top of page

What's behind my DM Screen?






So, your DM screen really is your safety net when running Dungeons and Dragons. It provides a space where you can arrange whatever notes, preparation or objects you want, to help you build a fun and compelling D&D experience for your players. There will undoubtedly be moments when you're having to completely think on your feet and pull characters and plot points out of thin air - so anything that you can have behind the DM screen to help you in those moments is worth its weight in gold.


The DM screen also provides a physical barrier between you and your players - not only can this be somewhat psychologically comforting when you metaphorically feel you need a place to hide when things are going in a very different direction to what you planned, but it also provides a sense of mystique for your players - it serves to cloak the fact that half the time you really have no clue what's going on. What's behind my screen will differ slightly depending on the kind of session I'm anticipating, and whether I'm running an in-person or online session - but I'll give you a brief overview of what I find useful, in the hope that you might find some inspiration for your own setup.

*N.B. The Amazon links on this page are affiliate links. This doesn't cost you any extra, but I make a small commission from any sales - which helps support the site :)



Dice


Pretty obvious, right? Pretty difficult to run DnD without some dice. By hiding my rolls behind a DM screen though, it helps build tension when describing outcomes of certain checks. It also allows me to occasionally make random dice rolls and hide their results, with no real purpose - except to keep my players on edge a little. Finally, on occasion rolling behind a screen also allows me to fudge my dice rolls.


This is a very controversial topic, with some DMs vowing never to fudge dice rolls, and some doing it fairly regularly. For me, it is a pretty rare occurrence - but if I feel that it will enhance the story, and make an encounter incredible, then I don't really have a problem with it. You're telling a story, after all - it would kinda suck if a character died within 5 minutes from tripping over a rock. You can make your own mind up on how you feel about fudging rolls, but a DM screen does give you that option, should you choose to.



Laptop


This is probably the most important thing behind my screen, and (sort of) keeps my sessions from descending into chaos. Most of my session prep is done on evernote, so I have that open in several different tabs, so I can easily switch between different notebooks for PCs, NPCs, the world, my initiative tracker etc. In fact, I keep all of my prep from all the previous campaigns I've run on there - so when someone wants to do something a bit wacky, if I had a similar situation in a campaign I ran a couple of years ago, or if I know I created a magic item in a different setting which would play well here, I am always able to search evernote in the middle of a session and find whatever I'm looking for.


The more campaigns I run, and the greater number of notes and bespoke items and mechanics I have squirreled away in there, the more valuable this resource becomes over time. I'll probably do another post on what exactly I have in my evernote notebooks another time, as it's too much to go into now, but honestly, it's incredibly helpful.


The other massive bonus of having my laptop behind my screen is easily being able to switch any music or sound-effects I'm playing, to create a more immersive experience. This is easier to do when playing in person, and can be cumbersome when playing online (depending on the platform you're using) - but music makes such a difference to atmosphere when playing, that if at all possible, you should be utilising it.



Cheat sheets


If you're anything like me, there are rules that you forget time and time again - so having them printed out and stuck to the back of your DM screen can be a massive help when those scenarios invariably come up in your game. Obviously, you could just buy an official Wizards of the Coast DM screen which will have some of these things on - but I prefer to customise them to the things that I know I will want to reference frequently.


Because I'm a nerd, I built myself a 4-panel wooden DM screen in the style of Matt Mercer's, which gives me space for four A4 sheets of paper to attach to the back of my screen with magnets. What you may have on these will differ, but I have quick reference cheat sheets for different conditions, different actions you can take in combat, a list of common prices for food, drink and items, lists of NPC names (split by race and gender), and lists of synonyms and descriptive words that help me to be more imaginative and less repetitive when trying to describe places or actions in combat. Being able to look at any of these sheets at a moment's notice, instead of having to reference them in the players handbook, is extremely helpful.



Notebook & pen


There is so much going on within a DnD session, that you the DM cannot keep everything in your head at the same time. For this, I make sure I have a notepad and pen behind the screen, to scrawl down whatever notes I need as the session is unfolding. As we play I will jot down DC numbers as players are making various skill checks, I will write down the names of NPCs that I'm coming up with as we go (along with any important details on them that I need to remember).


I will write down the names of places or shops that my players visit, or things my players say that I might want to refer back to if they spark any ideas for where I may want to take the story in the future. If these things aren't written down in real time, I can be pretty confident that by the end of the session I'm not gonna remember them. Then, when I come to do a proper session write up in evernote, or come to start planning my next session, I can always refer back to these notes for anything I want to include in my more detailed and organised notes and session plans.



DM Binder


If I'm honest, my DM binder is a little bit superfluous, as most of the notes and prep that many DMs have in them, I have on my laptop instead. That said, if you prefer looking at paper than a screen, a DM binder can serve much the same purpose. Beyond that, in mine I also keep a number of rollable tables for various encounters, or what I might find going on in a city, in a tavern, a desert, or on the high seas etc. These tables can be a lifesaver if you're low on prep time and need a bit of inspiration either for a random encounter or help in describing a scene.


As well as these, I keep various props in my binder (I'm a sucker for physical props, so any letters etc that I give to my players will invariably be written on paper stained with tea, and in envelopes sealed with wax). Keeping them in the binder means they're hidden away, so nobody will get any hints of what's coming up in case they happen to walk past the screen. Finally, I keep a host of pre-made battle maps in my binder - a selection of various dungeons or caverns or fields or forests. Just in case something should happen at a moment's notice, and I'd rather play it out on a map rather than use theatre of the mind.


Miscellaneous


This will depend a little bit on the session that I'm going to run - but if it's in person then I'll likely have a map and some minis behind my screen in case there's combat. I also tend to have a few inspiration tokens which remind me to give that out, and often I'll keep a selection of sand timers (usually 30 secs, 1-minute, 3-minute and 5-minute ones) behind my screen in case I want to add a bit of tension to proceedings and give my players a time limit before some pre-determined consequence occurs. I also keep any other props that I want to use in the session behind there - maybe a few magic item cards, or spell cards etc that I plan on giving out to my players as and when. This will obviously change from session to session (and depending on my generosity). If they're really lucky, I'll have my homemade monkey's paw there, which I like to hand over and let chaos really ensue. Yes, I made a monkey's paw. I told you I was a nerd, right?


So that's more or less it. As time goes on this changes here and there, and your list will almost certainly be different to mine - but this gives you a good idea of the tools and information that I find most valuable and want to keep on hand for almost every session. I hope it's given you a few ideas of things you can add to your own set-up before your next game night!

Comentarios


bottom of page