It seems all of the contributors to Rolling Boxcars have been trying out Mörk Borg over the past few weeks. It won our Patreon poll for October’s Featured Review – thank you to all our supporters.
Mörk Borg first came to my attention when it was nominated in the 2020 Ennie awards and subsequently won three gold and one silver – Product of the Year, Best Layout/Design, Best Writing, and the silver for Best Game. Not being familiar with the game but having come to admire many of Free League Publishing‘s products over the past several months, I made it a point to get a copy.
The publishers describe the game as:
A DOOM METAL ALBUM OF A GAME. A SPIKED FLAIL TO THE FACE. LIGHT ON RULES, HEAVY EVERYTHING ELSE.
That’s as good a description as any – and better than any I could think of. I normally give a fairly methodical review of RPG books, but that approach doesn’t quite seem right for this game. It’s a small book, under 100 pages in length, digest-sized. It’s hardcover, with very glossy paper and some gorgeous/weird-ass/disturbing art. And its layout is… interesting. It’s as if your high school buddy, a total metalhead, made a notebook of all his ideas for a bad-ass D&D variant. It uses various fonts, from normal print to weird-ass pseudo-gothic death metal font (I don’t know if that’s a technical term – nor do I quite know why the game inspires me to curse in my reviews, something I don’t tend to do…) While I’m a fan of digital products, I have to say this is definitely a case where the print version is superior – it’s much easier to read. It’s not that the digital version is poor, but it’s a very “busy” book, with varying fonts, text written in different directions, wrapped around edges of pages, etc. Like I said, it’s like your metalhead buddy scrawled his ideas for the best version of D&D ever.
Mörk Borg takes place in a world that is at the end times!. No one has seen the sun in years. All the doomsday predictions seem to be coming true. Geography is not trustworthy — “Distances shift. Paths between places warp.” The world is going to end – your group decides how soon. As a group, you pick a die to roll and roll it every day (d2, d6, d10, d20, or d100). If you roll a 1, the GM will roll on the Psalms table to see what apocalyptic happening comes to pass. When the seventh would come to pass, the world ends, and you are directed to burn your book.
As far as rules go, it is… a close relative of early D&D that had a love child with an indie game. It has abilities similar to regular D&D ability scores, though instead of ranging from 3-18, you only record its associated modifier of -3 through +3. Tasks are rolled on a d20, adding or subtracting the applicable ability’s value to your roll and trying to beat a Difficulty Rating (DR). The difficulty for a normal task is a DR12, and some situations will increase or decrease the DR. In Combat, unlike D&D, the GM does not roll to hit or defend. Instead, players make defense rolls when they’re being attacked; the more fearsome monster, the more difficult it will be to successfully defend against their attacks. Armor works a little differently as well by reducing damage instead of making it harder to be hit. Each type of armor has a specific damage reduction; these come in the form of -d2, -d4, or -d6, with its effectiveness being reduced every time you roll a fumble (a natural 1) on your defense roll. One of the most interesting design elements Mörk Borg borrows from its indie parentage is the Omens. Omens are expendable resources that can mean the difference between life or death. Players spend Omens to negate critical/fumble rolls, re-roll dice, reduce DRs, and other similar things. They’re easy to forget, but in our playtest, we found they made the difference between victory and a total party kill.
Character creation is very random, with classes being optional. Almost every element of the character generation process is a random roll on a table. If you start knowing any magic (in the form of scrolls), your armor options are very limited. Rather than levels, when your character “gets better,” at the GM’s discretion as to when, you roll to improve hit points and stats, though there is a chance your stats could get marginally worse too. There’s nothing like spell levels, rather it’s referred to as Powers. Powers are granted to any character through “Unclean” or “Sacred” scrolls, which they can use to cast magic. You have a random (d4 + Presence) number of Powers (spells) per day, re-rolled every day, castable from the scrolls you possess. If you fail your DR12 Presence check, you take a small amount of damage and can’t cast any other scrolls for an hour.
The last step in character generation is an optional one, giving an idea as to the tone of the game — “Name your character if you wish. It will not save you.”
If you choose to use the optional classes, character generation is slightly altered. You roll a d6 to determine your class. Your method for generating your ability scores are adjusted slightly by your class. Each class has a set of random powers/abilities/specialties. The classes are:
- Fanged Deserter – Savage warrior who can use their sharpened teeth as a weapon.
- Gutterborn Scum – A rogue or thief. Their specialties include being able to hide in refuse, pickpocketing, and vile phlegm.
- Esoteric Hermit – A mystic scholar rather annoyed the chaos of the world has disturbed their wonderful solitude.
- Wretched Royalty – A “painfully average” noble, though with some interesting random bonus gear. The Wretched Royal in our game had a talking horse that was smarter than he was and a deadly poison blade.
- Heretical Priest – A heretic found “raving in ruins, traipsing endlessly down dusty roads and desecrating cathedrals by night.”
- Occult Herbmaster – A twisted alchemist able to brew random decoctions – every day, they roll for two random decoctions, able to brew d4 doses of them. These include poisons, addictive healing elixirs, and hallucinogenic vapors.
There are a few gazillion tables in this book, including a weapons table that is rather macabrely organized (you see weapons sticking out of a corpse with the damage they do listed). Tables of prophecies, magic gone wrong, twisted backgrounds, treasures, etc. The sample dungeon has random tables, so it is slightly different each time (and it is one of the more gorgeously mapped out dungeons I’ve seen in ages).
My normal group took Mörk Borg for a spin and had a ton of fun. The players were rather lucky – a noble with a poison dagger kept rolling to poison all his foes, and a herbalist wound up taming the wild hound that was supposed to kill them. A few different rolls and the whole party could have been massacred. I can’t see playing it as
in a long-term game (hey, the world is supposed to end any day now), but for some occasional fun, it was a blast. And it might make you curse more. Or maybe that’s because the election is coming.
If you’d like to see some sample material, take a look at the Mörk Borg homepage – there are character generators, dungeon generators (no maps alas), rules summaries, etc.
A sample of additional Mörk Borg resources available:
- 5 scenarios can be found in Dissident Whispers
- English Character Sheets
- Cursed Skinwalker – A class for Mörk Borg
- Eat Prey Kill – Bestiary and Hunting Rules for Mörk Borg
- Sacrilegious Songbird – A class for MÖRK BORG
- Exalted Gambler – A class for MÖRK BORG
~ Daniel Stack with lots of help from Modoc
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