When Qin: The Warring States was released in 2006, the core book mentioned some stuff about an upcoming Gamemaster’s Screen and the fact that it would contain some extra content for higher level characters (which later became Qin Legends). The content was not put in with the screen, at least not in the English version, but there is still a nice, sturdy screen here. Qin is one of my favorite games from Cubicle 7, so I was excited to get the GM screen and see if it would put useful knowledge at my fingertips as well as pimp my sessions. I would only buy a screen for a game I really liked, and not a lot of new games even have GM screens anymore, so there’s a bit of nostalgia as well. I got it, I opened it up, and I have used it in the field… what’s it like?
The back of the screen, the side the player’s would see, has beautiful, full-color artwork of a scene where two warriors may or may not be about to fight an epic battle over scenic, romanticized mountains in ancient China. It looks like something you could hang on your wall at home, and could be considered a legitimate painting (if it were a painting). There is some product information as well, the title and logo, and a little blurb about the item. The screen is made of very sturdy stock that will definitely hold up, and the interior and exterior of the screen have been stylized to evoke that mystical essence and follow the wonderful art direction of Qin. Okay, I think I covered the good stuff. The product info paragraph starts off with “This screen contains all the charts and tables you’ll want to refer to…” I’m not so sure about that.
It’s What’s On The Inside That Counts
You have four letter-sized panels to contain your information, and each one is covered in tables with headings and numbers. In the first panel you have some tables regarding the various types of tests, as well as armor and shield information. So far, so good. The second panel has a table for ranged weapons, and a large table for various combat modifiers, like being higher than the defender or if a ranged target is behind cover. There are also tables for damage by weapon type, in general, and recovering from injury. Gosh, so useful! Now, the part that I want to rip out and throw away: the third panel. Why, on Xenu’s flowering Earth, is the entire third panel dedicated (absolutely filled!) with tables for the various prices for all manner of goods and services? Okay, for some people this is exactly what they want. For me, not at all.
I have been a part of games where the budgeting of each coin for equipment was half the game. I am guilty as well, as long ago I enjoyed rolling up AD&D characters and then judiciously choosing each piece of equipment according to what I could afford, what fun! Not anymore though. I have a real-life budget and game time is limited to the point where spending an hour on top of normal character creation picking out equipment is just not in the cards. So, when I saw panel three I recoiled in horror at its uselessness. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to have standardized prices in most settings, especially if they are pre-modern in technology level. Ever since I got into Burning Wheel, the idea of abstracting resources has been way better than playing accountant.
Oh, to think of all of the other things I would have wanted on that third panel: a few henchmen statted out, the formula for Passive Defense, the formulas for dodging and blocking with Active Defense, the English names for various Chinese weapon types (all the weapon names are described with their Chinese name on the screen only), what maneuvers can be made in a combat round, how far someone can move in a combat round, how Resistance works, the five types of actions you can take in a combat round, what happens when you lose Chi, how to regain Chi, animal stats, and how experience, recognition, and renown work. Those are some elements that would take up various amounts of real estate on the third panel but would prove much more useful than prices. The fourth panel contains tables pertaining to traveling, a continuation of the prices from the third panel, and is about one-quarter a large dragon head.
So, is it worth fifteen bucks? I’m going to say no. I think you could make up your own screen with whatever is most useful to you from the core book and any supplements you have. In general, the screen is somewhat useful, but I wouldn’t actually buy it unless it came packaged with another book or something like that. The first two panels are really where all the useful information I have had to refer to as a GM lies, the rest is almost totally junk for me. I need to be able to refer to the system rules, not useless crunch about prices. Sure, it’s pretty. Other than that, I wouldn’t bother.