Dungeon master screens are often talked about, especially customizing them. I’ve been following a thread over at Roleplaying Pro where I commented on a few tips for customizing your screen. The potential of the game master screen has also been covered at RoleplayingTips.com, and numerous readers have responded with their tips over the years.
Published DM screens are great, but unfortunately, one-size does not fit all. Dungeon masters have different tastes. They also have different styles, varying experience levels behind the screen, and unique needs based on their current campaign and character group make-up.
While buying a DM screen can get you started if you’re new to a game system, you’ll want to upgrade over time. For example, I reviewed the 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master screen at Dungeonmastering.com and thought it was great for DMs new to 4E, but eventually the EXP and Food Prices tables will be wasted space. Other tables could be too, once you know the rules. Also, the screen never truly serves your unique campaign, your homebrew world, or the different tables you reference more often in the books but weren’t chosen to be placed on any of the panels.
At some point, you’ll want to customise your own screen.
Following is my list of the best dungeon master screen hacks. Use these to customise to your heart’s content to make a dungeon master aid that works for you as your DMing skills – and campaign – continue to evolve.
1. Page protectors glued to cardboard panels
From Roleplaying Tips E-Zine Issue #80 a reader suggests gluing plastic page protectors to cardboard to make a customisable DM screen. Whenever you need a new chart or page of reference notes, just slip the page into a sleeve and you’re set.
2. Folded index cards along the top edge
Photos at the Sly Flourish blog demonstrate well how you can place folded index cards on your dungeon master screen. Sly’s pics show him using the cards for initiative. Don’t forget to use temporary cards for foes.
You can also just use folded slips of paper. Regardless of paper or card, you can put anything you need that’ll fit on those suckers.
3. Recycle old screens
I don’t know about you, but I’m on my fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons. That’s not only four official screens for me, but I’ve got some homemade ones too. You can resurrect old screens by gluing new charts or plastic page sleeves over them. You can cut and glue old screens together. If you’re like me, you have enough to build a fort with.
4. Clips along the edges
Roleplaying Tips reader Perry Rogers recently wrote in with his tip about using clips on DM screens. Similar to folded index cards, you can get specific clips with surfaces for pasting things onto them, such as PC portraits, to make another easy initiative tool.
Here’s a photo with the monster leader’s turn. His troops’ initiative clip (color coordinated with the leader’s clip) is at the end of the turn.
View from the player’s side of the screen.
The dwarf has two ongoing effects: Stunned and -2 to Attack
The turn indicator and a player’s clip. Note the magnet on the turn indicator. The magnet does a great job holding the
marker in place atop the screen.
Another hack is to clip things to the screen. Papers, printouts, photos, whatever. You can not only clip things to your side of the screen for reference, you can also clip things on the other side for player reference. You can also use different types of clips to best suit your screen’s thickness.
5. Extend your screen with flaps and panels
Have you ever seen the Hackmaster GM screen? It’s a work of art with two dozen panels and flaps tucked away in a three panel display. Why not do the same? Use your existing screen, hack an old screen you don’t use anymore, or build your own from scratch. Create additional panels and tape or glue them to your screen:
- Extend your screen to a third or fourth panel
- Add interior panels you flip back and forth through like a magazine
- Add flaps that go up and over to reveal inner panels, and perhaps new useful panels on the players’ side.
6. Post-It gods
P0wn your DM screen with Post-Its. Don’t just paste them onto your screen. Paste notes onto each other. For example, monster powers and feats often come in groups or categories. So, make a stack of cheat notes with one power per note, paste ‘em together on your screen in alphabetic order, and flip through ‘em as needed when dungeon mastering.
Do the same with spells, combat actions, and any other groups of rules that you can stack half an inch high on your screen.
It doesn’t need to stop at Post-It Notes, though. Take a trip to your local stationery store and check out the whole family of Post-It products and see if organizational inspiration strikes. There’s Post-It Cards, Tabs, Pages, and more.
If you have any Post-It Notes left over from this hack, get a pencil and make a mini page-flip book of PC decapitations.
7. Paste over useless tables with your own
Who says you have to settle with the charts the publisher gave you? Make your own charts, print them out, and tape or glue them over useless ones. Measure up the space you will be covering and build your new charts to spec. You might even have a colour printer at home to design awesome charts with, but black and white serve just as well.
8. What’s with art on the players’ side?
A dungeon master screen pet peeve of mine is reference printed only on one side. The players get to look at pretty art. That’s great, until the players have stared at that art for so long they no longer see it, and don’t give it another conscious glance for the rest of the campaign. Use the hacks in this post to put some useful information on that side of the screen.
For example, how about putting EXP and level-up tables on the players’ side? Maybe print up random insults and post a new one every session to goad your group on. “Divide and conquer is the GM’s best friend. It works on you every time.”
9. Build card holders
If clips don’t grab you or the deep real estate of your screen, then consider building card holders. Imagine printing or writing anything you wanted on index cards and being able to swap them out anytime depending on what’s happening in the game. Use tape and paper or chopped-up index cards to make a pocket on your screen, and then fill it with cards, the face-up one being what you need at the moment.
Velcro: This did not make the official list as every Velcro experiment I’ve tried has failed. It’s heavy and takes a bit of a rip to separate. When I first learned I could buy Velcro in a roll for cheap I immediately thought about using it for my dungeon master screen. I was hoping to attached it to charts and props that I could mount on my screen and swap in and out as I pleased. In practice the idea was a flop.
Magnetic strip: Another eureka moment that died a thousand deaths. What could be better than a magnetic strip running along the top of your screen, right? With bits of magnets attached to cards, charts, and props, I could mount and replace items on my screen fast and easy. I didn’t get very far. Actually, I only got to the stage of getting a magnetic strip and cutting it up. Then it dawned on me that someone invented Post-Its. Hey, no one said I was the sharpest tool in the shed.
So, those are my top dungeon master screen hacks. What are yours?