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The Douchey DM » Advice, Alternate Views, General Gaming, Opinion » A Better GM Screen: Part One – Your Protagonists

A Better GM Screen: Part One – Your Protagonists

Most GM screens give you either three or four 8.5×11 panels on either side for information. This is a very small amount of real estate, considering the size of most rule books.

I’m sure there’s a great deal of consternation when game designers decides what to include and what to exclude from the screen. In some cases, it doesn’t seem there’s much thought at all.

We’ve all looked at a particular table on a screen and wondered, “why that chart?” And as you gain confidence and experience with a system the information on the screen (if you use it at all) eventually becomes unnecessary.

But what if we used that real estate for something else? What if, instead of using it to make us better rules authorities, we used it to make us better GMs?

What I used to do.

I have two different GM screens that I use with regularity. In the above picture, I have the 3-panel landscape screen I bought from Pinnacle. Unfortunately, many games use a portrait format for their GM information, so I mostly use two 3-ring binders clipped together with see-through inserts. I can keep printouts for multiple game systems in it and turn the pages to the system I’m currently running. It’s worked out well, but I still don’t use the information much.

What I’m doing now.

About six months ago, I started using one of the four panels for player character information. I use Post-it notes for each PCs, and stick them on a sheet of blank paper, much like a seating chart. Each Post-it has the Character’s name, perception stats and any other characteristic or skill that might be rolled in secret by the GM (detect lies, spot hidden, etc).

I also include some notes about the PCs’ weaknesses. If I have a character who is greedy, I know how to push that character’s buttons, and I know how well the player is playing that disad. I also note important enemies and allies of each PC, in case and opportunity arises to weave them in.

I’ve found this panel to be the most-used part of my GM screen. I don’t have to ask for perception numbers, I don’t have to spoil anything by asking a players what their detect lies skill is. It’s all at hand.

Unlike most of the stuff on GMing side of the screen, this one panel consistently leads to a better, more enjoyable game.

This got me thinking about the other panels on the screen. What else can I replace with something that make me be a better GM?

I’ve had several ideas, and one that I’m going to try in the next game is a sort of flowchart for scene setting. More than anything it’s just a series of reminders of the different aspects of description. When I have something finalized, I’ll post it here.

Assuming you know the system well enough to not need to rely on a GM screen for rules reminders, what would you put on a GM screen to improve your GMing?


Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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7 Responses to "A Better GM Screen: Part One – Your Protagonists"

  1. Kevin RNo Gravatar says:

    What a great idea I am constantly trying to recall what player had what disads. I could see this being a huge assistance with a FATE game listing all of the players aspects out for you. I think I may have to try a page of post it notes for my NPCs as well.

  2. shortymonsterNo Gravatar says:

    I also use the Pinnacle screen. It does mean quite a bit of time reformatting info to fit if not running a pinnacle game, but it is time well spent.

    Best/worst GM screen approached form the other side?

    The only stuff other than player info I tend to use a lot is crit. tables. Not used in every game though, and it is possible to just do without them.

  3. John CNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve gotten good value from a 4 panel landscape screen I bought. While making my own inserts for game mechanic information can take some time, I tend to learn the details of a system better having done the homework for the screen.
    I also like putting inserts on the outside for my players. For example, when I introduced them to Deadlands I had the game’s map of the US on the outside panels for them to look at. Meanwhile the two panels in the middle had some setting appropriate artwork and reminders for the players on how some game mechanics worked. (Bennies for example.)

    1. StuNo Gravatar says:

      I *really* like the idea of a map on the players’ side of the screen.

  4. […] my last post, I talked about information that could be included on GM screens to make us better GMs — not […]

  5. […] better DM screen. When you’re familiar with the rules, what do you use that real estate for? Try this, and see how your game […]

  6. AnarkittyNo Gravatar says:

    I love my Official Hard 8 HackMaster GM Screen. It is an impressive piece of kit, almost a book unto itself.

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