On the Effekt podcast, we don’t do reviews. We tell you about the games we like, because we play those games. We occasionally tell you about what we don’t like about the games we play. But we tell you this things because we play the games. If we were a review podcast we’d have to play the games, and we don’t have time to play all the games we have already got!
So, like I said, we don’t do reviews. But here I am reviewing Mörk Borg. And we haven’t played it. So what the hell am I doing?
Well first of all, let’s talk about why I backed the Kickstarter. The first reason was that this is a book that comes with Free League’s name on it. Though that’s only one of the names. This is, in many respects, an Indy project, supported with Free League’s publishing experience and distribution. It demonstrates how the Free League has grown. When they first started publishing in English, they looked to Modiphius for their experience and publishing networks. Now they are in a position to take a similar mentoring role for the creators of Mörk Borg.
As an aside, it’s interesting to note there are two Free League logos on the cover. Their standard publishing logotype and one for the Free League Workshop, the brand that will soon appear on DriveThru as an outlet for fan-created content. All that content will, I think, be supplementary material for most of the company’s stable of Year Zero engine games and Symbaroum – not stand alone games like this one.
The other reason I backed it was the typography. I am a typography snob, ever since I trained with proper metal type back in art school, and the sample pages on the Kickstarter campaign convinced me I had to have this book, even if I never played the game. So it in that spirit in which I am reviewing Mörk Borg, not so much as a game, but as a book for your library. We’ll therefore return to typography in a while.
But first I want to talk about how the book FEELS. Never has so much thought gone into RPG texture. I raved before about how the texture of the Forbidden Lands book is exactly right for the neo-traditional nature of that game, but I am blown away by the mix of textures in this slim volume. You may already have seen the rushed unboxing video I made for our new YouTube channel. And if you have you will note I can’t stop fondling the book. It starts with the subtle embossing of the illustration on the front cover, and it ends with how different signatures (the blocks of pages that are sewn into a hardback) are made with different qualities of paper, so that the rules are smooth and the scenario is rougher. This is not a book that you want to buy on PDF.
Actually there is another reason you don’t want the PDF. In a rare lack of attention to detail, the PDF has been compiled without separating the cover from the interior spreads. So where the design goes over two pages (and it FREQUENTLY goes over two pages) PDF readers can’t appreciate the beauty of the layout.
Huh. Looks like we are talking aesthetics already. So be it. The book LOOKS gorgeous. It has the aesthetics of the photocopied punk rock fanzines of the seventies and eighties. But that analogy does not do it justice, because if you haven’t seen it you’ll be thinking it’s black and white. It isn’t. It’s a riot of colour, with Cadmium Yellow covers, bright emo pinks. It switches between monotone, spot colour, three colour and full colour printing between spreads. It even uses metallic foil. It’s only a slim book, but every turn of the page is a surprise and a delight.
I said we’d talk about typography. Now, you should understand that has a typography snob, I HATE HATE HATE poor use of type. Every time my co-host Dave sends me a document I wince at his choice of typefaces, the way he uses too many different fonts, underlines all his titles… gah, I am tensing up just writing about it. I tell people again and again that just because your computer comes with a gazillion fonts, it doesn’t mean you have to use any more than two in a document.
They use more than two fonts in Mörk Borg. There are over 100. But they use them all so well! Every spread is a delight! There is a crazy logic to all their choices. In the hands of most people this could be a hot mess, but designer Johan Nohr knows and loves his type. This is the work of a master. He is also responsible for the illustrations which have the carefree mastery of early Picasso sketches – each one simultaneously looking like something you doodled in your exercise book at school, and something you could never draw as well, not even with 100 years of practice.
So let’s talk about the system. Now I am not a fan, or indeed any sort of expert, in that gaming thing called “OSR.” Hell, I don’t even know whether the R stands for “Old School Rules” “Revival” or “Renaissance.” In fact, just about the only thing I do know, is the OSR community can’t agree what the R stands for either. However, I think I have just taken delivery of an OSR game. Do correct me if I am wrong, but I understand OSR games to be based upon a stripped down rules light take on the early versions of D&D. And this bares all the hallmarks of that philosophy.
Regular readers will know I am not a fan of the d20 and it’s linearity. But there are things I read in this book that almost, almost, make me want to play this game. For a start, there are no character classes. (Well, there are, but that’s an optional rule.) You start your character by rolling a d6 and a couple of d12s to find out what equipment you have. The d6 gives you things you can carry stuff with, and the d12s give you stuff. Then you roll a d10 for your weapon. Oh! The typography! Oh! the layout! The weapons table is three pages long! And there are only ten items on it! This might sound like a bad thing, but it is not. It is a thing of ugly, punkish beauty!
Your roll for your ability bonuses too, a traditional 3d6 for each, and hit points. And then step five is , and I quote: “Name your character if you wish. It will not save you.” Yes the setting is very dark.
How dark? As dark as confronting your worst self on a moonless night, in a cellar, with a blindfold. This world is ending. There is no way to save it. Your characters are scrabbling for some tiny comfort, some moment of safety, before the end. Which is inevitable. According to the Calendar of Nechrubel, your campaign lasts long enough for six prophesies to come true, then the seventh prophesy occurs: “The game and your life end here. Burn the book” it says.
Which is why I will never play. I don’t want it to end. I can’t burn this.