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Video Gnoments, Episode II: GM’s Screens

Some GMs love them, and other GMs will not use them, but the GM’s screen is one of the iconic tools of our hobby. In this Video Gnoment I show a couple of traditional GM’s screens, briefly discuss the benefits of designing and building your own GM’s screen, and give a quick review of The World’s Greatest Screen [1] by Hammerdog Games [2].

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12 Comments To "Video Gnoments, Episode II: GM’s Screens"

#1 Comment By Razjah On November 18, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

I missed checking the site yesterday and now I am really sad I missed this video go up. It was excellent!

My ultimate GM screen? I haven’t found one yet. I tend to find them too tall but I haven’t found/purchase/used a landscape style GM screen which should help. I have played in a conference room in my school which has a full sized white board which was really useful. We tracked initiative, drew maps, wrote city and npc names, and did some more stuff on that.

I’m finding that I would rather have a binder/folder with cheat sheet info than a screen. I don’t like the barrier in between me and my players and I really don’t like having to stand up and lean over a screen to move minis around during battles. The screens also seem to cause issues when playing in areas without a ton of space. A 2’-3’ battle mat, character sheets, and dice tend to take up a lot of room on the table. It is becoming difficult to find a table at my college that we can easily game on and I can still use a screen.

When I ran Mouse Guard I used no screen and just rolled dice in the open and that worked well. Now I’ve been running Pathfinder and I have been using a laptop, off to the side, because of the barrier issues.

If I had the time/skill to make a screen like the wooden one that you showed I think that I would definitely use it. That thing was amazing! Have you used the wooden screen yet? Do you play with tactical grid combat? If yes, did the screen get in the way?

Why do you need the side facing the players to be fully functional? I haven’t had issues using a screen that had nothing useful opposite the GM. I would like to know what is so bothersome about the player side not containing information. They have their character sheets and often scrap paper to keep track of their information. What do they need up on a screen that is so important to you?

Just wanted to say again how much I liked this video.

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 18, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

[3] – It depends on the game, but if minis are involved I often use a battle mat or flip mat for combat. Probably about half of my games use a mat, and about half of the time I use a screen with no correlation between those two events. Some games play better with a screen IMO. Others do not, but that is a matter of taste.

I did use the wooden screen for a play test yesterday, and it works very well. The small height made it easy to use without being a barrier between the players and I. The notes in the pockets and the dry erase surfaces made using the screen in play fairly smooth.

I want a screen to serve a purpose beyond just hiding dice rolls. With those sections facing the players I want to see common rules, stats, or other forms of information in large print for the players to have constant access too. This is just a preference for me. Other might feel differently, but for my dollars I want a screen that has a player and a GM’s side.

#3 Comment By Razjah On November 18, 2010 @ 6:04 pm

Woot! I even get a fast reply.

Now I understand the player side issue and I feel kindof dumb for not getting it before. That makes a lot of sense and is really great if only one book is available to the group. I believe I shall steal that idea if I go back to a screen.

What games do you think play better with a screen and why? Now I’m curious.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 18, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

[4] – Top Secret /S.I. because it has an awesome chase flowchart on the GM’s side, and because the game is all about espionage and secrets so hiding the dice rolls makes sense IMO. Some horror games like Fear Itself, and other types of games where heightening the sense of terror or suspense will increase a player’s sense of immersion into the game. You have to think about what works best for each game though.

Something that I probably should have mentioned in the video is that I tend to stand when I GM, so the screen usually is not in the way when I am running a game. Plus I am 6’3″ so even when I sit a screen does not really block my face or upper body from the player’s view. I would imagine that differences in height would impact how a GM feels about a screen. I have a friend who is about a foot shorter than me who hates them, and I wonder if there is a connection there?

#5 Comment By Razjah On November 18, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

[5] – Do you think games like D&D (any edition) play better with a screen? Or does it just tend to be the games where hiding the rolls is more appropriate?

I’m about 6′ but I sit when gaming because my players sit. I haven’t picked up the habit of walking around GMing, moving behind the players during scenes, and other “theatrical” touches. Maybe doing things like that will help make a screen more useful. I think it’s Kurt who wants an computer on his arm so he can do that while playing music and having pdf and stuff.

My biggest complaint about screens is that they always seem to clutter the table and I never have the information I need on them. Making your own should help with at least getting right info on them, especially with the pockets of cards for the specific session. Any tips on how to get them to reduce table clutter?

I know a great clutter reducer at the table is using a laptop. But I hate gaming with them for reasons that I can’t fully express with words. When I need to hide roles I use a fake book box thing.

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 19, 2010 @ 10:20 am

[6] – D&D’s later editions (3 and up) which seem to emphasize tactics and miniatures to play out combat with I fell benefit from using a GM’s screen as a reference tool for the GM. Hiding dice rolls is not the only reason some games benefit from using a screen. Again, it is a matter of taste for each GM on a game by game basis.

Table clutter is a problem regardless of if you have a screen or not at the table. I suggest using folding television tray tables on either side of the GM to increase the surface area that you have to work with. My wife and have the set linked to below (ironically we have never used them to eat in front of a television with).


Table clutter is sometimes blamed on the “stuff”, but I often look at those problems as being the result of how items are organized. Cheap plastic storage container that allow for easy access to key items when needed will go a long way to reducing table clutter.

I run a lot of games from my laptop. Again, it is a matter of taste for each GM on a game by game basis. If you don’t like using a laptop then don’t. There is no reason to try and make something that you don’t like work. Use your fake book thing and enjoy the game. 🙂

#7 Comment By Katana_Geldar On November 20, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

I find that some games are better for using screens than others. For instance, it’s unthinkable not to use a screen to run Paranoia though the screen the publishers make is actually not that good on the other side.

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 21, 2010 @ 7:57 am

[8] – Paranoia is a great example of a game where a GM’s screen really compliments both the setting and the mechanics of the game!

#9 Comment By lomythica On December 21, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

The mechanics of Doctor Who: adventures in time and space are simple enough, that the GM screen covers almost all of the mechanics. Very handy.

Aside from that, I am trying to go all digital on the iPad, and use an app called DM Toolkit. It let’s you customize your own crib sheets and charts, then access them within one or two taps. It isn’t as pretty as the DWAITAS screen, but it is really handy and configurable.

#10 Comment By Kristan On January 21, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

I have always hated the screens. Not only are they too tall (I’m only 5’4″) but I never can find the right info at the right moment on a screen. For all my other games but my current one, I’ve used a binder with printouts of all my important info. I’m DM’s DnD 3.5 and the screen was so useless I am currently using a 2.0 screen.
Why? Because my players asked! They feel that they prefer the sense of suspense created by not being able to see what’s going on “behind the scenes”.
I LOVE the wooden screen by the way!

#11 Comment By lordsith On October 20, 2011 @ 7:35 am

Patrick – Sorry I didn’t get to show you my GM screen at Con-On-the Cob this year. I brought on Sunday but you had already left. I wanted to thank you for the idea of the sliding panels. I was planning to use doors on my screens compartments which was proving to be a design problem. Then I saw this segment last year and it solved the difficulty.
Michael, Das Spielunker

#12 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 23, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

[9] – I wish I could have seen that! I really like what you have done with your ammo counters, and will make sure to ask you about the screen next year. Meanwhile, I have been working on a new custom screen design to make out of wood so that I can practice making joints for boxes and furniture. If I complete that project I’ll be sure to make a new Video Gnoment for it.