There are valid arguments both against and for using a GM’s screen. Some see it as a way to keep notes safe from the loot-hungry, prying eyes of the players. Some use it to build mystery, peeping over the top of the screen and lowering their voice like they’re telling campfire ghost stories. Others use it to hide from the shameful stares around the table when it’s revealed they’ve gone commando for the day, sans pants (we’re assuming). And for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, these are Dungeon Master or Game Moderator screens:
And this is what your players see…
The point here is that having a barrier separating you from your players implies a need for secrecy, even if that barrier is made of cardboard, covered in half-nude pixies, and couldn’t stop a rampaging kitten. It’s immediately assumed that if the GM needs to roll his D20’s behind a wall of box-art, he must be fudging the numbers to serve his nefarious purpose; revoking the players’ fun and experience points. At this junction you might as well be a street swindler pushing around 3 cups with a dexterity of 20. Behind the GM screen, the sound of your dice rattling may as well be the baleful meows of Schrodinger’s cat, with all the randomness of the poison factored out.
The trustworthiness of the GM never factors into the GM’s screen. You could put Honest Abe behind the Liar’s Wall and we’ll all assume he couldn’t really have rolled that natural 20 last session, and he was just sticking a goblin shortsword up the thief’s ass for texting during the game. Buddha would be accused of being a spiteful prick after too many critical threat rolls behind the screen. It’s too natural to believe people are trying to bilk you if they’re simultaneously hiding their actions from us. Because they are. Every time.
What if you need a screen? What if you run games exclusively for boxcar hobos suffering from Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis? What if the woman you love has just crashed your game, and she’s shocked and appalled to see you involved in the devil’s cult, and you find it suddenly impossible to pronounce all those tricky elven names without hiding your face from her?
Don’t worry. There’s hope. Boxcar hobos rarely play D&D because they’re already living it. The only women who matter are already playing the game. And the elven language is like French, nobody really speaks it.
No, gentlefolk, the real reason to use a screen is not to rattle dice and make shit up. It’s to build atmosphere. The art on your screen is how the players will see the game before the mini’s hit the table, and during the idle moments when you’re on page 8 of your pre-written description of the lighting conditions inside the Lusty Glutton Tavern. The screen is for protecting your notes and phallic doodles while the players are on hour 2 of trying to lay the same goddamn bar wench. And above all, the screen is for pinning damage and statistics tables to. Because you’re not 12 anymore, and memorizing a whole book full of facts for a fictional world is sad and maddeningly boring.
In summery: Roll your dice in front of the screen. Hide your notes behind it. And for christsake stop asking Wilson for advice. Seriously, that guy is just creepy.