coding character sheets

Pop-Up Tooltips

Paul Stefko
Jun 3, 2022
A tool for adding interactive tooltips to your game, good for defining terms, etc.
📕 6 min.

Sometimes you want to provide additional, but optional, information in your document, and a perfect way to do this is with a tooltip . This is a small overlay that pops up when the user interacts with an element, such as by hovering over it with their mouse pointer. HTML gives you a simple method of adding such tooltips: the title attribute. (Hover over the italicized word "tooltip" above, and you'll see such a title popup.)

But if you want to style your tooltips to better fit in with your page design, even just to use your color palette, you'll need to do a little more work. That's where this tool comes in. The CSS (and a little bit of JavaScript) here will let you easily add tooltips wherever you need them.

Grab the example files at GitHub.


It's simple to add a tooltip to any element in your page. All you have to do is give the element the tooltip class and a data-tooltip attribute with the text you want in the popup. It's probably easiest to use <span> elements, but you can really do it to any element you need a popup for.

Attacks against the dragon have
<span class="tooltip" data-tooltip="Roll two d20s and take the higher result.">

Attacks against the dragon have advantage.


This tool uses the tooltip class to denote an element that will have a popup tooltip attached. This class can give whatever styling you want to the element. In our example, we give a dotted border and turn the cursor into a question mark to indicate that the popup is information about the element.

The most important parts of the tooltip class are position: relative and the three custom properties: --tt-space, --tt-bg, and --tt-text. Setting the position property creates a positioning context for the popup. The custom properties are used to style the popup, with --tt-bg and --tt-text providing colors and --tt-space used in our JavaScript later.

.tooltip {
cursor: help;
border-block-end: 1px dotted crimson;
position: relative;

--tt-space: 0;
--tt-bg: #DEE;
--tt-text: #112;

Next, we use a ::before pseudo-element to create a small arrow to connect the popup to the base element. This relies on a quirk of CSS borders. Remember that all elements on your page are actually rectangles. But by pairing transparent borders with a colored border and 0 width and height, you can make an empty element look like a triangle. For more, see this article on CSS-Tricks.

.tooltip::before {
content: "";
top: 1rem;
left: calc(50% - 0.25rem);
width: 0;
height: 0;
border-inline: 0.5rem solid transparent;
border-block-end: 0.5rem solid var(--tt-bg);
transition: all 400ms;
opacity: 0;

The meat of this tool is in the ::after pseudo-element. First, it draws its content property from the data-tooltip attribute on the base element using the attr() CSS function. The background-color and color properties use those custom properties we defined earlier.

The one thing you might not be familiar with is the transform property. This is used by our JavaScript below to nudge the popup to stay inside the browser's viewport. We use that --tt-space custom property because JavaScript can't reach inside pseudo-elements. We'll explain this more in a bit.

.tooltip::after {
content: attr(data-tooltip);
position: absolute;
top: 1.3rem;
left: 0;
background-color: var(--tt-bg);
color: var(--tt-text);
width: max-content;
max-width: 200%;
padding: 0.3rem;
border-radius: 0.3rem;
text-align: center;
font-size: 0.75rem;
transform: translateX(var(--tt-space));
transition: all 400ms;
opacity: 0;

Finally, we include a small rule to make the popup fade in and out when you hover over the base element.

.tooltip:hover::after, .tooltip:hover::before {
opacity: 1;


We only need a small bit of JavaScript for this tool. Our CSS positioning doesn't know where the edges of the browser's viewport are, so our popup might end up overflowing the right edge of the window. To prevent that, we use a little JS to nudge it back inside.

We've used querySelectorAll() to grab every element with a certain class before. Here we're selecting everything with the tooltip class. Then we're adding an event listener to each of them to check for whenever the pointer enters the element's box.

When that happens, we check to see if the base element is too close to the right edge of the viewport. If it is, we set the --tt-space custom property on the base element to -50%. This property is called inside the translateX() function on the ::after pseudo-element, and when we set it here, it moves the popup to the left by half its width. (If the base element is far enough from the edge, we make sure to reset the --tt-space property.)

const tips = document.querySelectorAll(".tooltip");
tips.forEach(tip => tip.addEventListener("pointerenter",ev => {
const el =;
const rect = el.getBoundingClientRect();
if (rect.left > window.visualViewport.width - rect.width*2)"--tt-space",`-50%`);


And that's it. Just include the CSS and JS files in your page, then assign the tooltip class and a data-tooltip attribute to whatever element you want to have a popup.

In the future, we'll combine this tool with a system for processing a page's content to dynamically apply tooltips to any game term you care define globally. But that's for later.