Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Retrospect: AD&D Player Screens

"At last, gaming screens for players, too!"

I wouldn't be surprised if very few people remember these things. TSR only made three of them as far as I know, publishing them in 1994. One for priests, one for thieves, and one for wizards. I guess the fighter wasn't important enough or they realized these products were a dud.

Around that time I was annoyed with players looking at each other's character sheets. Specifically, they were looking for the character's alignment. For some reason, they started to think that I was trying to slip evil characters into the group. One over-zealous player liked to look at other character sheets to find out their combat abilities and what magic items they had.

I thought a character screen might be a solution. I was wrong. In fact, I felt ripped off, even though the one I bought, the Priest's Screen, was only $6.95.

I was expecting something more like the DM's screen, but smaller. Perhaps, in retrospect, I was foolish to think this would work. Had I not considered that if players had their own screens they could conceal their die-rolls? Duh. Moreover, imagine the absurdity of a DM with 4-5 players, at a kitchen table all with screens, hiding stuff from each other.

So here's what you got with the pack:
1 player screen, and
4 front and back reference sheets.

The 8.5" x 11" cardstock screen folded roughly into thirds (as shown on the left).

One side of the screen had the cleric abilities by level. On the other, the cleric's Thac0 and saving throws by level. Which is fine, but a player should have these things listed on his character sheet, or know how to find them in the Player's Handbook.

The reference sheets had spell lists mixed with the occasional combat or non-weapon proficiency chart. The big deal here was that the lists included spells from the Tome of Magic. But the spells only contained basic information like components and casting time, you still had to look up  the spell description  (a page number was provided, however).

The wizard's and thief's screens had a similar layout.

I had few problems with the priest screen, though I never used it. It would add unnecessary clutter to the table top. All of the information was redundant--it could be found in the PHB or the Tome of Magic. Players could still look at each other's character sheet. But most of all...

I felt like TSR ripped me off. This was the first product, like ever, where I felt like the fine folks at TSR really didn't give enough effort. Yeah, the Monstrous Compendium annoyed me. But they eventually replaced that with the Monstrous Manual. 

Yet with these Player Screens I kept imagining TSR game designers in a meeting room, trying to desperately think up new ideas from products. Finally, somebody says, "Hey! How about player screens? DMs have a screen? Why not players?" "Oh okay!"

For many, many, years the Priest Screen remained the only "official" D&D product that I got rid off because I felt ripped off. Rule books and supplements have since then come and gone, depending on my gaming and financial needs.

The next time I felt ripped off was with D&D 4e.

(ba-ba-bum! yeah, I just went there.)


Do you ever own a character screen? Did you use it?


  1. The first official D&D product that I got rid of because I thought I'd been ripped off was WG7 Castle Greyhawk. Ugh. I never bought the player screens myself, though.

    1. I've never owned WG7. Nor do I want to. I've seen it and read parts of it. It was both a rip off as a playable module and a blatant insult to Gary Gygax and all Greyhawk fans. Good for you for getting rid of it!


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