Tunnel of Thoughts: The Dark Side of the Screen

Most people who play RPGs will be familiar with the GM’s screen. It has a multitude of purposes, and there are official solutions for most RPG systems as well as lots of DIY and 3rd party options. You can buy screens made of exotic woods, with built in dice towers and who knows what else. Some people even collect GM screens, especially older official D&D ones, as far as we can see.

All of that is what we won’t be discussing here. In fact we won’t be discussing the side of the screen most people use at all. What will be looking at is the side that faces the players. Typically it has lovely art that showcases something about the official setting of your RPG system. That’s lovely, and evocative.

However, it isn’t functional. It’s just pretty. There isn’t anything wrong with that except on a lot of game tables, space is at a real premium. Having the same thing occupy this lovely vertical plane every single session seems like a waste. Here’s a couple of ideas for what else you can do with it.

Putting something different on the front of screen for some sessions can really help shake up your game in interesting ways.

Rotate the art

This is obvious, but print out some different art that you like and get it on there. Get your players to choose some. Choose some more relevant to your particular campaign setting, or what is currently happening. If you’re players are currently mid-quest in some underground mines, print out a damn mine image. This doesn’t add any functionality, but it does add some flair to the theme.

A Reminder

Is the party currently searching for a lost NPC? A magic sword? A rare herb to heal the barbarian’s wereweasel affliction? The rogue’s boots, which she lost in a tavern brawl? Get a picture or a sketch up on there.

When the party is visiting a town, get NPC portraits of the people they know up there. A picture of the tavern they usually go to. This also evokes setting, but it might prompt a moment “Graknor the Dwarf! I totally forgot about that guy, I wonder what he’s been up to?”. This can be a great way to nudge your players towards something or keep them on track with what is happening in the campaign.

A Prompt

The players have just returned to a town they know well, so as well as the NPC portraits they know, you add a picture of someone new. Maybe as well as the tavern they know, you add a picture of a merchant’s stall. They might just say “what’s that?” or “who’s that?”. This is a good visual way of setting up a hook. As soon as they ask about the image as players, an encounter or event is triggered for their PCs.

A Timer

If you have a campaign where something is happening in the world, use your screen to visually show how it advances. This can be done with a circle that you shade in a bit more each session, or something more thematic. In our current campaign, we’re about to introduce a centre graphic on our screen of a cult sigil. Each session, more of the symbol goes from flat black to glowing red. This is a five minute task in photoshop or most image editing programs, yet adds a palpable sense of growing dread to each session.

A Whiteboard

Mini whiteboards the cheapest thing on earth. Fact. Blutac is second cheapest. Buy some of each and get a mini whiteboard on the front of your screen. You can use this to draw things if you’ve got the gift, but you can also use it for messages, riddles, mini-puzzles, for your players to keep a map. Of course you can do all these things with paper, but this is a bit cooler and central.

A Tally

I’m sure we’ve all seen images of fighter pilots or soldiers who keep a kill tally with stamps or painted images. Do this for your party. You can tie this to the story, whether it’s as simple as a gnoll-scalp bounty a visual record of killing the seven prime evils. You can tie this to an achievement or a bonus. If the PCs manage to roll 6 crits this game, they get an XP bonus.

As always, there are no doubt more clever uses for a screen, these are just a few we’ve been toying with. If you’ve got something to add, let us know on Twitter or Facebook. If you haven’t already, please do check out our products on DriveThruRPG. Keep an eye out for another blog post next Monday.


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