Should You Give “Doom Metal” Fantasy RPG MÖRK BORG A Go?

March 29, 2022 by brennon

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MÖRK BORG isn't a new roleplaying game but it's one that has found its way onto my radar recently. The Stockholm Kartell and Ockult Örtmästare Games' (published by Free League Publishing) "doom metal" roleplaying game has captured my imagination perhaps because of playing Elden Ring, but also because I've been looking for an alternative option for Fantasy roleplaying with my group.

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So, with that in mind, I thought I would take a peek at the game and work out whether or not MÖRK BORG is a game that you should try out. Is this "spiked flail to the face" all that it's cracked up to be?

The Crunch

One of the most important things about a roleplaying game is working out how it plays. MÖRK BORG is pretty simple in that regard. Players do the majority, if not all, of the rolling using a set of polyhedral dice. The core die that you're going to be using most often though is a D20.

Mork Borg Cover

Each character has a set of four statistics. Agility, Presence, Strength and Toughness. When you make a character (either using the basic rules or with the aid of a class template) you'll determine your ability modifiers that could range from -3 to +3. These modifiers are used alongside the roll of a D20 to hit a target number. The normal level of difficulty for anything in MÖRK BORG is twelve. Hit that and you've succeeded in whatever you were intending to do.

As I mentioned above, players do all the rolling here. Strength is used to roll for melee combat, Presence for ranged combat and Agility for defence. So, when a monster swings for you, it's on the player to roll their die and get out of the way/block the strike of the creature. I really like this. It keeps the gameplay focused on the players and means that they are in charge of their successes and failures. With the basic level of difficulty of a roll being twelve, you've got quite a margin for failure in the game (both ways!) so it's important that the players get to control all of the action I reckon - rather than a Gamemaster feeling like they are the ones to blame for a player's failure!

Damage is pretty hefty and combat ain't no walk in the park. Most characters will have a fairly meagre pool of health (although so do the monsters) so games of MÖRK BORG move on from being just about running in and smashing a monster around the skull. Players will need to think, plan and plot before and during encounters. The difficulty of challenges can be ratcheted up and down in increments of two, so if you can convince the Gamemaster that you've worked out a way to overcome a situation, you're encouraged to use it.

What makes MÖRK BORG's brutal combat even more interesting is the way the Gamemaster is reminded to run the creatures and fiends that you encounter. Each creature has a Morale rating and when a leader is killed, the group is reduced in number, or a foe has a third of its health left, it has to test. Enemies might simply fly into the shadows or beg to be spared, throwing down their weapons. Life is just as twistedly precious to the monsters you're fighting! It also means combats don't become a session-hogging situation!

sludge boss

The foes that you fight are also a little different from your traditional Fantasy fodder. You might run into a Goblin though. The twist is that these Goblins were once just like you...probably. If you fail to kill a goblin that has wounded you, you then run the chance of turning into one of their kin! It doesn't matter how you kill it, just make sure it dies or the curse will get you!

You also have Trolls I should add, but they are big lumbering cowards, preferring to run from a fight and come back twice as tough! More MÖRK BORG than that though, you could also have run-ins with twisted Porcelain Dolls, spooky Wickheads or a Blood-Drenched Skeleton, luring you to your doom out in the darkness. There is always some fun twist to the monsters in MÖRK BORG that make them a joy to throw against your party.

MÖRK BORG does all the traditional Fantasy stuff that you'd expect when it comes to its gameplay but always with that now-familiar twist I keep mentioning. You can make brutal, heavily armoured hulks, sneaking backstabbing killers and even faith-mad priests and secret-devouring sorcerers. It's all there, but with a neat "yes but..." MÖRK BORG-ian angle.

As you can see, it's not a complicated game. MÖRK BORG steps into that genre of roleplaying game where it's easy to learn and focuses more on the storytelling than an exercise in maths. For those who like story and atmosphere focused roleplaying games, this hits all of the right notes. The "crunch" of MÖRK BORG that some people will be wanting comes in how you work to change the odds in your favour and overcome a game system that really (and I mean really) doesn't care if you die or not.

The Feel

On that cheery note, it's probably a good idea to discuss the feel of MÖRK BORG and what it offers. What makes its simple system one that you should try out over another? I think it's because the bespoke mechanics of MÖRK BORG feel like they have been intertwined so nicely with the world that the game is set in.

Mork Borg Map

Maybe you'll find yourself walking the doomed streets of Galgenbeck or finding yourself lost and alone in Grift or the Valley Of The Unfortunate Dead? Could you perhaps even wander into the pale white world of the Blood-Countess Anthelia?

As someone who is a fan of grimdark and Dark Fantasy in general, these locations and the tone that MÖRK BORG sets is engaging. Is it edgy for the sake of being edgy? Maybe. But, it feels a bit more than that. It feels like the designers of MÖRK BORG are trying to push you. They want you to throw notions of traditional Fantasy out of the window and make you play "heroes" in a world that is on the brink of falling into ruin. Everyone is flawed, even those trying to make a difference for the sake of good. It's a fascinating roleplaying challenge and one that looks to unlock the grey morality of your characters. It's a Fantasy Apocalypse, something you don't often see.

This comes through in pretty much everything. The classes that you can choose from in-game are designed to give you an idea of how worthless everything is. The Gutterborn Scum for example would make a Gong Farmer blush! Even the Wretched Royalty, who is perhaps a little higher up the food chain than the others, is a miserable individual who is just trying to survive until the next day.

The brutality of the system is in tune with the brutality of the world. In an almost literal sense, it's actually interwoven with the descriptions of the landscapes that you'll find yourself exploring. I often say that a world needs a system that suits it and I think MÖRK BORG has been able to achieve that. After reading about the world you're diving into, the mechanics sit well with that and serve to enhance the experience at the tabletop. I'm not sure that a more granular system would have worked.

This inevitability of the end, be it your own personal one or that of the world as a whole, might not be for everyone. It's escapism of a different kind. There is hope in MÖRK BORG but it's in small victories and being able to get to a tavern without your leg having been hacked off. If that's not for you and you'd prefer a more hopeful outlook then I can see why this might have already turned you off. If you like the idea of a game where gallows humour is more or less the default, man, is there some fun to be had here.

The Look

The BIG thing that's particularly striking about MÖRK BORG is the way it looks. The graphic design and artwork by Johan Nohr and the Stockholm Kartell is stark, different and presents you with a world that is very different from the norm. There's nothing High Fantasy about this, from the scrawled and almost maddeningly hard to read text sprawled across pages to the black and white sketches of the twisted creatures you'll meet on your journeys. It's almost like the team has gone out of their way to make you feel unsettled when reading through the pages of MÖRK BORG.

Basilisk

All of this comes together to create something that stands out from other roleplaying games and in many ways, MÖRK BORG is as much an art book as it is a set of roleplaying rules. This is going to be a bit of a tipping point for some people. I've seen reviews and such online that talk about the artwork distracting from the learning experience of the game. It's not going to be great for someone who's maybe used to the structured format of a roleplaying book (especially if you like relevant pages sections next to each other), but I found it somewhat refreshing.

It might sound odd, but I loved that I had to turn the book in all sorts of directions to read the text. The book grew from just being a set of rules and references to something I was actually using. MÖRK BORG became an artefact and I was reading the rantings and ravings of those who had lost their minds in this Dark Fantasy world. It's darkly humorous and fun in its design layout but also in the way it's written, making it a pretty unique experience when reading.

If MÖRK BORG was more of a complicated game mechanically then I could see the presentation of the book as a barrier to entry as others have mentioned. As we've discussed though, the rules are light enough that once you've done a couple of rolls, you immediately know what's going on. Similarly, because the background of the world for MÖRK BORG is open to interpretation beyond a few paragraphs of text, it's not exactly a headache for someone running the game either.

The Innards

By this point, you'll have worked out if MÖRK BORG is for you. So, if you're still on board then it's worth talking about the actual contents of the book. You'll find rules for generating characters (with or without classes as mentioned earlier), diving into combat, spellcasting and levelling up (if you're lucky). Players will also find a pretty robust set of tables for adding flavour to their character of choice. It is a well-rounded book in that regard, offering up a nice way to paint a somewhat moody portrait of who you are.

Mork Borg Enemies

There is also a wealth of content in there for Gamemasters. We have the monsters that we've talked about but also ways to colour the various regions and peoples that you might meet on your travels. It's not extensive but it does give some good adventure hooks and potential seeds that could grow into longer-term storylines. There are even tables for rolling for portents of doom as the world starts to end around your heroes during those longer storylines.

Similar to the tables for the players, the Gamemaster also has a great set for coming up with random adventures, dungeon decor and environmental storytelling and more. It might be a slight book compared to others out there but it manages to pack a lot into its pages.

There is also an introductory adventure included within the core MÖRK BORG book. Rotblack Sludge is a fantastic way to get you started with MÖRK BORG and is laid out really, really intuitively. Every page has all the relevant information that you need as a Gamemaster and even tips as to how you should run it.

MÖRK BORG has also spawned all manner of independent creators and artists to come up with their own content for the game. The MÖRK BORG website comes with a Content Page that features Character Sheets, a quick character generator called SCVMBIRTHER, a dungeon generator called DNGNGEN and much, much more. It's fantastic, free and you can also buy most of it in print through some of the additional expansion content for MÖRK BORG.

You're not going to be left wanting for content should your group decide this is the game for them.

Should You Give It A Go?

If you're looking for something different and you are someone who enjoys the tickle of Dark Fantasy, yes. The mechanics are simple and easy to understand but the depth of gameplay doesn't suffer due to the way your group are going to have to work together to overcome obstacles in their way.

Mork Borg Enemies 2

The world is also stark and beautiful in equal measure. The core book sets the scenes for an utterly despairing vision of a Fantasy world that would make the denizens of The Old World consider their grass quite green enough. It throws a lot of the traditional Fantasy preconceptions out of the window and welcomes you to revel in its dark and twisted creation. It should be a really intriguing prospect for those who like getting to enjoy the roleplaying nature of their campaigns over the number-based puzzle.

There's a reason that MÖRK BORG has so many self-published children! I think this hits on something too. MÖRK BORG wants you to be creative and think outside the box. It gives you the tools to do it and just lets you have fun. Again, refreshing.

I also think it helps that MÖRK BORG caters for those looking for a one-off evening of entertainment and those wanting something a bit more long-running. You could easily chuck characters into a meat grinder of a night, or make their journey something more in-depth, all the time in step with the ticking clock of the end of the world.

So, "Should You Give "Doom Metal" Fantasy RPG MÖRK BORG A Go?" Simple answer. Yes!

"MÖRK BORG became an artefact and I was reading the rantings and ravings of those who had lost their minds in this Dark Fantasy world..."

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"MÖRK BORG wants you to be creative and think outside the box. It gives you the tools to do it and just lets you have fun..."

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