Dungeon Master’s Screen Review
I wanted to be just as impressed with this screen as I have been with the DMG and PHB, but it turns out 5e is not on a consistent hit streak like Fantasy Flight. This was a bit of a missed opportunity. A good DM screen can kickstart imagination, as well as being a useful reference for charts so we spend less time digging in books.
Let’s get to the good stuff, first. The horizontal format is excellent. This allows the DM to section off one end of the table with plenty of real estate for maps, notes, books, modules, dice and whatever else, while still being able to see the players and the map (if you use one). It also provides for the awesome panoramic artwork of an iconic dragon battle, with about every major PC archetype represented. Interesingly, 4 out of 5 are ladies, but there is not a lot of variety in skin-tone. The kobold minions rushing in to the fray make it one cohesive battle, unlike previous screens that try to cram a ton of monsters or battles on to one screen. On the informational side of the screen, the conditions are front and center, which is very helpful. Just to the right are other helpful little charts like cover, light, setting DCs, and what skills are associated with what abilities.
On to the not so good. There is quite a bit of wasted space, and strange chart selection. My first thought was that maybe 5e just doesn’t have as many arcane charts as older editions. But as I review both the PHB and more importantly the DMG, that really isn’t the case. The far left panel is dedicated to NPC creation, which, while somewhat helpful, is not something I would generally refer to on the fly. Included is a random name generator, which is my favorite chart on the panel. Even this seems incomplete, however. The chart is d20 if you want to randomize, and has a beginning, middle, and end of a name. However the beginning is missing 4 entries, and the ending is missing 1. There are 26 letters in the alphabet, I know there aren’t going to be a lot of names that start of X or Z but why leave out C and G? Just C alone you could add Co-, Ca-, Chi- as beginnings; pretty much inexcusable.
The far right panel has some other odd choices. Travel pace chart maybe useful, but encounter distance depending on terrain? Is that a thing? Also there is a chart called Damage by Level and Severity which from the numbers looks like it refers to traps, but doesn’t really specify. Then we get down to the REALLY questionable choices: tables called Something Happens! and Quick Finds. Not only do they have nothing to do with the mechanics of 5e, the choices are uninspired and pretty much useless. 18 on something happens is “The sun comes out.” 11 is “Someone gets angry.” Really? Quick finds includes such gems as 3 “Food or Drink.” and 9 “Monster Parts.” What does that even mean?! The last third of it is repeated Tarrasque art from the DMG.
Ok, so some very odd choices were made, what would be better? It would be one thing if this game just didn’t have any charts that would be helpful on a screen, or they were too lengthy too include in a reasonable amount of space. There are a ton of charts I would have included instead. The criteria for this would be that the chart exists in the DMG or PHB, and is small, but helpful, and kind of obscure to look up like: Salable Magic Items, and Selling a Magic Item (p. 130 DMG), Potion Miscibility and Scroll Mishaps (p. 140 DMG), Saving Throws (p.238 DMG), conversation reactions (p.245), Object AC and HP (p.246-247 DMG), and Improvising Damage (p.249 DMG). There are many more.
Final rant: the cover of the screen is a poster for Adventurer’s League. In itself, that is okay, but it uses the Acererak art from the cover of the DMG and just says We Want YOU at your nearest game store. It seems to almost be a reference to Uncle Sam recruitment posters with it’s red, white and blue border, but then just has DungeonsandDragons.com at the bottom. Wht not dnd.wizards.com/playevents/organized-play or a URL to the store locator? It just seems like more wasted space. That being said, AL does need DMs, and how DM experience is handled when you run AL is a whole other blog post.
The worst part is, a lot of the heavy lifting was already done by Lance Larsen. Before the DMG was even out, he compiled some of the more confusing concepts and things looked up most often in to one handy sheet. If you haven’t downloaded it already, I would highly suggest it. Conclusion: you should probably make your own screen. The art for this one is great, but the substance is not.