Rules Behind The Screen

Saturday night was the first big experiment in my gaming methodology: I ran a game in the Northern Isles for three players and all the rules were behind the screen.

The predictions of both sceptics and my own inner anxious voice was that this would be hard but that it would fail when it came to running a combat. On Saturday, as part of the opening situation, I allowed the possibility that the player characters would enter combat… and they did. The prediction proved incorrect.

The other element in the experiment was that I wanted to find out if this would be possible and practical running with a “crunchier” set of rules.

I dislike “rules light” because these types of game tend to provide me with very little mechanical skeleton upon which to build the flesh of description and story. They quickly become inconsistent and accrete new rules until they become no longer “light”. As it turns out, it was just fine running with some “crunch”… if anything, that detail helped me to run the combat without over-straining my improvisational powers.

The rules are behind the screen. The players don’t have a traditional character sheet. They have some descriptive details on their character plus whatever background notes we constructed through the earlier interview stage.

The players are managing their equipment lists, quantity of weight carried (they do know the thresholds for being, “slightly encumbered” and such), and looking after tracking their money. Everything else is converted verbally from mechanisms I adjudicate, using character sheets only I see, involving die rolls I make, into descriptive narrative. It was a lot of fun to run.

Overall, the session was positive for me and the players report that they were (as intended) able to focus much more on the descriptions of the scenes, making decisions in-character without reference to mechanisms, and to think more directly as they imagined their characters would think. Thus, this session appears to have been broadly successful.

Next step? Prep and deliver another session. Then another. To keep playing.

Game on!


  1. Che, the game session was indeed a good experiment. I was not in doubt as to your ability to run combat but it seemed to go smoother than expected for a first go.

    The few times when I was in doubt as to the physical relationships of things, and asked about details, it turned out that my understanding was accurate. So mapless, descriptive combat was action packed and drama laden for me.

    Thanks for suggesting we try this experiment. It is turning into a campaign I want to continue for a long time.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rock on Che.

    I started trying to play like this many years ago, but only just found my balance in the last few years.

    For most games for me it’s players having traits, managing gear and making rolls. But ‘HP’ and everything else behind the screen.

    Hope you find your balance. Game on!


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