Thursday, February 4, 2010

To Screen or Not to Screen?

In a fairly recent conversation on the Pinnacle Entertainment Group forums, I argued in favor of using a GM screen to, at least occasionally, hide rolls. The longer the conversation continued, it got me thinking about my philosophies regarding this. Then I read this post from Rob Donoghue's blog, and I had an epiphany. I'd already done some "roll then describe" stuff with my group, but I never applied it in as wide a scope as Rob's article suggests. I also held on to at least a few secret rolls prior to this read. I resolved to give it a try when next I ran a game, which happened to be my first run of Dragon Age last week.

I sat at the table, GM screen in front of me--I had created three additional panels of tables, to supplement the reference on the back of the GM's Guide, in an effort to minimize book flipping. I sat there, GM screen in front of me, and explained how roll then describe would work at our table. The players seemed game to give it a whirl, so we went for it.

When the first combat encounter began, I realized soon that I needed those tables, but I also felt like I was cut off from the rest of the players. The screen I was using was of the vertical style, and I've been using horizontal-style screens for years. I'm sure that extra height added to my discomfort. Since my screen was custom, I pulled the sheets out of the screen. My wife suggested I put them back-to-back in sheet protectors to save space, which I did. We made the quick adjustment and got on with our combat. I must say I have never felt so engaged with my players. I've gone sans screen before, using my hands to hide a roll, but I never actively paid attention to the difference in feel at the table until now.

I can honestly say I don't see myself ever using a GM screen again, outside of having it handy to check out a chart. And if I ever fall back on secret rolls (something I no longer intend to do, but who knows what a given system will require?), there is always my hand to hide them.