The more games I run the more I learn about my own needs as a GM. One tool that I started using a few years ago and that has become indispensable to me is the hit point tracker, or hit point bubbles.
I want to say that I saw hit point bubbles many years ago in a module. But I honestly can't remember if that's true or not. I know that the adventures written for BasicFantasy RPG use hit point boxes and it is probable that I picked up the idea when I first started perusing the OSR in 2012 by checking out BFRPG materials. In any case, I used hit point trackers in my first module Howler and in every adventure since. And I use them at the table in any game I run.
The idea is simple. If the monster has 5 hit points you make 5 boxes, bubbles or some other mark. If a PC deals 2 points of damage you check off 2 bubbles. It's fast and easy and you can keep talking while doing it. There's no math involved, no drain on your brain even for a second.
Use a pencil, not a pen. Because trolls heal, right?
Here's an example of some hit point bubbles in one of the one-page dungeons for Black Pudding #1.
|The Vexx is vexed!|
You can also use the bubbles to remind you of events that might happen as a creature is wounded. Remember the “bloodied” condition from 4e? You can love or hate 4e but this concept is fantastic and truly useful. When a creature's hit points are reduced by 50% (bloodied) something special happens. They go all raging or they run or whatever.
|The Vexx is getting scared...|
This idea has proven so useful to me I started applying it wherever resource tracking is involved. I used bubbles on my one-shot and con game character sheets to keep track of spells, torches, or whatever else is needed. I didn't use them for PC hit points, but I definitely might start doing that.
Anything that keeps a game flowing and reduces downtime is a win. Ticking off some bubbles, to me, is far less mentally taxing than subtracting or adding numbers.