It is probably the first thing I noticed when I watched this documentary about role playing games on a french channel with my dad, around 1985.
The second thing I noticed was the total freedom in the story generated by the game.
I turned to my dad and said "I want to play this game". My dad responded "yes" and smiled, probably carried by my enthusiasm.
The first thing I had noticed was the game master screen, how it oriented the table, in a last supper way with a central figure behind some kind of fortification.
My first attempt at cargo-culting what I had seen on television failed, I had a screen, figurines (smurfs), players (my parents and the neighbours), rules (actually, only rulings), and it was not fun, my parents dismissed the session, liquor time. I think I had to wait one year before finding another entry point into role playing games.
The games I could find came with no screens, so I made one, or rather I made one for each game I mastered. Tape, old A4 notebook covers, accompanying my father to his office to photocopy tables and illustrations. Those screens are probably still waiting for the next game up in my parents' attic.
Jump from the 1980s to the 2020s.
Last year, I came back to gaming via Héros et Dragons and since at that point it was all PDFs, I had no screen. PDFs, DropBox "available offline", and iPads are a great combination, until you start running the game, and want to keep the game running.
My 2020 game master screen started with a walk to the 1 dollar shop to get two A4 cardboard binders. I then removed the metal hooks and kept the two cardboards and taped them together.
I had seen videos of beautiful, modular, magnetic, wooden screens. I wondered how I could partake in that glorious, supposed, usefulness. I could have some ferrous layer on my screen to use magnets, then I found online some A3 whiteboard stickers with a ferrous layer. I bought two of them, cut them in two and I ended up with four A4 whiteboard stickers. I placed two in front and two in the back of the screen.
I found some round, green, magnets at the 1 dollar shop, fine. Plumbers here leave magnetic business cards to place on fridges, I pasted a white sheet of paper on top of one of those cards, then cut it in slices. I can write names on those magnetic slices and I have an initiative tracking tool.
The two magnetic whiteboards came with gutters. I tend to use them behind the screen I place them mid or top level as platforms for dice, figurines, or pens.
Since we were playing 5th edition,
I photocopied I printed some of the game tables and pasted them on the inside of my screen. I went for the conditions, the short and long rest descriptions, The vision and light section, the food and water section, suffocating and falling...
I had given my players copies of two cheat sheets, I had copies on my side too. The more I learned about 5th edition, the more I learned about Il Rinascimento della Vecchia Scuola, I included Moldvay's Reaction and Morale rules to our house rules and to the inside of the screen.
The top picture shows a briton hut. That's one way of using the screen, as a place to hang description items. I usually have printouts of Osprey saxon warrior illustrations to set the tone, no plate armor, no pointy hats.
As an end of the eighties game master, if there is a thing that says "rite of passage" for me, it's the making of a gamemaster screen.
I like to set up the screen, arrange the scenario and the notepads, the NPC stat printouts. I am asking myself "What did I forget this time?". I place my GM dice behind the screen. In front of the screen, a small chest offers, candy-like, the dice anyone can use.
Most of the time, I am standing, hovering between the players, invoking Melpomene and more often, Thalia. Clio is not far off, no plate armor, no pointy hats, so she doesn't mind a bit of magic in our theater of the mind.
When spears meet and the battlemat is in use, I am definitely not behind my screen. When the sword is back in the scabbard, I get back in my lair, take a sip of the beer waiting there, check my notes, let the excitation of the players quiet down a bit. I stand up again, leave the security of the screen, the adventure awaits us.
Now that we are moving away from the 5th edition of the world's greatest roleplaying game, I will replace some of the charts behind my screen. The reaction and morale charts will stay.
I like my cardboard keep on the borderland.