While re-reading the 1e AD&D books, I came across this in the Players Handbook section on hit points:

In some campaigns the referee will keep this total secret, informing players only that they feel “strong”, “fatigued” or “very weak”, thus indicating waning hit points. (PHB, 34)

I remember reading this back in the day and I think I may have even tried it for a game or two, though I can’t remember for sure.

In concept, there are things I like about the idea. Players would be less certain about the exact condition of their characters and would be more likely to play their wounded as such due to moving the 1-hit-point-perfectly-fine-but-0-hit-points-means-dead issue “behind the screen.” The story/role-playing element of the game would probably be enhanced by this approach.

However, the book keeping burden on the DM would increase and damage rolls for monsters would probably have to be rolled behind the screen. Plus, and this is no small point, IT’S A GAME. Game-isms are allowed.

After all, if I do this with hit points, why not with ability scores? I could simply roll up PCs’ ability scores for them and tell them if they are “weak”, “average”, or “strong” and “dumb”, “typical”, or “smart”. And when they buy armor I could just tell them to write “unarmored”, “moderately protected”, or “well armored” on their character sheet while I keep track of their actual AC. In fact, I would probably have to keep their character sheet for them. They could just have a piece of scrap paper with a couple of notes on it.

Okay, that’s getting a little extreme. Even with a perfectly fair DM who was capable of keeping up with everything, I think most players would be frustrated with that style of play, at least in a game like AD&D or even the basic versions of the game. For an ultra-simple intro-type game for new gamers, maybe something like that would work.

Anyway, has anyone ever tried the keep-hit-points-secret method?


9 Comments to “Secret Hit Points”

  1. Jeff Rients says:

    I use it once in a while, mainly for one shots. It keeps veteran players on their toes very nicely.

    • Kilgore says:

      Yeah, that makes sense.

      If I had an intern tracking everything, I can imagine doing this with a lot of PC info for story/role-play intense games.

  2. That’s the way we used to play in the Old Days, but these days it’s more player-managed; which I sometimes think is a shame, because it makes players too cautious at times, too much meta-gaming involved, but as you say, in the end it is a game.

  3. John Harper Brinegar says:

    We did this for a while when I was a teenager; one of the guys who did a lot of DMing was a control freak. It made us more cautious for certain, and it also unfortunately raised some trust issues with that DM. I don’t really recommend it.

  4. Anon says:

    DM’s have to be control freaks; it comes with the territory.

  5. al says:

    I’ve tried it before.

    I don’t remember how the group reacted, but we didn’t do it for long, so it must not have been favorable 🙂

  6. I wrote a computer game that worked like this years ago. It told you what the HP would be based on averages, but not what it actually was. For example an effect that would cause 1d3 damage would take 1-3 from Actual HP, and 2 from Expected HP, and the player would only see Expected HP.

    I suspect that a lot of computer games work like this in practice, once they get complicated enough that players don’t keep track of everything.

  7. JB says:

    What Al said.

  8. JDjarvis says:

    I tried this in my campaign once years back. The players totally hated it. I’d even worked out a limited set of words that would clue the attentive player in on how much damage they were suffering but the players ultimately wanted none of it and it lasted very few sessions.
    The book keeping chore on me as DM was insignificant as it was quick enough in play for me to track HP for the whole group on a sheet.