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Mörk Borg – A Review

The world of Mörk Borg is written as a desolation full of gloom and sorrow. The art invokes a spirit somewhere between medieval depictions of pain and suffering and modern metal album artwork. It’s a rules light, classes optional, hell of a good time as long as the players can accept their character’s inevitable demise.

Mörk Borg is created by Pelle Nilsson and Johan Nohr, and published by Free League Publishing and Stockholm Kartell.

Table of Contents

The World of Mörk Borg

The world will end as was prophesied by Verhu. He is one of the heads and consciousnesses of one of the two-headed basilisks. There are two of these creatures providing the denizens of the world a target for worship and the Game Master (GM)  strange and terrifying lords to drive the player characters. Around the Cathedral of the Two-Headed Basilisks the greatest city that ever was, Galgenbeck, has risen, ruled by the arch-priestess of the religion built around Verhu’s prophecies.

Faith might drive the player characters. Or if they lack faith, fear of the Inquisition might motivate the characters to act in the shadows. There is another deity, the god Nechrubel. Nechrubel is considered a blasphemous god. It is rumored it was he who spoke the prophecies to Verhu. Nechrubel is the pain and suffering of the world manifest. 

The prophesied ending to all things isn’t just flavor text written into the eclectic typesetting that was designed, I believe, to mimic the ravings of a lunatic. Aside from some lookup tables handily placed at the front of the text the first real mechanics a reader will find inside the Mörk Borg text is the Calendar of Nechrubel.

At the beginning of a campaign the group agrees to a dice roll between a d100 and a d2 that will dictate how quickly the end of the world will arrive. At each dawn, in a world where the sun does not rise, the GM will roll the decided upon die. If a one is rolled then the GM will roll 2 d6 and effect a misery by reading aloud a psalm from the book then interpreting how this misery will affect the world.

There are 36 rollable miseries; however, once six of the rollable miseries have been rolled the seventh and final misery is the end of the world. In this way, choosing the dice roll also provides a minimum and likelihood for the length of the campaign before the world is destroyed. To quote Mörk Borg:

“The game and your lives end here. Burn the book.

This mechanic sets the tone for the world of Mörk Borg better than the frantic font and the ostentatious manuscript do. This is not a power fantasy. You are not on an epic quest. You are a cretin set on this miserable world only meant to survive long enough to see the end of days.

That is not to say that the world of Mörk Borg is drab. Mork Borg opens with neon yellow pages that grab me with the same caution that Alan Moore’s Watchmen did when I first laid eyes on it. The use of sharp edged fonts and runes create a malaise in the reader that sometimes borders on discomfort as one tries to read the most difficult pieces.  My impression is that the authors’ kept the text just on the serious side of Evil Dead 2. This wasteland is deadly serious, but we can all agree that this is meant to be fun.

Character Creation, Powers, and Violence

Character Creation and Advancement

Character creation is built around four ability scores: Agility, Presence, Strength, and Toughness. The ability scores lead to ability score modifiers between -3 and 3. The dice roll score will never be used again. Instead this modifier will simply be known as the ability. With advancement the ability’s value may become as high as 6. It can also be lowered to as low as -3. These ability values are used in the primary conflict resolution mechanic: the test against difficulty rating.

The mechanic should feel familiar to most: roll a d20, add applicable modifiers, and compare against the Difficulty Rating of the challenge. It is designed as a classless system, but the text gives the reader optional class structures to build the characters one is likely familiar with from other fantasy settings including optional feats or items to start with. 

The system for leveling up a character further emphasizes that this is not a power fantasy:

  • Roll 6d10: If the result is greater than or equal to your current HP then add a d6 to your health. I, personally, consider this generous against the backdrop of brutality. Given starting HP of Toughness + d8 a starting character will have anywhere from 1 to 11 HP. Early game you’re likely to be increasing HP to something survivable.
  • Get some loot
  • For each ability roll a d6. If the roll is greater or equal to your modifier then add one to a maximum of 6. Otherwise decrease the ability score. There are caveats to protect you from negative ability scores. They won’t matter. You’ll die anyway.

Powers

Magic manifests as ‘Powers’ likely granted to the player by scrolls. There are ten  ‘Unclean Scrolls’ and ten ‘Sacred Scrolls’. Honestly, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the dichotomy as some Sacred Scrolls deal damage and some Unclean Scrolls do innocent things like move objects.

Scrolls always fail when wielding two handed weapons or while wearing medium or heavy armor. On a failed use of a Power the player also loses d2 HP and any further attempts in the next hour at the use of magic will fail catastrophically. On a natural one, called a fumble,  the catastrophe happens now. The GM is free to choose a result, but there is a catastrophe table for reference. The provided results are not good. They range from your evil clone being spawned to wreak havoc on the world all the way to the two-headed basilisk themselves arriving and devouring you. Tread carefully.

Violence and Death

In a game centered on hopelessness one would expect brutality in the combat system. The creators have brought us combat mechanics simply titled as ‘Violence’. Mörk Borg uses ‘side initiative’; a d6 determines what side goes first. All characters have a set test for melee, ranged attacks, using powers, and defending of DR 12 unless their character has a feature that modifies this. Armor and abilities can reduce damage received as well.

There are a few pieces to combat that set Mörk Borg apart from other systems I am familiar with:

  • Enemies don’t have ability scores. They roll a d20 against the Difficulty Rating.
  • In combat Players roll the d20 to dodge attacks rather than enemies attacking; therefore, it is the player’s fault when they are struck.

Additionally there is a mechanic for morale of the enemy that dictates whether an enemy will surrender, flee, or continue fighting. Some enemies have a Morale value. If the leader of a group is killed, half the enemy group is killed, or a single enemy has less than ⅓ of HP left then the GM will roll 2d6 against the enemy’s morale. If the enemy is demoralized then the enemy will either flee or surrender. Enemies that I’ve seen often have monetary values associated with them, dead or alive, with the ‘alive’ option generally having a higher value. Surely nothing can go wrong escorting a captive wyvern back to town for auction. 

As to the brutality of combat: it is not unusual to have extremely low HP starting characters who will succumb to an unlucky shot to an enemy. If your character goes below 0 HP: death. If you manage to hit exactly 0 HP then roll a d4. If you roll a four: death. The other three results aren’t great either.

Mörk Borg is often vague on specifics forcing the GM to interpret and resolve issues as they see fit. It wasn’t clear to me, for instance, whether I should treat animal companions such as the ‘Hawk as Weapon’ for the Esoteric Hermit as the action for a character’s turn or if the use is a free action. I chose to use it as the attack action for my PC. Generally, if you are considering GMing this game be prepared to make these kinds of decisions on the fly.

Resources

There is a ton of great content available created by the Mörk Borg team. Mörk Borg has a sub-label: Mörk Borg Cult. This is community driven content with layout and illustrations done by the Mörk Borg team. To get started I recommend buying the core rulebook then heading to the Mörk Borg content site for online helpers.

The core rule book contains everything you need to play including mechanics, lore, monsters, and a sample dungeon. In the first and last pages there are helpful tables to remind you of key mechanics and their associated rolls. For context I started GMing 5e with no personal support; it took me a many, many hours of reading to have confidence I could run the starter set. After reading the Mörk Borg source book I was able to GM a session with about thirty minutes of prep work. At this point I’m comfortable interpreting the tables or resolving situations my own way as a GM.

Online support content

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3 Comments

  1. Dave April 18, 2022
  2. Tanner Demaree April 19, 2022
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