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Now, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you know how I roll with a GM screen (see what I did there?). Yes, I LOVE using a GM screen. Yes, I will roll things like perception for the players (GASP! What a dumbass, right?!). Yes, I will keep the meta information from my players. This is how I like to do my GMing. Is this the right or wrong way to do this? Go read my entry of “Have We Delved Too Far?” and see if you can figure that answer for yourself.

The biggest reason I love GM screens is the information. A lot of companies really utilize the space of the GM screen to aid the GM’s. Others, not so much (I’m looking at you, Wizards!). We are not all so perfect and so “in tune” with the rules of the games we play that we never have to look up something. A GM screen is a fantastic tool! Put it to good use!

Then, there seems to be this other side of the screen. (Man, I’m on a roll today!)

As time has gone on, I have heard more and more about “F*ck that Gm screen! Get that thing away from me!”. When did it become such an evil thing to keep a bit of mystery in the game for the PLAYERS too? Why is it such a evil thing to roll the dice behind the screen? Is it that we have reached a point of such little trust that if your GM says he rolled a natural 20, that you don’t believe him? Is it that if your GM tells you his dice exploded 99 times, you don’t believe him? Or is it that you think that we are still in a day and age of “GM vs. Player” and that the GM is out to get you?

I honestly don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know why it’s become such a hot topic. Hell, this is one of the questions I ask of each of my guests during the Lightning Round segment of the show- Behind the screen or out in the open for everyone to see? It’s funny to see that there is a pretty even mix of both answers. And guess what? They are all right answers! Do it how you want to!

What are you thoughts on this topic? Do you know why we’ve reached an era of “GM SCREEN BAD! SMASH!” Let me know in the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “When Did the GM Screen Become Evil?

  1. I have used my GM Screen since 1978 until recently (2009) when I started play testing the distilled Elthos rules and wanted to get my players in on helping me to evaluate the odds and ends of things in the mechanics. So we roll everything above board and we all pitch in to help with the calculations so that everyone can tell what the chances of success for rolls are. After I started doing this I began to feel that there’s nothing wrong with playing this way either. It’s simply a different style of play. The downside is that the players lose some of the chance of immersion. But the positive side is that they feel they have more understanding of the game mechanics and therefore better control over their characters. In many cases this has helped them to survive (they now can estimate more accurately when to run away, for example). However, with rolls above board the game is riskier in the sense that I don’t surreptitiously deflect bad rolls to “help the poor buggers out”. It’s a double edged sword in that regard. In any case, I swing both ways on this issue. There’s pros and cons on either side.

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  2. Oh I agree that there are pro’s and con’s to both sides. I have just recently seen the uprising of the “hate the GM screen” and haven’t understood it. I think if people want to do it behind the screen, great. Out in the open, great. Just don’t tell someone that they’re doing it “wrong” by rolling behind the screen.

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  3. I think a lot of this comes from the old school mentality of Players vs. GM and I’m guilty of it too. I was introduced to RPGs via the good ole AD&D, and I saw fellow players facing off against the DM and the DM trying to beat the players, so I started my DMing with that attitude.

    But I was never satisfied with some of the mechanics of that system. And as more games became available with different mechanics and outlooks on how to run and play RPGs, I’ve changed and adapted.

    Some game systems lend themselves better to a little obfuscation of die rolls and others, less so. Systems that use hero points, bennies, inspiration, force points, etc take away a player’s choice to modify his result and I have tried to keep Notice checks in Savage Worlds and was always faced with the same reply: If I had known my roll wasn’t high enough, I would’ve spent another Benny.”

    In a system like AD&D, Pathfinder, etc. Players are “stuck” with their roll, for good or ill, then hiding some results can add to the suspense or drama (the good kind of drama). When I ran my games of 3.5 ed. I’ve even gone so far as to have my players roll 5 or 6 Perception checks for me to use during the game when needed. My players also trusted that I would use them in the order they rolled them, no picking and choosing which ones I would prefer, for the story.

    GM screens aren’t Evil as such. I think some game systems are better than others for this particular tactic. I’d like to think that the days of GM vs. Players is gone. We’re all here to play a game and have fun, on both sides of the screen, whether you use one or not. Which brings me to my next point. I haven’t used a GM screen since running Savage Worlds. I just have a three ring binder with the reference sheets I need for gaming, whether they be tables for lighting penalties or Object toughness to Chase rules and Dramatic tasks summary. But I would keep some of the minis out of sight to avoid that my players would see and get an idea of what’s coming their way.

    So, IMHO, a GM screen can be a useful tool for reference of charts and tables, and a place to keep a few secrets. If you like using one, great. If you don’t use one, fantastic, rock it!

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  4. Lately I’ve been keeping my GM screen folded up next to me in case I needed it for a reference. I’m not sure what it is about rolling out in the open and letting the dice fall as they may. I haven’t run into a situation where I felt like I needed to roll behind the screen. My players on Friday nights are good enough to see that they failed a perception roll and go with it, fully knowing there’s a good chance I had them roll it for a reason. =)

    The two boys that are playing with us (7 years old and 10 years old) are being taught our way to play the game. It is a way that is fun for us and they are having a great time! Even bugging their Dads asking, when is Mr. Chris gonna be running D&D again? Rolling behind the screen isn’t wrong. Rolling out in front of everyone isn’t wrong. What is wrong is not having fun playing these roleplaying games. If you’re having fun, then you’re doing it right! They say you can’t win at D&D, I say Baaahh! If you’re having fun, then you’re winning at D&D! Hehehe

    Nice article, dude!

    Z

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