Every time I set up the game table, I get out my Dungeon Master Screen.
More often than not, I don’t end up using it.
It’s not because I don’t like it. I actually enjoy the recent official products from D&D, and I like my GM screen from Pathfinder, too.
It’s just this huge thing. It cuts me off from the players. It makes me think way too much about the armor class of doors and windows. And most of all, it takes up so much space.
So, I’m making a proposal: Ditch the DM screen. Try something else. Thank me later.
I have some ideas on how and why to do so.
It keeps your DM’s kit smaller. The big, four-paneled behemoth of a screen is nice, but it takes up a whole lot of room on the table and a little bit in your gaming bag. Maximize your use of space by leaving it at home next time.
Demolishing the screen knocks down the physical barrier between you and the players. That’s a good thing. Though you’re the one in charge, being on the same level as your players is a reminder that you’re all focused on the same goal: Having a good time telling a great and fun story.
You can still keep things secret. You’re most certainly using a rulebook or folder or something to run your game. Set it up like a miniature screen and make your secret rolls behind that. You can also hide miniatures in a bag or box and keep stats and other info in a folder or binder.
Don’t worry so much about the rules. The idea of the screen is that it’s there to help you save time looking up rules. But I’ve found I actually know most of the rules that are on the screen already, so it’s not that useful. I also find the story and game flow better if I play a little more loosely with those rules.
Find the information you need. OK, so you’re still going to need some of those rules. My method to keep them handy: Jot down or type the pieces that you know you’re going to need. Print it on a few sheets of paper that you can keep handy. If you want, you could even laminate them and/or tape them to the table in front of you. They’ll be right there when you need them.
Use index cards for initiative. A lot of DMs track initiative by putting post-it notes or other pieces of paper pinned or clipped to the top of their DM screen. I like to take index cards, fold them in half and put numbers on them. Roll initiative and then hand each number to the right person.
Create a binder with other needed information. I have a binder for each of my campaigns. I keep session notes, random encounter charts and rules reference pages in each one of them. I also photocopy Monster Manual pages needed for each session and keep them in the binder for quick reference. (I can also write on them without worry.) I love my binder.