Friday, December 2, 2022

REVIEW: Mörk Borg GM Screen

As I have mentioned before, I haven't made regular use of a referee's screen in many, many years. In my youth, it was more or less expected that the referee would have and use a screen, behind which he'd keep his maps – and dice rolls – hidden from the prying eyes of the players. Consequently, I used to own screens for RPGs I played regularly, assuming they had them, of course, as Gamma World did. Back then, I simply saw screens as part of the referee's "kit" and that was that.

At some point, my feelings on the matter changed. There was no single reason why they did, but an important one was the unwieldiness of most referee's screens. To use them effectively, one generally has to have a large, flat surface, usually a table, available for use. This wasn't always practical during my university and grad school days and so I largely abandoned my prior attachment to referee's screens. In recent years, I've been refereeing online a great deal; the idea of setting up a screen for these games seems positively laughable.

Despite all that, I not only own but think rather highly of the Mörk Borg GM Screen. Simply as a physical artifact, it's quite impressive. Consisting of five A5 panels, it's made of very sturdy material; there's no question in mind that it's far more durable than almost every other screen I've ever examined. Because of its size, it's also compact, meaning that, even unfolded, it takes up far less space on the table than the screens I was familiar with from my youth. That's important to me, given my eventual feelings about the practicality of using screens. 

The screen's player-facing side features moody illustrations in black, white, red, and gold by Johan Nohr, who also provided the artwork for the Mörk Borg rulebook. To be honest, I think many of these illustrations are even better than those in the rulebook, being somewhat more subdued in both content and presentation. I think they do a good job of demonstrating that a more restrained, even sober, version of Mörk Borg's doom metal fantasy is not only possible but completely in keeping with its spirit. Of course, the interior, GM-facing side of the screen is the usual riotous yellow, with black text and white highlights, that is Mörk Borg's visual calling card. Much as I appreciate the more muted artwork of the player side of the screen, I would have been slightly disappointed if my eyes weren't assaulted by garish color contrasts as well. 

Because Mörk Borg's rules are few, the interior of the screen is able to include most of them for reference. The game was already simple enough that the GM could more or less run a game session without the need to flip through the rulebook, but the screen makes it that much easier. Not only are there the usual charts for combat, equipment, and magic, there are also the statistics of common NPCs and multiple random tables covering everything from the weather to city events to traps. Some of these tables are printed on sheets of cardstock that can be swapped in or out of the screen, thanks to plastic holders at the corners of the first and last panels of the screen. The GM could use them to hold other appropriately sized sheets – like maps – further increasing the utility of the screen.

No referee screen is a must have and the Mörk Borg GM Screen is no different in this regard. At the same time, this one is durable, attractive, and practical, making it one of the best examples of its kind I've ever owned. If you're refereeing the game regularly, I think you'll quickly find there's genuine benefit to having it,


  1. My first GM screen was a couple Avalon Hill game boards (from Midway) with photocopies of the AD&D tables from White Dwarf (they were slightly better formatted for use than the same from Dragon Magazine) taped on. Much of my time in high school we used a room at MIT that had a huge table. In college we used conference rooms at the student union that had big tables. Later in life, I used a TV cart that had a low wall on three sides beside my LaZ-Boy recliner as my GM area. A GM screen worked well on the cart, backed up against the wall so it wouldn't fall over. A giant coffee table (really a board on some milk crates) served as the game table. For my RuneQuest online game, I pull out my GM screen because it's handy with all the charts and doesn't get lost in the shuffle. It sits flat on my work laptop's keyboard to be grabbed when I need one of the tables off it.

    Having some place to keep reference sheets for the game handy has always been important to me. GM screens are one way to do it, but reference sheets in a clear protector or laminated are another way.

  2. When I was a kid we used to play AD&D outside (weather permitting) on a concrete porch. The DM screen was put out flat in the middle so we could see all the combat tables and -- more importantly -- use it to roll the dice on. The dice from my basic set are all worn and pitted from rolling directly on the concrete before we figured this out.

  3. I like the look and feel of Mork Borg but it seems designed for one-shots or very short mini-campaigns. Has anyone run a reasonable length campaign using the rules?

    1. While I think it's absolutely true that the game is intended for shorter campaigns – that's all I've ever played – there's nothing to suggest you couldn't keep a campaign going longer. The misery die, for example, can be adjusted to keep things rolling for a long time.

    2. MB has about as much meat on it as the Holy Writ of the LBBs, yet no one seems to worry about running long campaigns with the latter. Personally I know people who had whole campaigns with MB, the main difficulty is, according to them, to maintain the proper black metal mood in the long run (it's harder than just slaying monsters and looting for fun).