I haven't used a referee's screen in many, many years, mostly because I rarely get the chance to sit at a table large enough to accommodate all the people with whom I play, never mind unwieldy gaming paraphernalia as well. And referee's screens are unwieldy, at least in my experience, none moreso than the AD&D Dungeon Master's Screen. This product consisted of not one but two cardboard screens, each being a three-paneled gatefold. The insides of each screen were covered with charts and tables from the AD&D rulebooks, while the outsides were mostly festooned with artwork (incuding a rare example of color Dave Trampier art), though one panel on each was dedicated to player-oriented charts, like weapon damage or experience point requirements for each class.
In my younger days, though, when we used to play D&D while seated at a ping-pong table, I used screens religiously and not just for the charts. Back in those bygone days, having a screen up conferred a weird kind of authority to the person sitting behind them and establishing one's authority was important. Heyday of the "imperial referee" it might have been, but it's often forgotten that one became emperor by making your players believe you were emperor. That is, simply being the guy who bought a module and was willing to run it for the group wasn't enough to make one a referee. At one time or another, all the players in my old crew did this. However, only I was ever the Dungeon Master and part of the reason why is that I did all the little things that conferred this august title upon me: I was flexible but decisive, tough but fair, and, above all, someone the players wanted to beat at his own game. And I had a screen. The combination of these elements was a strange alchemy that elevated me in the eyes of my friends and contributed greatly to the feel of the game and it was that feel that kept us playing almost non-stop for years.
The basement of my current home has this enormously ugly bar built into it. When I say "enormously ugly," I do not exaggerate -- it's a monstrosity of faux green marble and "stonework" paneling that I have a hard time imagining that anyone in the 1970s (when it was undoubtedly constructed) finding the least bit attractive. I've been meaning to destroy it for years, but, because it sits on top of a water turn-off valve, I know that eliminating it would mean moving the valve, making it a rather involved project. When I first moved into the house, I used to stand behind the bar when I was refereeing. It was my neo-Dungeon Master's screen. I could rest all my books back there and roll my dice easily. Like its cardboard predecessors, it was fairly unwieldly -- I had to walk over to the game table if I needed to inspect anything there -- but there was a certain "aura of power" about it that provided focus to our sessions, which was important since our group grew quite large.
Despite all this, I'm not sure I could go back to using a referee's screen. Somehow, the idea of it makes me feel self-conscious now. I'm not sure I can explain why, particularly given how readily I like to experiment with the Old Ways. And goodness knows I could use a handy collection of reference charts and tables rather than having to flip through books to find what I need. I just don't know if a screen is the way to go, at least for me. So, if anyone's looking for "dirt" to use against my old school credentials, enjoy!