September 30, 2010

Compiled Table / DM Screen

In my experience, the only thing I really need from a DM's Screen are Skill DC's and damage expressions by level; coincidentally, everything that DMG p.42 originally set out. Here's what I've been using as a screen, printed out and glued to a peice of posterboard. Simple, easy, elegant.
I think that there are a lot of DM's out there who use the screen like Linus (from Peanuts) uses his blanket. It's a tool to hold on to, a physical object which gives you a form of emotional protection. The DM Screen might as well be called a shield; it protects the DM from the judging eyes of the players. It's an emotional brick wall. When you up alone at the head of the table, running the show for everyone's amusement (more on that on another post), it can get extremely intimidating. The screen gives you that demarkation, a symbol of authority that lets the DM rule from afar.
Years ago, I briefly played in a D&D game in a public place; the back end of a coffee shop. The shop itself was great. I always really appreciated how accomodating there were to us and our weird hobby, and I always made sure I repaid that kindness with buying coffee and snacks from them during the session. I normally don't support gaming in public, I feel like it inhibits your creativity, roleplaying, and downright sillyness of a game by having strangers able to peek in on you. People did, in fact, ask questions to us while we were playing. One woman in particular asked something that always stuck with me and really struck a chord. She pointed to the DM at the time and asked, "Why is that man hiding from you?"
And there it was, the DM is hiding. He wasn't playing a game with us, he was playing a game at us. In the whole Gygaxian-TPK kind of vibe. The screen, it had set up our mindsets to be that way.
And so in this phase of my life, I use a flat "screen" that lays down next to my notes, or propped up off to the side, and I face my players eye-to-eye.

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