The question is, what elements on a DM screen are essential?

I'm new at playing and DMing, altough a lot of experience watching games, just got a group to play with now.

Started with the starter set in 5E and the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure, however I've noticed the game can come to a stop when checking the rules or how to do something, while getting the books and stuff like that.

So I thought to make a DM screen with some cheat sheets, of the most usual things new players, and new DM's have doubts on, and how to make the game flow well without long rule-checking breaks.

What are the essential things to have on that screen?

So far this is what I found https://i.sstatic.net/tjdBj.jpg but not sure if it has all I need or so much stuff that'll also make the game stop a lot while cheking it out.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is not a tool rec question, it is 'how to DM this edition better question' and should not be closed. DM screens are a long standing DM aid (going back 40+ years) and some work better than others. Simply using the word "should" does not make this opinion based, though I did edit this somewhat to better focus the question for attracting 'best' answers (and there are some good ones) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 12, 2021 at 13:32

7 Answers 7


Get a look at this table I found and use on my games, it have all the necessary information in 3 pages landscape that you can fit to your custom-made DM screen.

All the credit for Mr. Stan Shinn, great work!


I put on these drive folder the Stan Shinn file, one similar in spanish (both in grey) and a great DM screen in both colour and grey with great art.

I would like to thank the guys of the other screens but really don't know, if anyone does make a comment to give proper kudos.

You can also use the DnD Free official rules as is very cheap to print and you have a simple booklet easy to use and with the basic of everything, rules, equipment, spells...

What is a must be on a DM screen if you make your own?

  • Summary of combat.
  • Conditions
  • General DC table
  • Some of the most common penalty rules (Light, Cover, terrain)
  • Some magic stuff like Attack rolls and Save calculation.

Effective cheat sheets are typically made one of two ways:

  1. A game designer makes educated guesses based on their inside knowledge, and arranges that material on an officially-published GM Screen product or download. Despite officialness, these are often not ideal, as limited designer time, graphic design considerations, and marketing imperatives can intervene detrimentally in the final product's content.

  2. GMs thinking "darn, I wish I had X handy," when they are in the middle of a game session, and making sure they have it next time. They eventually compile their own reference sheets based on this piece-by-piece experience of what would have been useful to have in a quick-reference.

Without having the official GM's screen for D&D 5e (and perhaps, even after getting it), the most effective way to figure out what should be on such a thing for you own needs is to take notes about what you have needed to look up during sessions.


I created my own screen, to be used with The Worlds Greatest Screen from Hammerdog Games (which, by the way, I recommend highly).

Having used it for a few sessions now, there are only a few things I have actually used it for.

  • Conditions.
  • Actions in combat and what page they are found on.
  • Cover bonuses and penalties.
  • Concealment penalties.

I have an armour and weapons table which I put on the player's side of the screen. All of us have used that one. I'm considering printing a couple of extra pages and just leaving them lying around the table or tucked in the back of a PHB.

During the game, I have each foe's statistics written down on 102×152 mm (4×6") index cards. I clip the cards for the current battle to the GM screen using binder clips. I got this idea from Mike Shea (Tools of the Lazy DM).

We've only had six or seven D&D 5E sessions but I am already at the point where the only things we are regularly looking up in the PHB is spell descriptions.

The published DM screens all have great artwork on them. This is really useful to help set the atmosphere. I downloaded the cover art from the PHB, DMG and MM (found in the website kit) and inserted those on the player's side of the screen.

I've published my files to OneDrive, in case anyone is interested. They are sized for A4 paper but with larger margins to accommodate the Hammerdog screen, so they should print fine on US Letter paper.


You ask about cheat sheets, but your problem is actually "how to make the game flow well without long rule-checking breaks." That is what I will address.

First of all, what a great resource you have found. I have immediately printed it off to use tonight. That said, there is way too much information here - you almost don't need the books - just use the last page on combat as part of your "screen".

From the tone of your question, I assume that you think that stopping the game to look up rules is a bad thing. I mention this because this is very group specific - for some groups learning the game (and these rules are so new that everyone is learning) is part of the fun. I just make this point and leave it there.

Luckily for you there D&D is really easy, how to play is on page 6 of the Players Handbook:

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

Well, you can't be having a problem with No 2 because that's not the DM's problem, so we only need to look at 1 & 3.

1. The DM describes the environment.

You have to know what it is, luckily there are only 2 parts to this people and things.

Things are the easiest - you have to have read the module, preferably twice, and have reread the bit where the PCs are up to just before you start playing. So, describe the things (places, traps, objects etc.) and let the players tell you what they want to do with them.

People are a bit harder. The people in this module have bits of information scattered through the book. So I built a mind-map (contains spoilers for Lost Mine of Phandelver):

Lost Mine of Phandelver Mind Map

This shows how people are connected to things so I can look at this and know if they are talking to X then he is connected (in some way) with A, B, C & D - this is enough of a trigger (for me anyway) to allow me to remember what the NPC knows without having to thumb through the book.

When the PCs meet an NPC for the first time decide how to play them (e.g. timid, shy & high voice or blunt, gruff & swearwords) and WRITE THIS DOWN so you can be consistent the next time they meet. Generally, play to type BUT the NPCs the players remember are the ones that stand out ("You remember, the effeminate half-orc barbarian with the pink parasol").

3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

Let me highlight the important bit: the DM narrates the results, not "the DM works it out" or "the player's debate with the DM" or "everyone spends 15 minutes with their head in the books" or even "somebody rolls a dice".

You're getting paid (or more probably not paid) to make a decision; make it!

This doesn't mean that you are arbitrary or unfair - level with your players, tell them that if they can't give you the rule inside 15 seconds you will make the decision and that will be binding until the end of that period of play. The rule, not the reference - believe what they say - most people don't cheat and even if they do, a ruling that is kind on the PCs now is likely to be kind on the monsters later. Set aside some time during or after the session to look up the rules no one knew together and use that rule going forward. This is a process called learning.

If we are dealing with combat, well, you now have your handy flow chart, that should cover 95% of things that can happen in combat.

Know the capabilities of the monsters the PCs are likely to fight - I photocopied the monster stats for this module and highlighted the key things (Goblins "Sneak", Bugbears are "Brutal") - this makes a much bigger difference to the way they play than things like hit points or armor class.

If its a non-combat situation (or a situation in combat that's not covered), then ask yourself the following question:

"Does anything of significance hinge on the player failing to do this?"

If the answer is "no" then they do it; if the answer is "yes" then decide if what they want to do is easy (DC10), medium (DC15) or hard (DC20) and if circumstances give them advantage or disadvantage - tell them the target and let them roll the dice. If you feel generous (I'm always very generous) give them 10 seconds to convince you that you're wrong or to change their mind about doing it.

Some things are impossible - you can't read a closed book, fly without wings or magic or hold your breath for an hour - if its impossible, say so.

For spells, make the PCs responsible for knowing the effects of their spells - you have enough to do.

Two final points:

  1. you don't get graded on this,
  2. make sure everyone has fun!
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Much of this answer seems to be dedicated to information that doesn't answer the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 7:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Disagree - I believe the real question was "how to make the game flow without long rule-checking breaks?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 7:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, you intend this as a frame challenge? Hmm. Could you make that a little clearer, perhaps? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 7:18

I made my own screen as well. This is what I came up with: my custom 5th edition DM Screen

The linked .pdf file has a bunch of labels that you can print and stick to a cardboard screen. The key reference tables from the Player's Handbook are broken down into category and type, each small enough to present a concise piece of the rules or references.


Most of the answers here already give excellent advice on generic things to prepare for a GM screen so I won't waste time on restating the same. As a DM who has taken several groups of new players through LMoP, the thing that I find best to prepare is some summary cards of the NPCs and monsters within the module as I find the source book quite clunky when trying to look through.

These cards should include the basics you need to run them both in combat (attacks, hit modifiers and relevent abilities like orc's aggressive feature) and out of combat such as information they may know if the party captures them. You may also find it useful to write out the loot and experience present in specific rooms as well as a short list of creatures in there. The information is all in the campaign book already, but will be easier to access if you have your relevent flash cards ready at the start of each session.

Finally a list of random NPC names can help for those times your players go off the reservation and start asking for the names of captured enemies and the like. This way you can just pull from the list rather than break the immersion.


Based on my experience with DM screens, there is one element the other answers are missing that I have been ending up using heavily over the last 20 or so years: a comprehensive equipment list.

Yes, when you are in the dungeon or out adventuring, what you need most often are conditions, skill lists and DCs, bonuses and penalites for concealment, cover and lighting, and combat actions. All of these should be on there.

But when you are in town, you often need much less of that, and instead need to look up what the stay or food at the inn costs, what the equipment costs that PCs want to buy, what they can cash in for loot they are selling off, how much it costs to get a spell cast by the local mage or temple. For that a comprehensive goods and services list1 on a single page is invaluable to speed things up. Even in the dungeon it is useful to look up how heavy stuff is for carrying purposes (if you care about tracking that; we do).

I also used to have lists of NPC names, traits and room trappings on the screen, to help with improv descriptions, but I found I'm using those much less often -- published adventures tend to have details for these things.

1 This is an example homebrew list, not an official 5e document. For convenience it also includes prices for things that are not found in official 5e rules, like common and popular uncommon magic items, real estate, cash-in factors for loot, gp limits for how much loot you can sell in a settlement of given size, stronghold fittings and traps, extra trade goods, more poisons and so on, and has adjusted the prices of basic poison, everburning torch and siege weapons. If you just wanted the offical rules, you would leave those off.


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