Many game masters boast an ability that I can’t match. I can’t stick to a character accent, but not that ability.
During combat encounters, many GM’s remember which monster corresponds to which damage total on a sheet of paper.
I can’t. In my games, I keep applying damage to the wrong totals until some goblin survives 50 points of damage. Players protest, and I invent a story about a goblin enchanted to never die, or about a legendary warrior cursed to live as a goblin. Good tales, but my players suspect the truth.
Now I use numbered markers to distinguish the miniature figures on my battle map. Alea Tools sells the disks and numbered stickers that I use. Unless you also buy adhesive, magnetic disks and stick them to the bottom of your figures, miniatures tend to slip off the Alea markers.
I number miniatures to help bookkeeping, but two other benefits surprised me.
The numbers speed communication. In the typical fight, players keep referring to monsters as “this one” and “that one.” Then I look up from my notes and ask “which one?” and the pointing resumes. Repeat once per turn.
I train players to refer to monsters by number. “Number three” works much better than “this one.” I rarely even need to look up and find the creature on the board.
After someone damages a monster, number it. When my players hit something, I pass them a marker and say, “Make ‘that one’ number three.”
For area effects, numbers make bookkeeping faster. When the wizard casts the first fireball, I pass a numbered markers for each target. Without looking up from my damage tally, I roll saves. “Number 1 saves…2 fails…” and so on. If some targets already have numbers, then I ask the players to read the numbers of the figures in their area of effect. On my sheet, I make tick marks by the targets, roll saves, and total damage. I can do bookkeeping without looking up.
This method does require a new routine. The long habit of “this one” and “that one” takes a couple of encounters to break, but soon combat encounters run faster.