In a world where death means nothing and life means even less, doomed souls await the apocalypse in the darkly striking game of Mörk Borg.
Pulling inspiration and style from the darkest genres of heavy metal as well as famously brutal video games like Dark Souls, this is a game that brings a whole experience despite its small packaging.
Even when that experience is a type of nihilistic journey into the hearts of sorrow and despair.
Are you brave enough to stand tall until you witness the end of days for yourself?
This is the cursed review of Mörk Borg by Free League Publishing.
The World of Mörk Borg
I wasn’t being tongue-in-cheek when I said that Mörk Borg is a dark and deeply nihilistic game.
Core elements that define the world of Mörk Borg are:
- The world is ending soon and, no, this cannot be stopped.
- Everything is horrible and hopeless.
- You are going to die. A lot.
- Nothing you do will ultimately matter. (See the previous points.)
Of course, it’s up to you just how much your characters believe those core elements. In fact, that is the driving conflict of the setting itself!
While prophecies of the end of days are coming true and the world descends into total darkness, the stakes are being continually raised.
Will you see this ultimate end of all things or are you foolish enough to try to fight against it?
As the game goes on, more prophecies come true and things get continually more and more difficult as you simply try to survive.
Though from the desperate and cruel conditions in various kingdoms to the terrifying creatures crawling up from the ground, even just surviving is a bleak proposition.
But those are the broad strokes.
Mörk Borg gives a lot of interesting lore in the form of concepts and general goings-on. These are mostly to set the tone and build some framework for the world as a general “jumping off point” for the Game Master to run with.
Either way, don’t expect much in the way of rainbows, lollipops, and kittens.
Unless, of course, it’s a 15ft tall rabid demon-kitten with a rusted chainsaw lollipop that shoots prismatic beams of light from its eyes to reduce foolish mortals to dust.
Actually… that could work…
Light Rules and High Impact
In a time where many TTRPGs rely on obsessively studying stacks of hefty rulebooks, Mörk Borg proves that sometimes less is truly more.
I mean, the entire book is under 100 pages for crying out loud!
But this “rules light” approach is exactly what makes Mörk Borg shine. In fact, I would say that it wouldn’t be able to have the same impact that it does without taking this approach.
The focus here is on maintaining the feelings that the game and world are creating. It should feel tense and scary with very few moments to carefully plan what you’re doing next.
In other words, you have fewer rules so that the game can keep moving.
Character creation is a breeze and can be done within mere minutes. Most characters are generated by randomly rolling on the book’s tables, though there are optional classes that can be considered as well.
Similarly, combat is meant to be quick and intense, though we’ll touch more on that in a bit.
Just like with D&D, the d20 is going to be everyone’s best friend. Attempting to do something involves rolling the d20 and adding the relevant modifiers based on your four stats: Agility, Presence, Strength, and Toughness.
Because the actual rules and mechanics of Mörk Borg stay to a minimum, the GM can focus more of their energy on keeping things exciting and building the overall theme of the world.
With so much atmosphere to work with, I think this is the real “secret sauce” that makes Mörk Borg so fantastic.
Instead of trying to simultaneously remember dozens of rules for any situation, the GM can instead focus on the more descriptive and creative elements of the adventure.
You know… like that giant demon-kitten we discussed…
(Okay, I’ll let it go now… maybe…)
Brutal and Merciless
You’d be forgiven for confusing the “rules light” aspect of Mörk Borg with meaning that it’s an easier game.
I mean… I forgive you. That pack of plague-infested goblins attacking you with rusty shanks most certainly will not.
The thing is, “simple” and “easy” absolutely do not mean the same thing here.
Your (very few) hit points are extremely precious and the enemies that you encounter will absolutely not be showing you any mercy.
Even as you level up, one unlucky roll can be all it takes for a character to meet an early end. (Not too early, though, considering the whole “apocalypse” thing, right?)
This could come as a result of traps, natural disasters, monster attacks, or just your own negligence. Rest assured, there is absolutely no shortage of ways to die in Mörk Borg!
Though, speaking of terrifying monster attacks…
Overview of Combat in Mörk Borg
Combat in Mörk Borg is actually fairly straightforward.
With the roll of a d6, it’s determined whether the enemies or the party go first in combat. This alternates until the combat is finished one way or another.
Most interesting is the fact that players roll for both their attacks and their defense.
So, Bjorn the Brutal would roll his attack against the goblin raider. When the goblin raider then attacks Bjorn, the Game Master is not rolling for the goblin’s attack. Instead, Bjorn rolls for his defense.
On one hand, I think that this is an approach that is very empowering to the players.
If a character gets hit and/or killed by an enemy, it was their own low defense roll that caused that. There’s a type of self-determination here that can make such brutal combat easier to handle without worrying about tempers flaring up.
But just like the GM can’t fudge rolls to punish characters, they can’t fudge them to save characters either.
This means that e enemies that the party encounters are more like independent forces of nature.
While the GM is doing very little dice-rolling and focusing on creating immersive and descriptive combat, your fate is solely in your own hands.
What I Like About Mörk Borg
Mörk Borg is a dark, horror-fueled romp that oozes atmosphere and is one of the most stylish games I’ve ever seen.
Like many OSR games, it doesn’t pull its punches and simply surviving often feels like a reward in its own right.
The art, themes, and visuals of Mörk Borg have undoubtedly helped it stand out in the very crowded TTRPG market. But it’s the very active community that has formed around this game that has given it an impressive amount of staying power.
As a result, Mörk Borg is an incredibly adaptable game that gives you the tools and framework to bring whatever nightmares you can imagine to life.
This isn’t the type of game where you’ll spend hours, days, or weeks trying to min-max the perfect character. Realistically, such a character would likely just die within the first 5 minutes.
The focus here is on playing the game. (Radical concept, right?)
Character creation and running the game are a breeze. Within minutes, players will have a reasonably clear understanding of how the game works.
Even just spending an afternoon reading the book is enough to comfortably begin running a game of Mörk Borg.
The brutal horror and dark fantasy can be very “over the top” but that adds to the pulp-action-type charm.
What I Dislike About Mörk Borg
I’m going to be real with you, there isn’t a whole lot that I dislike about Mörk Borg. While it may not be “perfect”, it’s certainly impressive at pretty much every level.
Though I do have a couple of thoughts…
My biggest gripe about Mörk Borg mostly comes down to how the book is laid out.
While there is an index, the lack of a table of contents is a bit frustrating to me. This is particularly the case considering the order in which certain sections appear.
Once you understand how the game works, this order makes more sense. However, if you’re brand new, you’ll find yourself flipping back and forth a fair bit.
It gets weirder if you, like me, have difficulty reading the font without having to stop to decode what you’re looking at.
Simply put: have some sticky notes or page markers ready.
My only other semi-gripe about Mörk Borg is that this type of rules-light game gives immense creative freedom to experienced Game Masters but can be overwhelming to newer Game Masters.
At the risk of sounding kind of gatekeeper-ish, there is an art to being a Game Master that comes from experiencing different types of stories, systems, and games. Over time, you learn “what works” and can largely adapt to any system with relative ease.
But for newer GMs, the saying is true that “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Where games like D&D 5e tend to do a decent job at giving clear directions for running adventures, Mörk Borg says “Here ya go! Good luck!”
While it’s not impossible for newer Game Masters to pick up, it’s just a bit of a hurdle. For newer GMs, this lack of lines to color within can be overwhelming.
Who Is Mörk Borg For?
I really can’t emphasize enough that Mörk Borg is an experience in every sense of the word.
Even if the gloom-metal and macabre themes aren’t to your taste, it’s impossible to deny just how stylish and evocative this game is.
To that end, Mörk Borg is for those who want something new, fresh, and challenging in a TTRPG.
The “get up and go” rules-light style makes Mörk Borg incredibly accessible as either a one-shot or as a campaign.
If brutally challenging games with darkly gothic fantasy themes like Dark Souls or Elden Ring are your cup of tea, you’ll love this. Mörk Borg brings the best elements of those kinds of video games and takes them to the next level with the infinite power of a TTRPG.
Who knew that the oncoming apocalypse could be so fun?
With new material being released through official supplements and in the passionate community, it’s great to see this game getting the continued support that it deserves.
An excellent game that takes a "light rules, high-impact" approach to create an experience that is terrifying, exciting, and immediately addicting!
Conclusion – Reviewing Mörk Borg
I’ve become absolutely obsessed with Mörk Borg over the past several months.
When I first started pitching it to my groups, there was initially a lot of hesitation. This was less to do with the themes and playstyle and more to do with a reluctance to try something other than our usual games of D&D.
But within the first 30 minutes of each group’s first game, it was clear that everyone was absolutely into it.
Even when a character would die (which was certainly not uncommon), it stayed fun as the player would begin making their next character.
While it’s incredibly dark and simply brutal, the pulp action of Mörk Borg makes it endlessly fun.
There is no shortage of praise for this game out there, but rest assured that it’s all very well deserved!
In fact, I am considering writing more articles and guides to help others really enjoy everything that Mörk Borg is bringing to the table.
But I need to know if that’s something that you would like to see in the future.
Let me know in the comments!
Also, I want to give a special shoutout to my friend Seeksie for the AMAZING job she did making Mörk Borg-style art of Joab and Pocket.
She’s done a lot of artwork for this site over the years and always impresses me. Reach out to her if you’d like an epic commission of your own!