February 25, 2011

DM Screen – Not Just For the DM

The DM screen is perceived as the property of the DM, but there is no reason why the players couldn’t and shouldn’t use a copy of the DM screen for the game they are playing. I do not mean they should hide all their character information and die rolls behind the screen; that is the sole province of the DM. However, there is a lot of good information on the inside of the DM screen for everyone, even the players. Information in one easy to read location.

Let’s take a look at the 4E DM screen. I’ll be looking at the one that came out when the game was released, not the one released this past week.

Panel One
Experience Point Rewards- The amount of xp gained for killing a monster by comparative level. Not of any use for the players, since xp is handed out by the DM.

Damage by Level- Details on how much damage an attack can do, comparative to level. While this could be useful for extrapolating how much damage an off-the-wall (swing from the chandelier onto the monster) attack does, in the end it is the purview of the DM to judge this.

Food, Drink and Lodging- Prices for common costs. An excellent resource for the players, especially for the games where haggling is not done and the players pay list price. I know in my game when the characters buy such items I tell them to look up the price and pay it.

Light Sources- Light range and duration. How long does a lantern stay lit? This chart will let the players know.

Character Advancement- Every time after I hand out xp the first thing the p[layers do is ask themselves if they leveled and how far until they do level. This chart covers that for them.

Panel Two
Actions in Combat- Is opening a door a move action or a minor action? (Minor) This handy chart lets the players know exactly what type of action certain things are.

Combat Advantage- This lists what grants combat advantage. Handy, but not needed because of a better chart on Panel Four.

Attack Modifiers- A wonderful chart listing what the numbers are for some common circumstance modifiers. Worried you might be forgetting a modifier? Take a quick look at this chart.

Panel Three
DCs to Break Stuff- A list of target numbers for breaking common items in a dungeon. This is of limited use. Often there are modifiers to these sort of tasks known only to the DM (sure it looks like a wooden chest but little do the players know it is a wooden veneer covering adamantium). In addition most modules have their own DCs for items found in the adventure and they do not always follow this chart. However, the chart does give the players a rough idea of how difficult it would be to break an item.

Target DCs- This is a catch-all table to aid the DM in determining DCs for various unexpected actions. Not of much use for the players.

Fall Severity- This chart determines how much potential damage a fall could be by level: Painful, Perilous, Deadly. Of limited use to a player unless he is planning on jumping from a great height and is wondering how dangerous it would be.

DCs for Skills- This chart lists common activities, such as climbing and tracking, and gives the DC formula for it. As already mentioned DCs are never set in stone so this is of limited use. However, the chart also lists the skill used for the action. For instance, Escaping from Restraints is an Acrobatics skill check, not Athletics. There are also little bits of information to be gleaned here. I’ve been playing 4E for a couple of years now and just recently learned Heal can be used to let a character make an immediate saving throw.

Rolling Attacks and Checks- The basic die roll mechanic for 4E. So basic it’s silly to have it here.

Cover/Concealment- While it is the judgment call of the DM as to how much concealment/cover a target has during a fight, this chart can give the players an idea of how much of a penalty they will suffer when trying that attack.

Panel Four
Conditions- An extremely handy chart of all the conditions to be found in 4E. Are you Dazed? This chart will tell you what that means. Does having the monster prone grant combat advantage? This chart will answer that. This article actually came to mind watching one of my players. He kept his PHB open to the page listing the conditions so he could keep track of what it all meant, both for himself and the monsters he was fighting. Instead of flipping through the PHB a player can have all kinds of information on a DM screen.

Healing a Dying Character- Good for a player to know.

Death and Dying- It is the players who take care of this, so its best if they have access to the information, especially since it does not come up each encounter (unless the DM is a hard one).

From this analysis we can see that alot of the information to be found on a DM screen is pertinent and of use to the players. There is also no information that needs to be hidden from the players on this chart (other game screen may vary on this issue). One of the key goals of a DM screen is to provide as much useful information for gameplay as possible. Players could also use this information, so the DM screen is not just for the DM anymore. Will I allow the players to hide their rolls behind a screen? No, but I think I might just pick up the new DM screen and give them my old one to use for themselves.

3 comments:

Sully said...

I like where you're going with this, but I think instead of going out and buying DM screens, it would be easier to make them a printout of handy information they ought to have readily accessible. I'll get to work on it tonite!

Callin said...

I did that for my first group but they filed it away in their character folder and forget about them. Likely this was because the information did not seem relevant at level 1. Now might be a good time to show them the lists again.

Josh said...

You could make it really easy and just xerox the panels that are most relevant to PCs.