Setting Up Your Gamemaster’s Screen! (GM Tips w/ Matt Mercer)

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 & 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 D&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. 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. 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 I’ll see you next time. [music]

100 thoughts on “Setting Up Your Gamemaster’s Screen! (GM Tips w/ Matt Mercer)

  1. I love that even in describing the actual, known, factual, uncontested information about the sheet of paper he himself created, he says "Looks to be".

  2. My advice would be don't over plan quests. I remember been in a huge mansion which the DM had lovingly mapped out room for room. Then he put us up against rediculously high level vampire Lord (he was a Ravenloft fan) see how we got on.
    I decided to set fire to the curtains. Bye bye carefully planned mansion LOL.

  3. I use fantasy as an escape and so I’m starting to write my own campaign. This was really helpful in telling me what to prepare for

  4. Thanks for the look behind the DM screen, Matt! =)
    I had my first round as a DM ever about 10 days ago and I wish I'd have known some of this stuff beforehand. Nontetheless, everyone seemed to have a good time at the table, so I guess it's a point where I can improve from!
    Thanks again! =)

  5. You know. Something you all need to consider is LARGER PRINT. Now that some of us have been playing for 40 plus years, having a DM screen that you need glasses and a magnifying glass to read hampers speed of game play. Just maybe 6 to 9 point print is not helpful for your older players.

  6. Me: oh I’m fully prepared for this session tomorrow, let me double check by watching this quick video of matt’s dm screen

    Matt: so you’re gonna need this, this, this, this, this, this and this

    Me: well shit I have nothing prepared.

  7. Not to be mean or offensive to anyone, but why is it that no matter how many videos on D&D I watch, I always feel like I missed the first class? I wanna get into D&D (though I should have years ago) so bad, but I guess I prefer more of hands-on experience with a coach or teacher by my side, especially to learn the job of Dungeon Master. This does though provide things that I should purchase in order to even suffice as a dm.

  8. My brother and I just started into D&D and as the oldest, I try my best to be a good GM, this whole channel helps me to know more about this world, thank you

  9. i could see if you had a laptop and an elgato streamdeck that would help make things easier to have out of sight… the stream deck because you can setup speakers to the laptop and program sound boards for atmostphere… that said ive never actually tried table dnd nor tried being a dm but i could see these things help out alot if you were a dm

  10. Anyone notice he didn’t have any dice? Like, you don’t have to have a dice tower or whatever, but no dice at all? Does he just use like an app or something for it?

  11. I saw the title and thought, hey that may be good for some pointers. I instead walked into The trumps tower of DM setups

  12. Lmao I play my dnd games on a white board bc if k don’t expect something we can “draw” and go with the flow

  13. I want to be a dm, but damn this seems like so much work to prepare all this stuff. I don't know where to start

  14. I remember seeing a dm screen that was customizable, might have been dry erase or something even better but I can't remember. Anyone seen anything like that?

  15. You know being a GM is really fun but at the same time it can be horrendous. So one day I invited my cousin, brother, and little sister to a match of D&D, nothing too long as they don’t really play it and much rather be on their phones or Fortnite like every other kid so I just did the ol Dungeon Quest to go and slay the dragon 🐉 and get treasure and while they were playing my cousin had been attacked by three orc bandits with him actually putting up a good fight for his first D&D game and in the corner of the Dungeon hallway my brother and sister came across a snake that had made its way out of a crater in the ground so they both began to fight it but for some reason my cousin, with literally no health killed three orc bandits and my brother and sister who have played D&D before had a hard time killing a snake. 🤦‍♂️ Then of course all things went to hell when my brother found and Otyugh cage and thought it would be funny to release it on my cousin so he did but realized that my cousin on his turn began to run out of the dungeon so the hungry Otyugh went for my brother and sister instead and they all died… The End….

  16. So digital tools have changed a lot since the making of this video, is this still your methodology? Or is encounter builder and similar tools just not refined enough for you yet?

  17. This is the analog equivalent of a frggin' spaceship interface. This elaborate set up should give everyone greater respect for GMs and how much they do. And also Matt's beautifully organized anti-chaos station here. Thanks for showing us behind your curtain!

  18. I've been asked to DM for a game with a group of friends. I've never even played D&D before. So much information! I love it. Nothing like having to learn a new game system quickly enough to keep people interested. Thanks for the tips!

  19. Would this apply to a virtual tabletop? How would this be done on a virtual setting? Would screen capturing the virtual tabletop and having a word document and tabs out of the capture area work?

  20. Would you encourage players to maybe bring a "player screen"? Not to keep things secret, although depending on the kind of campaign players may have some things they want to keep secret about their character, but for keeping quick track of things like rules, most used spells, CONCENTRATION SAVES (remember that s***) and other things they don't want to spend time flipping through their character sheet/PHB to find?

    Also, as a player AND a DM, I think it's only curtious to your DM that if you have, say a spell or ability you use an awful lot, to have the rules and needed things ready; Shapeshift a lot? maybe bring/buy some minis to help out the DM. Cast fireballs every other fight? maybe bring a 20ft radius template and have a stack of dice set aside for the spell, maybe even find a cool "Fireball" template so it's really obvious your casting fireball. Honestly, I say if you have the chance to make the game more enjoyable for yourself and everyone else, DO IT! There's some great tutorials on here for making fire spell effect templates for decently cheap and not a lot of DIY know-how needed, and isn't that just 100 times cooler then measuring out/using paper templates? Just my opinion.

  21. I love that he had a little list of some of the important deities and what they correspond to tapes to the screen as well, for some reason that made me very happy 😊

  22. I learned fom this video that i really dont give myself enough space behind the screen. all my stuff is always crammed and stacked on top of stuff, but he has his screen way forward. like an arms length away. cool.

  23. Just realized I was unsubscribed to Geek and Sundry for some reason, despite being subscribed from when The Guild came over to here.
    I also just realised Critical Role (what my GM keeps talking about and cosplaying as) is Geek and Sundry.
    Now I'm interested, and am hoping Felicia Day is on there. (All I know is there are two tieflings, and a cow guy with pink mold hair)

  24. I like a good Dm screen, but I like mine to have useful data on the outside for my players. Or some kind of esthetic to set moods.

  25. I love this video! I even use some of these tactics as a player, like creating templates for area spell effects, like Entangle for my druid, and having soda pop rings for things, like a Ranger's Hunter's Mark. Super useful!

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