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D&D 5E What's really useful on a DM screen?

A GM screen has two purposes:
  1. To provide information that I need at the table so that I don't have to open a book.
  2. To add to the atmosphere of the table.
For #1, what I need changes over time. When I'm first learning the system, I'll need rule references for combat, chases, DCs, etc. Once I've memorized those, I need useful charts and references to common things that I just can't quite remember: Conditions, a list of skills, price lists for common purchases (food, inns, transport, goods and services). Eventually, I'll be looking for a toolkit that aids in improvisation, like generic monster stats and NPC traits. I also end up needing a place to put information about the PCs.

For these reasons, I end up using custom GMs screens, or at least clipping custom pages to my screen. But it would be interesting to explore designing multiple screens for different levels of experience, or professionally made clip on (or magnetic) panels for "upgrading" sections.

As for #2, nice art, or at least good layout and graphic design go a long way.

A few other points that make for a great GM screen:
  1. Design matters. Information that can't be found quickly and intuitively may as well not exist.
  2. Have some white-space and art to break up the wall of data, but keep information density high. It's a dashboard, not a novel or a gallery. This will be a difficult balance.
  3. Panels are your first and best organizational unit, followed by columns. Use them to gather related information, and don't let them bleed into each other.
  4. Use different layouts and presentation-types on different panels. For example, one may mostly be tables, while another may be an infographic, and a third a list of callout boxes. This variation helps make each part distinct, and thus more quickly differentiated at the table.
I love the idea of magnet panels.
 

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J-H

Adventurer
Panels are your first and best organizational unit, followed by columns. Use them to gather related information, and don't let them bleed into each other.
What's the best (office or free) software for making this? Word doesn't seem to do it well, and Excel is way too clumsy.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
What's the best (office or free) software for making this? Word doesn't seem to do it well, and Excel is way too clumsy.
Maybe desktop publishing software like Adobe InDesign? I believe the Microsoft analog is Publisher; and an opensource one is Scribus. There are others ranging from free to premium.
 


Jeff Carlsen

Adventurer
What's the best (office or free) software for making this? Word doesn't seem to do it well, and Excel is way too clumsy.
I use InDesign these days, but in the past LibraOffice Writer and Calc were my go-to for their solid implementation of styles. I’ve heard great things about Affinity Publisher as well.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I wish a DM screen would be landscape rather than portrait.
Nooooo! :(

No matter what gets printed on it, the main use for a DM screen is to clip papers and maps to. Most papers and maps are portrait-oriented, meaning a landscape DM screen is of next to no use for this.

If you're asking for landscape because the typical 3-panel portrait screen is too short from end to end, I hear ya loud and clear. For many years I've used two screens clipped together (so 6 panels in total) for just this reason.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
What's the best (office or free) software for making this? Word doesn't seem to do it well, and Excel is way too clumsy.
within the office suite, powerpoint is surprisingly versatile, in part because it allows pseudo layers. I heard a lot about InDesign too, but have no experience with that.
 
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Laurefindel

Legend
Back to the OP, assuming a D&D DM screen, I like to have conditions and exhaustion, exploration rules, and a cheatsheat of the usual FAQs such as illumination and cover/obscurement, stealth, dispel magic, etc.

A place to write the characters' names, their hp/AC/passive perception and other relevant stats would be grand, and so would be an index of NPC stat blocks.

Actually, I like the idea of DM screen as a nice-looking slipcase where I can insert my choice of sheets from those proposed by the publisher or print my own. A web-app to create my own arrangement of things to include would be my absolute best dream, but I have no idea how well this would work as a business model...

If you're inquiring for LEVEL UP then I want everything that is not in vanilla 5e, even as a simple page reference. Basically, if you had only 5 minutes to pitch LEVEL UP in a 4-slide powerpoint presentation; that's what I'd want.
 
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Norton

Explorer
Conditions is one. I know most of them but it is something I refer to often.
This, plus rules for surprise which I can never get to stick in my head when things kick off. Outside of some bullet points for key details related to the narrative so I don't end up contradicting the current state of something or something in motion, that'd be it. Don't like clutter!
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Nooooo! :(

No matter what gets printed on it, the main use for a DM screen is to clip papers and maps to. Most papers and maps are portrait-oriented, meaning a landscape DM screen is of next to no use for this.

If you're asking for landscape because the typical 3-panel portrait screen is too short from end to end, I hear ya loud and clear. For many years I've used two screens clipped together (so 6 panels in total) for just this reason.
I mostly like landscape screens because it's less of an obstacle between me and the players. That being said, my notes and scribbles are mostly drawn in portrait orientation, and they "fold" much better in a portrait screen.

I like screens because they're quick and handy documents, but oftentimes they lay flat on the table because they're just too high (portrait) or too wide (landscape) for my taste. In the end, I prefer portrait screens because, when they're flat on the table, they open like other books.
 
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