Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A screen is needed!

This is topic that often leads to me getting annoyed, but hey it needs to be covered.

Should a DM have a screen in front of them to hide their notes and rolls?

I favor yes.

But let's first cover the reasoning behind the people who don't use a screen, and I notice people do this more in later editions that earlier editions.

The main reason I've heard or read was that "they like to keep their players informed and the rolls honest."


They believe it keeps the game fair and balanced. Where the die rolls is what happens.

This method will sometimes get your well planned game in trouble, or even ruin the fun for players, because you will kill them.

The old school method (and my method) and this was even stated in the books for DM's to use a screen to roll behind, so you can fudge numbers when need be. Because seriously as a DM, wouldn't you want to roll that D20 and get a 20, with your last player standing with 5 hit points and say, "fumble! DAMN!" or have it out in the open roll the 20 and have to kill the last man standing.

Which do you pick?

I know I'd pick the screen method so I can fudge the roll, because while its fun to kill characters, its not fun to wipe out a group and have to start over.

I like to think of a DM as the host of a party, and your players are a guest. As the host you provide the place, the entertainment and ways to get food/drink. As a DM, you do the same thing, you provide the places (the starting town/Quests), the entertainment (hooks, plots, NPCs, Monsters..) and ways for your players to socialize (shops, taverns..Etc)

Honestly, how much fun is it going to a party where there is three chairs out and a bowl of popcorn out, with the host ignoring you?


  1. I don't use a DM screen because I don't like to be anchored down to one spot while DMing. I use a clipboard with all my notes/maps/whatever so I can stay mobile. I will roll the dice on the clipboard or somewhere else that the players can't see (maybe shielded by my hand).

  2. I'm DM'ing my first game in a couple of years this coming Saturday so I've given this some thought. In principle I'm for the screen, there is also the added benefit that the screen can hold valuable cheat sheets, tables and reference material as well. I'm inclined to do some rolls in the open though, sometimes the tension helps build the atmosphere!

  3. It's my world and welcome to it; if you wanna get TPK'd by my die rolling, then by all means I'll lose the screen. But if you want to have an afternoon of fun and adventure, enjoy the artwork on your side of the screen. Plus, I sit back there and roll dice randomly to keep them on thier toes anyways.

  4. My POV is don't roll the dice if you don't want to leave something to chance. If you want to just sit back and narrate what happens, that's fine, but I want to know when something is left to chance and when it's not. If the DM insists on rolling everything behind the screen I'm inclined to think 50% is chance (because the dice came up with what they wanted) and the other 50% is fudging (because they didn't like the results and changed them) which is effectively 100% DM deciding what the result is.

    So why bother with the pretence and play a game where the DM is lying about dice rolls and everyone is pretending they don't know any better?

    Otherwise you should let everyone roll behind their own screens and tell you what the results are. If you don't like that... then that's why everyone should be rolling on the table, just like any other tabletop game. :D

  5. First of all, Vince, if you didn't talk about things that annoy you, this blog wouldn't exist! Second, I think the dice are the dice and don't like fudging. It brings up too many issues. Players generally know when you do it, and when you *don't* do it and let a player die after "saving" another players character, then you have the grounds for some really hard feelings. Let the dice do their thing come what may.

  6. One of the best things is making your own screen & including the tables you want for it. The fact that some stuff isn't seen is half of the fun. I love the random pizza topping generator or the random Chinese food menu as well it helps.

  7. Vince, I'm in yer corner once again. When I DM I invoke Rule Zero and that includes rolling dice behind the screen. It's the DM's prerogative to fudge a roll when he deems it necessary (which, in my view, is when it serves the game i.e. when fudging will continue to bring enjoyment to the players and the DM). The DM is not the slave to the dice. That was stated pretty clearly in 1E. You fudge if the enjoyment of the game may depend on it.

    That said, you must also remember it works both ways behind the screen. If you fudge, fudge fairly, as much for the players as for the NPCs.

  8. I believe the dice are rolled several times during sessions for no other reason than to give the player a little suspense. Behind the screen rolling gives me the option of using chance (which in most cases I do, or providing for the suspense of hearing the die roll. I choose to use the screens also because it "separates" me from the player so to speak. In my campaign, I believe the Story shall trump rule (or dice) when DM option.