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MÖRK BORG Review– Dungeons and Downtuning

AL Updated June 04, 2020
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
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MÖRK BORG – Dungeons and Downtuning

Game Information

Game Name
Players
There Will Be Games

“The wind from the west, from the sundered land. Rot rides it, and the stench of blood. Cursed walker, will you travel there?”

The world is burning, jackbooted storm-troopers blanket the streets in gas, ancient aboriginal sites are destroyed, our collective heritage and future is siphoned from the earth and filtered into hedge-funds and the rich keep getting richer. Is it any wonder that with its promise of escape, the world of tabletop role-playing is in the midst of an unprecedented resurgence?

Under the stewardship of Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons and Dragons has achieved a visibility and allure unheard of since the heady days of E.T., moist-eyed Tom Hanks ham and the suburban curtain-twitching of the Satanic Panic. New players join the fray daily and old hands are heeding the call of rediscovery as they reconnect with their imaginations and yearning for adventure – dusting off polyhedral ambitions and stroking their beards in whimsical recollection of the Villages of Hommlet, Borderland Keeps and Horrific Tombs of their mis-spent youth.

But amongst the influx of new blood and multi-generational homecomings there has also arisen a desire for something a little crunchier and more flavourful than the polished and watery vanilla essence being ladled out in the official spread of low-fat fifth edition canapes. Many of us cast a withering eye over the Norman Rockwell indebted art and heavily trope-indentured range of experiences on offer via the high street.

Older players recall something more arcane and mysterious, and newer players are curious to delve back into the murkier origins of this world-straddling phenomena. There is a desire to recapture the amorphous, heady, occult-infused sense of the unknown that permeated the game before the fantasy genre became hidebound by a common primer and default archetypal blueprint, pinned by the weight of expectations as a blood-drained victim of its own surprising successes.

This is where the Old School Renaissance comes in.  And MÖRK BORG is its blackened inbred heir, perched on a gnarled goat throne.

Mork Borg Spread

“Distance shifts, paths between places warp, as if this pale lightless world possessed a will and bitter life. Its mercy curdled to wrath over a too-long age.”

Emerging from the frosty steppes and long dark winters of Sweden, MÖRK BORG describes itself as a “Doom Metal Album of a game, a spiked flail to the face” and in doing so, sets out its stall early with a wicked witches grin and a supreme confidence. You know what you’re getting yourself in for, basically. Yet, even then it retains the capacity to surprise with the weight of imagination it holds deep in its tattered and voluminous sleeve.

“Rules Light, Heavy Everything Else” it proclaims, resting on its desire to seduce the creative right hand lobe of the brain, whilst content to merely tickle the analytical and mathematical left-hand lobe that so often interrupts the narrative essence of a good RPG with its fastidious statistical insistence. The barrier to entry here is low, but once you vaunt its grim and gilded gates, the onus is firmly on you as a group to craft the experience, a sense of storytelling the sharpest arrow in your quiver, as it draws upon the masterful chipped-stone building blocks provided in this slim yet expansive tome.

And what a tome. In an era when corporate design documents have rendered the myriad talented hands in the D&D stable nigh-on indistinguishable from one another, MÖRK BORG instead embraces a thrillingly gonzo approach that induces a tonal whiplash aesthetic completely in line with the aforementioned promise of spiked flail trauma. Its physical presence screams at you from each ink-drenched page, from the wild ‘yellow as the colour of madness’ hues of its cover, to the neon pinks and darkest linework blacks of its coiled innards. This is RPG as a work of art, as much a delight to behold as it is to play, offering heaped spoonfuls of inspiration with each fevered turn of the page. Upon its arrival it became my pre-dream evening companion and my head hit the pillows each night swimming with ideas and implications, filling in the withered cracks and making the world my own as it bled out from the sturdy GSM stock into the parched recesses of my psyche – bewitching blooms spouting from blackened earth as I contemplated the teeming vault of possibilities.

mork borg herbmaster

“Clearly the eyes of other powers are upon you, Eldritch watchers or the tangled fates of alternate worlds.”

And crucially, that inspiration and sense of agency is key. MÖRK BORG is content to hand you the reins. The flaky skin of its withered digits isn’t interested in holding your corporeal, mortal hand. After sketching out its premise it leaves its lines blurred, its edges malleable. Its world, premise and underlying aesthetic is predicated on the oblique and unknowable. The obtuse, the unformed. The dreamlike. It retains its mystery and holds fast to its secrets even after repeated readings and plays. In doing so it whispers of possibilities in a desiccated croak, its borders ever shifting. Yogic, mercurial and lysergic.

The only true certainty it gifts you with is the knowledge that the world is doomed, and you have been honoured to bear wretched witness to its demise. The twin serpents of prophecy speak of seven miseries that shall befall the land. Biblical in both language, ambition and import, they draw upon the grimmest elements of Catholicism, which is still the most gothic wellspring in town, replete as it is with the capacity to traumatise near every child exposed to its mangled parade of martyred saints, necromantic voodoo ceremonies, blood-drenched finery and ridiculous hats.

Like the cloyingingly sweet smoke of censer and candle, this heady eschatological scent permeates every fibre of the game, both stunting and expanding your ambitions accordingly as you abandon the rote heroics of lesser works for the higher calling of cryptic gnosis and the mere act of survival.

“In the heart of Sarkash, fog and dust shall breathe beneath the waking trees. That which was hewed by man shall now hew in its turn.”

Character creation is mercifully simple, with more attention lavished upon your inauspicious origins than your mechanical parameters. Childhood traumas, mysterious omens, broken bodies, terrible traits and troubling tales are all accounted for in a succession of inventive tables. This system demands you make the most of fate’s hand from the very outset, initiating opportunities for unconventional role-play and suffocating in the cradle any lingering hopes for conventional min/maxing power fantasies.

Conventional class archetypes are similarly subverted, with the staples of fighting man, thief and magic user being spindled into the new forms of the Fanged Deserter, Gutter-Born Scum, Wretched Royalty and Heretical Priest. Each of these wyrd and wayward entities arrives complete with a selection of innate abilities and starting items that eschews the practical and pedestrian in favour of the thematically rich, from eldritch origins to dirty fingernails, abominable expectorate to the shoes from death’s very horse. It’s a fertile soil from which tendrils of story emerge, even prior to commencement, and like all elements of the game, favours thematic etching to fill out the world rather than abstruse cross referencing of dense numerical fields.

Kergus

Combat and skill checks are borrowed from the common d20 system, whilst magic-use takes a cue from the likes of DCC in its fondness for majickal mishaps, replete with innumerable catastrophic contingencies.  Like the many pillars of MÖRK BORG, it resists the harness of expertise, remaining ineffable and retaining its danger and arcane allure. The fiends and adversaries on display undergo a similar transformation, with the slim bestiary on offer drawing from traditional shapes, and then drawing down the moon in a black blood twist that transforms even the mere staple of a goblin into new and terrifying shapes. Remaking what was old and known into something again unseen, and in doing so revivifying it anew. It also leaves room to incorporate supplemental accoutrements from thematically resonant siblings such as Fire on the Velvet Horizon and Veins of the Earth, with a rare thematic coherence in place for the adoption of such lofty invocations.

“And the earth shall shake and be riven. And from the cracks shall rise a poisonous mist, and in ten days it will shroud the world”

Lives are wont to be short, truncated affairs as players are exposed to corruption, madness and deformity. Debilitating injury and shrieking madness are the purse to be offered for exposure to demonic pacts and rusted blades. The storytelling here, as in all aspects of the game, is both precise in its brevity and expansive in its implications. The art of world-building via random tables is expertly employed to both ‘show not tell’ and gift the experience with the sort of emergent narrative that erupts from the unexpected. A good DM will be key to embracing this system and making it sing in harmonious Gregorian tones, their narrative flair a key ingredient as they are left to stuff its blackened crust, armed as they are with this selection of delectable prompts. Statistical density is sacrificed for a space to weave stories that extend from the earthy tones of your mud caked boots, to the dizzying expanse of the unknowable stars above.

And yet, in the midst of the agency it offers and engagement it demands, MÖRK BORG remains a generous lover. It does not demand your time in mundane preparation. This is not a 400-page spine stuffed to bursting with appendices. Nor is it an affair that demands scrupulous and painstaking creation of campaign materials, hand-outs, dossiers and ephemera – though the option to do so is there. In keeping with its dreamlike oeuvre, the skeletal frame of a session often sits snugly on a single page. The literal bones of the tale being gilded with enough laced drapery to spin out in innumerable directions as the whims of the players lift it into four-dimensional space. Their looming mortality and the seven prophecies of doom conspiring to conjure fantastic material for one-shot adventures or brief campaigns, before the frames of another set of wayward miscreants is inhabited and the tale begins anew.

Mockups Design

“And Leviathan shall come among you. Children winter-born and fated to fall before snow, both shall it take.”

And from all this space, this haunting blackness, its greatest gift is perhaps the potential to grow. Since its release earlier this year, MÖRK BORG has been fervently embraced by an active community that has set to task with filling out and expanding upon the crumbling foundations provided. A cult has formed, redolent of the underground zine and tape trading scene from which some its roots surely burrow deep. Available online, and soon to be collected in zine-form, this poisonous well of content is testament to the intoxicating lure of what has been crafted here. A DIY endeavour begetting DIY acolytes that ripples outwards in self-sustaining circles and has thus far offered expanded rules, classes, bestiaries and more. And if you need a themed DM screen then your gatefold pressing of a Bathory LP will do just fine.

So if quests for glory no longer entice, if three death saving throws seem excessively merciful, and if the well-worn outline of the beholder has ceased to terrify, then oh man is this ever your HM2 jam.

“All praise Yetsabu-Nech, the underworld’s nightmare, the black disc which stands before the sun! All praise Verhu, beaming with delight! All praise the fire which burns all! And the darkness shall swallow the darkness”

eatpreykill

 

 MÖRK BORG is available here.

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
5.0
MÖRK BORG
AL
1 reviews
Andi Lennon
Associate Writer

Andi Lennon is Sydney based writer, musician and soap dodger. He graduated from Wizbang University with full honours and no teeth. When he isn't feeling conflicted about Morrissey he likes to play indie games with a dubious 80's aesthetic.

You can read more of his work by visiting Mongol Cult

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MattFantastic's Avatar
MattFantastic replied the topic: #310923 04 Jun 2020 13:00
This looks rad! I love the mixtape. We wanted to do something like it for Stoner Parking Lot but all the rights stuff made it largely impossible, so I had to settle for a Spotify playlist.

Side note: I really dig your writing style and also feel constantly conflicted about Morrissey...
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310929 04 Jun 2020 17:39

MattFantastic wrote: This looks rad! I love the mixtape. We wanted to do something like it for Stoner Parking Lot but all the rights stuff made it largely impossible, so I had to settle for a Spotify playlist.

Side note: I really dig your writing style and also feel constantly conflicted about Morrissey...


Alright, so I'm about to look up Stoner Parking Lot and it better feature a dude in a zebra print onesie.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #310931 04 Jun 2020 18:14
Well I was going to post my review of Oathmark today (which is excellent) but I would rather this stay in the spotlight. This book is -astonishing-. I don’t have a physical copy yet but the PDF is incredible and the print design is quite simply among the very best I have ever seen in hobby gaming. I almost giggle every time I look at it because it is just so damn good looking.

It’s funny, you look at much of the 5e stuff that’s out there in DTRPG or wherever and you have folks deliberately mimicking D&D’s staid, beige, corporate style. And I’m like...why?

Thing is, as much as I love the old Otis/Trampier stuff, it’s quaint and not very scary or really all that weird anymore. But this...it is!

Side note- Did you know Scrap Princess has some t shirts on Redbubble? I am totally buying the skeleton warrior one.

The rules are also exactly what I want- which is to say, there aren’t many and I’m encouraged to make it up. The inspiration is what matters, not the minutiae rules.

As for Morrissey...I see his downfall into elderly right wing conservatism and racism as part of his very distinctly British self-imposed tragedy. I -almost- think that he’s messing with people but...whatever, I got to see him storm off the stage in a tiff during “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” at a show where David Byrne and Nancy Sinatra were sitting in the front row so My Morrissey experience is complete.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310933 04 Jun 2020 18:48
[quote="Michael Barnes" post=310931This book is -astonishing-. I don’t have a physical copy yet but the PDF is incredible and the print design is quite simply among the very best I have ever seen in hobby gaming. I almost giggle every time I look at it because it is just so damn good looking.[/quote]

Yeah man, they've raised the bar impossibly high for both presentation and also accessibility for something so steeped in the arcane. It's a breeze to get started and yet inspirational enough to dig deep cryptic trenches to plumb. I look forward to hearing more about Oathmark.

In gaming, as in music- the underground is the most exciting place to be.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #310934 04 Jun 2020 19:03
Oddly, Oathmark is kind of the exact opposite...it’s a war game, not RPG, but it is all rules and virtually nothing atmospheric, world-building, or inspirational. It’s a really, really good rules set but it lacks the spark that even Frostgrave or Rangers of Shadoe Deep (same designer) have. The art is extremely good- it’s Osprey- but it’s just not evocative. It doesn’t make you want to just smash your face into the book over and over again like this stuff does.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310936 04 Jun 2020 19:51

MattFantastic wrote: This looks rad! I love the mixtape. We wanted to do something like it for Stoner Parking Lot but all the rights stuff made it largely impossible, so I had to settle for a Spotify playlist.

Side


Ok, so despite the apparent lack of zebra clad heshers and an official Judas Priest soundtrack cassette, your game looks pretty rad. And Wade's review of it here was a riot :) Are there any copies still in print? I see a tin for pre-order?
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #310937 04 Jun 2020 22:42

Michael Barnes wrote: As for Morrissey...I see his downfall into elderly right wing conservatism and racism as part of his very distinctly British self-imposed tragedy. I -almost- think that he’s messing with people but...whatever,.


Much like John Lydon, sadly. These were written a long time ago and things have escalated since then, but it kind of encapsulates the struggle of still adoring The Smiths whilst his baffling conservatism continues to rankle and leave us sleepless:

mongolcult.com/2017/10/09/we-always-beco...life-with-morrissey/

mongolcult.com/2016/11/08/reclaiming-morrissey/

Feels more like a thread on this game should have more Entombed and Bathory than Mozz but there you go. I think the perfect soundtrack to Mork Borg is actually Finnish band Thergothon and their 94 LP "Stream from the Heavens' :
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #311766 07 Jul 2020 22:42
Just in - Mork Borg has been nominated for a swathe of Ennie awards, which you can vote on here: www.ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/
Pugnax555's Avatar
Pugnax555 replied the topic: #311789 08 Jul 2020 14:53
There's also this bit of awesomeness that went live yesterday. I really need to look deeper into this game...

DNGNGEN: A Mörk Borg dungeon generator
dngngen.makedatanotlore.dev/
Dr. Mabuse's Avatar
Dr. Mabuse replied the topic: #311794 08 Jul 2020 17:46

Andi Lennon wrote: Just in - Mork Borg has been nominated for a swathe of Ennie awards, which you can vote on here: www.ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/

Voted!

I'm super excited to run a session this weekend with my non-gaming partner, my buddy and his 15 year old kid and a FB friend. I'll post on the session after.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #311800 08 Jul 2020 21:37

Pugnax555 wrote: There's also this bit of awesomeness that went live yesterday. I really need to look deeper into this game...

DNGNGEN: A Mörk Borg dungeon generator
dngngen.makedatanotlore.dev/


Yeah the support for this one has been insane, right out of the gates. There's also this online character generator:

scvmbirther.makedatanotlore.dev/

However, i reckon creating a character is a big part of the fun but this would be great for introducing new party members on the fly after an untimely demise,
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #311801 08 Jul 2020 21:39

Dr. Mabuse wrote:

Andi Lennon wrote: Just in - Mork Borg has been nominated for a swathe of Ennie awards, which you can vote on here: www.ennie-awards.com/vote/2020/

Voted!

I'm super excited to run a session this weekend with my non-gaming partner, my buddy and his 15 year old kid and a FB friend. I'll post on the session after.


Awesome, let me know how you go. If you're after a suitably grim one-shot then the one-page dungeon 'Bloat' is awesome and creepy as hell. Really easy to run too- especially if you have a flair for gilding the details. Enjoy!