Dungeon Master’s Screen

Okay, I have a mountain of background material to write for my upcoming game, and two reviews to post on Spiderfan, so this is going to be brief. I received the new 4e Dungeon Master’s Screen in the post this morning, and I felt moved to say something about it.

It’s awesome!

There, glad I got that off my chest. You see, I normally buy the official GM’s screens because I’m a bit of a completest. I have the original 3.0 screen, the 3.5 version that came with Dragon Magazine, the 3.5 “deluxe” version as well as one for the Forgotten Realms and one for the Eberron settings. I’m used all the screens as a barrier to conceal my wild cheating, but I’ve seldom read the stuff that was written on them.

I feel that this screen will be something different. There’s some truly useful stuff plastered on the inside of this screen, notably a full list of all the conditions from PHB1 p277. That is really going to speed up play. Plus the Experience Point Rewards, and Damage by Level tables makes it much easier to come up with encounters on the fly without referring back to the PHB or the DMG. I whole-heartedly approve – but that’s not the reason I love this screen.

There’s a beautiful picture on the player’s side, a dark and moody dungeon filled with all manner of iconic nasties; and it’s given the widescreen treatment thanks to the landscape printing of the screen. But that’s not the reason I love this screen.

I love it because it’s thick. We’re talking thick-as-a-Scrabble-board thick. Every GM’s screen I’ve had up to now has just been a laminated piece of cardboard, this is more… so much more. I set this screen up on a table it’s not going to snap back to its original shape, folding itself neatly up, spilling my dice on the floor and revealing my notes to the players. That’s why it’s awesome. Well done Wizards of the Coast.

Right, I’m off to look at my new Dungeon Master’s Screen some more. Once I get a couple of projects out of the way, I’ll be adding a great deal more to this blog, so bear with me a little while longer. In the meantime, I’ve extended the list of 4e releases all the way out to August 2009.

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4 thoughts on “Dungeon Master’s Screen

  1. Sounds good! I haven’t used a screen for about a year now, but will have to look into this one.

    One question, though – does it need to be errata-ed? I heard that it might have the old rules for skill challenges, and would thus need to be updated with the revised rules.

    -hvg3

  2. There is an errata for the DM’s screen. The screen reproduces the table from p42 of the DMG. The section under “Difficulty Class (DC) Values” has been substantially altered by the latest update.

    Basically, the suggested DCs have been made much, much easier and the proviso that you should add +5 to the DC if it’s a skill check, and +2 to the DC if it’s with weapons or against AC has been removed.

    The details of the errata are here:
    http://www.wizards.com/dnd/files/UpdateDMG.pdf

    The difference is quite marked. Under the rules as published an easy skill check for a first level character was DC 15, a moderate check DC 20, and a hard check DC 25. Now it’s DC 5, 10 and 15 respectively.

    I’m not sure what to make of it, really. Having played a first level character for four sessions, I know that making DC 15 with a skill check isn’t hard if it’s a trained skill. If you use the standard array and you’re not particularly trying to min-max your character a first level character in 4e is likely to be a +9 in his best skill, and -1 in his worst.

    Now if your skill is -1 then the new DCs make sense. If your skill is +9 then the old DCs make sense. It all depends on where you put the benchmark, and that depends on your philosophical view of the game.

    Should a hard check be attainable by someone who has no training and no experience in an activity; or should hard checks be the sort of result that even the most highly skilled and experienced to achieve every now and then?

    Personally, I would agree with the latter, and I’m far more inclined to keep the original DCs than follow the new errata. If you use the new DCs then you are drawing the line at the lowest common denominator. A hard arcana check is a check the untrained rogue can make 75% of the time. A monster with a hard armour class, has an AC the low-strength wizard can hit with a basic melee attack. I just can’t get behind it.

    However, I haven’t spent the time trawling messageboards, trying to understand the logic behind the change. Because this seems quite a fundamental change. I would really like to know what Wizards thought it was a change they have to make. I probably haven’t spent enough time looking at the maths either.

  3. Thanks!

    I did read something about the compounding (?) of rolls, that is, making one roll might be easy, but in skill challenges where you need to make 6+ successes to succeed, the chances of success drop off largely. I think someone on ENWorld had some way-too-in-depth calculations to show it all :)

    -hvg3

  4. I’ve finally taken the time to look at the skill challenge rules side by side with the errata. I didn’t realise there were that many changes! You’re right that the maths behind skill challenges was called into question on various message boards. I remember reading something on Keith Baker’s site about how it was working for him, but he seemed to have an idiosyncratic way of adjudicating them.

    As far as I understand it, the problem was that what looks like a reasonable DC for a single check, becomes almost unattainable in a skill challenge. If you have a 50% chance of success, probability says that you only have a 25% chance of success if you have to make that roll twice in row.

    In order to fix this WotC hasn’t changed the rules for Skill Challenges, they’ve just lowered the DCs. What this does is make single checks really easy. They also seem to have standardised all the challenges, so that three failures always end the skill challenge regardless of how many successes you need.

    As it stands now the Skill Challenge system is almost identical to the variant rules for complex skill checks published in the third edition Unearthed Arcana:
    http://www.d20srd.org/srd/variant/buildingCharacters/complexSkillChecks.htm

    What to do about this? To be honest, I’m not convinced that skill challenges are worth the hassle. I never felt the need to run the past when I had the rules for complex checks available.

    If it’s a physical skill challenge then I might require multiple checks, but if it’s a social encounter I tend to let the roleplaying do the talking. I’ll usually require a skill check on (for example, diplomacy) to affect the final decision of the NPC, but it would’t be anything more complicated than that.

    I have to look at this, and decide what I’m going to do. I still think it would be easier to keep the original DCs as published in PHB1.

    Neil.

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