3 Jolly Handy Things to Have Behind Your Screen to Make GMing Easier

I’m a big fan of working smart not hard, I’m also a big fan of being prepared. I am a prepper GM!


I’ve talked before about the kind of normal stuff I keep behind my beloved GM screen and in my gaming kit. Along with these gaming basics, I also have several other things ready to go at a moment’s notice. To save space, some or all of these things–depending on the situation–might actually be lurking on my iPad. Irrespective of whether they are in electronic or physical format, they’ve saved my bacon more than once!

Dressing Tables

It should come as no surprise I love dressing tables. I love how the small details can bring a dungeon (or whatever) alive. Dungeon dressing helps with the players’ suspension of disbelief and can help build mood and verisimilitude.

Part of the reason I started writing the 20 Articles (available for free on Raging Swan’s Free Resources page) was to inject more flavour to the adventure I was running at the time (Shards of Sin, part one of the Shattered Star adventure path). I tailored the tables to the events and locales the party were encountering–I don’t think they realized I was adding to the adventure.

In any event, I always like to have a table or two behind my screen. (And, if you want to know what might be coming up in my campaign, just check out the kind of articles we release!)

Prepared Encounters

Sometimes, the PCs go “off piste”. When this happens, to give me time to think I often throw a prepared random encounter at them. This gives me time to think and can even help me “run out the clock” so I can spend the time between sessions preparing the areas they are moving into.

Pathfinder’s mechanics are so complex that doing this of the cuff with anything but boring, bog standard monsters can be tricky. Having a stock of prepared encounters lets me run an exciting, flavourful combat. Hopefully, if I do it right, the players never realise I’m just playing for time.

PC Notes

In much the same vein as the old Dungeon Masters Adventure Log, I like to have notes about the PCs behind the screen so I don’t keep having to ask questions like, “What’s you Perception modifier?” Having these notes, helps me run the session quickly and more efficiently.

What Do You Have Behind Your Screen?

So that’s just a few of the things I keep behind the screen to make my GMing life easier. What do you keep behind yours? Let me know, in the comments below.


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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

7 thoughts on “3 Jolly Handy Things to Have Behind Your Screen to Make GMing Easier”

  1. Along with basic rules info…

    NPC Names
    NPC Quirks table (short, easy to use to differentiate NPCs)
    Random encounters for specific regions they are in
    PC Stats
    Morale table specific to their region

  2. Handouts when necessary. My players hate it sometimes, but I will often hand them a printed document, and when they try to just “knowledge check” it, I give them the basics. But they have learned I often give clues that they won’t catch just by rolling.
    In-game maps.
    Last session they laid hands on a list of wanted criminals and were delighted to see a couple of their names on it, and even were comparing whose was higher up the list, then they started actually reading it and realized most were friends or allies… and some were crossed off.
    Visual/tactile props make a world of difference sometimes.

    Various cheats such as pre-done “how long does it take to get from x to y” numbers for travel.
    As someone mentioned, some names of NPC’s that I won’t remember longer than 5 minutes.

    Much of mine is on my laptop, but I also printed out some custom DM screen type info charts and clipped them inside of my screen over some of the tables I rarely use (combat modifiers and miscellaneous).

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