Considering ditching the GM screen? Removing the barrier between us and our players can help increase immersion and our connection to one another during the game session.
While GM screens are handy for organizing information and keeping certain elements of the game hidden from players, they’re definitely not necessary. Going screenless can be the key to running a legendary tabletop gaming session that your players will never forget.
This article will go over how run a session without one, and the kinds of differences it can make for your table.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
The Power of the GM Screen
If you’re anything like me, you probably feel a sense of pride or maybe even a teeny bit powerful with the acquisition of a new Dungeons & Dragons screen.
Whether we spring for the official ones released by Wizards, Paizo, or other publishers, find a 3rd party barrier or make our own, there’s a sense of promise that comes with the purchase. There’s an adventure to be had!
We anticipate hours of game time seated around this most meaningful tabletop edifice, both an icon of the tabletop roleplaying realm and a symbol of a Dungeon Master wielding worlds for others’ enjoyment. We envision laughing and plotting and sharing secrets we’ve devised along the way.
Maybe you don’t want to give that up. I don’t, either. But there’s a lot to be learned and gained by ditching the screen, even if it’s only temporarily.
Ditch it For a Day
Let’s start by talking about the advantages of going screenless. When you remove the screen, you open yourself up to a whole new level of interaction with your players.
You’re no longer hidden behind a barrier. You can make more eye contact, use subtle gestures, and create a more immersive experience for everyone at the table. Without all the information in front of you, going screenless can even give you a greater focus on storytelling.
The greatest advantage to be had with getting rid of a screen is the psychological component. When we remove the screen, we give a gift to our players.
We show them that they can trust us with our rolls (a hot topic, I know). It also communicates that we are confident and prepared. We don’t need to hide anything. Most importantly, it wordlessly reiterates that we’re all playing together.
Removing the physical object serves to reduce some of the imagined barrier between players and game masters. It also means we can sit anywhere at the table.
How to Keep Track of Information
“But, Malice, wait! How will I keep track of all my information and game mechanics without a screen? I need to clip endless papers and sticky notes to the back! Where will I hide my minis?! My players will see EVERYTHING!”
There are plenty of ways to overcome the challenges of screenless GMing.
You can take notes on paper or use a note-taking app on your phone, for example. I like to use a laptop, myself. Let’s go over some of the other concerns individually.
Hide Your Minis in PLAIN SIGHT
As for hiding minis, why not display them? If you have all (or many of) your minis displayed, you can simply rearrange them a bit to have easy access to the ones you need for the session. Your players don’t need to know which ones you’ll be using.
I like Walhalla for storing miniatures on the wall. It saves some space and it looks fun. One of my shelves is pictured below. If you have a 3D printer, you might want to take a look at it.
Here’s an Amazon link to an FDM printer very similar to the one I use, if you’re interested. (Mine is no longer for sale.)
Utilize Digital Notes
My preference for notes is OneNote (Microsoft, free to use), or even just pen and paper, if I’m in a hurry and need to get something down right away. I can always organize it later.
Evernote is another good, free option with powerful cloud-saving ability. Some DMs just love to use Google Suite. Whatever works for you is the best system. Don’t try to force yourself to use something just because it seems fancier or someone else likes it.
A friend of mine hosts in-person games but runs his combat on Roll20, using physical miniatures atop the screen. I also use digital maps and physical miniatures, but I’m jealous of his organization and preparedness with a digital combat tracker. We all have goals, and ways we want to improve. Don’t pick on yourself if you’re not where you want to be yet.
My Shameless Character Sheet Plug
If you’re looking for unique Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition character sheets that you can type into OR print, I actually make those every so often. Check them out on my Etsy store!
You can also get a copy of the Druid-inspired black and white character sheet by signing up for our newsletter.
Making the GM Screen a Thing of the Past
So, what are some tips for making screenless GMing a success? Preparation is key. Make sure you have all the information you need at your fingertips, whether it’s in your head, written down, or stored in an app, like the ones I suggested above.
You can also use props and other physical aids to help you run the game smoothly. For example, you might have a map of the game world on hand, utilize your trusty NPC cards, or incorporate other tangible objects to make running the game a bit easier.
If you’re still wanting to hide your rolls from players, consider using a dice tower that has a shield around the bottom port, or rolling digitally. The one pictured below I FDM Printed and painted. The leaves and additional skulls are by Citadel.
Surprise! I’m Screenless!
If you have something major happening, like a mega-roleplaying session planned, or a special encounter, it might be a great time to ditch the screen for an extra level of psychological engagement.
When I decided to take down my screen, half my table noticed and commented on it right away.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling nervous about going screenless, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your players. They might be able to give you some useful insights about your game interactions that you might not have thought of on your own.
Put Your Players to Work
You can also ask your players to help out with some of the more tedious tasks you may have previously had clipped to your numerous displays.
Players can help you track stats, run NPCs in combat, or track a calendar for you. There are lots of small tasks you can delegate to your players, and they usually feel excited and a little privileged to help.
Your players are (hopefully) bright, capable people. Lean into them for support.
Screenless GMing might seem like a daunting prospect, but the truth is that it can be incredibly rewarding. Not only does it allow for greater interaction with your players, but it also encourages you to focus on storytelling and improvisation.
So next time you’re preparing for a tabletop gaming session, why not leave the screen behind and see what kind of legendary experience you can create?
What are your thoughts and experiences with removing your GM screen for the game session? I’d love to read about them in the comments below.
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