Beyond the GM’s screen lies secrets and treasures the average PC would kill to possess. A GM screen is a vital part of any GM’s kit.
With a myriad of uses, a screen makes a GM’s job infinitely easier. I’ve used one throughout my Borderland of Adventure campaign and found it immensely useful. In the old days, I used to use the actual box of whatever game I was playing, or sometimes even a box file. Currently, I’m using a more traditional GM’s screen.
In whatever format, a GM’s screen’s primary function is to create a small area of table space which the players cannot observe. It acts as a focal point and serves as a non-verbal cue for players to focus on that area of the table.
A GM’s screen is also useful for:
- Rolling in Secret: Some dice rolls just need to be rolled in secret. My rule of thumb is that if knowledge of a roll’s results would affect a player’s subsequent actions, I roll it behind the screen. For example, in Pathfinder, such rolls include all Knowledge, Perception and Stealth checks. Of course, these days a GM could roll on an iPad or similar device, but I’m a bit of a Luddite at the gaming table. While tablets and so on are incredibly handy for carrying loads of rulebooks and so on they are distracting. As a GM, I want to focus on the game and the players and not my shiny device.
- Hiding Stuff: Generally, it’s a very good idea to make certain the players cannot see the dungeon map, monster statistics, the pile of pre-sorted miniatures and so on. Having a screen enables a GM to keep all that kind of stuff easily to hand (and hidden). Sure, you could hide them elsewhere (in a bag or wherever) but it’s not as convenient.
- Displaying Art & Maps: A GM can affix relevant art and maps to the players’ side of a screen. Doing so saves table space, keeps them always available and enables the PCs to see them at a glance. In the past, I’ve also added NPC lists, a summary of the current adventure’s objectives and more to the screen to help the players.
- Notes: For me, post-it notes are one of the unsung heroes of my GM kit. The inside of my screen is often festooned with them. I use them for aide memoires, to note who got infected by a disease, little-known rules, page references and more. Even better, they are movable so if the post-it note obscures the table I need, I simply move it. It’s also very hard to not spot a bright yellow post-it note stuck to my screen.
Screens for Dressing (Update)
I’m always looking at ways to get more out of my GM screen. I recently realised that as well as using them to list rules and so on, I could also create inserts to help me dress my dungeons more effectively (and to help create the illusion of detail).
And thus, the GM’s Screen line was born! At the time of writing, Raging Swan Press has released six instalments in the line.
- GM’s Screen #1: Kobold Warren
- GM’s Screen #2: Borderland Forest
- GM’s Screen #3: Goblin Caves
- GM’s Screen #4: Seedy Tavern
- GM’s Screen #5: Noisome Sewer
- GM’s Screen #6: Borderland Keep
Space behind your GM’s screen is precious (and limited). You’ve got dice, figures, the adventure, reference books—obviously a drink and snacks—as well as pencils, pens, a notebook and more! Often times a GM needs to be a juggler to make it all fit. That’s why we created the GM’s Screen line. Most GM screens focus on presenting the rules. This GM’s Screen line is different. Instead of rules, each instalment presents hyper-focused pages of dressing, minor events and more all designed to add depth and flavour to an adventure. (And better yet, you can use the tables without your players realising what you are doing!)
I’ve found them tremendously useful and I hope you do too!
Help Fellow GMs!
Do you use your GM’s screen for something else? Do you have hints or tips about how you use yours? Leave a comment below and help your fellow GMs get more out of their screens.