A couple of weeks ago we chatted about the top dungeon master screen hacks. This week, we cover a related topic – do-it-yourself screens.
Have you ever made your own dungeon master screen? If so, how did you do it, and what materials did you use? Through the years I’ve cobbled together my fair share of screens because I couldn’t afford the official ones, or needed different information on the panels. Roleplaying Tips readers have also written in with their homebrew dungeon master screen recipes.
Following are what I’d consider the 10 best DM screen recipes.
1. Duct tape extravaganza
I had this one for years until I threw it out because the tape was peeling back, leaving sticky residue that transferred to my other stuff.
I cut three chunks of cardboard from boxes and taped them together. I remember taping both sides to make sure the screen would be strong, only to realize I couldn’t bend the screen. So, I had to take a knife and make incisions along the outside seams just to get the thing to bend.
On the panels I used glue stick to post up my tables.
Great screen. It would’ve survived nuclear war.
2. Restaurant menus
This tip appeared in Issue #139. Use restaurant menus or covers for your DM screen. The ones with the plastic sleeves for inserting the latest menu into are perfect. Just whip up your own charts and slide into the menu.
The Menu Shoppe sells them online, and specialty print shops might have them as well.
3. Tiny chunk of cardboard
As you might know, I use a double dog dish for my dice while DMing. Dice go in one side and I roll in the other. This works great and corrals my dice well.
I wanted a small screen around this for one campaign just to keep prying eyes away from my rolls. So, I found a thin cardboard box and trimmed it down to be about 4 inches tall, and wide enough to fit around two sides of my dice dish.
I got a rubber band, looped it around the dish, and slipped the cardboard into it. This worked perfectly for many moons. While my notes on the screen were few, it worked well to hide my rolls, and its low profile didn’t create a barrier between me and the group.
4. Cardboard and page sleeves
Another Roleplaying Tips reader wrote in with the excellent idea of gluing plastic page sleeves to cardboard or to old screens. Just print out your charts, slip them into your sleeves, and you’re set. Great idea!
5. Binder with sleeves
I bought a binder with plastic page sleeves bound into it specifically to use as a dungeon master screen. This worked well, though it was too tall to see over so I kept it to the side.
With all the interior pages it felt like I had a ton of information at my finger tips. The pages would sometimes flip over on their own while standing up, so I just a paper clipped to keep the binder open to the pages I needed at any given time.
6. Plexiglas screen
A reader from Issue #50 of the Roleplaying Tips E-Zine wrote in about his Plexiglas dungeon master screen:
One of my best tools was my folding GM screen. I make a point of saying folding because it was made from 1/4″ thick Plexiglas and the panels had metal posts in the bottom so it mounted in the base (also made of Plexiglas). I clipped my charts and tables to the inside of the panels and then used the base to make quick notes on what was going on. For the encounters I would make a quick chart of the monsters (each with their own ID #), their level, total hit points, damage taken, and initiative. This saved me from messing up or misplacing the sheet once the encounter got under way AND since I was writing in grease pencil it was easy to change and erase after the encounter.
7. The castle wall screen
Another time, for another campaign, I made a huge screen with five panels and a hole in the bottom of the middle panel. We were playing first edition D&D and I was a chart monster DM at that time.
Aside from the sheer area of the thing, the screen’s greatest asset was the small rolling hole. I cut it in there so players could cast their dice through to behind the screen for secret rolls. It worked great, actually, though it’s a bit of a head-shaker today. As expected, the players loved the skill test of trying to get their dice through the hole.
No one lost an eye, mom. Told ya.
8. Laminated pages
Jay suggested in Roleplaying Tips Issue #76 to get two or three pages of charts built and then laminate them. Use a thick laminate so the pages are stiff enough to not curl. Tape the pages together at their edges and you have a great dungeon master screen.
9. Cereal boxes
Who can’t resist staring at the Corn Flakes logo, or making new words out of the letters displayed on the outside of the Alpha Bits box? For awhile I was making DM screens from cereal boxes. Cut down, they worked well, but only for a short period of time. The cardboard was too thin to hold up to general wear and tear, and I didn’t think of gluing a couple boxes together until just now, twenty years later. Am I getting smarter, or just catching up?
10. My hands
Sometimes I don’t use a DM screen at all. So, if I want player rolls to be secret and made by the players I’ll have them roll the dice at me and I’ll put my hands around them to hide the results. I suppose if I was clever I’d write charts on the inside of my hands. I’m not that clever. I’ve also stopped requiring players to do secret rolls nowadays, and I’ll either roll for them, or I won’t make the roll secret and will let the players roll and see the result.
11. Google Docs, Microsoft OneNote, My Info
Today I use a laptop at the game table. It has all my information on it, and it doubles nicely as my DM screen. I use Google Docs to record session notes and manage combat. I use Microsoft OneNote and Milenix’s MyInfo for campaign and world information, including charts and tables. I use other software as well, but the ones above get 90% of my screen time while DMing, pun probably not intended.
Bonus round: the dice tower
This homebrew item made in grade 10 wasn’t a screen, though it eventually was taped to that 5 panel monstrosity I mentioned earlier, which officially dubbed that screen as The Castle.
I saw a TV show that demonstrated how to make a periscope from a cardboard milk carton and small glass mirrors taped to the inside. I made the periscope, it worked, and it amused me for five minutes.
Then I realized the periscope had a better use! I cut out the bottom a little more and taped a cardboard fenced corral around the base. I could now drop dice into the top, they’d hit the mirrors like a Plinko game, and eventually come out the bottom.
That sucker lasted for more than five minutes and was a ton of fun. My players loved that thing. d4s didn’t work so hot with it, but every other dice rolled out and into the corral like a charm.
Ok, your turn. What are your best, favourite, and fondest dungeon master screen recipes?