But the issue of GM screens came up on a tangent during the course of proceedings. I was glad to hear that Ken Hite doesn't use them, and felt vindicated about that, because as a long-term naysayer about GM screens I sometimes wonder if I'm from a different planet to most people engaged in the hobby.
The case against GM screens is as follows:
- It creates an artificial psychological barrier between the GM and players. I like to think that I'm gaming with friends, not teaching a group of schoolkids.
- It makes the players wonder whether or not the GM is fudging. I roll all my dice in the open, and frequently tell the players what an NPC needs to score a hit or succeed on their roll. It's way more tense that way, and it keeps me honest. Rolling dice in secret would make the players suspicious I was cheating, either in their favour or otherwise.
- Related to the point made above, a GM screen provides a constant temptation to fudge. If they players can't see the dice, there'll always be a small part of you that wants to change the result despite your better judgment.
- On the rare occasions in which you want to roll secretly - for instance, if you don't want a player to know whether something has succeeded or not - you can just do it behind your hand, for Goodness' sake.
- It sends out the unfortunate message that in order to GM you have to be some sort of all-powerful, pontificating svengali figure, pronouncing judgments from on high and subtly manipulating everything behind the scenes like a puppet master. Instead of just, you know, facilitating a game.
- I was involved in a Call of Cthulu game with the least frightening GM screen ever invented. Me and one of the other players had a running joke that one of the sinister Cthuloid entities on the front looked kind of like the Blue Peter tortoise. It totally ruined the mood.
- The table I use is a bit too small to set one up.
- If you game in a public area, like we do, you look like a total nerd. Being an RPG nerd is bad enough without drawing attention to it.
- They have pretty tables and charts on the back for handy reference.
Your honour, the case for the prosecution rests.