My tabletop role-playing group has been playing a lot of Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League Publishing. It’s a great, tense reproduction of the Alien movies with rules and settings that make each play session feel extremely cinematic. But what I think my players appreciate the most about it is the mortality of their characters. My group started out playing very story-heavy rulesets, where their characters could die—but only if they did something stupid, and were incredibly unlucky. It was refreshing, then, to play something where your character was so disposable, and taking a risk that could mean losing your character wasn’t such a scary prospect. So when MÖRK BORG came into my inbox last week, it looked to be along the same vein. It’s probably a little more metal than that.
MÖRK BORG is unlike any other tabletop role-playing game I’ve encountered. First of all, it’s gorgeous: I would happily leave it out as a coffee table book. It has a striking, graffiti gothic style that invokes a sense of death metal dread. More is done in MÖRK BORG’s art in regards to immersion than most other tabletop role-playing games can manage with entire multi-volume sets. You can just flip through the pages and it will inspire you without even reading the rules. Of course, there really aren’t that many rules to begin with.
Rules-light tabletop role-playing games can be good or bad depending on the group. It’s my thought that a good GM can deal with any rules questions as they arise. Still, it’s good for there to be a “final say” for any group that may be displeased with a specific ruling. There have been times when I assuaged my players’ frustrations with “that’s how it’s written,” but only when it keeps intact the stakes, or otherwise heightens the game’s fun. But there is a lot of particularities that are missing in MÖRK BORG, which is about as barebones as you can get while still giving rules for combat, character creation, and their version of a magic system.
Rules-light means simple, but simple isn’t necessarily bad. There is everything you need to construct an entire campaign in MÖRK BORG—even though it doesn’t explicitly tell you how. It might not make it good for a beginner group, but those who are familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, or really, any other tabletop system could easily fill in the blanks. In fact, it’s hard not to fill in the blanks, because MÖRK BORG doesn’t just inspire my imagination, its imagery and gothic horror lore incites me to create brutal scenarios for my players. In fact, the lore is presented in such a striking style, and is so well done, I had an entire campaign in mind before I was finished with my first reading.
MÖRK BORG’s main content includes lore that introduces you to the apocalyptic setting, and the two headed basilisk that demands suffering. There is also character creation, that sets the tone for your character from the very start—and then oozes that tone into the darkest pores of the character’s fabric—I don’t think it’s quite possible to get out of character creation without getting your character dirty. And if they aren’t calloused enough for it, they won’t survive the dark world of MÖRK BORG. If you don’t want to create a character, there are a few character class templates to use, each with their own dastardly tendencies.
While it is rules light, there is a magic system in MÖRK BORG, though that’s also very rules light. Most spells are cast using scrolls, with some characters with the potential to have higher attributes to make those scroll casting successful. You can always homebrew your own version of magic, but MÖRK BORG comes premade with a magic system that fits its cruel world–especially if you choose to use a d20 to determine what a critical failure would be, if such an event arises. I cackle with evil GM glee when I see such effect as, “You and a random nearby creature pass out. When you wake up, your souls have switched. Welcome to your new flesh.”
In fact, MÖRK BORG now has my favorite critical tables of any tabletop role-playing game I’ve played. One of my favorite part of Alien: The Roleplaying Game were its tables—especially the critical injury or Xenomorph attacks. If you’re unlucky in Alien, you’re dead. In MÖRK BORG, things can get a little more complicated than just being dead. That’s too easy, and not enough suffering for this grimdark world, which sits on the brink of apocalypse.
The world of MÖRK BORG is so close to ending, there are rules baked-in on how to usher in the apocalypse. Every morning you roll a die (of your choice), and on a 1, another seal breaks, bringing the world closer to its inevitable end. After the seventh seal breaks, you are given this instruction: “The game and your lives end here. Burn the book.” That’s metal as fuck.
If you’re wondering what a dungeon crawl for MÖRK BORG would look like, there is a short dungeon at the end of the book. The dungeon crawl is surprisingly vanilla compared to the absolutely great presentation and lore of the rules, and I was a little disappointed by it. It’s about as basic as you can get in regards to introductory dungeons. I hope there are modules released soon that reflect the same art and cleverness that is in the rulebook.
If I did have a major complaint about MÖRK BORG it is the fact that sometimes its style gets in the way of the information trying to be conveyed. I had a PDF copy to review from, and I had a hard time reading some of the text that was put sideways around the border. Other text is so stylized it’s actually hard to read.
MÖRK BORG is stunning, and could be appreciated for its art alone. It just happens that the writing is superb, and it has a pretty good rules-light role-playing game under its striking presentation. If you are stuck in your own campaign and need inspiration, or just want to play in a grimdark setting where your players can meet a most terrible fate, look no further than MÖRK BORG.
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