Preproject inspiration: GM Screen

A while ago, I ran across a series of photos on an Instagram post that not only intrigued me, but captured my imagination and spun off several ideas.  While I’ve lost the original thread and bookmark, I have located a republication of this amazing DIY project, which you can find here. It provides instructions on building your own DM (Dungeon Master) screen with a built-in dice tower, which is a neat little addition.  You can build one as you choose, and I do intend to do something similar later.

For now, though, I thought I’d cover creating a quick and simple GM (Game Master) screen for those on either a budget, need a low-skill build, or only have about five minutes.  Except for the hinges I’d like to use, everything could be found at discount stores, and for under $10 US.  I have a couple of options available, and while the materials cost is low, I am on a budget, so some examples will have holes that are not necessary.

Some of the dice needed for a game session

I plan on showing five different versions of simple GM screens you can make for your Role Playing friends out there, and they can all be packed up into a backpack or tucked into a bookshelf with your game books.  For supplies, I visited five different locations in three categories: dollar store, discount store, and local hardware store.  For each of these, I’ll share with you some things to look for, and things to watch out for.

The first thing to watch out for is the materials you want to make these out of.  As I mentioned, I have five different plans for the upcoming GM screen and, except for the hinges, all of these items could be acquired at the dollar store.  While the first one I visited was a non-chain affiliated dollar store, it did not have absolutely everything I needed.  The last one I visited, Dollar General, did have what I needed and wanted.

Now, the tools you need will depend on the version you wish to make.  These versions include foam core board, cardboard, and clipboards in two different styles and three different orientations.  Among these different styles, the most complex tool you will need is a drill.  I prefer corded over cordless due to battery life questions, but we probably won’t be using the drill long enough to put a dent in the battery, let alone drain it completely.  I have a couple different methods of connecting these parts as well, and you can choose whatever works for you and your gaming needs.

This is not the last entry I’ll make on the GM screen – I do intend to build a fancier version similar to Mr. Duque’s.  I tend to run a different system than the one he built his for, so I will have some different features on the “fancy” one.  But that’s for a later time.  (I should note that most of the GM’s I know do not use a screen.  The common thing that they find useful is putting commonly-needed or referenced charts in one location, but that can be done by copy and paste, tabs or sticky flags in the book, or custom PDF sheets.  While I won’t be covering that aspect, I can at least help with the simple screen.)

To build these, you will need the following items:

  1. A table surface to work on.
  2. Some scrap wood for cutting and drilling into.  (Small blocks of plywood, sections of construction lumber in the 1 inch by 2 inch size, or other woods you don’t mind damaging work great.)
  3. 20160420_182758
    A small marking gauge to mark lines and hole locations.

    A knife.  Preferably a small marking knife, or an X-acto blade (or similar) or a box-cutter style blade.  (Depending on which version you make, you may use the knife to build or just mark the materials.  If you don’t have a knife, a sharp pencil will work too.  I prefer marking the lines by knife because the marks are smaller and more precise.)

  4. A drill or hole punch.
  5. Clear sheet protectors.
  6. Binder clips.
  7. A straight edge.  Something longer than a ruler, as you will need to cut items longer than twelve inches down to manageable sizes.  (I have a couple examples I will show, including some free ones you have around the house.)
  8. Some masking or painter’s tape.  (They are very similar, and are often cross-labeled as one or the other, or possibly both.  Name brand is not important: you won’t be using much of it.)

The different versions will need some slightly different combinations of things, as well as the base materials.  Those include:

  • Cardboard.  Preferably a presentation style or display board, but you can use old pizza boxes or other “found” cardboard if you need or have it.
  • Foam core board.  Typically found in two foot by three foot sheets, these come in a variety of colors.  Chose one that works for you and what you want to use it for.  (I picked black.)
  • Clipboards.  There are a couple different styles, from those with the traditional wide flange of metal to spring-clipped single bars.  I have both variety, and will show them in two different styles.
  • Methods of fastening these together.
    • Here is where it starts to separate, depending on style.  The Foam Core and Cardboard will be hinged most likely with tape, and that could be clear packing tape, duct tape, or masking tape.  I personally don’t recommend the masking tape, as it is designed to be a temporary tape.
    • You can also use binder rings – individual rings that go through holes in paper to keep them together.  Commonly used for flash cards or individual subject notes, you will need two per pair of panels being jointed.  (A third adds stability but is not required.  At most, you will need nine of these.)
    • Alternatively, you can use other flexible binding materials.  While much less rigid, they offer smaller connection spaces.  These can be:
      • Wire (stranded or coil).  A picture hanging kit has sufficient wire for your needs.
      • Twist ties.  Sometimes found on bread bags, sometimes found in boxes of trash bags (the kind without the drawstrings), or in other uses like plant ties or “cut your own length” ties, these usually are a thin wire coated between two paper strips or plastic with a flat face.  These are easy to replace or adjust as needed.
      • Hooks and eyes.  These are small screws that have either a hooked end or a loop, and will be screwed into the material so that they join them together.  Most effective in wood, but we’ll try them in the clipboards.
      • Hinges.  These are the more visible connectors, and they come in several different styles.  They are also the most expensive, so while I will cover them you do not have to use them.  They come in two main varieties: individual hinges (in pairs or sets of three) and piano hinges (also occasionally known as continuous hinges).  The individual hinges will need to be carefully aligned with each other and the panels, while the continuous hinge will just need to be aligned – and possibly cut to length.  (I plan on demonstrating the continuous hinge on the fancier version as these are single-handedly the most expensive item on the shopping list.)

Now, as I indicated, I went to five different stores.  Among all five of these stores, I spent at most $40 US.  I also got some other items that are extras and not required, but might help dress up the finished product.  Depending on what you already have on hand, you may be able to spend just a single dollar to make a quick and simple screen for your gaming needs.

So go ahead and start your shopping list, and I’ll see you next week with not one but five Five Minute Projects.  Just in time for convention season, you’ll be able to build a quick and portable Game Master Screen for your gaming needs.


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