[Guest] GM Screen: Why You Should(n’t)

Role Playing Gamers at the Burg-Con in BerlinImage via Wikipedia (cc)
I've been playing RPGs for 26 years, and in that time I've seen all kinds of GM screens.  Some really cool (a castle wall, complete with towers and crenellations), and some not so cool (a cardboard box).  In all that time I've seen how they've been both helpful and hurtful to a game.  Regardless of your preference, take a look at some pros and cons of using (and not using) a GM screen.  You might alter the way you game, and be thankful you did.

Why you should use a GM Screen:
  • Fudge a die roll to save a player character, end a combat, or to help get your adventure back on track after it's derailed.
  • Post notes out of the players' view.
  • Hide secret parts of a map.
  • Hide the page a book is open to.
  • Have easy access to game charts.

Why you shouldn't use a GM Screen:
  • Players know that you aren't cheating them by you rolling your dice out in the open.  And really, what gives the GM the right to cheat when the players can't?
  • You are not burdened with keeping PCs alive, especially when they make poor choices – let the dice simply fall where they may.
  • Knowing you won't or can't fudge dice rolls, the players are forced to make more tactically sound decisions.
  • You get to move about the room more, or are not limited to one section of the table.
  • With no barrier between you and the players, you're considered more a part of the group, as opposed to an adversary.

I have my preferred method of running games, what's yours (and why)?
Thanks for reading.
-Tourq Stevens runs the resource website, Stuffer Shack, because he loves the hobby of gaming, has learned so much from it, and hopes to help make it fun for others.


  1. "Let the dice fall where they may"

    I love this phrase. It instantly changes the relationship between the DM and players, and how the game is treated. Bravo.

  2. I really, really, really dislike the barrier aspect of the screen. Anything that fuels the perceived and unnecessary 'conflict' between players and gamesmasters needs, in my book, to be carefully considered and either mitigated or, if possible, discarded.

  3. I use a screen, but I set it up in a U-shaped configuration and not directly in front of me. I pin my map and notes to the inside of it. That way my secrets remain secret, but I game WITH the group, not behind the screen.

  4. Thanks Tourq, I bought a DM screen with Pathfinder RPG - but I have to say I don't really ever use it... In that it's often there, but I rarely USE it to conceal rolls or look stuff up.

    I agree with the other comments here about having an open relationship (not in that way) with the players - as DM, we're not out to get them so why so secret? I like Dyson's idea of using it to keep maps etc. safe.

    And yeah, let the dice fall as they may!

  5. I use a DM screen. It is an integral part of the game. I rarely use the info on the screens. It seems the info is never where I thought it would be. I use several printed hot-flip sheets with this info.
    For me, the SCREEN represents that I am not the player. If I was, then everyone would want their turn doing this job and most would not even play if they knew they had to take their turn at this task. I put more work into the game time then the players do. Do I have fun? (insert evil laugh) Oh yeah. I want my time to give them enjoyment not to be ruined by wandering eyes.
    I was DMing a group, we played 12hrs every Sat for almost a year. Worst game was when an outside friend was invited. Not having enough room. They were placed next to me. He could see all my notes. He had never played before but was obviously using notes. The other players picked up on it before me. I let it happen the rest of the game. He was never asked back(it was what the players wanted). They know that what is behind that screen brings a level of excitement that the dice don't bring.

    I think of myself as the game software, you don't see all the calculations that WoW or Morrow Wind uses as you play. I give you the open-ended-screenplay, a host of interacting, the parameters to which you can do something and the opportunity to make a grand exit.
    I let a players dice kill themselves. In actuality there is nothing saying the DM has to roll a dice. I have DM'ed this way and the players don't question it. Why? BECAUSE I'M THE DM. If they were, then I'd accept what was happening, that is the game's reality. There is no such thing as fudged-dice on this side of the DM's screen. They don't know what you get to add to a die roll.
    The barriers, as a GM, that you put in your game time, are there or not there for a reason. The barriers that the players put in their game time is only a limit of the fun they expect or allow themselves to have.


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