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This may just be me but I like the feel of having an old school GM/DM screen up. However, between laptops, mountains of books, and more frequently having to see the battle layout, I find that within an hour or so the GM screen gets laid down and largely ignored.

Have you found a use for the GM screen in the modern table top world, and if so, how do you use it effectively?

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I always thought GM screens were borderline antisocial. There are plenty of ways to keep information hidden from players without resorting to building fortifications. –  drxzcl Jan 30 '12 at 22:55
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This question seems pretty random discussiony and not actionable questiony to me... I have edited it to be a more focused question (on top of other's good edits in that direction as well). –  mxyzplk Jan 31 '12 at 2:40
    
This question also seems somewhat topical. Whether or not GM screens are going out of style at the moment, presumably time will eventually provide an answer to the question. –  GMJoe Jan 31 '12 at 6:35
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9 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I find GM screens put important tables front and center for reference. When a GM becomes familiar with the tables, so then does the GM screen fall. Thus GM screens are often more question of GMing style and mastery of the rule set being played.

To some GM screens often a symbol of authority to disdain.

As smartphones and tablets augment play more and more, I have found secret rolls can be done silently on these devices and not behind a screen.

Play style, and table dynamics, will often dictate the use of a screen, as you have found out.

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Depends on the players. I have people in my group that will blatantly read my notes or see what page of the MM I have open. I have other groups where I never felt the need. –  C. Ross Jan 30 '12 at 20:50
    
@C.Ross ugh... the "peeping tom" player(s). A GM screen won't help with that (if you have a nature call or other break). It's a behavior that should be ridiculed at the table and shamed out of the game to the potential loss of the player(s). The behavior is curbed by the more recent trend: laptop as screen, or tablet as reference tool, especially when your books are available as PDF: just lock the screen. –  javafueled Jan 31 '12 at 14:07
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Dice fudging has fallen out of favor within my groups. GMs now take it as a source of pride to roll dice in the open. I'm not sure how widespread that preference is.

The other game style I've seen that favors a screen is the exploratory dungeon crawl. If you put the players in a dungeon full of traps and hidden chambers, it goes to reason that they shouldn't see the map. I'm not sure if that type of play has fallen out of favor or if it's something GMs do on their computers instead.

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I don't have to search a PDF or a book for common rules I will need, and I can hide notes/dice rolls/whatever else I need from players.

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Quick reference seems to be the best argument in favor of DM screens –  Pyrodante Jan 30 '12 at 20:34
    
But do you actually use it as a screen when you do that? I've always found it difficult to read the information I wanted while they were standing up... –  AceCalhoon Jan 30 '12 at 20:48
    
Yep, as a screen, standing up. Table has to be the right height, obviously, then its amazing –  OddCore Jan 30 '12 at 21:55
    
Table height could be a problem for some readers, so I have to concur with @AceCalhoon. I've seen a felt padded 4in "hutch" suitable for dining room table use. It lifts the screen and put a "cubby" for holding books and making die rolls in secret. Not for everyone, but cheaper than Geek Chic. :) –  javafueled Jan 31 '12 at 14:22
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I personally don't use a traditional GM screen when running my Dresden files rpg game, instead I have a clipboard that folds open with a compartment inside like this allowing me to do stuff like roll dice in plain view and in secret while always keeping it easy for me to see the rolls and my one map. The clipboard allows me to keep a few sheets of traditional GM screen style notes on hand & the storage bin lets me keep writing utensils and "secret" papers I don't want seen for whatever reason. I can't remember the last time I saw someone using an actual GM screen as opposed to a laptop or whatever though.

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I never used one, of the 20 or so others I've seen DM only one had a screen. I saw their primary use to keep information from players. And who hasn't fudged a roll behind their screen? It goes back to the DM vs. the players mentality where the DM was out to kill/thwart them.

Now, I understand the desire to keep somethings a mystery, like monster's AC, to keep players from munckin-ing it up too badly. But it helps to speed things up if you simply tell them and let them be privy to some of the mechanics. Of course, I don't strive for immersion in my games. In theory, you could have a game where the players don't touch dice and you describe to them how everything goes down. But that would be pretty slow.

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The noble GM screen is just as useful to me now as it was 30 years ago. In fact, now that our group is back to D&D, I'm actually using my first edition GM screen again. I dont use it for reference, as we're using 3.5, but I do clip some notes to it. Mind you, its a bit worn along the edges, and taped together in a few places. But it still serves well, and upholds an age old tradition.

I've always found laptops far too clunky for at-the-table-use. Personally I'm more fond of the tablet form factor for gaming, or at the least, smaller, less obtrusive netbooks. But I do know folks who use laptops essentially as GM screens and run their game using them. Thats not for me though. I find when a laptop is involved, it draws the GM's focus of attention too much away from the players. And the same goes for players using laptops.

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Besides reference tables and hiding dice, one common use my group gets out of GM screens is that it's a convenient place to put notes/reminders. Simply fold a sheet of paper and hang it over the screen for all to see (since everyone should be looking at the GM anyway).

Here's a few things we have done this for:

  • Displaying an enemy's defenses (once they have been figured out)
  • Showing a mystic symbol or visual clue to figure out a puzzle
  • Keeping track of initiative order

Obviously there are infinite uses--anything you want the players to be able to continually see during a session.

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The DM screen serves several purposes for me:

  1. I paste large pictures of the typical monster theme the characters are facing during that session. If several different types are encountered, I present a picture of the major boss villian at the appropriate time. The screen is where I hang it.

  2. I use the Tent inventory tracker method, which requires hanging folded cards with pictures/stats of the characters and the monsters in an order which depicts intitive as well as combat effect. The screen is vital for this method.

  3. I use the screen to hide the collected minitures of the monsters/NPCs that will probably be encountered during that session.

  4. The screen art serves as a great background to the extensive table top terrain I use (Dwarven Forge, Hirst Arts, and home-made peices). The backdrop of a Red Dragon fighting a illustrated group of hereos helps keep the mood 'heroic'.

  5. I still use the tables on the screen to help explain possible actions available in a turn or the effects of a certain combat condition.

  6. I use printed versions of D&D insider modules (with heavy costumization) and the information to kept hidden by the use of the DM screen.

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I try and keep a little mystery and wonder in the game, and I like to think the screen helps with that.

There is a more important use, however. I only have a small table to play on, and both myself and the players I GM for tend to spread our notes and character sheets out quite widely as a sesion goes on. A GM screen provides a convenient way to stop my notes from getting shoveled together with the players' when we pack up. It's always a little awkward having to describe my notes to the player when I'm trying to find out where they went, and a GM's screen lets me avoid the problem in the first place.

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