Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are GM Screens Outdated?

I had an interesting discussion with James Maliszewski and some other folks over at the new Shadow, Sword & Spell Yahoo! Group. The discussion (in part) was over the use of GM Screens, and whether they were still largely used.

I know for many players who reject the traditional model of a powerful Game Master, the GM screen probably seem like an Iron Curtain, some vestige hearkening back to player oppression or somesuch. Certainly I think they are less prevalent in groups with an emphasis on shared narrative control and the like.

Me? I’m a pretty traditional GM, as are most of the guys who take turns running in my group. I don’t always need a GM screen, especially for lighter games, but in general I like to have one when I’m running. It helps hide my maps, my notes, communications to/from other players, as well as work as a staging area. The front side can also work as an information space for the rest of the group.

I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with choosing to use or not use a GM’s screen, but I think they’re still utilized by a majority of gaming groups. I think we sometimes get a skewed version of what the rest of the hobby is doing from being online, but I don’t know. Do you still use one? Am I, along with my Gygax-autographed Castles & Crusades screen (so the players know Gary Approves, of course) a relic?

32 comments:

Alex Schroeder said...

I started using a screen after playing without one for many months. Then I realized as a player that I preferred the GM to have a screen: I don’t want to remind myself to avert my eyes. (more on having a screen and still rolling in the open)

Jeff Rients said...

Screens may be outdated, but I use one.

Bonemaster said...

It is an interesting question. I think many people I play with still do. I know I still do. Mostly, just to keep my notes or miniatures out of view. In some ways however, the increase in the use of computers such as netbooks and laptops, has created a whole new type of GM screen. Normally, I think I've seen this discussion revolve around one major issue. The act of rolling dice, do you roll them in front of players or not. I consider this a moot issue, since 85% of the time I can't even read the players' dice.

I do agree that many people see the act of DM screen as an attempt to hide things from the players. Which, I concede is being done, but not in some form of player oppression. I liken it to watching a good movie. Doesn't having some jerk who tell you what happens later in the movie while you are watching it for the first time. IMHO the GM screen helps prevent that by not letting your GM notes become public knowledge until it's time in the story for it to be so.

So, yes I use a GM screen. Call me old fashion, and I'll just say thank you.

infernalteddy said...

I don't use a screen unless I'm running a game at a con. I roll so bad that my players need to see that I'm not cheating on their behalf :)

pseckler13 said...

I would say it's a personal choice. That said, I haven't used one in over 20 years.

Grendelwulf said...

It's part of the ambience!

You wouldn't play poker with your cards face up on the table.

A little concealment is necessary. If there was no screen, players' eyes would 'accidentally' glance at the map in front of me. Player sees red X's on map (for pit traps) and say, "uh, we'll go back the other way. . ."

For critical dice roils, I always let the players see the roll anyway.

So, it's either a DM screen or laptop (with fingerprint lock!) for me!

Ciao!
GW

Randall said...

I use a screen most of the time, although I'm not always sitting behind it. Well, I am always sitting behind it since the group grew to nine players and only ten chairs fit at the table.

Orklord said...

I ran Savage Worlds without a screen. I kept my notes right in front of me, didn't use maps or minis and rolled right out in the open.

Rob Conley said...

If it is landscape I will use it.

Dane of War said...

I absolutely use GM screens. It just seems weird not using one.

Mad Brew said...

I don't use one because I now keep frequently referenced rules on notecards. I have always rolled in the open, even when I used one so I never needed to hide anything (I pretty much GM impromptu using a few notes about where I want to take the campaign).

So all a GM screen does for me is take up precious table real estate.

Rob L said...

I certainly use a screen, but roll in the open. The screen is to hide maps and stuff. So landscape helps. I also like having tables on it for quick reference.

Erik Waddell said...

About a year ago I decided to try DMing my home game without a screen. I wanted to be able to roll in sight of the players all the time (mostly because I wanted them to see how I really like being surprised by the rolls as much as they do). Also, at times the darn thing actually blocked my view of the battlemaps, which was an annoyance.

Mostly, though, I got rid of the screen because I was finding it was becoming like a speed-bump between me and my players. Over the years my style of DMing has become more open, and more about dialogue with the players, and the screen, well, I just didn't want it any more.

Joseph said...

I absolutely use a screen in my game. There are times I want to roll in front of the players, and, well, I just lean over and roll my die on that side of the screen.

A lot of it is that I don't want the players to see me starting with a blank page, and writing notes down as things happen, just to remind myself of names, keep track of h.p., etc. ;-)

clash bowley said...

For thirty three years I have never used a screen. I tried one once, when my players got me one as a gift.. The results were not pretty - I had to get rid of it as it drove me crazy!

I always roll in the open. Otherwise, my players would never believe how streaky I can be, good and bad. I once rolled 00 seven times in a row on percentiles, and five times in a row a 01. They just laugh and say "Streaky clash!"

-clash

Callin said...

Yes and no. I am running 2 4E games and they are vastly different in tone and setting. In one I use a screen to hide my die rolls and notes; it is a sequential plot driven campaign. In the other, a sandbox, all my rolls are out in the open for all to see. I don't care as much with 4E if my players see the GM map since I tend to draw the map for them as we go.
Last night I was talking with one of my players and he highly recommended using the screen for Rogue Trader. He also mentioned he uses the GM screen as a player to help him out as a player.
GM screens are not always jsut for GMs.

N. Wright said...

I don't have a screen, because I rarely have anything to hide. I don't like to run pre-made adventures, and I roll everything in the open. My GM screen is my skull, if you will, since that's where I keep my maps and wandering monster tables.

Good question, though.

shyDM said...

I was about to say that I don't use a screen, until I realized that I keep my laptop on hand during game, and what is that if not a way to keep maps, notes, and reference charts open but unobtrusive?

Telecanter said...

I've found that I tend to DM standing up and walking around. I carry the map, encounter tables, party roster with me, so no need for a screen.

GrayPumpkin said...

I've not used one with any regularity in at least a decade, and those few times I do use one, it’s off to the side on a tray table as a shield for my notes and maybe a surprise miniature or two.
Part of it is that I find that screens block my view of the table more that I like when I sit behind one, even the landscape ones can be intrusive. The other is that the screens for more than a few games I’ve played over the years weren’t all that good at providing pertinent information they were designed for, which as a result got me out of the habit of using them. Lastly since sometime around the early nineties I taken to just making all of my rolls out in the open and letting the dice fall where they may. Not needing anything to roll behind anymore eliminated yet another reason to keep a screen around.

Carpe Guitarrem said...

Your post sparked an amusing mental image. What if Reagan played tabletop RPGs?

"Mr. DM, tear down this screen!"

Nifelhein said...

I always use one, with a netbok at the table I simply fold mine over the paper notes I took for the adventure and remove it if I need to check said notes.

Some things are just meant to remain unseen.

jaerdaph said...

I love GM screens and can't imagine playing without one. I really like the current trend towards landscape (as opposed to portrait) oriented GM screens. You still get all the benefits of a screen like easy access to info and hidden notes and rolls, but your visual field with the players isn't as obstructed so the screen is less noticeable. I think they put the GM on more of an even par with the other players at the table.

Good fences make good neighbors. :)

Richard Iorio II said...

For me, I never use a screen. I use to, but in the end, I did not like how much room they take up at the table. I always make my rolls in the open, and if I need to do something in secret, I often ask the players to make a roll.

I am surprised, and I am still surprised how many people want to see one.

This is why I love this hobby: the different perspectives.

Eric Wilde said...

I haven't used a screen since in 22 years (since 1988.) Its just not my style.

When playing as a GM or player I tend to get up and pace around the room, gesticulating wildly and speaking in character. We almost always play above ground adventures; so a map isn't referenced all that often (except tactical maps on a white board.) The screen just doesn't fit our style of play.

The other GM in our group also doesn't use a screen.

Ameron said...

I was really surprised to read how many comments above are on the “use a screen” side of the discussion. I’ve found that most DMs I know don’t use a screen – myself included. When 4e came out my gaming group decided that all rolls should be transparent. This would stop DMs from fudging rolls (either way). The result was a more honest game.

I do find that occasionally the players sitting right next to me glance at the monster’s remaining hit points, but that’s not a big deal in my opinion. After all, when the monster hits half its hit points it’s clearly marked as bloodied. Anyone paying attention to the combat will already have a pretty good idea of the remaining hit points.

I found that the information on the screen itself was so rarely used the purchase was unnecessary. For everyone who does use a screen you’ll be glad to know that Wizards of the Coast is releasing a new one for D&D in 2011 in support of D&D Essentials.

Roger the GS said...

Either screened or below table level, but just for the maps. Rolls in the open unless it's important the players not know the result (listen and so forth).

Zachary The First said...

I usually don't roll in the open, but that's more because I don't want players to metagame by looking at dice rolls. It makes my baddies more mysterious, and can leave them unsure of their success until the appropriate moment. I certainly understand the roll-it-open crowd, though.

Tourq said...

I go screenless. There is a great relief of burden on you when you let the dice fall where they may.

My two copper pieces, anyway.

-Tourq

mxyzplk said...

I still use one. It's less about hiding the dice rolls and more about hiding the maps and stats and minis I plan to use and whatnot. I tend to have a lot of secrets and whatnot in my game so don't want the PCs to see that NPC's character sheet, or know exactly what monster that is because I have the Bestiary open to it... If I were just playing a tactical-exercise game I probably wouldn't use one.

Also, I use it to clip pics of present NPCs to as visual aids, which has been very popular with the players.

It also prevents players from encroaching on my needed space too much - as GM I need to have room for my stuff so I can be fast - if a player's slow it just slows them down, if I'm slow it slows everyone down.

Posr said...

They will have to pry my dm's screen from my cold dead fingers. It keeps me sexy and mysterious.

Shawn Merrow said...

I own several GM screens and have tried to use them a few times over the years. I have just never liked them myself. It creates a barrier between me and the players and I just don't like that.