Review – Dungeon Master’s Screen Wilderness Kit

The D&D DM Screen/Wilderness Kit (released in November 2020, along with Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) provides a DM screen (duh), 2.5 dry-erase sheets of hex maps and trackers, 2.5 sheets of rules references (there’s no real reason to write on these, but they’re the same dry-erase construction so they’re sturdy), 2 sheets of condition cards (18 total conditions), 1 sheet of initiative order tracker cards, and a box to holder those 27 cards in.

The Dungeon Master’s Screen

The heart of the product is the DM screen, so let’s start there. There’s already an excellent 5E DM screen, the Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated. The screen in the Wilderness Kit is very similar. It’s a very sturdy screen with four horizonal panels. The Reincarnated screen has a dragon for the players to look at across the two middle panels, with the far left and far right panels essentially empty. The Wilderness Kit screen gives a full, four-panel picture, that flows from an empty crater over to snow-capped peaks to forested hills and then to a coastline. Each panel includes a focus in addition to the landscape – a pirate ship resting in the bottom of the crater, a white dragon resting on the peaks, a green dragon flying over the trees, and (kraken?) tentacles rising out of the water. Which look is best is really a matter of personal preference, but there’s no denying that there’s a fuller art presentation on the Wilderness Kit screen.

Inside – you know, the part you actually use – has mostly the same information. Three-quarters of the center two panels is a listing of what the conditions do. The right half of the center- right panel now has random weather tables plus a rules summary for extreme heat, extreme cold, and strong wind. That information is not found on the Reincarnated screen. The information in that center-right spot on the Reincarnated screen (tracking DCs, object hit points/AC, and a skills/abilities chart) is shifted over to the far left panel. What drops out of that left panel is the listing of actions in combat (e.g., attack, dash, disengage, dodge) and an illustration of spell areas of effect. Rules on exhaustion also replace a ‘what you can do in combat’ box. The content on the far right panel is largely the same – travel pace, services, light, obscured areas, encounter distances, cover, and food/drink/lodging. The Wilderness Kit tables are tweaked to be a bit bigger and more readable, plus information on vessel speeds and foraging is added. This comes at the expense of the illustration of creature size.

As already noted, the information here is largely the same. The replacements have some positives and negatives. I don’t feel the need for a random weather table (partially because I’m not big on random tables in general), although I suppose that is a very wilderness-travel-focused addition. I find more useful the summaries of environmental effects. The illustration on spell area of effects had some use (although perhaps not as much use as it took up space), while the illustration on creature sizes isn’t much help (what you need is the default area something of that size takes up, not just a vague visual reference). The additional information on travel speed and foraging is more useful than that, and within the wilderness theme of the product. Rules on exhaustion are more useful than that most basic of information on what you can do in combat – even the newest of DMs probably doesn’t need to be reminded that you can move and get one action each round. The ‘actions in combat’ table is a loss, however. Indeed, it’s enough of a loss that they included it as one of those reference sheets. Whether the Wilderness Kit screen is better or worse depends on what you think about that change. Personally, that table comes up frequently for me because – even though it’s basic information – there often comes a point during a session where a player isn’t sure what to do and starts fumbling for their options, and it’s handy to be able to just start reading those off for them, which usually gets them focused and back on track. Having it as a handout lets you give it to the player at that point, or give it to them in advance. Personally, I would rather have it on the DM screen – that’s exactly where I want something that is going to come up a lot but isn’t something I can plan for when it’s going to come up (which would let me make sure the handout is available at that point in time). Unless I have the reference sheet right there, then digging out the reference sheet isn’t much better than digging into the rulebook. But I can see a DM wanting to offload that bit of work onto the players by giving them the reference sheet at the start of the game.

Other Contents

Speaking of reference sheets, there are five double-sided dry-erase sheets with the Wilderness Kit. Two of them are purely reference sheets. One covers wilderness journeys – the journey cycle (weather, pace, navigate, encounter, supplies, progress), becoming lost, food/water, tracking supplies, and foraging. There are three random encounter tables for these purposes but, oddly, this reference sheet does not include a random weather table (which is instead located on the DM screen itself). The second covers wilderness chases. They’re both handy references for discrete tasks that you, as the DM, will generally know in advance are going to be used in a particular session, allowing you to grab these sheets when you’re prepping for the game (and not clutter things up when they aren’t going to be used). And because of the slick dry-erase construction they won’t easily get damaged in transit.

Two of the sheets are entirely for tracking. One has a hex map on one side and a supply tracker on the other. One has a hex map on both sides. Both a hex map and a supply tracker are handy. Not every group is interested in tracking supplies, but some are (I’m running a game right now where a couple of the old-school players basically expected to have to track things like rations and how much lodging cost). And if you’re doing an extended overland journey, the dry-erase tracker is much more convenient than repeatedly erasing and re-writing the number of rations on your character sheet. The hex map feature is handy for the players to note down what they’ve discovered. However, why one would want a hex map on both sides of a reference sheet is a mystery to me. You can’t use both sides at once because the opposite side is just going to smear. I would anticipate the group using the supply tracker from one sheet and the hex map from the other.

The fifth sheet has a hex map on one side and the combat action reference on the other. As noted above, I would rather have that reference on the DM screen, but if it’s going to be a player handout then at least it’s a high-quality one. I would guess that the hex map side here won’t get used much.

Finally, there are the condition and initiative tracker cards. These are similar to the flimsy cards included in the Essentials Kit. Condition cards are extremely useful, even if the quality here leaves something to be desired. The DM screen has the conditions listed already, but it’s great to have condition cards to hand out to the players when they’re inflicted with something. The initiative cards are less handy, but because they just track turn order from 1-9 (instead of tracking precise initiative numbers) they don’t work in fights with more than 9 combatants, which aren’t exactly rare. There’s a sheet with a punch-out box for holding these, but I personally wouldn’t want a whole separate box just to hold 27 cards, so I would store them with other components.

Note that the wrap-around for the Wilderness Kit, unlike the Reincarnated DM screen, is not just visible product packaging. It’s a little folder that will hold both the Wilderness Kit screen and the dry-erase sheets (the cards won’t stay in when punched out of their sheets, of course).

Is It Worth It?

If you have the Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated, there’s probably not enough in the Wilderness Kit to make it worth it to buy another one. The main thing you’re getting in the kit is the screen, and the differences aren’t that big. The dry-erase sheets are nice, but not $25 nice. If you don’t have a DM screen, then I highly recommend one. Which begs the question of whether you should get the Reincarnated screen (MSRP $15) or the Wilderness Kit (MSRP $25). That’s tougher. If you’re doing a campaign with any sort of significant wilderness exploration, then the dry-erase hex map and supply tracker, plus the wilderness journey and chase reference sheets, are really nice. The condition cards are very functional, but it’s hard to get excited about the flimsy ones (I had less of a problem with the construction in the Essentials Kit where you’re getting the entire introductory box set for an MSRP of $25). I like and am fond of the art on the Reincarnated screen, but the Wilderness Kit art is probably just better. If you’re going to be repeatedly using those dry-erase sheets, then the upcharge for the Wilderness Kit is probably worth it, but I think you’re fine either way.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy. Strange Assembly may earn commissions from affiliate links.

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