Friday, 23 January 2009

4th Edition DM's Screen - Review

A quick (and hopelessly late) review for a product that really only needs to do three things well: obscure the DM's crib notes to ensure that the players don't realise how little preparation he has done this week; look good on the player's side so that they have something to stare at while they're waiting for the DM to find his adventure notes; and finally show lots of useful, well-organised reference information so that the DM can give the false impression he's making difficult, rules-y decisions when really he's intending to wing the entire session.

Heheh, I jest (guys?), but that pretty much sums it up, and boy, did Wizards crack a boundary with this one. First, the physicals. It's made of very think, glossy card-stock, so I can't see myself ever having problems with it warping or failing to stand-up, and it's also landscape rather than the more traditional portrait screens of yore. This has the immediate advantage of making the thing lower, and wider; not so low that it doesn't protect the DM's privacy, and wide enough that it can pretty much embrace his entire workspace. I'm sure others hit on the idea before Wizards, but whoever thought of it first, I love it. And them.

It makes a huge difference in a couple of ways; first, I can see more of the table, so I don't have to loom over the battle-mat like some fickle god manipulating the lives of his little soldiers (although simply because I don't have to any more doesn't mean I don't like to); second, it reduces the DM's isolation from the rest of the table. The screen is high-enough that the essential superiority of the DM over his fellow players can still be enforced, but not so low that they might come to erroneously think, y'know, that they're on the same level of the D&D food chain as he is. Important, that.

Next, the content. I have practically no complaints whatsoever about the selection of reference material on the DM's side, and especially no complaints about the entire panel of conditions and their effects, which has been a god-send. Also included in the 'I often seem to need to know this' category are object hardness DC's, light-sources, DC's for common uses of skills, and many others, coupled with more predictable fare like combat actions, attack modifiers, cover, concealment, and so-on. There's the odd table which really isn't necessary (XP?), but it's all arranged very neatly and is extremely usable. It even includes page numbers for whichever core rule-book contains the rule. How good is that?

It's also worth noting at this point that, as you might expect, the first major 4E errata, with signifcant changes to skill DC's including to the 'p.42' table which is shown on the screen, has not been included. I can't say for sure whether subsequent print runs (if any) have incorporated these changes.

On the player's side, an absolutely stunning vision of the Underdark gives players something nice to look other than the glint of evil in the DM's eye and the permanent smug expression applied to his face. It's a fabulous piece of work, by an author whose name I should remember but can't.

Closing words then. There's a switch in my head, one that tells my brain to check the DM's screen whenever I might need to look-up a rule. Most screens I've used over the years have been so pointless in the matter of quick-reference that the switch has become somewhat stuck in the 'off' position. With this one though, I can definitely feel it slowly flicking to 'on'. In terms of price, durability, usability, and especially in terms of sheer class, this is hands-down the best DM's screen that I've seen in 25 years of playing D&D.

Score: 9/10

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