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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

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    Default To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    Basically I am starting a new campaign in December. We are going to roll over to 3.5 D&D from AD&D and none of the players or myself have used it before. My group has been playing together for about a year and previously I have done all my rolls in front of the party and kept my notes on a notebook. There have been a few instances of one of them peeking at my notes but nothing major. In this new campaign though there will be a much greater emphasis on actually role-playing in addition to new traps and obstacles instead of extra monsters. So I have some questions and would love answers with examples of what you do.

    1. The title question: Should I use a DM screen?

    2. If so, what should I keep behind it?

    3. How should I organize it?

    4. Penalties for peaking over my screen? Yes/No?

    My other questions, plus extra context about my groups previous experience.
    Context: From the start, most of our adventures have consisted of go here, kill that, loot, and to the tavern we go. That is mostly my fault since I introduced them to combat before real role-playing. The other adventures weren't really linear and didn't a common link other than a paladin quest-giver. These guys respect me and pretty much consider my word law when it comes to D&D, so in this new campaign I want to try and make them into better role-players (and myself a better DM). So I have these questions about how you run a continuous story and other stuff I kind of failed at in their previous adventures.

    5. How many of their choices should impact them later down the road?

    6. How do you handle cursed objects that take control of the wearer?

    7. If the players don't realize that an item is cursed and keep blaming other things should you clue them in?

    8. Is there a good way to handle taverns that don't end up taking up the entire session?

    9. Encumbrance rules? Yes/No, why?

    10. How do you handle traveling? Fast-Travel, random encounters, role-play five days of riding a wagon?

    11. How do you handle players who don't have a niche?

    12. What level of railing do you use to keep the players on track for the story? Should they be punished if they quest after a magical sword instead of moving to fight the [Insert antagonistic faction]?

    13. Traps. How often can I get away with using them before the entire party ties 10' poles to their waist to automatically check for traps?

    I think that is all for now. For those of you who will want to say that it is up to me, I know that. I am trying to get examples of what other people do, to see what I want to try.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Kid Jake's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1. Not necessary, but very useful. If you've got one lying around then definitely use it.
    2. Things you don't want them to see and/or handy charts to speed things up.
    3. To the best of your ability. I keep everything on a handy laptop instead of a screen but try to have pertinent rules highly visible at all times.
    4. Two squirts of bear mace, or if bear mace is unavailable: Ask them politely not to.
    5. As many as you can remember. Having small slights bite them in the ass later or minor kindnesses be acknowledged helps them think of the world as a living place.
    6. I try not to, but if it's unavoidable then I clue the player in on it and offer some minor rewards for playing my puppet.
    7. I wouldn't, it sounds like a situation that could turn hilarious if you let it.
    8. I don't use a lot of taverns, but generally making them feel like they've got more important things to do should move things along. If they sit drinking with an unfinished quest then maybe someone else comes by and finishes it up. Making their lives harder or just stealing their expected payment away.
    9. Only if they're important. Trekking through a desert? Definitely. Make them keep up with everything. Wondering around town? Put your foot down if they're trying to lug around expensive looking armoires, but otherwise keep your attention on more important details.
    10. If I've got a cool idea or it's supposed to be dangerous territory then I'll throw in an encounter or two; fallen tree messed up the road, bandits are trying to steal their shoes, etc... If there's nothing to be said besides "Alright, you walk three days and now you're in Windy Peak." then that's generally all the breath I waste on it.
    11. Make sure they've got something to do, the same as anyone else; but leave it up to them to find their own place in the team.
    12. I generally have things move on whether or not the party is there to witness it, so to a degree I'd say yes...HOWEVER if they're interested in exploring your world then make sure they get chances to without feeling like they're always missing out on something. Give them a little rope, but if it becomes habitual just let them hang themselves with it.
    13. I use them sparingly so that they're always unexpected, but that's mainly because none of my players ever seem to roll up skill monkeys. Use them to keep your players cautious, but make sure that they know that by prodding every inch of a room that they're losing precious time that they could be using to save the day.

    Quote Originally Posted by Winter_Wolf View Post
    At least we can say Kid Jake has style. And possibly is insane.
    My Campaign Journals

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Honest Tiefling's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1. Have you used one before? If not, give it a whirl. How are you going to know it works for you otherwise?
    2. Notes, and your NPCs to begin with. Maybe some rules you are bad with. Sadly, this is something you'll need to adjust until you get it right.
    3. Look at the commercial products and see if it works for you. Bullet format is your friend, as you need to read things quickly.
    4. Yes! Just like eating off of other's plates, licking other players, or looking at other's character sheets, looking behind the screen is downright rude. Why are they looking there, anyway?
    5. The question is, does it make plot sense to affect them? If so, yes. Only avoid this if they have a good OoC reason, such as needing to work with the party, a rare off day, etc.
    6. Have them try to figure out what it does with trial and error. Or throw in some hints on where it might come from.
    7. If they have high INT, WIS, or Knowledge (Magical Doohickies) yes. I assume your players are not all 18 INT geniuses in real life.
    8. What are they doing there? It might be a way to get them to roleplay, with a helpful NPC as bait...Gently hint that you don't want to spend the entire time wenching, or that you find it uncomfortable.
    9. Yes. It might help them immerse themselves. If you end up hating the rules, give them an easy, but RP heavy quest to get bags of holding.
    10. A mix. I usually have some events sprinkled in, and then gloss over the rest. Take away supplies as needed, but only mention water/food/shelter if there is a severe problem they need to deal with.
    11. Ask them what they want to do, first of all.
    12. Depends. Both can work, but both the DM and the players need to be on board with it. There's no right way to do this, see what your players want to do. If they are inexperienced (and they sound inexperienced)
    13. Make the traps fit the story. Why are there perfectly good traps in the ancient ruins? Would there be traps that are dysfunctional, and require a spot check to see that they are in fact, broken? Who made this place, and why? Who were they keeping out? Did they have the idea of designing traps to not work with the 10 foot pole? Also, where are they going to get a steady supply of 10 foot poles?
    Quote Originally Posted by Oko and Qailee View Post
    Man, I like this tiefling.
    For all of your completely and utterly honest needs. Zaydos made, Tiefling approved.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1. I prefer to but do whatever feels right to you
    2. Whatever you don't want the players to see
    3. Whatever works for you
    4. Yes, these should probably just be gentle reprimands though
    5. All of them
    6. Try having the player role-play it
    7. No just let them figure it out
    8. I wasn't aware this was a problem
    9. I prefer either this or this to the usual rules
    10. If it fits the story or the tone put some encounters in otherwise simply say "five days pass and you are there"
    11. Help them find it but don't take control
    12. If the group wants to explore let them if they want to tell a story part of that is pacing
    13. this really depends on how paranoid the group is as a whole and what kind of DM you have been in the past

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    oxybe's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    my answers follow your questions
    Quote Originally Posted by ramakidin View Post
    1. The title question: Should I use a DM screen?
    If you want? I use my laptop to organize my stuff, take notes and bring up information and all my rolls are done in the open (with a few odd exceptions that sometimes come up). I don't use a screen per say, but it does have it's uses.

    2. If so, what should I keep behind it?
    Whatever you don't want them to see? The screen's base use is to hide stuff from the players' direct view and keep important information at hand, be it monster stats, a table or how some rules work and whatnot, so you don't have to go pageflipping.

    3. How should I organize it?
    however you feel comfortable. You're the one using it, so it should be setup in a way that you have the information you need on hand.

    4. Penalties for peaking over my screen? Yes/No?
    first penalty is a "Dude really?"
    second penalty is "If you can't trust me, please leave now."
    third is "Door's to your left."

    5. How many of their choices should impact them later down the road?
    As many as you feel necessary. Not every choice, like "toast or bagel" should be the lynchpin in the fate of the world, but if they do something cool, stupid or might have an impact, let it have an impact. Let NPCs remember the guys who saved the town, burned down the commercial district or had toast in the morning (in direct view of the King of Bagelburgh).

    6. How do you handle cursed objects that take control of the wearer?
    I make it a point to never use cursed objects if possible. Don't like 'em.

    7. If the players don't realize that an item is cursed and keep blaming other things should you clue them in?
    Maybe? If it simply becomes a frustration and doesn't make the game any more fun at the table, I would definitely recommend giving them a hint.

    8. Is there a good way to handle taverns that don't end up taking up the entire session?
    Give them something more important or pressing to do and make it clear that "I get sloshed" isn't really what you're looking for in a session.

    9. Encumbrance rules? Yes/No, why?
    No. The game's balance doesn't really hinge on the PCs having an extra cape or set of boots. I don't really care what they have in their equipment list as long as it's not something silly like a battering ram, five ladders and a wagon+mule. Unless you're in a setting where such things matter, like in Dark Sun where it's a blistering desert everywhere and food+water is a necessity you NEED to account for when traveling, I just don't care for the minutia of encumbrance.

    10. How do you handle traveling? Fast-Travel, random encounters, role-play five days of riding a wagon?
    Fast-travel mostly. I tend to find random encounters generally pointless and if we're going to be RPing the ride along the way, then it's probably because the destination isn't really as important as the journey.

    11. How do you handle players who don't have a niche?
    As long as they're having fun and not being a drag on the party, s'all cool.

    12. What level of railing do you use to keep the players on track for the story? Should they be punished if they quest after a magical sword instead of moving to fight the [Insert antagonistic faction]?
    I just keep things moving. If the PCs decide to go look for the magical codpiece of endurance instead of fighting the empire, well the rebels might just get smushed back into obscurity. You asked about how PC choices matter: this is how.

    If the PCs really don't care for the rebels, then you might just have to drop that plotline, throw another hook out there but keep the old one in the water: the empire is still around and the rebels might be slightly pissed about their hired hands that left to go faff about in a large cellar.

    13. Traps. How often can I get away with using them before the entire party ties 10' poles to their waist to automatically check for traps?
    I tend to use traps as part of the encounters rather then just standalone devices. Kobolds will try to push you into pit traps or glue you in a spot so their falling rocks trap don't miss. If you put a whole bunch of deathtraps but no one to make use of them or take advantage of them, the PCs will start just poking at everything from as far away as possible because there is no repercussions to doing so.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1. The title question: Should I use a DM screen?

    I swore by the screen until I ran a session without it. What I found out was that the screen was watering down my game. I kept fudging rolls that seemed unrealistic because I didn't want the players to think I cheated. Instead I let them see the 4 20s I roll in the first round and just go with them. It keeps things interesting.

    5. How many of their choices should impact them later down the road?

    All of them. I mean, most of them. Don't derail your own game. But if you can make a player choice run parallel to the story you've got without derailing it, awesome. Players get more invested when they see their own choices matter.

    6. How do you handle cursed objects that take control of the wearer?

    With subtlety. I don't think it should be obvious to the characters or players that something is wrong.

    7. If the players don't realize that an item is cursed and keep blaming other things should you clue them in?

    Give them a few clues, but if they're being dense it's not your job to give them a freebie.

    8. Is there a good way to handle taverns that don't end up taking up the entire session?

    Fast forward and give a summary. Players can summarize too. The fighter can declare he tries to get laid and leave it at that. That gives you enough info about his character and his interests, but you don't have to roleplay awkwardly.

    9. Encumbrance rules? Yes/No, why?

    If the players find them interesting, yes. Personally I don't. I like playing a unique character. Encumbrance is the same no matter what persona you take on. I've already done the encumbrance for every gold piece game. It was fun once but I'd rather move on and do something new.

    10. How do you handle traveling? Fast-Travel, random encounters, role-play five days of riding a wagon?

    That's an interesting question. It seems like all the options have tradeoffs.

    My first method here was to make time pass in the game world. You can't spend a month traveling and have nothing change. When you get back to town, all the plots have updated and NPC relations have changed. The players are out of date and don't know what's going on. This works for me because I do urban games that stay in one city and have lots of NPC drama.

    My other technique is a bit more out there. I only found it last campaign, but I love it.

    Let the players handle travel. Tell them they have to tell you 5 days worth of story, and no it can't be a list of the things they found in random encounters. The trick is that it can't be filler. If they know it's filler, they won't care. To keep it from being filler, take notes on the things they make up and make them matter later.

    It takes some getting used to, but once they actually buy into this it's awesome. I think there are some examples of this in the blog linked in my sig.

    11. How do you handle players who don't have a niche?

    Mechanical or personality? As long as they roleplay I don't care what their archetypal niche is.

    12. What level of railing do you use to keep the players on track for the story? Should they be punished if they quest after a magical sword instead of moving to fight the [Insert antagonistic faction]?

    I run a sandbox with rollercoasters. By that I mean I tell the players where the rails are and suggest that they must be this high level to ride. They're free to ride the rails or do whatever they like.

    Don't punish them for showing initiative. If a quest is interesting enough that they fight the rails, you should do the quest they were enthusiastic to do.

    But, don't devalue their choices either. If they decide to ignore the orcs ransacking the villages in order to get the magic sword, by the time they get it those villages have burned to the ground. They made their choice. To save the villages by fiat devalues the choice they made.

    13. Traps. How often can I get away with using them before the entire party ties 10' poles to their waist to automatically check for traps?

    I think that is all for now. For those of you who will want to say that it is up to me, I know that. I am trying to get examples of what other people do, to see what I want to try.[/QUOTE]
    If you like what I have to say, please check out my GMing Blog where I discuss writing and roleplaying in greater depth.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Remmirath's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1. The title question: Should I use a DM screen?

    If you like. I hardly ever do. Mostly it just makes it more difficult to sketch things out without getting up and moving around the table, and it makes it more difficult to see other people. It also doesn't really add anything for me, because I don't care if people see the results of rolls or not, and I trust my players not to use player knowledge even if they've seen something that they shouldn't have. They can be helpful as a quick reminder of the rules if you're not very familiar with a system, however.

    2. If so, what should I keep behind it?

    Campaign plans and dice, plus whatever else you normally would keep in front of you.

    3. How should I organize it?

    Whatever way helps you the most. Really, I don't think there's any one good way to organise things. You don't even have to organise them at all, if that works for you.

    4. Penalties for peaking over my screen? Yes/No?

    Eh, depends on how much it bothers you and how little you trust your players. I wouldn't.

    5. How many of their choices should impact them later down the road?

    Any of them that would naturally do so. When running either multiple adventures with the same characters or a long-running, continuous campaign, I like to keep a basic log of things that the PCs did -- even if it's as simple as "killed the nobleman's dogs while stealing from his estate, helped themselves to his wine" or "donated ridiculous amounts of money to the local temple". That way, I can look back on that when I'm planning later campaigns/adventures and see if their previous actions would be coming up in the context of the new adventure.

    6. How do you handle cursed objects that take control of the wearer?

    I have not actually had this come up. If it's a subtle thing, I would tell them certain ways that they need to behave, taking that player aside ("you feel an increasing urge to steal everything that comes near you" for instance); if it's a complete takeover, I would take the player aside, explain, and then either tell them how they needed to act from then on or actually play their possessed character while giving them something else to do.

    7. If the players don't realize that an item is cursed and keep blaming other things should you clue them in?

    Only if their characters ought to realise that the item is cursed. If it's very important that they do discover it eventually, you might want to lay some more obvious clues.

    8. Is there a good way to handle taverns that don't end up taking up the entire session?

    You could skip over it if it's really unimportant, but mostly, I use such things as a great opportunity for the party to just interact and roleplay.

    9. Encumbrance rules? Yes/No, why?

    Yes if you want a realistic travel sort of feeling, no if you don't want to deal with that kind of thing. I would recommend tweaking the encumbrance rules slightly if you're talking about D&D; they tend to be a little wonkier than most.

    10. How do you handle traveling? Fast-Travel, random encounters, role-play five days of riding a wagon?

    That depends entirely on the campaign in question, the characters in question, and most importantly, how important the travel is going to be. If it's unimportant and the characters have done this same thing many times before, I'll skip over it. If the travel is important or if the characters have never travelled this particular route before, and especially if both are true, then I'll play it out. Travel can be great for roleplaying, and it can contribute greatly to the feeling of the campaign (if travel's supposed to be a part of that, of course). I've done everything from skipping over it entirely to playing out the entirety of a month-long journey. It all depends on the situation.

    11. How do you handle players who don't have a niche?

    I don't require that people have any sort of niche. So long as they're roleplaying and having a good time, it's all good. If it's a problem for them, though, I'll talk to them about it and see if I can help them find something.

    12. What level of railing do you use to keep the players on track for the story? Should they be punished if they quest after a magical sword instead of moving to fight the [Insert antagonistic faction]?

    I use very light to no rails. I plot out the setting and the area, scatter the plot hooks, and see what happens. I strive for the only rails being the rails of "it makes sense to do this". If they go after the wrong thing and ignore the real threat, well, that's going to come back to haunt them later.

    13. Traps. How often can I get away with using them before the entire party ties 10' poles to their waist to automatically check for traps?

    Depends on your party. I'd use them mostly in places that they really make sense, and make sure to vary the sort of traps being used, so they don't get too wise to it.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1)
    No, you should not use a screen. The screen acts like a physical barrier between you and your friends. Your mind should be able to hold any secret stuff that is immediately relevant.

    5)
    All choices that would impact them down the road should impact them down the road. Unless the impact is less than the effort it takes to track the impact.

    6)
    Depends on 2 factors:
    How well the players can separate Player knowledge from Character knowledge.
    How mischievous the players are.

    With my group I would draw the player off to the side, inform them about what happened, and then let them show me what would happen.(basically the player plays the cursed weapon character rather than the dominated character for a bit)

    7)
    Depends, is their confusion enjoyable to them? If so then let it continue. If not, then give them an in game hint after a period of time.

    9)
    Usually no. The impact is usually less than the effort it takes to track the impact.

    10)
    Depends on the threat of the territory. Usually we timeskip ahead(unless the journey was the destination) unless the area is dangerous enough to threaten their lives(actual risk of death not mere risk of injury).

    11)
    Ask them if they are comfortable. If so(mine have been comfortable even when overshown) then do nothing. If they are uncomfortable then work with them to find them a niche that they would enjoy.

    12)
    I use too little railroading for most players. I just create a campaign world that reacts to the players and create a couple of NPCs with plans that advance over time. I have been informed that players want more hints as to where the road/path is.

    As far as impact for avoiding the enemy? The enemy's plan continues to unfold. Since you created the enemy as someone the players want to oppose, the players will consider this a negative impact of their detour. They may or may not consider it worth the detour(informed meaningful choices).

    13)
    a: Only put traps in logical places. If a player were to think like a Rogue they should be able to predict most traps placed by any NPC that is not more tricky than the player. Personally I use entrances or exists from chokepoints.

    b: Make triggering a trap an enjoyable experience rather than a punishment. The experience should only just be starting when triggered. Traps that take a couple rounds of delay(rolling boulder/drowning room) or that repeat every turn(turret/pendulum blade) are good choices.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Orc in the Playground
     
    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    One Word : "Laptop"
    Online (Dice rollers, dndtools, systemreferencedocuments, quick searchs on anything you have questions on)
    Easy organized character sheets
    Books with PDF with a search function
    MS paint!
    Note Pad/word/excel for keeping notes.
    Last edited by Barbarian Horde; 2014-11-13 at 05:25 PM.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    Seconding/Thirding/"n+1"-ing the laptop suggestion.

    However, you should still get the official GM screen for whatever system you're running. Just be sure to:

    1. Not stand it up on the table, let it lie flat.
    2. Share it with your players; those things make for great quick reference sheets. They tend to have most of the useful tables on them.
    Please use they/them/theirs when referring to me in the third person.
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  11. - Top - End - #11
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    AttilaTheGeek's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    I'm also a new DM, so I'm going to chip in with a few questions of my own.

    How do you know how much to plan for one session? I don't want to plan too much, because that's inefficient, and I don't want to plan too little, because then I might have to completely improvise the end.

    I've heard that it's a good idea to write down knowledge on index cards and hand the cards to players who succeed on knowledge checks. That way, the character who knows about the monster can be the one sharing their knowledge with the group. Would you suggest doing the same with perception/spot checks? I thought it might contribute to an air of mystery if a player receives a personal note saying "you see something out of the corner of your eye" or the like, but it might also make the party suspicious of one another if they see a player look around, look at their card, and say "I saw nothing".

    My first session is a week from tomorrow, so I'll probably have some more questions before then.
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  12. - Top - End - #12
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Kid Jake's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    I generally prepare about a dozen interesting things each session and hang onto any I don't use for later. I always try to advance at least one plot point from a previous session, introduce a new hook and provide a few incidental encounters that don't really go anywhere but make them feel cool.

    It would depend on the group whether or not to pass notes. Some players like the mystery but others enjoy knowing that another player is playing them on an OOC level, it's just one more thing to chuckle about later. It helps immersion, but it's a little extra effort that could be ignored your first time out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Winter_Wolf View Post
    At least we can say Kid Jake has style. And possibly is insane.
    My Campaign Journals

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by AttilaTheGeek View Post
    I'm also a new DM, so I'm going to chip in with a few questions of my own.

    How do you know how much to plan for one session? I don't want to plan too much, because that's inefficient, and I don't want to plan too little, because then I might have to completely improvise the end.
    It is better to have too much(feel like you wasted time) than to have too little(don't get to play). With some experience you will learn how much prep time you need.

    Personally I need 1 week between sessions and 1 hour of dedicated prep time. However this low value is a result of keeping the campaign at the back of my mind and having an improv style of DMing.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Friv's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    My own two cents, which agree with some and disagree with others.

    Questions 1-4: The GM Screen

    I'm one of the players who uses a laptop as my GM screen; it's an excellent tool for organizing NPC character sheets, rulebooks in PDF form for quick referencing, notes for upcoming encounters, and a list of major NPCs and things that players have been interested in in the past to reference more in the future. I've generally found that this lets me make much more complex stories than if I was relying entirely on my memory to keep things rolling.

    With that in mind, I'm not too worried about using the screen for secrecy or die rolls. I would generally stick with rolls in front of the party; there isn't a strong benefit to hidden rolls, and it is definitely a temptation to fudge things just a little here and there. If your players are interested in peeking at your notes... I guess ask them politely not to, and leave it at that. The penalty for catching someone peeking is that they've denied themselves fun. Also, don't be afraid to alter your notes based on how things are going (if you have the sort of players who get really upset about that sort of thing, maybe make sure that they know ahead of time that you're running a dynamic story, so you reserve the right to change unreleased details to something that will be more fun).

    Question 5: As a rule, any choice that the players are invested in should impact them later down the road. Occasionally, a choice that they are not invested in, but that you are invested in, should also impact them. And, generally, a choice that just screams 'I'm affecting the world' needs to affect the world. I'd keep small notes about choices that seem like they have an interesting story seed, and slot them in where appropriate.

    Questions 6 and 7: Cursed items are a mess. As a general rule, I avoid anything that takes control of PCs for more than a few actions. Players only really have one avenue to affect the world, so denying that to them is a dangerous thing to do. For more subtle cursed items - yeah, it's usually a good idea to start dropping hints, which gradually get more obvious until a priest finally just says, "Hey, our temple wards just flared when you entered, I think you're carrying a dangerous magic item, what's up with that?"

    Question 8: The key to handling taverns (or other mixed social/quest situations) is to have a general goal, and don't be afraid to say at some point, "Okay, guys, let's take a vote - what sort of quest are you taking, and are you doing anything else important here?" Don't short-circuit social interaction, but it's totally okay to just ask what the players' goals are, let them spend a few sentences explaining what they're going to do to advance those goals, roll a few dice, and end the scene.

    Question 9: I don't usually bother with encumbrance, beyond tracking rough numbers. Unless you're doing a major treasure-gathering dungeon-dive, it's probably not worth the effort.

    Question 10: How much effort goes into travel should be based on how important that travel is. If you're riding from Dullsville to Castle Cool, it's fine to say, "You spend four days on the road, passing a few peddlers and a travelling band of musicians, and soon you are standing by the gates of Castle Cool." If you're exploring the wilderness, some random encounters and/or timed events are appropriate. If you think you can get away with it, ask the players if they want to have a scene around the campfire, where you promise no bad guys will attack and the players can just talk. And then end that scene when they start to get less enthusiastic about it.

    Question 11: Generally, if a player lacks a niche, the best bet is to work with them to find one. It's not necessarily going to be a "party role" niche; their niche might be about their attitude, or what perspective they bring to the group. Whatever it is, make sure there's room for it in your quests.

    Question 12: Okay, this one is contentious. Generally, I use very few rails; the quest the party is interested in is probably the one that you should focus on, and if they're really uninterested in the Evil Doom Cult but super-excited by rare and magical swords in deep dungeons, maybe the plot should shift to be about searching for the rare and magical swords capable of stopping the monsters the Doom Cult is summoning? Don't make the world stop, but play to what the players are interested in.

    Question 13: Ah, traps. In general, I've found that you can include a lot more traps without fouling the whole game up if you always let the players roll to discover them, regardless of whether they say they're looking for them, and ONLY let them roll to discover traps when a trap is around (by which I mean, start the game with a house rule: "When you enter a room that has traps, secret doors, or hidden treasures, I'm going to ask you to roll your Search. If you fail, you won't know that anything is there, and further searching isn't going to work.")

    And generally, traps that the party can easily find, but that are really hard to disarm or require cunning to bypass, are a lot more interesting than binary pass/fail traps.
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    SowZ's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    As a big believer in not fudging dice, I don't use them.
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    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1. The title question: Should I use a DM screen?
    I'm a fan of the DM screen for games that I've done a lot of prep on. If you have a lot of notes go for it, and if you decide it's bothering you it can always be taken down.
    I like the screen for checks that the party doesn't know they are making. If I roll a 20 or a 1 in the open and don't comment on it my meta gamer starts acting super paranoid all of a sudden which can be a distraction.
    When it comes to Fudging die rolls behind the screen, my personal opinion is this was a very important option for me to have when I started out DMing. If you are at all unsure of your ability to build balanced encounters, and it is your desire to have balanced encounters, then it is a useful crutch. Discard the crutch when you no longer need it.

    2. If so, what should I keep behind it?
    The official screens are nice, but my brother-in-law and I sometimes use cork board that we tack notes on to. He even has his dice sorted in bags attached to his screen.

    3. How should I organize it?
    Not super important in my opinion. Things will probably get shuffled around throughout the game.

    4. Penalties for peaking over my screen? Yes/No?
    Is it a serious concern? Your players would only be ruining the fun for themselves.

    5. How many of their choices should impact them later down the road?
    Enough to be fun. If you think a choice is important then maybe it should be.

    6. How do you handle cursed objects that take control of the wearer?
    I don't. There are better DMs than I who might do this well, but personally I'd have a hard time making it fun for the player in question.

    7. If the players don't realize that an item is cursed and keep blaming other things should you clue them in?
    There are good ways to do this that aren't of out of character explanation: "dude it's a cursed bracelet." Smart NPCs could clue them in, the temple wards flaring is also a neat idea.

    8. Is there a good way to handle taverns that don't end up taking up the entire session?
    I too have encountered this problem. One fellow wants to role play hitting on barmaids and gambling with drunks for an hour in real time and everyone else just wants to get on with the quest. Unless the majority of the group wants to do this I generally skip the role play and just let them roll for their winnings and STDs. Doesn't have to be lame like that though. If it is fun and interesting, there is nothing wrong with "wasting" time in the tavern.

    9. Encumbrance rules? Yes/No, why?
    Yes. To some extent absolutely. You needn't have detailed accounting of weight all the time, but use common sense because they shouldn't be carrying six sets of armor three lances and a collection of bladed weapons. Encumbrance can be extremely important when the party is making off with a dragon horde.

    10. How do you handle traveling? Fast-Travel, random encounters, role-play five days of riding a wagon?
    However the group feels like it at the time. Are they sick of random encounters and just want to move the plot along? then I fast travel. Are they itching for some combat? random encounter. Is the setting boring or interesting to role-play through? Its totally fine to change up your methods.

    11. How do you handle players who don't have a niche?
    Well are they having fun or is it frustrating for them? Sometimes you add stuff to the plot for them to get some spot light, sometimes you let their character find a magic item that helps set them apart. If they want a niche then tell them to discuss those ideas in character creation.

    12. What level of railing do you use to keep the players on track for the story? Should they be punished if they quest after a magical sword instead of moving to fight the [Insert antagonistic faction]?
    Punished is a strong word. Should there be consequences because they didn't deal with a pressing problem? Sure, of course. But if they feel like they are being punished they probably won't be having fun.

    13. Traps. How often can I get away with using them before the entire party ties 10' poles to their waist to automatically check for traps?
    I say if you have unique ideas for traps then use them.
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    BarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    I am a believer in the DM screen. There are a lot of things the DM needs to keep secret from the players, apart from dice rolls. There is no way I can memorize an entire dungeon layout and everything contained within, and keeping those things hidden from the players is the whole point of the game. If you have a laptop that is great, but if you don't you definitely need something. You have maps, monster and NPC stats, treasure and wandering monster tables, even the books. If you are looking up something in a book, you don't want your players seeing what it is or even what page or section you are in.

    While I also believe in never fudging dice rolls, I feel like most rolls should not be made in front of the players. In fact, many things which nowadays people have their players roll, I think the DM would be better off rolling behind the screen instead, such as perception checks. Just the fact that you are rolling can give things away, and when they can see the results on the dice they will figure out information they really shouldn't have, like attack bonuses or penalties or whether their characters are missing something. For example, as they walk down the dungeon corridor you roll a d6 for no apparent reason. They see that you got a 3, and then you don't say anything and keep going. "What was that, DM?" "Oh, nothing." "Yeah right. I start looking for secret doors. Thief, look for traps. Get out the ten foot poles..." Now, some players won't metagame like that, but it is hard not to. Even if they don't have their characters take any action because of your roll, they are still on their guard and expecting a trap or an ambush or know that they missed a secret door and probably some treasure. It is better for immersion and role playing if the players don't have more knowledge than their characters whenever possible. Obviously in many parts of the game that is not possible, which is why I think it is important to keep as much from them as possible, so they really are surprised when their characters are surprised, they don't know what their characters missed, and can't use meta-game information either on purpose or by accident.

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    What do you do when players go somewhere you haven't planned out? Do you make up an in-game reason for why they won't find anything useful there and hint that it might be a better use of their time to move on? Do you make something up on the fly and hope that it doesn't contradict anything you might plan later? Or is it best to tell the players out-of-character that you don't have anything planned there, but they should check back next session?

    For example, yesterday I ran the first session of Rise of the Runelords. One of the PCs is a young monk who had never left his abbey, and he became enamored with the starting town's old "lighthouse". Almost everyone in town believes that it's nothing more than an old lighthouse that just happens to be built from a single piece of solid stone, but it's actually an ancient tower that was once capable of launching fireballs to a distance measured in miles. The PC tried to excavate some of the rubble, but I hadn't planned out anything inside, so I said "when you dig out stones, more fall in from above. The entire tower is filled with rubble." It made sense IC, but the players are still wondering about it and they plan to return next session. How can I place something interesting there that's obvious enough for them to notice without handwaving away the fact that the tower is completely blocked off?
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  19. - Top - End - #19
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    BarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by AttilaTheGeek View Post
    What do you do when players go somewhere you haven't planned out? Do you make up an in-game reason for why they won't find anything useful there and hint that it might be a better use of their time to move on? Do you make something up on the fly and hope that it doesn't contradict anything you might plan later? Or is it best to tell the players out-of-character that you don't have anything planned there, but they should check back next session?

    For example, yesterday I ran the first session of Rise of the Runelords. One of the PCs is a young monk who had never left his abbey, and he became enamored with the starting town's old "lighthouse". Almost everyone in town believes that it's nothing more than an old lighthouse that just happens to be built from a single piece of solid stone, but it's actually an ancient tower that was once capable of launching fireballs to a distance measured in miles. The PC tried to excavate some of the rubble, but I hadn't planned out anything inside, so I said "when you dig out stones, more fall in from above. The entire tower is filled with rubble." It made sense IC, but the players are still wondering about it and they plan to return next session. How can I place something interesting there that's obvious enough for them to notice without handwaving away the fact that the tower is completely blocked off?
    Find or make yourself some tables for random generation. There are random terrain/map generators, random lairs and treasures, random dungeons, random monsters. If they go somewhere that isn't developed yet, use the random tables to decide what is there (if you can't come up with something yourself on the fly). There is no reason this should contradict anything you do in the future, you're the one creating the world after all, aren't you?
    For the lighthouse, plan it out now. Just because the players think it is something doesn't mean you need to make it so. Since you have been forewarned that they will probably go there, it's easy. What would be there, if anything? If they come up with some clever way of clearing away rubble, let them do it and tell them what they find. This is your job as the DM, to populate and design the world. If you want, make the lighthouse have a secret entrance to a dungeon that they can explore. Or make it an empty shell with nothing but rubble. Whatever you want. Don't make your job more complex than it needs to be. Tell them what their characters see, and leave the rest to them. If they insist on searching exhaustively in an area where there is nothing, tell them that they spend X-minutes or hours clearing rubble and searching and find nothing, and then move on.

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    I would say use a regular cardboard screen, with assorted charts, smallscale maps, NPCs and certain rules on, and have a laptop on a side table (or an extra chair) where it aren't immediately in front of you ... a Laptop tends to be to much of an attention hog if you aren't highly disciplined, and at least in my experiece it seems more of a wall between a DM and players than a old dm screen.

    As for dicerolling, i'd suggest roling all combat dice (and opposing checks) in front of it, but stay behind the screen when you want to roll charts, checks that the players might not be aware is made (say Listen/Spot/Search checks where they aren't explicitly trying to), optionally rolling a dice at random intervals, to keep them off the Meta (as they'll then don't know if you roll a chart or trolls them)
    Last edited by Sian; 2014-11-24 at 03:54 PM.

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    MonkGuy

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1. The title question: Should I use a DM screen?

    Yes. I always do. First you do need to do secret and unknown rolls all the time. Plus you can hang papers and card on them. And some really have great information on them you can look at in a glance.

    2. If so, what should I keep behind it?

    Everything in front of you.

    3. How should I organize it?

    Important stuff to the right, less important to the left. A nice trick is to color code things to each item. Then you can find them easy.

    4. Penalties for peaking over my screen? Yes/No?

    You don't really need any...why would they bother looking. And...I'm so evil....I will leave false things for players to read ''when my back is turned''. Oh, yes, I have had fun with that.....

    5. How many of their choices should impact them later down the road?

    All of them.

    6. How do you handle cursed objects that take control of the wearer?

    I don't really ever ''take control'' of a character. I like to much more ''trick'' the player into making the action the cursed item wants. Most often, I like having intelligent cursed items that always ''make the wrong suggestions'' or ''make mistakes''

    7. If the players don't realize that an item is cursed and keep blaming other things should you clue them in?

    Never.

    8. Is there a good way to handle taverns that don't end up taking up the entire session?

    Make the tavern boring. ''This is a place where people just drink in quiet.'' A good trick is to allow no weapons or armor in the tavern(or whole city), then the players won't even want to go inside for long. I have even gone for the extreme: to enter the tavern you must remove everything your wearing and put it in a box and wear just the shoes and robe the tavern gives you.

    And I'm infamous for...''suddenly the tavern around you explodes and you watch as everyone inside dies horrably in fire...as you fall into The Abyss......"

    9. Encumbrance rules? Yes/No, why?

    No. They slow things down and don't add anything to the game.

    10. How do you handle traveling? Fast-Travel, random encounters, role-play five days of riding a wagon?

    A typical real life night of adventure will only take place in about a mile of the game world. I just avoid the whole ''oh skull island is 2,000 miles away''. Everything is local. If something ''needs'' to be far away, there will be a portal to it or such.

    11. How do you handle players who don't have a niche?

    Do they need a niche? The ''I'm a square niche in a round niche hole'' is a niche right?

    12. What level of railing do you use to keep the players on track for the story? Should they be punished if they quest after a magical sword instead of moving to fight the [Insert antagonistic faction]?

    I often plan out an arc to cover the five hours of gaming. With some benchmarks per hour, the half way point and the end. As long as they are met, the players can ''wander around'' and do ''other things''.

    Though sometimes an game can take on a life of it's own...and i do just let it grow....

    13. Traps. How often can I get away with using them before the entire party ties 10' poles to their waist to automatically check for traps?

    Generally one trap...lol. But most places that guard something should be trapped, so it's odd if there is no traps. But then having more time to go through traps is saved by not wasting time on travel too....

  22. - Top - End - #22
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    1. The title question: Should I use a DM screen?

    Yes. I always do. First you do need to do secret and unknown rolls all the time – also just rolling a die, looking at one player and smiling puts them on edge. Plus you can hang papers and card on them. And some really have great information on them you can look at in a glance. Also as I often run “Dangerous” system (RQ, GURPs etc)I don’t like to kill off a player with a “lucky” roll so I do fudge where needed

    2. If so, what should I keep behind it?

    Everything in front of you.

    3. How should I organize it?

    That’s up to you – it depends on how organised a person you are

    4. Penalties for peaking over my screen? Yes/No?

    My players wouln’t dream. If I had ones that I thought would then I would prep some disinformation and have the on top for them to look at
    .
    5. How many of their choices should impact them later down the road?

    AS many as you can handle – some of the best spin off plots have come from the players.

    6. How do you handle cursed objects that take control of the wearer?

    If they are a good roll player then I will take them to one side, tell them theitems goals and then leave it up to them to roll play

    7. If the players don't realize that an item is cursed and keep blaming other things should you clue them in?

    Nope.

    8. Is there a good way to handle taverns that don't end up taking up the entire session?

    If they party want to “waste” a session roll playing a tavern then U let them – after all that’s what they are enjoying.

    9. Encumbrance rules? Yes/No, why?

    No but if someone has way to much I will penalise them .

    10. How do you handle traveling? Fast-Travel, random encounters, role-play five days of riding a wagon?

    All of the above – it depends on the situation. I will if its an uneventful journey I will ask the players to tell me what they are doing (training, writing scrolls etc)

    11. How do you handle players who don't have a niche?

    All players have a niche

    12. What level of railing do you use to keep the players on track for the story? Should they be punished if they quest after a magical sword instead of moving to fight the [Insert antagonistic faction]?

    As little as possible. If they ignore the quest and run off and do something else then time moves on in the world and they may lose the opportunity / have something natier happen to them

    Though sometimes an game can take on a life of it's own......

    13. Traps. How often can I get away with using them before the entire party ties 10' poles to their waist to automatically check for traps?

    As few as possible – Traps are a pain for the guards so if its guarded then very few traps

  23. - Top - End - #23
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    Knaight's Avatar

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    Default Re: To use a DM screen or not? and other new DM questions.

    The answers are often a matter of opinion, consider most of these personal preference.

    1. The title question: Should I use a DM screen?
    No. A rules reference sheet can be useful, but I've personally always hated DM screens. I generally find that a physical barrier between the DM and the rest of the table basically just encourages distraction.

    2. If so, what should I keep behind it?
    It's useful to have reference material for rules, some systems with more prep work need notes, etc. The screen isn't actually necessary here.

    3. How should I organize it?
    I generally like having a cheap paper folder for a game, which stores everything. Individual parts are generally just loose paper, though occasionally there will be two sheets stapled together.

    4. Penalties for peaking over my screen? Yes/No?
    This isn't even a concern in my experience.

    5. How many of their choices should impact them later down the road?
    Generally, if the choices have an impact on something that is both there and relevant long term, it should circle back around to the PCs. On one extreme you have things like tactical choices, which are often very relevant short term but tend to be largely irrelevant long term. Then there are things like PC-NPC interactions with NPCs in a location that the PCs leave behind, which often only become relevant if they go back to the location. Essentially, you have a roster of setting elements that can be employed, and things fade in and out of that roster. If the PCs alter the roster somehow, and that altered roster doesn't get phased out naturally, go ahead and use it.

    It's also often not something you'll know about ahead of time. Sometimes a choice initially seems minor, but then later ones cause the repercussions to last way longer than anticipated. Sometimes the results seem more significant than they are.

    6. How do you handle cursed objects that take control of the wearer?
    This is extremely object dependent. For some, unknown things just happening while the PC sleeps covers it - no need to involve the players directly in controlling the PC. For others, I'll inform the player what is up, and have them handle it.

    7. If the players don't realize that an item is cursed and keep blaming other things should you clue them in?
    If the reason they aren't realizing it is a failure of communication somewhere, then yes.

    8. Is there a good way to handle taverns that don't end up taking up the entire session?
    This is highly group dependent. Personally, I like establishing early on that scenes tend to be succinct, and pushing for scene changes once everyone's done what they were doing and the game starts dragging.

    9. Encumbrance rules? Yes/No, why?
    It depends on the game. That said, I generally take them out unless encumbrance is somehow central to the game concept (e.g. Torchbearer), simply because that's not what I play RPGs to focus on. Plus, a lot of them just turn into accounting.

    10. How do you handle traveling? Fast-Travel, random encounters, role-play five days of riding a wagon?
    This gets back to the scene method of game organization, where there are discrete segments that are jumped between, largely decided by player action. Sometimes fast-travel is the best option. Sometimes there will be a chance encounter of some sort, generally either to manage pacing or to get across the feel of the setting elements involved. Sometimes there will be a scene introduced because a player wants to do something.

    11. How do you handle players who don't have a niche?
    Players or PCs?

    12. What level of railing do you use to keep the players on track for the story? Should they be punished if they quest after a magical sword instead of moving to fight the [Insert antagonistic faction]?
    I don't use railing at all, because I don't make a pre-existing story. Similarly, I don't really take a reward/punishment approach. To use your example, there's no punishment for not fighting the antagonistic faction. There's a result of the activity that is different than if the choice to fight them had been made, and odds are good it involves the antagonistic faction accomplishing at least some goals, but that's not a punishment. Basically, this gets back to my answer for five - the antagonistic faction is a very long lasting roster element, the choice to let them be alters them, the altered element comes back in later.

    13. Traps. How often can I get away with using them before the entire party ties 10' poles to their waist to automatically check for traps?
    This is highly genre dependent. With that said, I generally assume that traps would only be placed where whatever is protected is important enough that the people accessing it are willing to deal with circumventing the trap all the time (to the extent that it's needed), and willing to put the resources into making it. If there's some sort of hidden underground compound which connects to the surface through one tunnel, odds are good that it is trapped - having someone wandering in, wandering out, and blowing the hiding place is a big enough problem that a trap might be worth it (or guards). Some random room which routinely sees a lot of activity? Probably not.

    Basically, the inclusion of a trap expresses something about the place, and it expresses it loudly. Overuse of traps removes that, which is a shame, as they are just the right thing for some situations. Maybe it's character paranoia, maybe it's location significance, either way overuse makes it harder to express these easily.
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

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