<img class="size-medium wp-image-836" title="3476607172_cc4d33caae" src="https://heldaction.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/3476607172_cc4d33caae.jpg?w=300" alt="Me using the World's Greatest Screen to run GURPS Hellboy at Northeast Wars IX.
Customizable GM screens have been around for a while, starting with the now defunct Citizen Games’ Masterscreen. The next one to come along that of which I’m aware was Studio 2 Publishing’s Savage Worlds Customizable GM Screen, which also seems to have become unavailable. Fortunately, there remains Hammerdog Games‘ offering: The World’s Greatest Screen(TWGS for short), a beast of a customizable GM’s screen, with four sturdy vinyl-covered panels, similar in appearance and design to the old Masterscreen.
The big hook with a customizable screen is you can put together any charts you feel are necessary, rather than what the designers thought would be useful, like White Wolf’s persistent belief that the experience point cost to raise an ability is a question that requires an instantaneous answer during play. Last summer, I made up a set of inserts for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Open Office, which worked beautifully. Graphic design challenged as I am, typing tabular data into tables in a word processing document is easily done.
I’ve used TWGS for four conventions now, including this just-past Carnage. When I next get to run a regular game, I’ll use it there too. It’s incredibly sturdy, strong enough to serve as a backboard to roll dice against. In fact, its sturdiness is also the basis of my single beef with the World’s Greatest Screen.
In addition to taking dice rolls like a champ, TWGS has an unfortunate tendency to muffle voices, since the portrait orientation puts it at the perfect height to block about half the sound coming out of the GM’s mouth. This can be problematic in a convention setting, when a dozen tables are running full force. Your options are to sit up higher, as I try to do, or talk louder, as I tend to wind up doing when I’m tired and slumping in my chair.
If TWGS were in landscape format, with the long side horizontal, it would not only solve the sound muffling problem, but also reduce the sensation I’m hiding from view. Mutants & Masterminds‘ screen for Second Edition, for example, is laid out landscape style, which works wonderfully for maintaining eye contact and seeing what’s happening right in the center of the table.
The flip side to the landscape orientation would be that making charts becomes more labor-intensive if you’re like me and prefer to cannibalize already owned GM screens, which are typically portrait style; WitchCraft‘s screen art, for example, I’ve found appropriate to any number of games about occultism or urban fantasy. When I made the decision to buy a customizable screen, I spent a lot of time dithering between TWGS and the Savage Worlds landscape screen, but decided that a fourth panel was more important than landscape orientation. I like to cram a lot of information into my screens, to reduce the time I spend looking things up in a book.
But really, that’s a relatively minor quibble for the majority of gamers, who are probably playing in quieter environments than a convention — except maybe the Dark Lord of Denny’s. The World’s Greatest Screen is a great start to facilitating screened GMing with games that may not have that such an accessory available, or, in the case of several Savage Worlds games, have PDF inserts available.