Somewhere in the tangled nest of the Sarkash Forest lies a staircase that leads down into a crypt known as The Accursed Den — a dank and rotten underground structure into which it is said no free man would willingly choose to descend. You and your companions, however, are not free.
Outcasts, each one of you, in a desolate world on the brink of apocalypse, your group had banded together for one final act of defiance — to strip the Shadow King of his artifact of power, the symbol of his rule, the Scepter of the Gods. You failed … predictably perhaps. After all, what could a Deserter, a Gutterborn Scum, a Hermit and a pompous ex-Royal hope to accomplish together?
The world may be dying, but the Shadow King has managed to hold some semblance of his court intact.
Caught in the act and sentenced to a horrible and tortuous death, your group of miscreants awaited the inevitable … until approached by a masked, and seemingly blind, seer who offered you freedom in exchange for the return of the king’s son, Aldon, who lies imprisoned within The Accursed Den.
Just before letting your party loose to the wilds of Sarkash, the seer grabbed the Hermit’s arm, and with a voice rasped with age spoke a dire warning, “Something hungers in the depths, an enormous creature like a vast intestine.”
Out in the wild, a prickly wind blows through leafless trees, as if through the cold stones of a graveyard. The sky is a constant, lifeless gray, interrupted only by pitch-black, starless nights. The cosmos has already abandoned this dying world.
“One day all will blacken and burn.” Such is the prophecy of Verhu, the truth-bearing voice of a two-headed basilisk known as He. It is the “damned” truth, according to Verhu’s twin head, Gorgh, bitter and envious. But it is the truth nonetheless, as dictated to and recorded centuries prior by a monk of the Creton order. For three hundred years, Verhu’s prophecies have come to pass and the Creton order has become the seat of great power — around which has grown the immense city of Galgenbeck. However, no amount of worship, tithes, or prayers have been able to stem the tide of rot and blight spreading throughout the land. The world is indeed dying. It is only a matter of time.
Deep in the Sarkash forest, the air is heavy. Breathing is laborious. Every dawn is infused with the potential of a new Misery. On the first morning of your party’s journey through these gloom-laden woods, all of the colors of the world disappeared, leaving only a grayish pall in Misery’s wake. The morning before your party reached the Den, a poisoned mist began seeping through the cracks of the ground. Verhu predicted these Miseries — seven of them in total. They are the countdown to world’s end. When the seventh and final Misery strikes, it will be your last day.
After a week-long search through Sarkash, your party finally found the staircase into the Den. The stench of rot is palpable even on the grounds outside.
“Send the Wickhead in first,” says the Royal, brandishing his poison-laden dagger, well known to inflict instant death … on occasion. The Wickhead is your group’s lackey, held in tow by a lengthy metal chain. You found it while hacking through the tangled Sarkash; your party happened upon the lone creature — it’s bio-luminescent skull making it easy to spot and capture. Starving and alone, it begged for mercy.
“His glowing head can help us navigate this cursed forest,” the Royal suggested.
It has served as your light source through the woods. Fortunately, it hasn’t brought any unwanted attention to your group — until now.
An arrow breezes by — a near miss. Then another.
“Goblins!” you yell. These pathetic creatures are poor shots, but you cannot let a single one escape, lest the curse of their presence turn you and your entire party into them within a matter of a few short days. The Hermit opens his Book of Boiling Blood and calls upon a pair of Beserker-slayers who arise from the ground, blood dripping off their bodies like they’ve emerged from a pool of it.
Noisy and grotesque, the goblins are easy to find. The battle is quick. You might just live out your final days with your human form intact.
You hear a clanking noise and notice the light begin to fade, as you turn to see the Wickhead crawling away into the tangled forest. You rush over, grab the chain and yank the creature towards you, pulling it back to your party with a violent jolt. It chokes out nonsense about itself, disjointed stories with no meaning. You grab it and throw it down the staircase into the Den. The Wickhead groans as it thuds upon the rocky floor below. You wait. Nothing.
Your party descends the stairs into a cavernous room with a small stream of water cutting the room in half. Oil lanterns hang from the ceiling and provide enough light to see black-violet butterflies flitting about. Across the stream are two open doors — and through one of them, you can see a figure sitting at a long table. As you enter the room, the rotting smell becomes more intense. Melancholy violins can faintly be heard from deeper within the crypt. The hooded figure at the far end of the table, an old bearded man, takes no notice of you as you enter.
“We are looking for Aldon, the son of the Shadow King,” you bark. The old man ignores you.
“Hey!” you yell at him. No response.
“Something is not right about him,” the hermit notes.
You roughly grab the silent figure, “Can you hear me old man!”
He ignores you.
“Enough of this,” you say and draw your warhammer, ready to strike. But before you can swing, something stops you.
“Quiet,” the Hermit says in a hushed voice, his hand grasping your arm. “Do not awaken the crypt.”
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Mörk Borg is unlike any other RPG. It is first and foremost a work of art — the writing, the text, the layout, the imagery and the physical published product. Game designer Pelle Nilsson’s doom metal OSR comes to life like an old school metal ‘zine thanks to Johan Nohr’s design and yet feels like it should be housed in a museum thanks to the no-expense-spared publishing by Free League. The book is something to hold. With a debossed cover image of a horned, sword-wielding skeleton; smyth-sewn binding; a ribbon marker; mirror-like foil stamping peppered through the interior pages; and a freestyle cut-and-paste design throughout, Mörk Borg drips with what feels like an ancient despair brewed by the knowledge that something much bigger than all of us lurks in the shadows — something dark, foreboding and ravenous. This is not our world, after all.
Opening the pages of Mörk Borg is like unpacking a dusty old cryptic tome of occult knowledge, in which clues to the mysteries are strewn within, and each reading takes one’s journey further down the rabbit hole, putting together the puzzle, piece by piece, to see the picture more clearly.
The world of Mörk Borg is an island continent — the chiseled canyons of the Bergen Chrypt to the west, the Sarkash forest to the north, the isolated city-state of Grift to the east and the great city of Galgenback in the center, the seat of the cult of The Two-Headed Basilisk.
Schleswig, the kingdom of the west, is ruled by a prophecy-obsessed madman; the black glass spire city of Allians to the north is under the spell of an eternally young Blood-Countess named Anthelia; and just north of Galgenbeck in the Sarkash lies a mirror-image of the Two-Headed Basilisk’s cathedral known as the Palace of the Shadow King.
Three main characters drive the underlying narrative of this world:
- Nechrubel — the god of melancholy, crop failure, conflict and war. “The shadow that covers all” … and apparently the voice that whispered the prophecies into the basilisk Verhu’s ear.
- Verhu — the narcissistic head of a two-headed basilisk named He. Verhu’s prophecies have time and again come to pass, and he predicts “inexorable annihilation”. Years ago, Verhu told these prophecies to a monk of the Creton order, from which arose an orthodox branch named The Two-Headed Basilisks — a cult whose prophetic scriptures come true. Around their cathedral has risen the great city of Galgenbeck.
- Arch-Priestess Josilfa Migol — the leader of The Two-Headed Basilisks cult. It’s rumored she colludes with Nechrubel. Her cult leads an Inquisition, hunting down heretics and apostates, and terrorizing commoners into joining their religion.
— — —
Inexorable annihilation is built into the game. There is no escaping it. The Calendar of Nechrubel ensures that a world engulfing catastrophe will occur. It’s only a matter of when. Thankfully, GMs and players who might want to carry on an extended campaign have some control over the odds of initiating an apocalypse.
Each morning within a campaign, the GM rolls a die. If the result is 1, a random Misery from The Calendar of Nechrubel is triggered. GMs and players, however, get to choose which die to roll: d100, d20, d10, d6 or d2. Naturally, chances are slim that a d100 roll will turn up a 1.
Nevertheless, the seventh Misery always triggers the final psalm on the calendar:
“All praise Yetsabu-Nech, the underworld’s nightmare, the black disk which stands before the sun! All praise Verhu, beaming with delight! All praise the fire which burns all! And the darkness shall swallow the darkness.”
The world burns. The game ends. And so do your lives.
“Burn the book.“
— — —
Mechanics-wise, the game is streamlined, cool and fun. Everything about this game is fresh.
For character creation, classes are an option — either have a class, or don’t at all. Just roll for your random equipment, weapon, armor, abilities and hit points. Abilities are narrowed down to four: Agility, Strength, Toughness (like Constitution) and Presence (a mashup between Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma). Meanwhile, charts of physical discrepancies, personality disorders and troubling pasts help flesh out a character’s backstory.
Character classes include the Fanged Deserter, Gutterborn Scum, Esoteric Hermit, Wretched Royalty, Heretical Priest and Occult Herbmaster. While some classes come with their own powers — most magic is contained in scrolls, which anyone can read and use. However, those with the highest Presence will be most effective. But be warned, a critical fail when using a scroll initiates an arcane catastrophe, one of twenty awful backfires, like you and a random creature pass out — and when you awake your souls have switched. “Welcome to your new flesh.”
Following pages of twelve new monsters and four followers, an introductory dungeon crawl entitled “Rotback Sludge — The Shadow King’s Lost Heir” closes out the book. In direct contrast to the wild, free-for-all presentation of the main book, the adventure is extremely clean, well-organized and succinct. Great maps, plenty of them and key bold text make the descent into The Accursed Den very GM-friendly.
— — —
Some do say the apocalypse is escapable and that redemption is possible. Most likely, they’re rolling a d100.
— Marc Star
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For additional content and schwag, check out the Mörk Borg website. It is the home of the Mörk Borg Cult, a repository of fan-contributed content to help flesh out this universe even further. Already, the following free supplements are available:
- Character Sheets
- “Eat Prey Kill” : Rules for hunting for food (or sport), along with 54 fully statted monsters (6 for each major area of the dying world)
- “Overland Travel” : Homebrew rules for overland travel, including distances, road encounters, village types and destinations
- Two additional character classes: Pale One and Cursed Skinwalker