Behind My DM Screen

A Dungeon Master Screen is one of the most iconic elements to Dungeons & Dragons. They come in a wild variety of sizes, materials, and with different information. However, what is behind the screen can be even more intriguing. Here I will share what my DM setup is for my the Skull & the Eye games.

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My full set up away from prying eyes!

The above image gives an idea of my layout. Figure I will go from left to right, explaining each item, its uses, and some sample times they have been deployed.

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Dice, dice tower, and dice tray.

Dice are pretty self-explanatory. Specifically, these are Q Workshop dice, specifically three sets of the Elvish black & white and the Forest 3D white & black each. I originally bought these to play my high elf wizard, T’Lerion Flowspell, but they have served me well over the years as a DM too! They do not do anything regular dice do not, except look mighty cool. Though having two colors of dice available does come in handy. Often I will a pair of each styled d20s, to roll two separate advantaged attacks against separate targets. I am sure there are more efficient ways to do this, but I am done buying dice.

You may notice three specialty dice in there. One is a green hit location die, with a side for each limb, one of the head, and the other for the body as a whole. Got that in a random assortment of dice from Chessex back in 1996 at DunDraCon.

The tower and tray I snagged from a seller on eBay years ago, DungeonWerksGA. Got to pick the colors of the foam and that was about it. It makes an awesome sound when dice are rolled, one that my players really enjoy and fear. Overall, I cannot recommend a tray and tower enough for a DM, it lets you roll a lot of dice, randomly, and keeps them all contained. Plus the sound keeps the players on their toes. A die here, a die there, a handful of d20s, all can affect the attentiveness of the players making them nervous or even intimidating them.

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A variety of sand timers.

We all have those players that take forever with their turns. Outside of being new to the game, even seasoned players get distracted or have difficulty choosing among the possibilities for their characters. Or maybe you are only giving the characters so much time to deliberate before they need to answer the king’s request. Either way sand timers are a good way for the entire table to visualize how much time is passing and how much they may have left. You can get a full set of six on Amazon for under $10. What I do with these is set them atop the dice tower, letting everyone know the timer is running.

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Colored tokens and wet erase pens.

Just little round cut foam tokens also obtained from DungeonWerksGA (though I do not think they are available anymore). They are sized to go underneath a miniature’s base and still be visible. 4th edition made extensive use of marks and on-going status effects. These were how I kept track of them all. Now, they often get used to keep track of where a hunter’s mark is designated or to indicate the edges of a wall of fire. I have used to indicate which goblin stole the party’s dinner, whatever. You never know when you may need to indicate something.

The markers are EXPO Vis-A-Vis Wet-Erase. Use to get these for work, but started using them for my games. I have a vinyl Chessex Megamat that is on the table. These write on it quite well, while not smudging too much from player movement. After a game, some Windex and it all comes off easily enough with a micro-fiber towel. Multiple colors is a must! Indicate fire, some different ranges of architecture, flora, whatever! Of course black gets used the most to outline, so I keep a pack of a dozen handy too.

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Notebooks, pencil, pen, and sticky notes.

Notebooks are probably the most iconic element to D&D besides dice. I have a basic small graph paper spiral notebook I use to track hit points and statuses of creatures (players included). I do not use it for campaign notes (In another post I will go over my digital tools). The memo book, I have yet to use.

I prefer mechanical pencils and use gel ink pens, namely Zebra Sarasa 0.7mm. Ever since first using one these pens I have been hooked. Physically writing is not comfortable for me, but these pens ease that.

Sticky notes are amazing. Use to use these for tracking initiative, but now they get used a lot in my player interactions. I may pass the answer to a question that is divined or something they notice that should not be public. But I use them for notes that I need to pay attention to. Sticking them to my screen accomplishes this nicely.

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Condition cards, NPC cards, monster tents, generic NPC tents, and GM Critical Hit Deck.

Flipping back and forth through books can get rough. Even having loose sheets with stats I find cumbersome. Various cards with stats handy work well for me. Clas Hufe, pictured above, is an NPC that serves Herr Malek Klinde in the party. Normally this card is in possession of the player for whom the servant is dedicated to. But ole Clas, coachman extraordinaire, died in the first session. That said, I use this fillable sheet on 4″x6″ cards and keep a stack with everyone (or thing) I may need to draw on for the game.

To the right, the various tents can be seen. I use to hand do these, but found them easily lost and lacking in information. Since I came upon the Ultimate Character and Monster Tent Collection on the DMsGuild, I am hooked!

The condition cards come from Crit Games and the GM Critical Hit Deck from Nord Games. The condition cards have quick reference on the various conditions faced while the Critical Hit Deck spices up combat with more than the standard double damage from rolling a 20 in combat. I have yet to use the Critical Hit Deck extensively, so not much to comment on it at this juncture.

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Tablet with Syrinscape running.
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JBL Charge 2+

I love sound. If you follow me on social media, you know I am a huge vinyl collector and music lover. When I play D&D, I need that audio to enhance it. I have tried a lot of different ways of doing this, but my current setup is by far the best.

Syrinscape has been a huge hit in the gaming community and rightfully so. It is affordable, easy to use, and runs on every platform. The only issue I have is running it on Android is it cannot be swapped out. It dominates the device. If you go to the home screen or check something, you have to fully reload the app. I just got a new laptop which has Bluetooth capabilities. Normally I used that for reference and notes, but now I plan to use it for everything, including Syrinscape. Also looking at adding more music to the game, but still unsure how my players feel about that.

The JBL Charge 2+ is a Bluetooth speaker. I have it sit on top of a cabinet in the room with the game table. It is behind the players, so my voice does not have to compete with it. Placing it up high (about 7 feet off the ground), allows it to fill the room without dominating it. The battery seems to last plenty for our games which are about six hours. I am pretty sure it will outlast us.

Overall, this has added a lot of fun and dramatic shifts to the game. Having the sound board is just fun for everyone. When I began my campaign, all the characters were on a caravan. I hit start on the Wagon Train soundset and they were there. Throw in a horse’s neigh ever so often and they were hooked!

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Character tents, player facing.
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Character tents, DM facing.

Initiative tents changed my game. Made it faster, easier, and help everyone pay attention. I was using basic ones, just little 1/8th sheets that were perhaps half the height of what you see above. They did the trick. But these Ultimate Character and Monster Tent Collections do one hell of a trick! The are gorgeous, front and back and have plenty of room to get all the necessary information down. I print the character ones on card-stock and the monsters on regular copy paper. Due to their height, they hang nicely (the smaller ones had a tendency to blow away). I do use pencil on the player ones for stats, due to them changing over time. At present, we are using some images the players found on the internet. In the future, we will all have custom character portraits (which I will use on this site).

What I think these have done, more than anything, is provide a clear and consistent image of what the characters look like. They are always present, but not overbearing.

 

So that is my overall DM setup. I plan to expand and rework it. What I did not picture is how I store my miniatures, books, and other paper work. Not to mention how I organize all my notes and electronic resources. All these topics I plan to explore in upcoming posts.

What kind of stuff do you keep behind your screen? What tools do you use during a game? Let me know on Twitter @ OnlyPlayWizards