bloodied).

I've found it nicer as a player to be able to have two different interfaces that I can see side-by-side without moving around a lot in Roll20.

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