Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Mork Borg


So I finally took a look at the bright yellow hotness of the past year. Short take: it's a lot of style, some actual substance, and it's basically OSR Diablo.

First off, the look: Yeah, it has a very distinctive style. It stands out on the shelf for sure. That said the differing fonts and colors and scattered layout make it a lot less efficient for looking things up and burns up a lot of space. It's supposed to be influenced by metal - doom metal/death metal - but I don't remember neon pink and bright yellow being players in those sub-genres - hair metal maybe but that's not really the theme they're going for here. 

There are 10-12 pages of setting and it's very much a tone thing - a Realms-style detailed breakdown with maps is not what you're going to find here. I'm not going to get into the details here because a) it's an important part of the book's effort to set a certain tone and b) there's just not that much here. It presents a few paragraphs at most about a city or a region and maybe mentions what kind of insanity the ruler has ... it's a very loose kind of setting guide. 

The end of this is where we find one of the more interesting things in this game: the "when the world ends" table. The DM decides how long they want their game to last and based on that they roll certain dice (ranging from d100 to a d2) every morning. On a 1 a "misery occurs" which is rolled on a random table on the facing page. There are 6 levels to it and each one can only happen once and then the 7th misery is the end of the world. Bang! End of game!

Now this is cool on some level but the letdown here is that book sets this concept up but then fumbles at the goal line - what happens when the world ends? What do your player characters do? Is there a giant demonic beast to fight? Does the game shift over into some new kind of play? Do we at least roll on a random table for individual grisly ends?  Nope. As written it just ends. It's not even that it's hopeless it's just a non-event. The look and wording of the game is very Diablo-esque but those games typically end with some kind of big boss fight - here there is nothing. One of the points of a role playing game is doing stuff and there is nothing to do at this point - demonic rocks fall and everyone dies. Thanks for playing!

Rules-wise it is again pretty loose. You can pick a class but the default is classless. There are 4 ability scores on the usual 3-18 range and they give modifiers to a d20 roll vs. a difficulty class similar to most modern d20 games. Race doesn't come up so presumable everyone is human or the world is so bleak it doesn't matter. There is a basic equipment list and armor is rated as a die roll to subtract from damage received. Magic comes from scrolls (which are permanent - not like D&D scrolls) and involve a roll so of course there are tables of bad things that can happen when you blow a roll. It's a fairly light set of rules but I can see a fair amount of page-flipping being needed during creation as things are mostly in one section but scattered around within it. 

The book ends with a sample dungeon that is  fine in my opinion. It is the lair of a specific individual and his minions so it is not generic at all and the PCs are sent there on a rescue mission, not just to loot, so that's a nice start. It's maybe a session's worth of exploration and violence.

Overall the game feels somewhere between tabletop Diablo with all of the doom and gloom and "Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay +1: Even Darker" with low-powered barely competent characters and a lot of mishap/injury opportunities like that game. I can see a touch of RuneQuest as well where the world is full of mysterious things and it can be very dangerous to go poking about. 

My question after reading it is really how much time do I want to spend here? I just don't see the makings of a long term campaign here and the game doesn't really seem interested in a heroic fight against the darkness - it's more of a "keep your head down and try to get by until the lights mercifully go out" feel. I feel like it needs a table for why your character is being forced to go on these adventures in the first place because neither loot acquisition nor the zero-to-hero climb to power seem to be a part of this world. In the sample adventure you're offered a reprieve from execution if you can rescue a hostage from a dungeon - that's perfect for this world ... but then why go on with it afterwards? The whole setting is dark enough I'm just not sure what is supposed to motivate the PC's and to me that makes it mainly a one-off convention type game, not something you're going to run every week as an ongoing campaign. 

Strong Veteran DM Take Here: The world should never because of a roll on a table. The world should end because of player actions. I realize that's a core conceit here but that doesn't make it right. That kind of event should come about because of your players.

As far as an OSR type game this honestly feels nothing like the early days of Holmes Basic, AD&D, and Moldvay Basic. Not the tone, not the look, not the system, and not the adventures or setting. Early D&D was not especially dark and while your characters might be shanghaied into taking on a quest there was always a future to look towards: levelling up, finding gold or magic items, exploring the world, and just making some kind of progress in general. So if someone is looking for the feel of and old school game this is not that. Mechanically it has some of the loose feel of OD&D but even there the tone and approach is very different. 


  • If I am looking for something old school but more modern in design my personal choice would be  Labyrinth Lord or Old School Essentials. 
  • If I wanted something a little different then The Black Hack is out there for the taking. 
  • If I want a more distinctly different system with the old school tone then Dungeon Crawl Classics would be my choice. 
  • If I like some of the direction of Mork Borg but want a more defined setting and a little more "system" to go with it then WFRP is definitely in the sweet spot. 

So to wrap up I don't hate Mork Borg and there are some interesting ideas here but if I ever run this game it will be a one-off to give it a spin but it will never be in the regular rotation - there are just too many other games that suit my and my players preferences better. That is the beauty of RPGS though - whatever your tastes you can probably find one that fits really well.