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DM Screen
Design & Development
Mike Mearls

When Bart Carroll asked me to handle a Design & Development column on the new Deluxe Dungeon Master’s Screen, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. For my money, a DM’s screen needs the following key traits:

  • Opacity: A DM’s screen can’t screen anything if the players can simply look through it.

  • Screen-Like Shape: The screen should be shaped like a screen, in that it is rather flat, narrow, and capable of standing immobile. Other shapes simply won’t do. For example, a spherical screen has the potential to roll around the table and perhaps crush the smaller sort of D&D player.

  • Tall, But Not Too Tall: The ideal screen height blocks easy access to the DM’s notes (or lack thereof; the best screens make both the well-prepared and the “I’m completely making this up as I go” DMs indistinguishable). Too short, and the players keep finding all those secret doors and ambushes the DM set up. Too tall, and the DM is trapped behind, using finger puppets to portray the action.

  • Probably Some Art and Tables: I say probably because while a lack of these features doesn’t speak to the actual utility of a screen in terms of hiding stuff from the players, it makes the difference between an actual DM’s screen and a flattened cardboard box.

However, these are far from the traits that lend themselves to excellence. In some ways, they are like describing a skilled athlete as someone with one or more limbs and the will to use them. That’s not really enough information to make an informed choice, but I can assure you that our new screen hits those marks.

What makes this screen different, though, lies in the past few years of using the old one. The original 4th Edition DM Screen worked great, but it wasn’t perfect. We’ve made a few revisions based on that feedback. At one point, Kim Mohan (our Managing Editor) passed a mock-up of the screen to everyone in the department for comments, queries, and suggestions. That process helped make a few key revisions that I think really make the screen more useful. They are:

  • Skill Challenge Summary: We’ve summarized the basics of complexity, DCs, and successes for building a challenge on the fly.

  • Revised Skill DCs: The skill DC table has been updated to coincide with the one published in the Rules Compendium.

  • Conditions: We’ve added a couple of conditions to the screen: grabbed and removed from play.

  • A Few New Tables: One new table summarizes the attack roll modifiers for stuff like long range, cover, and so on. The revised rules for charging from the Rules Compendium also appear on the screen.

At the end of the day, we wanted to make an updated screen based on three years of playing 4th Edition. Beyond the updated material from the Rules Compendium, we added material that we commonly referred to in play—the end result being our rather gorgeous new screen. Enjoy!

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.
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