Damage behind or across the screen

edited June 2011 in General Discussion
Hi all,
I've been a silent member for a while but I have finally invigorated my players enough to get them involved in Obsidian Portal and have been updating and adding like crazy to my campaign as a result of our shared enthusiasm.

I wanted to post a question to fellow DM's and Players. I read recently on Penny Arcade I believe about damage behind the screen. I have played with the idea and my players are a bit concerned about the outcome of this type of mechanic.

To elaborate, I would roll my attacks and then describe damage done to my players with great detail via oratory delivery. Likewise when they attack they can tell me their damage number and rather then explain what hitpoints the monster has left, they get a description of the attack's result. When I attack them, I keep their HP value totals and current behind the screen so they never know numerically how they are doing.

I value any feedback that you folks have to offer about this idea/style of DMing.



  • Feachador
    Posts: 15
    I once ran a Ravenloft game where I did this. I kept as many numbers secret as possible. The players didn't even know how many HP they HAD!

    For a horror game, it was *extremely* effective. I had PCGen handle all the rolling and tracking damage, so it was very easy on my end. And the players were much more cautious when they didn't know exactly how many sword swings could bring them down.
  • floridafayboy
    Posts: 13
    Ha! That sounds great! I'll check out PCGen. I am new to the online components of RPG's. I have been using System Reference Documents for 3.5. but not much past that.

  • GamingMegaverse
    Posts: 2,994
    I did this in a horror game once as well (Beyond the Supernatural) and it added to the horror and spookiness...but long before the internet tools were available.

    "A God...Rebuilt":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/a-god-rebuilt

    Just trying to help out.

  • kenurion
    Posts: 80
    I had a DM once who didn't even let us roll dice much less see how they came up. That was some of the best gaming in my experience.
  • Poutine_Paladin
    Posts: 285
    I don`t see a problem with this as long as your descriptions are good. It would be unfair for a player to not know that their character can`t survive another attack and not know that they should be running away, for example. If you`re describing the scene well, then they could figure it out, but if they`re just supposed to guess......
  • arsheesh
    Posts: 850
    It would be one thing to introduce this mechanic up front, at the beginning of a new campaign. Everyone who chose to be a part of the campaign would know what they were in for. However, before introducing this idea to an existing campaign I'd consider the play style of those involved. Are they the kind of group that is creative, enjoys good narration, and really get into character? If so, then this might be a great mechanic to bring to the table. However, if you've got a crowd of rules lawyers you might wan to think twice about this idea. This type often don't care for deviations from the norm. Another consideration might be, just how deadly are your battles. If you frequently have battles in which characters drop, then I can understand the wariness of your players. If these sorts of situations are more rare though, I don't see the harm in dispensing with known HP. The main question ought to be, "will this mechanic contribute to, or detract from, the overall enjoyment of the game for my party?"

  • Poutine_Paladin
    Posts: 285
    Nice one, Arsh. I never even thought to consider whether this would be adapted part way through a campaign.

    Upon further consideration, I'm not really on board with the not knowing how many HP a character has. Maybe not specifics, like "I've been taking about 7 damage from each strike, so I can take 2 more before I'm in trouble," but I think a player should at least know how tough their character is, and be able to respond appropriately. Even if they can't see the numbers, I think a "you think you probably can't take more than a couple more hits like that," or something would be in order, as a character would likely know what condition they are in, and therefore the player should have at least an idea.

    I'm in the middle ground on this, I guess. Which is appropriate, because I'm somewhere in the middle when it comes to rules, etc. as well.
  • floridafayboy
    Posts: 13
    I aprpeciate the interest in my question/dilema. I'll give a bit of background on my campaign. I run a strictly RP campaign set in Forgotten Realms Pre-Time of Troubles. I run a loose rules game, more often I'll rule over a situation rather than allow my players to look things up. This has had two effects; We don't slow down to look up rules typically and if they don't look up a spell effect or something ahead of time, I'll often make the spell fizzle out and be non-effective. I can forsee this working in my campaign, though it is a big rule change for the middle of a campaign, I think my players are game for it, we don't fight very often. Typicaly game sessions go by without combat. Sometimes two nights in a row, the dice rolling is all skills and conversation.

    I imagined a description along these lines.
    Player attacks enemy:
    light damage - You skim over the monster's skin and draw a trickle of blood. The monster barely flinches.
    medium damage - Your blade bites into the monster's flesh and he hisses and recoils. A large stream of blood begins to drip down his flesh.
    moderate damage - You cut deep into the beast's ribcage, a crack of bone is heard clearly above the din. Blood begins to spill out in earnest.
    high damage - Your blade whistles with excitement as it plunges towards the monster's flesh and is rewarded with a gush of blood and the crack of bones. The monster howls in agony as he stumbles back, his eyes darting fearfully around.

    This also can trigger role-playing as my characters will often try and take someone in for questioning. With characters I'd add a descriptor similar to above and add in something like this;
    Light damage - You feel a warm trickle of blood and wipe it away effortlessly
    Medium damage - You flinch in pain and feel a bit lightheaded. A warm stream runs down your arm.
    Moderate damage - You feel the rib crack and instantly cough up a mouthful of blood. You are having trouble breathing and feel dizzy and unfocused.
    High damage - You are struggling with the effort of standing, unsure if you will pass out an any moment. Your vision begins to blur and your weapon feels impossibly heavy.

    I am pretty good at in game descriptions, we don't play with minature's so all of my dungeons are imagined.

  • twiggyleaf
    Posts: 1,990

    I like your way of doing things. It certainly helps to add a colourful description to damage total, although I think, as Arsheesh hinted, there are also players who would not like this, and as Poutine Paladin points out, alot of people believe they have a right to know what "numerical" state their character is in.
    I recently ran a game and there was quite alot of combat involved. I told one guy: "He hits you for 40 points of damage!" and one of the other players suggested I could elaborate a bit more. Going round the table, at the next stage I described how the monster jumped up, took his sabre in an arc that sliced through the flesh of his arm delivering a serious blow that......." Before I could finish the sentence, the player said: "Just give me the number!" Sometimes you can't win.

    So, I believe everyone has to work and adapt to what works with them and their particular group; and this may even change within each group, according to the players and the situation. It seems to work for you, so I suggest you keep it up and play the way you are playing!


    "I met a traveller from an antique land....."

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    Previous CotM Aug 2012: Shimring: High Level Multiplanar Campaign

    Inner Council Member

  • arsheesh
    Posts: 850
    He actually said that to you?! Man, that kind of insolence at the table just wouldn't fly with me; I'd have told him the next time he interrupted a narration I was giving the blow his pc received would automatically be a crit. The very nerve!
  • Poutine_Paladin
    Posts: 285
    Agreed, Arsh. That's just disrespectful.
  • Dungeon_Master_Loki
    Posts: 358
    That is one of the few instances that would make me trot out the old wandering damage table from my 1e days. Unacceptable at the table.

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  • optimus_mush
    Posts: 28
    While I personally really like the suggested rule change I think that you yourself hit it on the head floridafayboy when you said, "Typicaly game sessions go by without combat. Sometimes two nights in a row, the dice rolling is all skills and conversation."

    In a game where combat isn't the main show, the players will appreciate the opportunity to engage their roleplaying skills and determine when they've had enough based on the description versus the numbers. In a campaign where combat is more pervasive I believe that many players will definitely want to know how their characters are faring rather than constantly using up resources to heal themselves or to retreat out of fear of being defeated.

    I have always hated it when a trio of archers have arrows pointed at a character, yelling at them to stop and the players simply advances on them knowing that even if all three crit on them it won't be enough damage to do any serious harm.

    I really think that you and your group are on to something there.
  • igornappovich
    Posts: 76
    optimus_mush -I second your opinion.

    One option I used to use in a long running D and D campaign: when a player rolled a natural 20, they got to describe in detail what exactly happened (skill check, combat roll, whatever) and for the most part I would try to fit their narrative into the numbers (instead of the other way around).

    I was often pleasantly surprised by the things the players would come up with as their result from the "natch". It definitely made those natural 20's a lot more interesting and, quite often, unique. Its a great way for players to express some creativity too.
  • Baalshamon
    Posts: 585 edited August 2011
    I have run many campaign using the "Damage behind the scenes" method described above. I have found the system works great for horror campaign and sci fi campaigns (Chill, Ravenloft, Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu). It does require a certain mindset to be established in your players. It did require a learning curve but we played games like Amber where everthing is done via story. I love story based games because they force the players to think and they stop the number crunching. You should try it out over several sessions to see if your players are really up to it. I found my group was 50/50. Some loved it some hated it.

    As for damage the enemy suffers, I never tell the players the enemies hit points and only describe the damage done.

    "Star Trek Late Night":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaign/star-trek-late-night/wikis/main-page
    Post edited by Baalshamon on
  • HurstGM
    Posts: 205
    FeachadorCommentTimeJun 28th 2011
    I once ran a Ravenloft game where I did this. I kept as many numbers secret as possible. The players didn't even know how many HP they HAD!

    For a horror game, it was *extremely* effective. I had PCGen handle all the rolling and tracking damage, so it was very easy on my end. And the players were much more cautious when they didn't know exactly how many sword swings could bring them down.

    OH I like this I might try it for my game.

    And floridafayboy here is a link for your game that people can click

    "Deep Water Warriors":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/waterdeep-warriors/

    If you need the code here it is

    @"Deep Water Warriors":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/waterdeep-warriors/@

    From what ive gathered its easier to get traffic to your game that way
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