Monday, March 26, 2012


Here's some more information about the organizational changes I mentioned last entry.

Prior to these changes, I was using a combination of computer laptop (MacBook Pro) and Paizo's Pathfinder GM Screen.   Paizo's screen is pretty good, but I looked elsewhere for four reasons:

  1. I would prefer to have information specific to my game on the panels.
  2. The style of the Pathfinder Iconics (the heroes you see depicted on the players' side of the screen) does not match the look and feel I am trying to achieve in my world.
  3. I wanted a shorter screen so it would be easier for me to see my kids.
  4. We play two systems besides Pathfinder:  Savage Worlds, and AD&D (1st edition).

As for the Mac, I tried running my games from it, but I always ended up with too much stuff open.  A browser window with a dozen tabs, an Excel spreadsheet for combat tracking, another for NPC stats,* and Evernote for story elements.  I was all over the place, and while some people thrive in these conditions, I do not.

To remedy the situation I hopped on Amazon and ordered the Savage Worlds customizable GM screen.  This screen is nothing but clear plastic sleeves on both sides of three connected black panels.  I can decide what information to put into the sleeves, and I can swap out inserts for different games or systems.   The orientation is "landscape," so the screen is shorter and I can see my players.

The question then became what to display on the inserts.  The players' side was easy:  for each panel I put the name of the city, a name for the adventure, and a thematic picture pilfered off the Internet, printed on gold-colored card stock as shown in the picture.

What the players see.

The GM's side was tougher.  In the end, I decided that I wanted a few things:

  • Pathfinder's grappling flow chart.  Grappling is complicated; the flow chart helps.
  • A symbolic map of the larger, turtle-carcass dungeon.  I want to know where things are relative to each other.
  • Stats for NPCs the characters are likely to encounter in a given session.
  • A brief description of the more commonly occurring conditions.
  • My custom confusion effects table (confusion happens a lot in my world, I have learned).

Some of these are a work in progress (for instance, I want the encounter stat blocks to be flexible enough for me to include traps).  Here are pics of what I used this past weekend:

NPC stat blocks.  Six blocks on one insert,
takes up the whole panel.

Pathfinder grapple rules on the left,
symbolic map** of subterranean, inverted,
four-animal-headed turtle-carcass city on the right.

Conditions, confusion effects, and
a quick reminder of the oracle's prophecy.

From there it was just a matter of printing them out on card stock (because the plastic sleeves are tight), sliding the inserts into the sleeves, and draping the tent cards over the top.  Behind the screen I had nothing but dice, a pad of graph paper to take notes, and my dungeon map for the section they're in.  I kept my laptop on a chair next to me and only used it to look up spells.

From a game management standpoint, this setup worked well for me.  Combat moved quickly, and I felt uncluttered.  I was able to focus better on what was going on in the game, and I found myself improvising more than usual.  We played for four and a half hours and covered a lot of ground.

We'll see if it stands the test of time.

* Don't get me started on all the combat tracking and NPC generation products out there.  First, the dearth of good RPG software for Macs out there is a real sore point.  And second, most of the products I have tried tend to break down under the strain of my free-wheeling GM style and my custom, homemade monsters.

...and by homemade monsters, I don't mean starting with something known and adding a template.  If that was all I needed, Hero Lab would be all I need.  But I mean starting from scratch with a brand new monster.

** The map style, with images just grabbed from the Internet and assembled to graphically represent denizens, locations, terrains, etc., is an approach I got from Zak Smith (adults 18+ years only).   Zak has more bright ideas in a day than I have in a year, it seems.  I think some of my confusion effects may be lifted from his blog too.


  1. Hey Scott, you don't happen to have a PDF or sth of the NPC stat blocks? It would be great if you had and if you wanted to share them!

  2. Hey Scott, you don't happen to have a PDF or sth of the NPC stat blocks? It would be great if you had and if you wanted to share them!