The Stew’s own Kurt “Telas” Schneider uses a cigar box instead of a GMing screen, and I decided to try that myself when I started my current campaign. Six months later, what do I think of it?

I love it, and I’d recommend it to any GM.

Why a cigar box instead of screen?

I love GMing screens. I’m a lifelong fan with numerous screens in my collection, and I used to consider them a 100% essential part of my arsenal.

But you know what? They have downsides, too. Most notably, for me, they reduce the feeling of intimacy that a screen-less gaming table provides.

Not hur hur hur intimacy, but the feeling of a connection between GM and players — which can be a powerful part of the gaming experience on both sides of the equation.

Ditch the screen, set a cigar box off to one side, and the intimacy returns — but you don’t sacrifice one of the biggest benefit of a screen: the ability to hide die rolls. I like to make some rolls in the open, and others out of my players’ view, and the cigar box gives me a great way to do that.

(If I had elaborate adventure notes to hide, as well, I might still be using a screen — but going digital for this campaign has abrogated 99% of my need for paper of any kind.)

OK, but why a cigar box, specifically?

Simple: they’re cheap, durable, and give you a portable die-roll-hiding device that’s much better than cupping your hand and rolling behind that, and that works just as well as a GMing screen for this purpose.

You need one with a hinged lid, so that you can raise the lid and roll inside the box without your players seeing what you roll. It can be cardboard or wood, though I much prefer wood for aesthetic and durability reasons, and it should be deep enough to avoid dice bouncing out and to ensure that a sideways glance won’t spot a die roll.

Many smoke shops throw away their cigar boxes, and will give one to you for free just for asking; others will sell them to you cheaply. I bought mine on Etsy for about $12, and it’s held up great through several months of gaming.

My cigar box

I poked around quite a bit before settling on this cigar box, which has a lot going for it: it features my daughter’s name, Lark; it has character, being around 30-40 years old; and it’s hinged, deep, wooden, and has a much smaller footprint than many cigar boxes.

I modified it with a sheet of self-stick felt, which ran me $2 at the craft store. I added a lining to the interior bottom to cut down on dice noise:

…and four little feet to the underside so that it wouldn’t scrape around on the table:

It’s worked great for me so far, and I don’t have any plans to start using a screen again — I love my cigar box “screen” that much, and if you’ve never tried this particular GMing tool, I recommend giving it a shot.

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.



10 Responses to The Cigar-Box GMing Screen, Six Months Later

  1. Interesting. Personally, hiding die rolls is almost irrelevant for me. The only thing I want from a screen is the ability to hide my notes.

  2. Matthew J. Neagley

    I’ll add that the top of the box, the front of the box and the inside of the top of the box are great places to tape or tack notes that get a lot of use and that as long as you leave enough open area inside to roll your dice and get your mitts in there to retrieve them, the inside can be segmented to hold notecards for the session, minis, counters, or any other fiddly bitz you may like to carry with you.

  3. @Justin Alexander – I don’t even hide my notes. I trust my players not to have wandering eyes. :)

  4. Great idea! I never use a screen and roll everything right out in the open, but I like the idea as a way to keep dice from bouncing off the table. It seems like I am always rolling on top of books and papers and ending up with cocked dice due to all the variation in terrain.

  5. Kurt "Telas" Schneider

    Thanks for the shout-out! (Or was it a prop? I’m so square…)

    If the sweet aroma of tobacco isn’t for you, some sandpaper will make the interior smell like cedar, which almost all cigar boxes are lined with.

    They also make great carrying cases for all the little accessories a GM uses.

  6. I admit that I am very tempted to try this out for myself. Plus that box design is incredibly simple to reverse engineer if you have a router table and some basic woodworking skills. It would probably cost a little bit more when you compensate for your time, but the joy of crafting your own tools for your favorite hobbies is worth it. I’m very tempted to make a “GM’s box” now with a few additional features that I would like to have.

  7. Big-hack-little-slash

    Cigar box…nice idea. I smoke cigars on the weekends and I might have to buy a whole box now just so I can try it out!

  8. @Justin Alexander – The all-digital notes help with that. ;-)

    @Kurt “Telas” Schneider – As long as we do a terrorist fist-jab, our hipster status will be restored.

  9. Another possibliltiy is a fake book. The hollowed out ones are really nice, but you can get some decent ones at places like Pier 1. My girlfriend got me a “fook” for a present and it works great to roll in. I got it a little after seeing the cigar box idea and reading about, but never finding, the dwarvensweatshoppe dice trays.

  1. Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2011-05-07

    […] The Cigar-Box GMing Screen , Six Months Later […]

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