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Friday 14 January 2022

Screen Shot IX

How do you like your GM Screen?

The GM Screen is essentially a reference sheet, comprised of several card sheets that fold out and can be stood up to serve another purpose, that is, to hide the GM’s notes and dice rolls. On the inside, the side facing the GM are listed all of the tables that the GM might want or need at a glance without the need to have to leaf quickly through the core rulebook. On the outside, facing the players, is either more tables for their benefit or representative artwork for the game itself. This is both the basic function and the basic format of the screen, neither of which has changed very much over the years. Beyond the basic format, much has changed though.

To begin with the general format has split, between portrait and landscape formats. The result of the landscape format is a lower screen, and if not a sturdier screen, than at least one that is less prone to being knocked over. Another change has been in the weight of card used to construct the screen. Exile Studios pioneered a new sturdier and durable screen when its printers took two covers from the Hollow Earth Expedition core rule book and literally turned them into the game's screen. This marked a change from the earlier and flimsier screens that had been done in too light a cardstock, and many publishers have followed suit.

Once you have decided upon your screen format, the next question is what you have put with it. Do you include a poster or poster map, such as Chaosium, Inc.’s last screen for Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition?  Or a reference work like the GM Resource Book for Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu? Or scenarios such as ‘Blackwater Creek’ and ‘Missed Dues’ from the Call of Cthulhu Keeper Screen for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition? Or even better, a book of background and scenarios as well as the screen, maps, and forms, like that of the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack published by Chaosium, Inc. In general, the heavier and sturdier the screen, the more likely it is that the screen will be sold unaccompanied, such as those published by Cubicle Seven Entertainment for the Starblazer Adventures: The Rock & Roll Space Opera Adventure Game  and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG.

So how do I like my GM Screen?

The Mörk Borg GM Screen comes as a five-panel screen, very sturdy, in portrait format. The outside of the screen is perhaps anything unlike which has been seen before for Mörk Borg, the pitch-black pre-apocalyptic fantasy roleplaying game which brings a Nordic death metal sensibility to the Old School Renaissance. Instead of the riotous assault of electrically vibrant yellow and pink highlights on swathes of black, abrupt font changes, and metallic embellishments. Instead, we have a polyptych of images in white and red on black depicting scenes from the last days of Tveland’s pre-apocalypse. Bloodied demonic skulls, ominously dark towers in the distance, a cultist with sacrifice, a headless statue—or is it?—of angel in a graveyard, and great beasts scrapping over a mound of corpses. The end is nigh and the Mörk Borg GM Screen lest you know it…

The inside of the Mörk Borg GM Screen reverts to its traditional vibrant yellow and with various tables laid out across the inner panels. Working from the left, the first panel provides the means for the Game Master to create NPCs on the fly, including name (both male and female) and trade, along with a concern, a want, what he or she thinks of the forthcoming apocalypse, and lastly a trait to help make him or her memorable. Thus, Urkin the Shitshoveller, who walks with a limp, is concerned because she has kidnapped kin and wants bloodshed in response, but ultimately believes that mankind is doomed. Should the Game Master want it, an optional table can add a twist like Urkin actually being the head of a murder cult or an inquisitor! The next panel—‘Prices May Vary’—covers just about everything that the Player Characters might want to purchase, from chalk and chewing tobacco to scissors and scrolls, as well as weapons, services, armour repairs, and beasts.

The middle panel is the meat of the game and comes with the admonition that the Game Master ‘Only ever roll when failure is interesting’. So here the Game Master can see the Difficulty Ratings, rules for Violence—who Goes First?, Attack, and Defence—and tables for ‘Where Does it Hurt?’ and when an NPC, or probably a Player Character, is ‘Broken’, all at a glance. The next panel provides the stats for Sword Fodder, Worthy Foes, and The Big Bad, whether that is an Underpaid, tired guard, something all Claws, eyes, spidery legs, or The Demon Appears! Beneath this is pair of tables, one for ‘Unclean Powers’ and one ‘Sacred Powers’. All together—and in some cases combined with the NPC creation tables on the first panel—the Game Master can quickly pick and modify an opponent without the need to refer to the rulebook. The last panel is more perfunctory, proving a big table of ‘Items and Trinkets’ and another for the weather, but the entries on the former can be quite intriguing.

Across the top of the panels are pointers for the Game Master. For example, ‘Stores might be understocked’ and ‘Some will try to scam the PCs’ on the prices panel, which add just a little extra. Now initially, it does look as if the Mörk Borg GM Screen does not come with anything extra. This is in part because the extras it does come with are slim, the same shade of yellow as the inside of the screen, and are actually attached to the screen by means of corner pockets that the sheets neatly slip into—perhaps a little too neatly as they are slightly awkward to slot back in. On the front of the first sheet is devoted to Traps—how Player Character triggered the trap, what the trap is, who or what built it. On the reverse, is ‘Somewhere to Drink’ with a select menu, a menu for those who lack funds, patron traits, and answers to the question, ‘Why is the Innkeeper Twitching?’, all of which goes to creating an encounter or even an adventure in itself should the Game Minister want it. On the other separate sheet on the one side is ‘The Tablets of Ochre Obscurity’ is a set of random spell effects worked into tablets, whilst on the other, is a big table of ‘Forty City Events’.

Physically, the Mörk Borg GM Screen is a sturdy game aid. It feels solid in the hands and should withstand reasonable handling, as well as stand up on the table. Everything on the inside of the screen is easy to read—the black on yellow is very clear—including the cursive founts used. If there is an issue with the durability of the Mörk Borg GM Screen, it is that two separate sheets, as cleverly stored with the actual screen as they are, are not as solid and are likely to get separated and lost.

As a roleplaying game, Mörk Borg is mechanically light enough that the Game Master can get away without needing to resort to a screen. However, the Mörk Borg GM Screen is useful in both providing the tables routinely referenced during play and tables of prompts and ideas that the Game Master can very quickly pick or roll up—even at the table if necessary. Ultimately, the Mörk Borg GM Screen is not a necessity, but if you have one, it is perfectly functional and serviceable.

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