I prefer to GM without a screen. Mostly, it’s because I like to roll in the open, as it builds trust and fosters intimacy.
I like the feel of being “part of the game” — in the company of others at the table. The screen, being a barrier, works against that.
And yet, of late, I’ve had need of a screen. Maybe need is too strong a word, but for the section of Rise of Tiamat I’ve been running, the screen has been handy.
So what uses have compelled me to forsake my trust-building openness for that four-paneled board, at least for the duration of this campaign?
1. Maps for the journey. This campaign does a lot of trekking up and down the Forgotten Realms’ Sword Coast. Clipping a map on the players’ side of the screen has resolved the “Where are we going, again?” questions.
2. Scene-setting photos. Another bit of shorthand. Printouts of photographs of terrain and landscapes that evoke the area of the Sword Coast the adventurers are in has been a great visual shorthand. Photos of arctic peoples was really handy to convey the sense of things in the Sea of Moving Ice. But it’s been equally useful in depicting the stark badlands of the Serpent Hills.
3. A place to clip more photos, but of important NPCs. (However, the number of NPCs has now grown that I’ve switched to printing portraits on individual cards, which the PCs can have at hand. But this worked early on.)
4. A place to hang printouts of maps, especially dungeons, on the GM side. This, of course, is one of the longstanding uses of a screen. Normally, these would simply be a part of a notebook that I’m running the session from. But because Rise is a published campaign, I’m running from the book. With that campaign book and a Monster Manual and my minis laid out before me, Being able to clip up a map kept that reference work from being part of the page shuffle but still handy visually.
While I can’t say I’m a GM screen convert — my preference for an open table remains — being adaptable to certain aids given the situation is a good GMing trait. Be not afraid to try a different approach when the situation warrants.