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I was recently running a game with my players, whose characters were in combat with a Scarecrow. According to the Monster Manual, Scarecrows have immunity to poison damage, but my players weren't rolling checks to gain information about the creature. When one of my players attacked it with their poisoned weapon, I was stuck wondering how to proceed.

When player characters' attacks fail because of immunities or resistances (or do double damage thanks to vulnerabilities), is it a best practice to flat out tell them about the resistances (etc.), or hide the results and pretend they work?

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"Your attack appears to inflict less damage than it should"

is the generic response my old DM preferred to use, very regularly. I try to storytell it a little better, saying how it "didn't slow down the creature at all", or "it batted away that attack". "It didn't flinch at the blow", or "the majority of the poison/acid/fire/whatever seems to slide off the monster's flesh".

Generally, if you imagine what a visual effect a poison effect would have (sickly green ooze, maybe?) would have in an attack, and what would describe it being fairly useless, you can come up with something on the fly. It does get a little more difficult with complex damage types like psychic, force, or poison, but simply saying "it doesn't slow down or flinch, or even notice" is a great way of telling your players what's up.

This could also be used for temporary hitpoints, which is a good way of keeping them on their toes, so you aren't giving away all the possibilities by dropping a few hints that something's wrong. "Something's off" could be temporary hitpoints, an illusion, resistance/immunity, or a disadvantage roll you might have rolled in secret (in case they had a hidden ability that caused a player to attack them with disadvantage, like Phasebeasts)

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Generally, players shouldn't be asking to make rolls, they should be interacting with the world and you as GM should be asking for rolls when appropriate to see what the outcome of that interaction is. When it comes to knowledge rolls, that means that when they encounter something new, you should ask them to make the appropriate roll to see what it is. Since a scarecrow is a construct, when they first encounter it, you should ask for an Intelligence (arcana) check to see what they know.

GM: The seemingly harmless scarecrow in the field you were passing suddenly jumps to life. Make an Intelligence (arcana) roll.

PC: I got a 13

GM: This seems to be a construct so you guess it will have most normal construct immunities including mind affecting and poison.

If all you players fail their check to know about the monster, they may be able to get an insight check after interacting with it.

PC: I slash it with my poisoned dagger doing 3 + 6 poison damage.

GM: Ok you slice at its arm causing some of the hay to come out of its arm. Roll an insight check.

PC: I got a 15

GM: Normally when you use this poison you see the wound change color fill with puss, but the straw in this creature's arm doesn't seem to react any differently than if you had sliced him without the poison.

In other words, if you think the characters might have information or insights the players don't have, ask for a roll, or if it is obvious enough, just tell them.

It may even be appropriate when a player tries to do something the character may know if a bad idea to have them roll for the information (or even just tell them) and ask if they still want to do it. Remember the characters are living in this world full time and their lives depend on remembering information about the monsters. Your players usually only do this for a few hours a week as recreation. Reminding them of things the should know is fine sometimes.

PC: I poison my dagger to attack the scarecrow

GM: Ok, you can do that, but remember when we fought scarecrows a few months ago? You tried using poison then and it didn't seem to affect them. Do you still want to try?

Of course don't go overboard with this; you aren't trying to play their characters for them. If they want to do something stupid they should be allowed to, but if their character would know it is stupid, they player should have that information too. The goal here is to try and ensure the player and the character are working with the same information.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Technically it'd be called an Arcana check (or more accurately an "Intelligence (Arcana) check") in 5e, not a "knowledge arcana roll". (And correspondingly, there are also "Intelligence (History)" and "Intelligence (Religion)" checks.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 15 '18 at 18:52
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You are not obliged by the rules or the recommendations of the manual to give them any information about the monsters, other than their appearance and that they have reached half HP.

Tracking Monster Hit Points During a combat encounter, you need to track how much damage each monster takes. Most DMs track damage in secret so that their players don't know how many hit points a monster has remaining. Whether you choose to be secretive or not is up to you. What's important is that every monster's hit points be tracked individually. (DMG 247)

Describing The Effects Of Damage Dungeon Masters describe hit point loss in different ways. When your current hit point total is half or more of your hit point maximum. you typically show no signs of injury. When you drop below half your hit point maximum, you show signs of wear, such as cuts and bruises. An attack that reduces you to 0 hit points strikes you directly, leaving a bleeding injury or other trauma, or it simply knocks you unconscious. (PHB 197)

That said, it's worth considering giving them some information. Players like to feel that they're making progress, and it's often a lot more interesting for them if they can feel that each round of action is useful, rather than them making no progress for an unknown reason. For example, you could describe how a poisoned foe's flesh rots from the necrotic toxin, while a scarecrow's flesh remains fine. If they have a particular background or history that would include knowledge of such a beast, like a monster hunter, you could also prompt them to make an int roll.

The DMG explains why you should give them information on half hitpoints.

Players often ask how hurt a monster looks. Don't ever feel as though you need to reveal exact hit points, but if a monster is below half its hit point maximum, it's fair to say that it has visible wounds and appears beaten down. You can describe a monster taken to half its hit points as bloodied, giving the players a sense of progress in a fight against a tough opponent, and helping them judge when to use their most powerful spells and abilities. (DMG 248)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know that this is how I would interpret these sections of the rule book. I think the section in the DMG is more about tracking damage than what should or shouldn't be shared and the PHB section is illustrating how you might describe different levels of HP. I don't think either or these were intended as a requirement that GMs must describe certain things at certain times but rather an illustration of how you might describe an opponents health rather than just sharing the HP numbers. \$\endgroup\$ – Barker Aug 15 '18 at 16:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ The DMG has similar advice, and explains why DMs are obliged to share info. I'll edit it in. \$\endgroup\$ – Nepene Nep Aug 15 '18 at 16:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even with this addition, these still seem to be "ought" type guidelines rather than "obligation" statements as indicated in your answer. For comparison, look at the section on tracking damage you quoted. It says "you need to track" damage and it is "important" to track it individually. This is an obligation. For describing damage it says "it is fair to say" and "you can describe". The language is much softer indicating this is more of a recommendation. \$\endgroup\$ – Barker Aug 15 '18 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Obligation both refers to moral issues and rules issues and so the book recommending it counts as an obligation, but if you see it as important, I'll note that it's a moral obligation not a rules obligation. \$\endgroup\$ – Nepene Nep Aug 15 '18 at 16:32

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