Sunday, 22 March 2015

Review - D&D 5th Edition DM’s Screen

It’s difficult to write a review of any length or content when the product in question simply does not have much about it to talk about. When the D&D 5th Edition DM’s Screen landed on my doorstep I was pretty excited - any decent tabletop roleplaying game needs a decent DM’s screen, and I’ve got a few in my collection. I find them handy for two reasons - guarding against the prying eyes of the players and having handy charts and tables that will aid in the flow of an evening’s play.

The D&D 5th Edition DM’s Screen gets it at least half right.

You get exactly what you pay for - a screen of sturdy card with an inspiring piece of art on the player’s side and some charts on the DM’s side. And that’s it - there’s no handy handbook of extra tables or references, no adventure or campaign details, nothing at all. There’s a nice poster on the reverse side of the cover sleeve for the D&D Adventurers League saying ‘WE WANT YOU AT YOUR NEAREST GAMING STORE’ which looks nice on my wall, but it’s a reused image from the cover of the DM’s Guide and is quirky but, frankly, useless in a game.

The landscape format is excellent; the majority of my screens are portrait and stand quite tall, so this is better as you can lean over the screen without having to really stretch or walk around it. It doesn’t dominate the table, and the artwork is inspiring and action-packed. This also makes it long so you can get plenty of secret notes and books behind it. In this it does exactly what it’s designed to do.

But, I like to have handy charts on the DM’s side of the screen that I can easily reference and I can honestly say that the charts included would have definitely not been my first choice. The charts for NPC characteristics, ideals, bonds, flaws and the random name generator seems superfluous and isn’t something I’d be looking to use during a session – I’d have put tables like that in a booklet that came with the screen. This takes up an entire panel, with space wasted on artwork.

The next panel is a bit more useful, with rules covering certain conditions that might arise such as being blinded, charmed and grappled, but again there is wasted space with unrequired artwork.

Panels three and four then give us helpful tables and references, such as setting a DC and rules for cover and skills, and then there’s some travel and distance charts which are useful but, again, it isn’t something that would crop up regularly in a session, let alone an encounter. There’s the same trouble with the wasted space again, but finally there’s a ‘Something Happens!’ chart, with twenty things that might happen at random with a D20 roll, such as ‘1 – A door opens’, or ’11 – Someone gets angry’. I simply do not see the benefit of this as this indicates that the evening’s play is going to be totally on the fly. Like a lot of the charts it’s a waste of space and other much more useful encounter-orientated tables, which is what you need when you don’t want to stall the action to search out rules or charts in a rulebook, would have been much more suitable.

All in all the D&D 5th Edition DM’s screen is a little disappointing. It’s functional and a great size, and I’ll be using it at my gaming table for sure, but the lack of useful charts and the fact that there is simply nothing else in the product to help DMs out, especially DMs new to the hobby, makes this feel like a somewhat missed opportunity.

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