by Jason Campbell
Yes, it’s time to discuss the elephant in the room – assuming said elephant was a few pieces of heavy cardboard. GM screens have been with us since at least the DM screen produced by TSR in 1979. Their use can be controversial with GMs arguing still over their pluses and minuses.
Most GM screens serve two purposes: useful game information is usually printed on it, while the screen itself hides dice rolls which the players shouldn’t see as well as information that the players should not see.
The game information printed on the GM screen provides information that the GM is likely to need during a game session. This can be valuable to save time that might have otherwise been used flipping through sourcebooks. Recently many companies have produced game mats which lie flat on the table, can be used to roll dice and also provide useful game information in the same way that GM screens do. This may eliminate the need for the GM screen as a convenient way to get game information.
Using the GM screen as a way to hide things from the players is a more difficult thing to analyze. First there’s the idea of hiding dice rolls from the players. Some GMs don’t wish to hide any rolls, letting the dice be a big part of storytelling. Other GMs feel that at least some of the rolls should be secretive, for instance to hide NPC motivations and such. Either way can be defended.
When I GM I try not to use a screen. Although there are the advantages noted above, I feel like it creates a divide between GM and players. I try to play in games where GMs and players are all playing the game, just with different responsibilities. In this way I try to not use any barriers. But I admit that there are things that players shouldn’t know yet, and without a GM screen I do have to close my notebook many times to hide information the players wouldn’t know yet.
The previous paragraph is my personal GM philosophy, but it’s by no means the “correct” way to play, or a suggestion for other GMs, as the best game is the one the GM and the players both enjoy. We’re curious to know your thoughts about GM screens, so feel free to let us know what you think about GM screens in the comments below. Thanks!