Divine Setting Up Your Gamemaster’s Screen! (GM Tips W Matt Mercer)

MATT: Hi. My name is Matthew Mercer. I’m a voice actor and the Dungeon Master for Critical Role here on Geek amp; Sundry, and today’s episode of GM Tips involves seeing what’s behind the GM screen and some tips and tricks on how to prepare yourself and your station for being a game master. [intro music plays] MATT: As a game master, your realm is a blend of preparation and unexpected chaos and adapting somewhere between the two of those and, as such, your area directly behind your GM screen is your saving grace.

It’s a wonderful plane of notes, information, and various tools to help you in crafting your story, which will inevitably be flying directly out of your ass. Let’s take a look at some of my prepared GM area, then I’ll give some recommendations and the kind of things you might want to consider having available behind yours. Come on, let’s have a look. Welcome to my domain.

Here is my basic set up, beginning with this. This is the official dungeon master screen for Fifth Edition Damp;D. Like a lot of systems, especially the more popular ones, make this available with pre-set rules and tables and breakdowns to remind you as a GM and have quick access to these various aspects as they come into your game. Now, even with these official rules that are given to you, maybe not all of them are useful to your specific campaign or there might be aspects of the rule system that come up more often than others that you want to make sure are front and center, so you can actually print these out and tape them individually to the screen over things that are maybe aren’t as useful.

Like here I have lists about improvising damage, trap save DCs, and attack bonuses against PCs. I have damage severity by level, potion of healing breakdowns so I know what different levels of healing potions heal what amount. Reminders of things I forget often, like concentration checks, highlighted in bright yellow to remind me to actually remember that (bleep). Actually, right over here on the far side you can see I have a collection of my players’ passive perception.

Very useful. That’s the GM screen right there. You also need some dice. That might come in handy.

Some systems don’t need it, but for the most part you need some dice. That’s helpful. Of course, your preparation notes. Over here I have my campaign notes, which contains a basic player sheet, a cheat sheet of all the rules and things that I can come to for quick reference so I don’t have to have the books nearby, which by the way, it helps to have the books nearby, just in case.

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I have the breakdown in my binder, my little setup here of the current session as well as maybe a few previous sessions in case I have to reference them in the past. I have sheets for custom NPCs and various monsters they may encounter or have encountered. I have breakdowns of various locations in my world with notes on NPCs and factions and different things that I can refer to if it comes up during the campaign. That way I’m not going through my old computer or having to leave the table to go find it.

Just keeping basic notes at your disposal in your binder is extremely helpful. I have lists of names for NPCs in case you have to create something on the spot you can go ahead and refer to this page. Say one of the names on the list and then just cross it off and make a note of where they actually encountered that NPC for later. This binder becomes a very helpful tool to make sure that you’re on top of your game during your actual session.

Next to that you want a notepad. Empty sheets for scratch notes. You’re going to be taking notes the whole time, whether it be just marking which players had cool moments that you want to award bonus experience or items to down the road, or those NPCs you just made up. You can go ahead and write down that basic information that way you can go back to it later without forgetting that even happened in the campaign.

Scratch pad, really useful. Also, over to the side here I have miniatures for monsters they may encounter. That way they’re readily at my disposal if I go ahead and throw down a battle map. I have a nice little timer here.

You can do a digital timer as well. I prefer things a little more presenter-y like this, but this helps you throw down a little bit of tension in a time-based encounter and the players will freak out as soon as this or a digital timer hits the table and lets them know you only have five minutes to complete this challenge. It’s a pretty fun little tool. Over here I have wet-erase markers.

These are very useful for one, writing notes on your GM screen or any plastic sheets you have on your screen. These are also great for battle maps, if all of a sudden something you prepared goes haywire or the player pushes in a direction you weren’t expecting, you can go ahead and sketch down some elements of that map with some of these wet erase markers. Very helpful. I have various markers for statuses and conditions in the game, where a creature or monster gets poisoned or stunned, I can go ahead and throw that on to there as well.

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They have official ones you can purchase for certain gaming sets. These are actually just soda tabs that I found multi-colored. That way it’s cheaper. Also, if you have a party member who happens to transform a lot, like a druid or someone with polymorph, it helps to have a collection of various miniatures that show what creature they may be able to transform into, once again preventing you from having to run off to wherever your collection is in the other room.

You can have these at the ready to pull out at a moment’s notice. Very helpful. I have my iPad or whatever you want to use for music. Soundtrack is a very good way to keep everyone in your immersive atmosphere.

Build up some of your favorite movie fantasy soundtracks or even just video game soundtracks that you have at your disposal. If you’re doing this on Twitch or anywhere public or live, make sure that you have permission to use it first, but at your home game you can play whatever the heck you want. Having that right behind the screen and readily available to press or change is a huge boon to building the atmosphere of the game. I also have some templates to help me guide the size and area of certain spells and effects in the game.

I made these, but you can find templates like this online that you can just download and print out and laminate, and it costs you practically nothing and you have equally awesome and functional templates at your disposal. There are many, many other cool options you can prepare and have at the ready and many online GMing forums like EN World and official RPG websites that provide an endless source of these types of recommendations. You can pick and choose and customize your own GM setup however befits your own form of storytelling. I just hope this little glance helped give you any ideas on how to better prepare your own GM set up.

Thank you so much for watching. My name is Matthew Mercer. You can go ahead and check out other episodes of GM Tips here at geekandsundry. com.

I’ll see you next time.