Outside of dice, the Dungeon Master’s Screen is the most iconic and visible pieces on a game table. It towers over the table, hides documents and secrets, it is the physical representation of the separation of the Players and the Dungeon Master. There are many forms it takes: taped together 3-ring binders, stood up opened books, or some scribbled upon manila folder. While those also can absolutely serve the same function, objects created to be DM screens have as much variance. Just Google image search for “DM screen,” and behold the spectrum of screens from the ages. You will note that there are many made by TSR and Wizards of the Coast, the two proprietors of Dungeons & Dragons. Most of these are various styled cardboard with sweet art and a ton of charts/reference material for the Dungeon Master. Many of these have been made over the years, extending even into the Player Screens that provided charts of information relevant to characters. But what is amazing in that above mentioned image search is the sheer volume and diversity of custom build screens. Some are made of the above cheap materials, but others are gorgeous works of art.
This post will entail a review of three different screens for use in Dungeons & Dragons: The Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated for 5th Edition by Wizards of the Coast, CritIt’s Dungeon Master’s Screen with Shelf, and a custom wooden Dungeon Master’s screen made by Nerd Wood Designs.
The methodology for reviewing these will examine several criteria: aesthetics, functionality, price, durability, and size (bigger isn’t always better). Photos, front and back, of the screens full spread along with them on my gaming table will be featured with a few shots of relevant details. I own all three screens and have used them in my home games.
First up is the official D&D item, the Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated. This is a redo by Wizards of the Coast on a 5th Edition screen. The first one they put out was identical, in terms of build, but had different front facing art. However, the real detriment was that the previous version had minimal useful information on it for a DM. I honestly found it be underwhelming. The Reincarnated fixed that.
I like the way this look, one giant piece of art of one of the most iconic evil dragons in D&D. It has a nice finish to it, ensuring the colors do not dull. The side facing the DM features tons of great charts with useful information: actions, status effects, size differences, combat modifiers, all easy to ready and well laid out. This side too features the same finish as the front.
This screen does its job, it is easy to set up: just unfold it. It is thin, so it cannot go terrible straight requiring the bends to be well proportioned in order to prevent falling. I have not had issues with that, but I do know there has been concern with a strong box fan in the room. The folds in the screen seem durable, but I’m not very hard on mine. That said, it will get nicks in it over time as it is ultimately cardboard.
Where this screen shines is in size and price. An MSRP of $15 is reasonable and it can be had on Amazon for under $11. At 8.5 inches tall with each panel being 11 inches wide it is the size of a standard sheet of paper, making it super easy to put your own charts, maps, and other printed out information behind it. That means when at full length, it is about 44 inches wide, however due to the thinness it has to have some folds meaning you can expect about 40 inches max. The height is crucial though, as it is the shortest of the screens I am looking at in this review. That means I can see over easy enough to survey the board, especially helpful when having a game using lots of miniatures, but I don’t have to worry about not being able to make eye contact with my players.
Began with the base model, now lets look at a sexy foreign import.
I stumbled upon CritIt, out of the UK, on Etsy, while I was seeking to get my first wooden screen. I saw their DM screens and was impressed. I got their Dungeon Master’s Screen with Shelf and have been using it for about 4 months. They offer a variety of shapes and customization options for their screens.
For this specific screen, I had choices in finish and “style,” that is what would be engraved on it. About 10 different finishes are available and two styles, either the dragon and d20 as pictured or a viking theme. I chose the more universal of the two. The engraving quality is very high and alongside the deep walnut finish makes this an utterly beautiful screen. The hinge and corner braces add some nice color too. That said, if either dragons or vikings are not your thing, CritIt does offer to do a custom message on the front for no additional cost. I will not kid you, this thing got a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” from my players when they first laid eyes on it.
The screen folds open and can go almost straight. Unlike the Reincarnated screen, this one has no middle bend and opts for a double wide center panel. The above photo slide show demonstrates some of the functional components of this shelf screen. The shelves can hold about 6-8 miniatures each. Having them up there ensures you don’t forget them and can hint at impending doom for your players. The metal internal fixtures, namely the screw/washer set up, allows for posting of whatever charts and content you want. This means you can customize the information easily, but that will require a small amount of effort on the DM’s part. Furthermore, note the sweet looking d20 magnet pieces. Because these are just screws embedded in the screen, you can attach the magnets with ease in any configuration. They hold well and will keep a piece of cardstock against the inside without issue. However, you may note that the center panel and shelves limit just how tall of a piece you can place. The photo in the slideshow shows how a 8.5 inch piece of paper stacks up. I was having to scale my print jobs and then cut the pieces I was using for this screen. Not hard, but did take some doing.
Another aspect I adore is the hybrid nature of this screen: the lower middle panel with the higher side panels. I like being able to see straight ahead along the table, while having more capability to hide things off to the side. This comes in a total length of 32.5 inches full opened, but standing about 30 inches. The screen’s height is about 12 inches on the side panels with the center panel being about 8.5 inches tall.
Construction of this screen is top notch. The wood is well finished, the hardware strong, has an easy to use latch, and sturdy shelves. I really cannot express how well made it is. That said I have several issues with it. The first is price, this particular screen cost about $165 including shipping. I actually paid a bit more than that since I ordered through Etsy. In addition, it took about 10 weeks to have it finished and then another two weeks of shipping to arrive, so a three month turn around time. It was a big wait. My other issue is one of my fault in that the shape of this screen can be hard to navigate with certain components. I will demonstrate this later.
From the import to the good old made in the USA screen…
My newest screen was made by Nerd Wood Designs out of Portland, Oregon. A new comer to the custom wood screen game, they make a variety of wood decorations and items. Currently Nerd Wood Designs operates exclusively on Etsy. I went in for their custom wooden Dungeon Master’s Screen with leather trim, custom images, metal latch, and the initiative tracker slot and dry erase trackers.
As expected of a custom screen, options in how it looks were available to me as a customer. I have linked to the “fully loaded” version, but Nerd Wood Designs will do a custom order if there are elements not desired. For example, I did not go with the wood cutouts on the side panels (which I think look solid, in both the d20 and Critical Role configurations). I wanted art that went along with the aesthetic I build throughout my games, which has a distinctly occult theme. I was informed by Nerd Wood that the images should be black and white, with high contrast. I could think of no other better artist than Karmazid, who I have highlighted on this blog. The images needed to be in the correct proportions with a good resolution. Done. So from the get go, I find this screen appealing simply because I chose how it would look. The wood has some burn along the edges, but is not stained; though with the images that probably would not work unless it was etched. The leather strips, brass tacks, decorative corners, and latch add some flair, much like the previous screen. I could see having matching hinges, but not highly worrisome.
Due to the size of the screen, it is 36 inches in length, it does not need much bend in order to stand, and is about 35 inches wide when given a bend. It is also 11.5 inches tall, meaning that full sheets can be place on it using magnets. However this does make a bit hard to view the table. And unlike the CritIt screen, the installed hardware for mounting information on this screen are magnets, so you have to be aware of which way you orient magnets to grip. However by doing magnet on magnet, these grip hard! The four magnets included are simple. The big functional element of this screen that enticed me was the cut slit along the entirety of the top. While intended to be used with the included dry erase “cards,” I have found it work very well for the character and monster tents I use (more on this later). Included with the top cut slit are the small dry erase cards but also a cool little slide box to keep them and the pens in. Magnets are mounted in the lid too, and it makes a great place to store the magnets when not in use.
Once again, very solid construction. The wood has some imperfections in it, but nothing that deters from my desired level of aesthetics and adds to the rustic look. My issues with the screen are few. First the magnets instead of screws/washers used to mount internal documents can be a bit annoying when a magnet is not oriented correctly, but a minor inconvenience. Next is the latch. Looking at the above image, note one side has a loop, this means it has to be closed in a specific order. Once again, nothing major but just a minuscule gripe. Price, it is on par with CritIt’s at $160 including shipping. For mine I paid a bit less due to not getting a few of the optional elements. That said, for the sheer level of customization for this screen, the price was right.
Thought I would end this review looking at what has been one of the best things I have brought to my D&D table: initiative tents. These specific ones are the Ultimate Character and Monster Tent Collection available on the DMsGuild.com. My players love these, being able to see everyone’s names and get an idea of what each others’ characters look like. The issue though is how they work with the screen: will they fit well or being imposing?
The tents work perfect on the Reincarnate screen, since it is so thin. Not to mention that the screen is short, making the table well visible. The CritIt they are on at a weird angle, though it should be noted they offer an add on initiative tracker now for about $46. Effectively they are going to be hard to view on one side. Visibility is solid too, as the cards do not stand much higher than the screen’s edge. The slit along the top of the Nerd Wood Design holds the card-stock tents quite well, but not so great with ones of normal stock paper, they are a bit flimsy. And because the cards go into the slits, they stand about 3 inches above it, making them about 14 inches above the table. This is a pretty heavy imposition on my visibility of the table. However, I tend to stand up during elaborate on-goings, like combat, making them manageable for my style of Dungeon Mastering. All this is my own personal preference as these tents have been one of the best improvements to my game.
Truth is, I have used all these screen successfully. I like them. DM screens, much like dice, are very personal. For the foreseeable future I see myself using the Nerd Wood Designs screen, simply because it has the most functionality of any of the screens while also being of my own personal flavor. Is it perfect? Hardly, there are still features I would like to have with in. That said, all the screens detailed I feel are worth the asking costs it just matters if they meet your needs as a DM.
I would love to hear about and see your DM screens. Hit me up on Twitter @ OnlyPlayWizards and show yours off!