Doom Doom Doom
By Pelle Nilsson, Johan Nohr & Patrick Stuart
2019’s Mörk Borg (Dark Fort) is a dark fantasy tabletop roleplaying game. Original text, ideas and game design are by Pelle Nilsson; graphic design and artwork by Johan Nohr; English writing and creative consultation are by Patrick Stuart.
The world may have dwindled down to a gloomy island from which escape is impossible, but at least everyone is doomed. Unfortunately for the player characters, they have not died — yet. Although there is every chance they will. So, there is that to look forward to.
The game is surprisingly compact: seventy-one lavishly illustrated pages of core rules plus a short and idiosyncratically numbered ancillary section. All between two sturdy hardcovers. While the designers have made the bold choice to eschew a table of contents, this is balanced by
the complete absence of an index a short but functional index I managed to overlook each time I read the RPG. The designs have also courageously rejected some of the usual publishing restraints (restraints such as readable fonts and a consistent layout).
At this point, you may be wondering if the game can be played at all, what with the lack of sign posts to vital rules and the whole “readers may have to resort to online sources to decipher some of the text” thing. Brevity is strength; what would be infuriating in a 500-page text is just barely tolerable in a 71-page opus. One can take some comfort from the fact this edition’s pages are not coated in a fast-acting neurotoxin. As well, the designers’ anarchic approach does not extend to the order in which they present the setting, and the character generation rules. In particular, page 19 is invaluable, containing as it does the chargen sequence. This is a fully functional (if character-lethal) roleplaying game.
The setting is dark. Very dark. Very, very, dark. No, darker than that. In fact, like a lot of lugubriously morose Scandinavian works—Henning “The summer all our dreams fell apart” Mankell’s, for example — the lachrymose morbidity circles around to hilarity. In this case, that seems to be intentional.
Mörk Borgis available here and no doubt from your friendly local game store.
And now for my usual more detailed description
Flavour text and world:
The small island that appears to be the entirety of the world is caught in an entropic spiral. The island has many regions, each of which is completely fucked in its own way. Thanks to an infallible prophecy (the primary religious text) everyone knows they are doomed. For some reason, they do not find this reassuring.
Create a player character:
There are two methods of generating characters. The first:
1. Randomly generate the player character’s starting equipment.
2. Randomly generate the player character’s weapon and armour.
3. Randomly generate the player character’s abilities (agility, presence, strength, and toughness).
4. Randomly generate the player character’s hit points.
5. Name your character.
Alternatively, one may choose or randomly select a character class before following that class’s guidelines pertaining to equipment, weapons, and armour. And omens.
Generally, attributes (what some other games call stats) do what you’d expect them to do … except for some reason one’s presence score governs how well one aims. To succeed at a test, one rolls a twenty-sided die, adds the value of the governing stat (which will be between ‑3 and +6), and tries to exceed a target number. Unsurprisingly, easy tasks have low numbers while hard tasks have high target numbers.
There are many items a character might wish to own, which they probably will not have at first. Or ever.
All dice rolls, whether to hit or avoid being hit, are performed by the players. Weapons do not as a rule do a lot of damage but … since characters could have as little as a single hit point, that’s not as helpful as you might expect it to be. Single hit deaths are perfectly possible. Probably for the best that character generation is so quick.
AKA experience, not healing. Characters do evolve over the course of a campaign. Interestingly, they do not always improve; it is quite possible for high abilities to decline.
Characters may, if properly equipped, attempt to draw on arcane forces. Sometimes this will produce beneficial results. Sometimes, the player character will explode. Or worse.
These are tables for generating various things. The gamemaster does not have to use them.
Players may opt to be one of the following: Fanged Deserter, Gutterborn Scum, Esoteric Hermit, Wretched Royalty, Heretical Priest, Occult Herbmaster. Each class has characteristic strengths and drawbacks.
A short, illustrated guide to the creatures with which player characters may have to contend.
The shadow king’s lost heir
An introductory adventure, which involves looking for the lost heir in an unfortunately well-populated building.
The rulebook also includes useful random-generation tables I will not further specify.