I really love to use DM-Screens. The main reason being that my players don't have to see what I roll. Or better yet: I believe it's far more effective to allow players sitting next to me an occasional glance behind the screen. Or decide on the fly to roll in the open to heighten tension. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that DM Screens are necessary tools for so many reasons. You may have huge amounts of information for the game at your fingertips and, if need be, protected from prying eyes. And let's not forget, the art depicted on a DM screen helps facilitating a mood for your games.
Anyway, most will be aware of those benefits, some might even disagree. But I believe there is no DM out there that likes DM Screens and didn't experience the annoyance coming with some of the published proposals. Like bad/ugly/stupid art. I really hate, for example, the art on the 3E DM Screen. It's such an ugly thing (and I won't post a picture of that aberration).
Bad organisation or bad selection of rules is another on. I mean, check out the Official HackMaster Game Master's Shield:
|I really wanted to like this, but ...|
One could say they take this idea to the MAX (which is kind of funny, I guess ...). Layers and layers within layers and layers of information. It's just too much. Way too much. I tried to use it but always ended up looking in the books.
The third crime in this regard would be poor quality. It is an item that'll be used quite often. So if it falls apart after 20 sessions, it's bad quality in my opinion. "Scares", on the other hand, can give a GM Screen some character. Behold my Midgard RPG DM Screen:
|Did use this a lot! Good times.|
Used almost every Friday for five consecutive years. And it shows (it did hold up quite well, though).
The last thing that will eventually happen to all published DM Screens is that they get obsolete because of a new edition (which would be true for all three DM Screens described above) or because the Dungeon Master decided to go with another game (also true for all three examples ...).
There are alternatives, though.
OSR, DIY and the customized DM Screen
When I discovered those small blogs that would form the OSR later on, my focus in gaming also changed to older games (The D&D Rules Cyclopedia ftw!) and all those small games that got published (often for free) in that particular blog-o-sphere (and some indie-games I could get my fingers on ...). It won't come as a surprise that DM Screens are a very rare thing for those games. So a DM would need a flexible and neutral screen for this. Of course those things can be bought. But I never saw one that I liked and why buy one if you can do it yourself with all the freedom you want to get what you need?
That's what I did end of last year. Result:
|A 4 panel customized DM Screen, laminated and connected via spiral binding ...|
|... with 4 for implemented (glued) sheet protectors inside ...|
|... and with the name of the blog and an OSR stamp to round things up.|
|I'm quite fond of it by now.|
All I had to pay for this was the material and the copy-shop clerk who laminated and bound the pages. The art is the picture of a historical Japanese room divider (public domain, too), which was ideal, because it was already divided into 4 panels, so stretching it to DIN A 4 and making 4 pdfs out of it was quite easy (doesn't even look stretched). Adding the name of the blog and the stamp where the final touches using The Gimp, Scribus and Inskape).
|This is what it should have looked like, but they couldn't print the whole page,|
which resulted in the white frames you see above.
This is it. I'm using this one for a year now and it came in quite handy so far. I lucked out with the art, as I really like that picture and the atmosphere it transports (took me some time to find something I really wanted to use). And it's system neutral, so to say.
Question to the readers: What's your DM Screen of choice and why?