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Reasons Not to Use a GMing Screen

I’m a longtime screen fanboy, but since I started writing TT I’ve heard plenty of good reasons not to use one at all. I’m going to play Devil’s advocate for a moment, and say that you shouldn’t use a GMing screen because…

If, like me, you’re also a lifelong screen user, have you ever tried running a game without one? (I have for one-shots, and it was kind of fun.) If you don’t use a screen, why not?

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#1 Comment By VV_GM On June 24, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

I don’t like having a screen between myself and the players, but I do prefer to have the screen on the side table where it does not become a barrier but does what it does best – hide stuff. Really, why else use the GM’s screen? Your laptop can be a much better reference tool with a little bit of work. A GM’s screen is still a great way to hide minis and dice rolls though, and when placed on the side table it is in a much friendlier position where it does not obstruct anyone’s view of the GM.

But if I have no side table the screen is out. I’d rather have the open space between myself and the players.

#2 Comment By Guido On June 24, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

I never use a screen. I trust my gamers not to peek into my notes, as the only thing they’d do with that would be to spoil their own fun … and apart from that, I’m not sure if they could make sense of my flowcharts and the likes anyway, since I make up more than half the adventure on the fly anyway.

The only real upside of a GM screen is that the players don’t see your dice rolls. But you can use a box or literally anything to hide those rolls just as well, while not obstructing the view between you and your players.

But I guess having a screen or not is personal preference in the end, things we grow accustomed to like this are hard to change 🙂

#3 Comment By Alex Schröder On June 24, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

When I returned to D&D last fall, I ran the game with a screen twice, then without one, and decided to continue playing without one. Basically I was wondering: Why? The only reason I could tell was hiding maps or fudging dice. I don’t fudge dice… If at all, I’ll change things in-game. And as for maps… I was drawing the map for the players anyway. The only thing I like to hide with a well-placed pencil, eraser, or random piece of paper is the hit-points left. When the players ask me “Is he hurt?” I like to answer “well, you know that hit points are an abstract quality and really you can fight as well with 1hp as you can with 100hp, so no, not really, you can’t tell…”

*evil grin*

#4 Comment By Benjamin On June 24, 2007 @ 7:06 pm

I’m gigantically tall, so I’ve never found my screen to get in the way of contact with the players. When playing in a basement, however, it often casts a shadow on my notes that makes reading them difficult.

#5 Comment By Burrowowl On June 24, 2007 @ 7:28 pm

I haven’t used a GM screen in years. I have several dice that aren’t terribly easy to read from afar and my hands are big enough to screen a roll that should be secret. My notes are on a clipboard, the top sheet of which contains a cheat sheet of the players’ own character stats, so I need not fear people glancing at my notes.

Without a need for one, why clutter up the table and lug more paper products to my game venue?

#6 Comment By Ken On June 24, 2007 @ 8:46 pm

The reason I stopped using a shield was that it blocked my view of the game map, which was sitting in front of the players. Instead I put my charts on a folder type of thing, and my game notes on a clip board, and just lean back in my chair. Which I would do anyway. 🙂

I am starting to be a big fan of the laptop theory of game management, though.

#7 Comment By Mike On June 24, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

I keep my notes on a clipboard and walk around the table while DMing, so I don’t use a screen to hide my notes. Maps, I draw for the group on my gaming mat. My group expects me to hide any rolls based on senses, like Spot or Listen, so that they don’t know if the “nothing’s there” is because nothing is there or because they rolled a 1. So I have no need for a screen at all.

#8 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On June 25, 2007 @ 7:00 am

My friend who’s currently DMing for our group gets a little annoyed with me when I casually mention stuff that’s written behind his screen. I do it to tease him a bit and as a casual reminder that since he feels the secrecy of things like monster HPs are important enough to use a screen, he ought to actually keep them behind the screen, not kind of half behind the screen to the side. He doesn’t always find it as amusing as I do.

My point being, the very fact that you’re hiding information from your players mandates one of two things:
1) You spend a constant portion of effort keeping things hidden.
2) Your players will eventually, by virtue of the fact that they are looking in your direction, see something you are trying to keep hidden.

Not really sure what conclusion to draw from those, but it seems like there’s something there.

#9 Comment By Walt C On June 25, 2007 @ 7:21 am

My primary reason for using a screen is two-fold:

1. Habit

2. To take advantage of easy-to-access charts printed on the inside.

If I don’t have an “official” screen for my current campaign, I don’t use one. My laptop usually contains my notes, and if I’ve handwritten them, the players need to make a DC 40 Decipher Script check to read them.

Since I roll in the open, I’ve never really seen the quality of the game change between having a screen and not having one.

#10 Comment By Cody Jones On June 25, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

The idea of running “screenless” intrigues me. In 10 years of RPG’s, I’ve never thought of running without one, even though it’s not all that useful beyond hiding rolls and notes. That may sound silly, but I guess I was taught that screen were an essential and required part of the game.

I’m going to try going screenless for my next game on Saturday, as well as opening the gaming space up somewhat. Hopefully it helps the game run more smoothly!

#11 Comment By nephlm On June 25, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

I actually use one but don’t set it up on the table.

I run a homebrew system the and so the screen is custom made and has a bunch of useful stuff, but I hate having it between me and my players. So it’s folded up on the table or a stool next to me and when I need to look at one of the tables I flip it open.

#12 Comment By Martin On June 26, 2007 @ 9:44 am

Seeing all the love for screenless GMing in your comments has completely swayed me: Next time I run a game, I’ll try at least the first couple of sessions without a screen. It should be a fun exercise — I think how difficult I’ll find it will depend largely on the system.

Thanks for the inspiration!

#13 Comment By Ryan On June 26, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

I have always needed a screen for one reason alone…

I don’t have a laptop. I usually just put it on a side table or something.

#14 Comment By Zeta Thompson On June 26, 2007 @ 8:09 pm

I run both ways depending on where I am gaming. I do have charts and info taped to the inside of my screen. I find the screen useful as a die stopper when it starts to head down the table or worse off it, on a slick surface. When I use one I have my dice bag, my charts and my maps behind it.

The advantage of not using one is that I find the players get more into the story because you are not set apart, save by seating. I have never used a laptop, as I do not own one. But then notebooks and pens have sufficed for years.

#15 Comment By KrazyHades On July 3, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

I never use a traditional screen, but I DO use a laptop with a large enough screen to block view to any sheets I keep behind it…It’s basically a digital GM screen